The Elusive Pursuit of a Transnational Legal Order
Chapter 2: International Law: The Legacy of the Twentieth Century
2. International law: the legacy of the twentieth century 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,...
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