Thursday, February 17, 2011

Harmony and Dissonance

Probably the most important conference of the year is the Annual Meeting of the American Society of International Law, coming up shortly here. This year it is titled 'Harmony and Dissonance in International Law.'  The title speaks volumes and forces to think, propound, explore... It has long become apparent that the traditional boundaries of international law have dissipated. It no longer means what it meant some 40-50 years ago and even two decades ago. Beginning from approximately 1990, the collapse of the Soviet Union or the Soviet bloc, the age of Internet, and marching trends of globalization, the international law has had a major metamorphosis. It no longer concerns only 'relations among nation state actors'. There is no longer a private versus public dichotomy. Significantly, non-state actors or quasi-non-state-actors (those who are in consort with the nation-state, but not acting under its auspices or under its direct control) have become a pivotal force in making and remaking international law. Separately, the erosion of real 'borders' between nation-states has brought forth an expanding field of transnational law. Nation-states have had to grapple with numerous challenges involving crime across borders.

The ASIL Annual Meeting focuses on a paradoxic simultaneous development of 'segmentation and seamlessness' in international law. The two parallel trends, in direct clash with each other, raise the obvious conclusion of harmony and dissonance in international law. It could not be otherwise. This is indeed a 'natural and probable' consequence of today's global reality that has also affected the making of international law. 'Segmentation' has been a direct result of globalization and 'democratization' of international institutions. The more globalized the world, the more players have the opportunity to roll the dice in the world arena. The more voices heard, the more dissonance. Cultural differences despite the strong 'harmonization' of values and beliefs have their inevitable effect on this process.

This obviously creates problems for resolution of international disputes, wars, disagreements. Therefore, in reaction to this 'segmentation' there has been an opposite push towards 'seamlessness.' There is a need to find a common pathway, an operating principle, and reach some degree of consensus. No one really wants insecurity, indefinite crisis, or stalemate. Moreover, the global economy, fragile and dependent on various indicators, is in constant need for harmonization of rules, policies, laws. 'Seamlessness' is the desire to 'simplify', 'streamline', 'direct' a single coherent body of international rules binding on all, especially in the area of human rights. The 'new' and recently added players constantly challenge the way human rights are enforced. In their eyes, justice is not enforced properly because those in power are 'different' in their value system. So, it is really a need for 'harmonization' of competing interests.

These two trends feed upon each other. If there had not been so much dissonance, there would not have been that much need for harmonization. The stronger the one, the stronger the other. The international law therefore is bound to be shifting and mutating in this highly volatile mass. The chemical distribution of this mass will mark and demark the boundaries of the 21st century international law.

Scholars of international law should not forget that international law is a child of international politics. After all, world politics will define the ingredients of international rules and laws. Depending on how the power in the world is distributed, channelled and processed, international law will develop accordingly. Who will make up the U.N. Security Council? Who will decide the future of Palestine? Who will become the judges of the International Criminal Court? Who decides to prosecute international crimes against humanity?  Who will decide whether a case is admissible before the European Court of Human Rights? These are all real issues that will determine the future of international law development. Real people are involved in this process. Real power lubricated by political considerations, national policies, and unwritten/unspoken practice and custom is thrown into this 'critical mass.'

In short, this is a fascinating amalgamation of numerous physical bodies, structures and designs. The world making up the 'international community', speaking both in harmony and dissonance, has to be highly prepared for the inherent challenge that this process breeds.