Academic journal article The George Washington International Law Review

A Tribute to Louis Sohn

Academic journal article The George Washington International Law Review

A Tribute to Louis Sohn

Article excerpt

"[G]enuine peace through total disarmament and an equitable and enforceable world law is now an achievable prospect which practical men and women can work for with reasonable hopes," wrote Louis B. Sohn in his book Introduction to World Peace Through World Law.1 This remark well represents his firm conviction that we have reached a time where we can work together to overcome the difficulties of preventing war and bringing peace.

This conviction had never faltered in Louis B. Sohn's entire life and was rigorously framed into detailed proposals. With these proposals, he became a pioneer in legal thoughts and an architect of the progressive codification of international law, notably the U.N. Charter and the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. Based on those proposals, he had expanded his creative thoughts into a number of fields of international law, such as disarmament, the law of international organizations, international human rights, the law of the sea, and international environmental law. The statement of the secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Kofi Annan, which was issued soon after Louis B. Sohn's passing, best portrays his dedicated life to international law: "Throughout his life, he won wide respect as a voice of reason and source of wisdom, and was a firm believer in the importance of the United Nations and of the rule of law in settling international disputes."2

Today, in my speech, I would like to focus on two of Louis B. Sohn's preeminent achievements, the theory of the "world peace through world law" and his contributions to the dispute settlement system in the law of the sea, which are of importance for reflections on the tenth anniversary of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).

As you know, the theory of the "world peace through world law" was established at the early stage of Louis B. Sohn's academic career. He collaborated with Grenville Clark, who also had great enthusiasm for peace and the quest for a world government. The fruit of their collaboration was first published as A Digest of Peace Through Disarmament and Charter Revision in 1953, later largely expanded as World Peace Through World Law in 1958, and further revised in 1960 and 1966. In these publications, Louis B. Sohn proposed to revise the U.N. Charter in order to form a world government with legislative, executive, and judicial institutions through which the world order would be effectively maintained.

The time when this theory first appeared, the 1950s, was the era of struggle, in terms of both overcoming the past and challenging the future. The prosecution of the war criminals at the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials itself did not mean that future peace would be assured, and it was desired to have some kind of mechanism for the prevention of war and the peaceful settlement of disputes. It was also the beginning of the new era when people started fearing the growing nuclear threat in the cold war. This political context had given great impetus to political and legal scholars to challenge the theme of achieving world peace. It goes without saying that Louis B. Sohn, himself having escaped from the Nazi invasion, became a leading scholar in this stream.

In his proposals, the term "world law" was defined as the law of a world authority, which would be applicable to all nations and all individuals in the world and which would be capable of forbidding violence completely.3 He took an approach that peace cannot be ensured by "balance of power" or diplomatic maneuvers but only by universal and complete national disarmament.

It is, however, interesting to note that Louis B. Sohn had an image of a world government with "sufficient but limited" authority. One may question why he did not envision a world government with full competence, if he wanted the world to be so perfect. He envisaged a world government consisting of a "preponderant majority" of all the nations and peoples of the world, and he admitted that a few nations may be permitted to decline active membership on the condition that they are also bound by the obligations to abolish their armed forces and to prevent war. …

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