We are familiar with the question: Is international law law? In my new book, I ask instead: Is international law international? Not particularly, is my answer—at least, not in the way that it tends to be conceptualized by international law academics in different states and in the international law textbooks and casebooks that they use.
When asked to reflect on the professional community of international lawyers, Oscar Schachter memorably called it an “invisible college” whose members were “dispersed throughout the world” yet “engaged in a continuous process of communication and collaboration.” But in rendering that college visible, I find that international lawyers may be better understood as constituting a “divisible college” whose members hail from different states and regions and who often form separate (though overlapping) communities with their own understandings and approaches.
In tracing these divisions and considering their consequences, I make three arguments. First, international lawyers are often subject to differences in their incoming influences and outgoing spheres of influence in ways that affect how they understand and approach international law. Second, actors, materials and approaches from some states and regions have come to dominate certain transnational flows and forums in ways that make them disproportionately instrumental in constructing the “international.” Third, existing understandings of the field are likely to be disrupted by factors such as changes in geopolitical power, making it increasingly important for international lawyers to understand the perspectives of those from unlike-minded states.
My book invites international lawyers to look in the mirror to discern and become more reflective about their blind spots and parochialism. It encourages international lawyers to recognize and speak openly about some of the socializing factors, incentives and power dynamics that shape their divisible college. It suggests that they try to see the field through the eyes of others and to diversify their sources, networks and perspectives. This call is particularly appropriate for Western international lawyers—myself included—who often study, work and publish in a Western bubble, which makes it harder for us to understand and adjust to the newly emerging competitive world order. Read the rest of this entry…