To What Extent Does International Law Affect State Behavior Term Paper

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international law affect state behavior?

How does international

Law affect state behavior?

International law has been established in order to create civil relations between countries. However, the International Court of Justice has no power to enforce either laws or judgements on the states that violate those laws, and States can obey or disobey the ICJ decisions as they see fit. Usually the states breaking international laws interpret them in a way that benefits them and justifies their actions. (International Law) There is much controversy regarding international law and the effect it has on individual states, especially considering that there are numerous cultures that are traditionally accustomed to performing tasks that act in disagreement with the legislation imposed by the international law system. Whereas in the past it was relatively difficult for states to comply with the necessary requirements accompanying the implementation of international law, conditions have gradually changed and more and more nations have expressed their support for international law. This support notwithstanding, there still are numerous states unwilling to commit to all regulations set by international law, usually because they believe that this commitment would contradict their cultural values, security, or economic growth.

Some of the most powerful states in the world have expressed reluctance to act in accordance with international law, rationalizing their position by claiming that they would severely alter their customs by complying with regulations associated with compliance. According to Francis Anthony Boyle, states in the contemporary society are impeded by several "political, economic, cultural, demographic, and scientific factors," in trying to conform to international law. "Such factors include dissolution of the classical balance of power, worldwide revolutionary insurgency, infinitely destructive nuclear weapons systems, the relentless power of nationalistic fervor, division of the world into hostile ideological camps, uncurbed exponential population growth, and unremitting technological and industrial innovation" (Boyle, 1985). These elements have collaborated to make it increasingly impossible for international law to function properly. Although states may philosophically agree with the goals of international law, and may even have the intention of complying, in the context of the above-mentioned obstacles, the reality is that compliance becomes too difficult or inconvenient.


In order to understand the relationships between states and international law, it is necessary to first define the terms, strong state and weak state, and describe what it means when a country breaks international law. According to Harvard Public Policy professor, Robert Rotberg,

States succeed or fail […] according to the levels of their effective delivery of the most crucial political goods: strong states may be distinguished from weak ones depending on how efficiently and effectively they deliver these goods. The most important and valuable of these goods is human security. The job of the state is to protect citizens from foreign invasions and domestic threats, as well as crime.

He posits that states can only deliver other political goods (e.g. open political processes, freedom of speech, infrastructure, etc.), when security has been established. (Rotberg, 2003) Therefore, weaker states will encounter challenges in complying with international law if they cannot keep their citizens secure and infrastructure intact. But what about stronger states that have excellent security and infrastructure -- why do these states sometimes break international law? One possibility is that the laws themselves are flawed.

This paper examines the effects that international law has on states' behavior. It aims to contribute to the academic debate by trying to prove that strong and weak countries have a tendency to break or circumvent international law, as a global system of regulations often hinders their national interests.

When states are faced with international regulations that challenge their security or cultural values, they may choose to cross the line of ethical behavior. For example, in the case of Adolf Eichmann's kidnap from Argentina by Israeli Mossad agents, the Israeli government's goal was to get Eichmann, a Nazi war crime suspect, in order to bring him to justice for committing human rights abuses during the holocaust. The authorities in Israel considered it more important to apprehend Eichmann than to respect international law. Israel had probably studied the costs and the benefits related to breaking international law and concluded that the mission would eventually be rewarding for the nation as a whole. States like Israel are to a certain degree supportive of international law regulations, but are likely to break them in…

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