Preamble section 4:
Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,

Concepts and Ideas

  1. International Law and International Relations (1)
  2. International Law and International Relations (2)
  3. The Modern Roots of International Law and International Relations

The Modern Roots of International Law and International Relations

According to contemporary legal scholars such as Gerry Simpson,3 the disciplines of international law and international relations find their modern roots each in a different world war said to be caused by the adoption of a set of ideas drawn from the other. On the one hand, international relations detached itself from international law out of disappointment with inter-war idealism. Wilsonian idealism had produced the League of Nations and the Kellogg-Briand Pact but it was also held responsible for the failure to prevent a host of interventions in the 1930s before eventually being implicated in the rise of Hitler and World War II. Idealism's failure thus became realism's ascendance. International law and idealism were fused in the minds of many realists. Idealism's failure was also international law's. Hans Morgenthau for example, the leading American realist of the post-war era, was a reformed international lawyer. The intellectual triumph of realism created the conditions for a new discipline of international relations.

The core concern of the realists in the wake of World War II with Wilsonian liberal internationalism was the presumption that the combination of democracy and international organization could vanquish war and power politics. Woodrow Wilson was seen as the high priest of the "legalist-moralist" tradition in US foreign policy, projecting the ordered domestic existence of a liberal state onto the inherent anarchy of the international system. As noted above, the realists believed in the polarity of law and power, opposing one to the other - domestic vs. international; normative aspiration vs. positive description; cooperation vs. conflict; soft vs. hard; idealist vs. realist. For them, States in the international realm were champions only of their own national interest and state behavior was unconstrained by international law.

On the other hand, international law, in an earlier period, was modernized and institutionalized in a similar, parallel manner. This time it was the failure of the "realist" balance of power in the Great War that provided the catalyst for institutional revision. The great institutional projects of the post-Versailles order were provoked by a sense that the old politics of secret diplomacy, deterrence, self-help and legitimate warfare were bankrupt and responsible for the war which had destroyed most of Europe and condemned millions of young European men and women to unnecessary deaths. International law thinkers assumed that international legal rules, however derived (the problem of international law being simultaneously "above" and "of " the state,) had an effect on state behavior, that law and power interacted in some way, rather than marking opposite ends of the domestic-international spectrum. So, international law entered the post-World War I era with comparable vigor and purpose to that of international relations in the post-World War II era.

In the ensuing half century since the end of the Second World war and the creation of the UN, international law and international relations scholars have been seeking to study and reconcile these two streams of thought in the inter-state political system. The suggestion today is that international law and international relations have "rediscovered each other" and there is a wealth of new competing theories on these questions of international law, politics, regimes, relations and institutions.

See Further

Anne-Marie Slaughter Burley et al, International Law and International Relations Theory: A New Generation of Interdisciplinary Scholarship, 92 A.J.I.L. 367 (1998)


3. See Simpson, Gerry, "The Situation on the International Theory Front: The Power of Rules and the Rules of Power" in European Journal of International Law.

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Peter Danchin, Columbia University