Law & Legal Studies

The crisis in international law

The crisis in international law

Will 2023 see the international community fight back against the relentless assaults posed by securitisation, populism, and protectionism on core universal values that international law enshrines?


Prabhash Ranjan, Professor and Vice Dean, Jindal Global Law School, O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat, Haryana, India.


In an influential essay written more than two decades ago, Professor Hilary Charlesworth, who is now a judge at the International Court of Justice, described international law as “a discipline of crisis”. Not much has changed since then. Just when the world was recovering from the pain induced by COVID-19, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year once again highlighted the ‘crisis’ dimension of international law. One of the underlying bases of the post-world war international legal order has been to explicitly outlaw war through the adoption of the United Nations Charter.

While the U.N. Charter has succeeded in ensuring that the world does not fight another world war, it has failed in stopping inter-state wars. This year is going to further test the limits of international law, not just because of Russia’s ongoing illegal war, but also due to several other factors that will play out in the next 12 months and beyond.

The world post-World War II was a bipolar one with great power competition between a ‘capitalist’ America and a ‘communist’ Soviet Union. The end of the Cold War led to the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the collapse of communism.

This ‘unipolar’ moment gave a leg-up to multilateralism and led to three decades of what C. Raja Mohan calls “relative harmony” among the major powers. However, even during this period, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization bombed Kosovo and the Western forces invaded Iraq in complete disregard to the U.N. Charter. As Ralph Wilde argues, these U.S.-led military actions did not attract as vociferous an international response as the Russian invasion of Ukraine did.

Published in: The Hindu

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