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Temporary Problems and Temporary Responses in International Law

Published on September 25, 2015        Author: 

This post is a reaction to an ESIL Reflection written by Ramses Wessel and Monika Ambrus and entitled Between Pragmatism and Predictability: Temporariness in International Law. Their piece originates in an impressive symposium on the topic that has been published in the Netherlands Yearbook of International Law (see here)

In a recent issue of the Netherlands Yearbook of International Law (vol. 45, 2014) titled ‘Between Pragmatism and Predictability: Temporariness in International law’, the volume editors Monika Ambrus and Ramses Wessel weave together the chapter contributions in building a systematised way of thinking about change or temporariness and international law. At a certain level, all issues and laws are temporary in the sense that they eventually undergo some change or disappear. What is referred to by temporariness here is changes of relatively short-duration or constant occurrence.

Ambrus and Wessel suggest that temporariness could be analysed with respect to two aspects of international law: its objects and subjects. By objects, they refer to the issues or problems that international law addresses, while subjects are the ‘institutions and other entities’ that shape international law, such as courts and tribunals. Drawing on illustrations from the chapter contributions on climate change, refugees, emergency situations, affirmative actions, commissions of inquiry and ad hoc international criminal tribunals, they point out that international law increasingly deals with temporary objects and subjects: issues or problems constantly change, and institutions could be designed for short life spans.

A pertinent starting point to engage this phenomenon is to ask, as they put it, how international law can ‘react to or be influenced by’ constant change or temporariness. In an era when global problems constantly evolve due to, among others, their ties with fast-paced technological development, temporariness is indeed a crucial and timely research agenda. In this piece, I would like to further highlight its importance by showing a particular dimension where temporariness is giving rise to a distinct trend in international governance. Before doing so, I’d like to comment on one aspect of Ambrus and Wessel’s conceptual approach to the topic that might pose an unnecessary constraint in taking this debate forward. Read the rest of this entry…

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