Beyond Confrontation: International Law for the Post-Cold War Era

By Lori Fisler Damrosch; Gennady M. Danilenko et al. | Go to book overview

Preface

Among the many fields of political and scholarly activity blighted by the Cold War, international law suffered more than most. In the eyes of many, international law fell into disrepute because it did not seem to constrain the behavior of the superpowers -- at least not when their vital interests were engaged. The superpowers' notorious violations of international law might have mattered less if those powers had at least bee able to serve as enforcers of international norms in the rest of the world, but they were not. They neither acted in concert, as the founders of the United Nations had hoped they would when framing the U.N. Charter in 1945, nor did they attempt in any reliable way to ensure compliance with international law on the part of states within their spheres of influence. Nor did balance-of-power politics serve as an acceptable substitute for a functioning international legal system: on the contrary, each superpower exploited opportunities to tip the balance in its own favor, in disregard of norms of international law that both professed to honor. The competition of the Cold War produced a vicious cycle of lawlessness, as each side claimed the right to take retaliatory or defensive measures against what it alleged to be illegal conduct on the other side's part.

These trends in international political life dealt severe blows to the vigor of the scholarly profession that undertook to make sense out of that conduct. International law as a scholarly discipline seemed to give way to international law as an instrument of advocacy and propaganda, or at least that perception took root in various quarters. Despite the valiant efforts of some of the best legal minds of the postwar generation to explain the relevance of international law for global events,1 many remained unconvinced. In the United States, political scientists generally followed the lead of the "realists" in analyzing behavior in terms of power rather than law and found less and less room for international law in their scholarly agenda. Law school courses and scholarly writing on international legal subjects proliferated, but the center of gravity shifted to subjects like international trade and other staples of transnational law practice. Meanwhile, Soviet specialists in international law, continuing the traditions of Marxist-Leninist scholarship, produced weighty treatises

-vii-

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