Professor Martens’ Departure, a biographical novel about the international lawyer Friedrich Martens by Estonian writer Jaan Kross, describes Martens’ first academic visit to “the West”. The visit takes place in 1869, and goes to Berlin, Amsterdam, and Brussels. This raises the question of where Martens should have gone today. Put differently, what cities are currently the most important in international law?
This question can be answered in different ways. Which cities house the best universities for international law? Which have the most influential State governments? Where are the most important international organisations and courts located? And where are the best private practitioners? I have tried to combine these four parameters into a single rating, to give a highly informal ranking of the top international law cities as of 2015. I welcome readers’ reactions to my attempt to identify international law’s most important cities.
Each parameter has a rating of 0 to 5. The assessments are my own, but are to some extent based on other sources.
- “Academia” is based on the Quacquarelli Symonds, Academic Ranking of World Univiersities, and Times Higher Education university rankings, with adjustments that reflect my view of the universities’ strength in international law. Only five cities get a top rating for their universities: Cambridge UK, Cambridge MA (Harvard), New Haven (Yale), New York (mainly NYU), and Oxford.
- The numbers for “IOs and courts” are based on my impression of the practical importance of each city’s institutions in international law. Six cities get a top rating: New York (the UN), The Hague (the most international courts including the ICJ, ICC as well as international organizations), Brussels (mainly the EU and NATO), Geneva (the WTO, the UN, and more), Washington (mainly ICSID, the IMF, and the World Bank), and Strasbourg (mainly the ECtHR and Council of Europe).
- My views of “State power” are mostly based on GDP numbers, the size and sophistication of armed forces, and membership of important groups and organisations (especially permanent membership of the UNSC). Only Washington and Beijing get a top rating for state power. The US and China have the world’s largest active military forces, military budgets, and GDPs, as well as nuclear weapons and permanent membership of the UNSC.
- “Private practice” is based on the Legal 500 and Chambers and Partners rankings. Having a separate section for “public international law” and/or “international arbitration” gives a high rating, while having “international arbitration” mentioned in the section on “dispute resolution” gives a somewhat lower rating. Only four cities, Washington, New York, Paris, and London, get a top rating.
The combined result is that Washington is the number one international law city, followed by New York and Paris, ahead of London, Geneva, and Brussels. The full results (for a selection of cities) are as follows:
|Academia||State power||IOs and courts||Private practice||Total score|
The results presented here are necessarily imprecise, subjective, and unscientific. Some particularly debatable points will be briefly noted:
- Non-State governmental power is not considered. The city government of New York can be said to have more “power” than the State of Luxembourg, yet the latter gets a higher rating for State power. This is because Luxembourg is a State, and thus has a seat at the table in many of the places where international law is shaped, which New York does not.
- International law academics at Cambridge UK and Oxford have a tradition for engaging in private work in addition to their academic activities. Both cities still get a 0 for private practitioners, so this has not been counted. Their private work can be seen as a part and result of their academic status, and, perhaps more importantly, the work seems to be done formally out of chambers located in London.
- For all ratings, one good institution is considered better than many mediocre.
- Cities’ closeness to other important cities is not taken into account (this would benefit e.g. Cambridge/Oxford/London, Hague/Amsterdam/Leiden, Paris/London, NY/Washington/New Haven/Cambridge MA, and Europe generally).
- The locations of NGO headquarters are not taken into account. They are, at least to some extent, assumed to “follow the power” and thus be more present in the cities that are higher in the rankings.
The results may say something about the continued importance of geography despite the advance of globalisation, or perhaps about the alleged “Eurocentrism” or “Western bias” in international law. I leave the interpretation to the reader.
All the parameters are about things that are very slow and difficult to change. Any efforts by cities to improve their rankings will most likely be futile. Washington was indeed not built in a day. The rankings will probably remain as they are for the foreseeable future.