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Reflections on the International Legal System as a Constitution

Published on December 21, 2009        Author: 

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…

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Second Thoughts on the Crime of Aggression

Published on April 9, 2009        Author: 

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. He has served as counsel of the Federal Republic of Germany in the LaGrand case (Germany vs. United States) and as Adviser to the German team in the Certain Property (Liechtenstein v. Germany) cases before the International Court of Justice.

In his post on the Legal Position of ICC Parties and Non-Parties Regarding Aggression, Dapo Akande has shown that it is by no means assured that the Assembly of States Parties will be able to agree on a procedure for agreeing on a definition of the crime of aggression in the ICC Statute, let alone on the substance of a definition itself. The purpose of this post is different, however. Based on a discussion of the crime of aggression at this year’s ASIL Annual Meeting, I continue to have serious reservations as to the very goal of defining the crime of aggression at the present stage of development of the international law of the use of force [for a more extensive treatment, see my piece “Peace Through Justice?” in the Wayne Law Review 50 (2004) 1-35]. The inclusion of the crime in the jurisdiction of the Court at this particular moment may not only be ineffective, but has considerable potential to harm both the ICC and general international law. In my opinion, it is simply not good enough, as one panel participant at the ASIL meeting put it, that we do not know the effects of such a definition, but that a formulaic compromise could be found and the rest be left to the Court itself. Rather, dealing with one of the most serious issues of all times, the crime of aggression should only be included when it promises to have positive effect. Not to be misunderstood: I have been a supporter of the Court from the beginning. But that does not mean that the Court is a panacea that can only do good.

According to the agreed definition in Article 8 bis of the proposal of the Working Group, “‘crime of aggression’ means the planning, preparation, initiation or execution, […] of an act of aggression which, by its character, gravity and scale, constitutes a manifest violation of the Charter of the United Nations.” In my view, there are at least four reasons why this definition of the crime of aggression would do more harm than good at the present time:

1) The meaning of a “manifest” violation remains unclear, in spite of the attempt by the Working Group to clarify it. According to at least one member of the ASIL panel, “manifest” relates to the evidence for a violation. But that would amount to a confusion between evidence and substance of a crime. The terms “character, gravity and scale” rather suggest that certain acts of aggression are larger than others and therefore subject to prosecution. The drafting history would point to the inclusion of a threshold for prosecution “to exclude some borderline cases.” Read the rest of this entry…