As you may know, I attended Loyola School of Law due to their International Law program. I was able to earn my International Law Certificate in 2 years, before returning to South Carolina to finish up my JD.
What is International Law?
International law consists of rules and principles governing the relations and dealings of nations with each other, as well as the relations between states and individuals, and relations between international organizations. Which of course underlines the importance of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine.
Much international law is laid out in international treaties — sometimes also called conventions, pacts, and covenants. International law is also reflected in the legally binding commitments that countries make when they join international organizations, like the U.N. While not every country joins every treaty, all U.N. members are legally bound by the Charter.
Russia v. Ukraine
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine violates Article 2(4) of the U.N. Charter, which prohibits the use of force against the territorial integrity of another state. For a century now, a central objective of international law has been to secure interstate peace, but the best ways of doing so are not necessarily clear and they likely extend beyond Article 2(4) of the U.N. Charter. Russian President Vladimir Putin cloaked Russia’s military action in legal justifications during his speech on Feb. 24. While the justifications were absurd, his speech highlights that international law retains some rhetorical significance while it simultaneously underscores how weak the legal restraints are in practice.
An examination of Russia’s legal justifications shows that well-meaning (or apparently well-meaning) actions by the United States (and others) purportedly designed to promote humanitarian and human rights objectives have eroded international legal norms. The point is not to draw moral equivalents nor to justify Russia’s horrific actions against Ukraine. The point is that the international legal rules on territorial integrity are weakening—a dangerous development. In response, the international community should condemn the Russian invasion as a violation of international law in no uncertain terms. But also, the international community should promote a clear-eyed, restrained version of international law designed to generate interstate peace through territorial settlement, one that holds even in an increasingly dangerous world.
For a century now, a central objective of international law has been to secure interstate peace, but the best ways of doing so are not necessarily clear and they likely extend beyond Article 2(4) of the U.N. Charter. The “long peace” after World War II has led scholars and historians of international law to link interstate peace to the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, which outlawed war, or (more commonly) to the prohibition on the use of force in the U.N. Charter and its roots in the limitations on the use of force in the League of Nations. The now primary focus on using international law to allow for human rights to validate invasion of sovereignty, however.
How is international law enforced?
There is no standing international police force to enforce international law. Compliance is primarily in the hands of countries themselves.
The International Court of Justice, created by the U.N. and located in the Hague, Netherlands, decides disputes between countries, including alleged violations of the U.N. Charter. But only 73 countries out 195 have accepted the court’s jurisdiction.
The U.N. Security Council also has the authority to authorize the use of force under the U.N. Charter in order to maintain international peace and security. This option is unrealistic in the situation of Ukraine because Russia has a permanent seat on the council — along with the other four permanent members: the U.S., U.K., France, and China — and thus holds veto power over any decision.
Finally, either the U.N. Security Council or individual countries may impose economic or diplomatic sanctions if necessary, as the U.S. and European countries have done. But such actions can have only an indirect impact on deterring or ending a war.
There is probably no law, international or domestic, that enjoys universal compliance. The challenge to enforce international law remains — a challenge laid bare most recently and blatantly by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The international community must reinvest in norms of territorial integrity and sovereignty through international law, even at the occasional expense of humanitarian objectives. Nothing is more sacred in International Law than the borders of a country. Those borders define the sovereignty of a nation and clearly designate the Rule of Law contained within those borders. When those borders are invaded the stabilizing factor of interstate peace and territorial integrity are thrown off balance. The international law community must find new approaches to ensuring peace among the world’s most powerful countries, how to equally apply them, and how to properly enforce them should they want to find sustained peace through sovereignty.