Trade Policy and International Legal Development
Chapter 2: The Evolving Character of the International Legal System
Evolving alongside trading relations, the international legal system has developed from discrete sets of rules governing the relations between two states to a complex set of rules, principles, and practices that incorporate all states into a global system of coordinated rights and responsibilities.1 The development has been characterized by various degrees of state relations over time, even though elements of each of the main ‘types’ of international legal relations may be found throughout history. These types of relations, bilateralism, multilateralism, unilateralism, and international community, differ in the number of relevant state actors and in the nature of the legal structures binding those actors. The following sets forth a brief description of the above-mentioned forms of international legal systems in order to inform the discussions on how trade regulations interact with them. 1. BILATERALISM Although there have been formal legal frameworks guiding relations between societies since the earliest history of civilizations, that set of laws which we recognize as classical ‘international’ law arose out of the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia.2 The Westphalian Peace established a balance of 1 In The Changing Structure of International Law, Friedmann described the alteration of international relations from being a few-major-powers, state-only, diplomacy-oriented, Western-dominated system to a system of many states, multiple actors, and multiple interests: Wolfgang Friedman, The Changing Structure of International Law (London: Steven & Sons, 1964). The move from ‘coexistence’ to ‘cooperation’ was the result of a combination of broad democratization, the First and Second World Wars, de-colonization, and a growing world population in...
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