Mirages of International Justice

Mirages of International Justice

The Elusive Pursuit of a Transnational Legal Order

Matthew Parish

Since the end of the Cold War there has been an explosion of international courts and tribunals that sit apart from domestic legal systems, yet they are often woefully inadequate for their stated purposes. This book explores common problems across these courts, and applies a constructivist theory of international relations to explain their operation.

Chapter 2: International Law: The Legacy of the Twentieth Century

Matthew Parish

Subjects: law - academic, criminal law and justice, human rights, international economic law, trade law, public international law, politics and public policy, human rights, international politics


If we had to choose one person as the father of modern international law, it would be not Grotius but Woodrow Wilson. These two figures are worth comparing briefly. Their goals were similar. Both sought to develop sets of legal rules which dictate the behaviour of states in their mutual confrontations. The subject matter of these rules in both cases was the circumstances in which states were entitled to go to war with one another, and the way those wars should be fought when they occur. Both advanced their ideas in the context of wars that had exacted a brutal toil on human life. Grotius wrote in the midst of the bloody Thirty Years War, in which it is estimated that between 3 and 12 million people died. Wilson advanced his ideas in the aftermath of World War I, in which between 15 and 30 million people may have died. The purpose of the international law they developed was to prevent the horrors of future warfare and massive loss of life. Yet there was a profound difference in the sorts of international legal regime each thinker advocated. Grotius’s masterpiece De Jure Belli ac Pacis (1625) was the first attempt to set out detailed rules for the conduct of states in their hostile relations with one another. The array of topics he addresses is exceptionally broad, including performance of treaty obligations, duties to respect foreign property, authority of agents to bind sovereigns, embassies and diplomatic immunity, prisoners of war, plunder of...

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