International Law

Florian Hoffmann

in International Relations

ISBN: 9780199743292
Published online March 2011 | | DOI:
International Law


Traditionally, international law denotes the legal relations among sovereign nation-states. As a discourse it emerged in the aftermath of the Peace of Westphalia and the consolidation of territorially based states defined by national sovereignty, though it only became a distinct academic discipline and professional practice in the late 19th century. It is doctrinally subdivided into what is now considered to be general international law and a number of increasingly autonomous subdisciplines. The former is concerned with the sources of international legality—mainly treaties and customary norms; its (traditional) subjects, notably states and international organizations; the spaces that it regulates, including a state’s territory, the sea, air, and outer space; as well as the polar regions and the core aspects of sovereignty—namely, a state’s jurisdiction and immunities. Moreover, general international law is concerned with state responsibility, that is, the “civil” liability that applies to the conduct of states, and the institutions and procedures for the peaceful settlement of disputes—most important, by international tribunals such as the International Court of Justice. As the international rule of law is generally considered to be an antidote to war, the regulation and, thus, limitation of the use of force by states has, historically and doctrinally, been seen as a central element of international law even if the relevant legal regimes have now developed into distinct subdisciplines. With the gradual and differentiated recognition of nonstate subjects, a broader interpretation of sources, and the emergence of specific concerns of international legal regulation, further distinct subdisciplines have come about, including the international protection of human rights, international criminal law, international economic law, international environmental law, and international refugee law. In that the modern literature on international law has been traditionally doctrinal and practitioner-oriented, more overtly theoretical literature has sprung up only relatively recently, largely on the basis of critical methodology and with a particular interest in historical narrative.

Article.  12211 words. 

Subjects: International Relations

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