Law of Nations: An Overview


Human nature consists of three basic components. These are to live, to
propagate and to dominate. If Humanity was left without any other parameters,
this natural state of existence would govern its behavior. Fortunately, there
are parameters that exist. These parameters are law. The topic of this paper
addresses the type of law that operates in creating potential boundaries for
the behavior of states. This law is called the Law of Nations or international
law. Patrick Moynihan, a senator from New York, has written a book on this
subject called On the Law of Nations. His book argues that states need
international law to monitor their actions and to maintain order. He also
notes the frequent departures states do from international law. This essay
will reflect his plea to return to the norms that international law provides;
it will also discuss and identify the moral dilemmas that are present with
international law and its relationship with states.
The term "laisser aller" or "letting go" is used by Friedrich Nietzsche
to describe this state of nature, in which man resides absently of law. His
use of the term represents the struggle morality wages against nature and
reason. He equates morality in any form, with "tyranny and unreason."
Nietzsche proposes that man's natural existence be, in essence, nihilistic.
Logically, the political entity known as the state, created by man will inherit
these traits. Thus, the conclusion is that the creation and institution of
international law are in direct violation to nature.
However, international law exists and states "generally" submit
themselves to it. . Since most of this law is derived from codified norms of
states, the term submission can be used. There is a disservice committed to
humanity when the law is broken, not just to those who are weaker in the global
community but to the law itself. A violent raping of the law is committed when
it is taken in an a la carte form. The constant shifting back and forth from
international law to nature creates an incoherent system and a basis for
calling the reversion to the natural state, evil. In this setting "illegal"
unilateral action is immoral. Conversely, the adherence to the law is equally
immoral. This conclusion is drawn from the virtue of integrity. Either have a
commitment to comply with morality or completely abstain from a hypocritical
form of servicing the law with words and no conformity. Consistency, is an
extremely important factor of a system of law.
Moynihan argues that the United State has begun to traverse a path
leading away from its adherence to international law. "There is clear evidence
that the United States is moving away from its long established concern for and
advocacy of international legal norms of state behavior." The implication of
the United States' departure is extremely troubling. The decline of
universalism in world politics can be seen through the example of the United
States. Moynihan has no trouble in finding examples in recent history to
support his argument.
During the Bush Administration two examples are cited of unilateral
action condoned by the United States, which are violations of international law.
The first is the precedent allowing the Federal Bureau of Investigation
apprehend fugitives of United States law anywhere around the world. This
violates the principles of sovereignty and jurisdiction. The second example
is the United States' raid on the home of the Nicaraguan embassador in Panama.
This clearly violates the idea of extraterritorality. These actions are
interpreted to be in violation to the very law that the United States
constitution promises to up hold. Because of these actions and many others
that are frequently taking place all around the globe, an underlying disregard
for law in the international community exists. One could conclude that there
is no real international law but international suggestion.
The moral dilemma does not exist in an isolated location, such as the
United States. This is a wide spread enigma that confronts political thinkers
of today. The existence of an operational universal system in a predominated
arena of nationalism is nearly impossible. The two systems have been shifting
since the Treaty of Westphalia, according to Hans Morganthau. He argues that
nations are now "the standard-bearers of ethical systems, each of them of
national origin and each of them claiming and aspiring to provide a
supranational framework moral standards . . . " This powerful argument
proposes that the framework has changed. There has been a shift from that
common ground to something self-interested. The reason for the shift is
nationalism. Each state maintains that they have the moral system which should
be universally accepted; thus, only satisfying that part of the international
law that is right for them. This gives us international