International law is a system of rules, principles and normative standards governing the behaviour of States and, increasingly, other actors in the global arena—including corporations, non-governmental organisations, individuals and others. The body of international law consists of a range of legal instruments, including treaties, conventions and pacts, as well as continued general practice that translates into international custom and general legal principles.
The development of international law dates back centuries. It was first formalised in the 17th century with laws like those governing shipping routes and arms control, and then expanded to cover such issues as human rights, economic and trade law, and space law by the turn of the twentieth century.
Although international law is largely a product of State activity, it is not binding on any State that does not choose to abide by it. International law is therefore enforced by consent rather than by coercion, except as may be provided for in specific Security Council Resolutions that authorize peacekeeping missions, impose sanctions or provide for the use of force where there is an imminent threat to international peace and security.
A degree in international law opens up many opportunities for travel, whether working for a multinational corporation that does business worldwide or going to places like the United Nations and working behind the scenes at summits of world leaders. It’s a field that’s constantly evolving, with new areas of study opening up as the world’s political landscape shifts and old fault lines resurface.