The Field of International Law

international law

The field of international law (also called public international law or “law of nations”) consists of the agreements, norms and standards that govern relationships between internationally recognized actors—primarily sovereign states but also multinational corporations, intergovernmental organizations, and NGOs. It covers a broad range of subjects including international peace and security, economic issues such as globalization, world trade and the environment, and even space law.

Unlike national or domestic law, international legal rules are not set out in any statutes approved by a legislature; instead, they are negotiated through multilateral treaties and the body of customary international law that develops over time. Moreover, international law is generally enforced only through consent—States comply with their international legal obligations because they agree to do so and not because there is any coercive force requiring them to do so.

Nevertheless, as globalization has increased and international activities have become more commonplace for governments, companies and individuals, the scope of international law continues to expand. Today, international legal issues touch all aspects of people’s lives, from the daily work that takes place within a multinational corporation to the personal decisions made by individuals seeking asylum in safer countries. As a result, lawyers will increasingly encounter international legal issues in the course of their professional duties, regardless of where they practice or what area of the law they specialize in.

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