International Law and Democracy

Despite the proliferation of legal instruments to protect human rights, international law often remains vague. Specifically, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) can pass laws for only a minority of the world’s members. The Security Council has the authority to authorize the use of force to liberate Kuwait, but there are many grave breaches of international law that have gone unpunished. One problem with international law is that there is no centralized dispute settlement mechanism.

In recent years, scholars of international law have begun to distinguish between external and internal dimensions. External dimensions of self-determination deal with freedom from colonial subjugation and foreign occupation. Decolonization made this external dimension particularly transformational. Internal dimensions, on the other hand, focus on rights to democratic governance domestically. As such, the internal dimension of self-determination has become more relevant in discussions of the role of international law in promoting democracy.

While the United States traditionally respects the laws of other countries, international law does not preclude it from making laws in its own territory. Furthermore, the Constitution of the United States does not vest the 50 states with the authority to regulate foreign affairs. For these reasons, the United States is a significant subject of international law. However, international law should not be confused with public law. However, many scholars are beginning to understand the importance of public international law.

De jure legitimacy is the capacity of international law to generate legitimate reasons for action. It may include reasons for states to preserve or develop international institutions, or to refrain from interfering with their operations. The legitimacy of international law is often a matter of ethical and political standards. This principle is not limited to the concept of de jure legitimacy, but it is a fundamental part of the debate. This is where international law can make a difference.

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