International Law: The Ongoing Transformation

Article excerpt

Remarks by Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Yuri Fedotov at the Opening of the Conference on the Role of International Law in the New Conditions of the Peace and Security of the Peoples, St. Petersburg, June 24, 2003

Our conference is being held at a time when the entire system of contemporary international relations, based on legal foundations, is being seriously tested. It is even being suggested at times that law as the regulator of international relations has become antiquated, and that it is going to be replaced by other rules of conduct for states. What sort of rules is hard to say. For the sole likely alternative to legal order is the order of lawlessness, the law of the superiority of the strong over the weak. I do not think that this kind of alternative could suit humanity.

Yet another thing is clear at the same time: that, confronted with the challenges and threats of the new millennium, international law faces the task of adapting to the new realities while preserving both its role in the world and the traditional generally recognized principles and structures.

The Russian state in its foreign policy always relied upon international law. And today too we advocate that it should remain the basis for actions by all states.

Therefore the organization and holding of a conference like this cannot but cause satisfaction. I would like to especially thank the Association of International Law, which has been acting as a powerful engine for Russian international legal science.

We're doubtless witnessing the definite transformation of international law. Its progressive evolution, about which quite a lot has been said both in theory and in documents of the UN and other organizations, is occurring right before our eyes. Sometimes this evolution affects the very foundations of international legal order. At issue, for example, are the conditions and limits of the use of force in interstate relations. Recent developments have cast doubt on the traditional thesis that a state can use armed force only in the case of being attacked by another state. The terrorist acts of September 11, 2001, the reaction to them of the international community and, in particular, the UN Security Council, subsequent events and the position stated by most states have borne out that the right to self-defense can be used also following an attack by non-state subjects, including terrorist groups.

The collective fight against terrorism is but one of the examples of the evolution of international law. This experience again bears out that the architects of international law are the states themselves. Besides that, it is a blend of the progressive evolution of customary and conventional international law alike. Finally, it is evidence of the efficacy of UN bodies and the legal mechanisms set into them. …