Professor Andreas Paulus holds the Chair of Public and International Law at Georg-August-University Göttingen. He is a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the European Journal of International Law. This post is adapted from “The International Legal System as a Constitution” in: J.L. Dunoff/J.P. Trachtman (eds.), Ruling the World? Constitutionalism, International Law, and Global Governance (Cambridge UP 2009), pp. 69-112
International lawyers have often construed international constitutionalism as an offspring of the institutionalization of international law. An international constitutionalism would be able to draw the conclusion from the increasing institutionalization of the international realm by applying principles known from domestic constitutional law to the international system, resulting in a universal Kantian “state of law,” away from the “state of nature” or anarchy of international relations. In the same vein in which a constitution unifies the domestic polity in one legal superstructure, a developed, institutional reading of international law would unify the international community in one coherent constitutional structure.
Today, this institutionalist reading of international law has fallen prey, in a certain regard, to its own success. While an increasing institutionalization and organization of international organization can hardly be doubted, the general impression is one of fragmentation rather than constitutionalization of the international legal system. In other words, the diverse and divergent institutions fail to come under a single scheme; rather, the systemic character of international law seems threatened by a multiplicity of international régimes without obvious coherence. The constitutionalization of partial régimes appears as antidote rather than confirmation of the constitutionalization of the international legal system as a whole. Calls for a true constitutionalism that would put the different subsystem into order confirm this intuition.
The absence of a single world constitutional order, however, should not blind us to the ever-increasing relevance of international cooperation and concomitant legal regulation for individual human beings. International constitutionalism needs to be decoupled from the building of new international structures. Rather, what is called for is a constitutional mind-set (Martti Koskenniemi) or a constitutional reading of the international legal foundations on which today’s fragmentation of international legal rules rests. Rather than asking whether the constitutional structure of the Charter organs are sufficiently similar to those of the state, my piece reflects on whether and how the international legal order fulfils the background principles for a constitutional order in the constitutional tradition. If not, the resistance to international regulation will likely – and justifiably – grow, and the accommodation needed for international order will not be forthcoming. Read the rest of this entry…