International Legal Theories
Essay Preview: International Legal Theories
Report this essay
As the world of international law has developed over the past few decades, various legal theories have emerged in analyzing how the growing globalized society operates. The two major theoretical categories have been the interest-based theories of state behavior, and the norm-based theories. Interest-based theories have a shared belief that states and individuals that guide them are self-interested actors that look at alternative courses of international action and act accordingly. The three interest-based theories to be discussed will be realism, institutionalism, and liberal theory. Norm-based theories agree that norms and ideas are critically important in conducting international law and politics. The three norm-based theories to be discussed will be constructivism, fairness/ legitimacy theory, and legal process theory.
The liberal theory of international law is the finest illustration of international law. The theory argues that states pursue their own self-interest by looking within the states to find domestic sources of self-interest. It encompasses the belief that societal ideas, interests, and institutions shape preferences and influence behavior.
Liberalist theory takes into account many factors such as culture, economic system, or government type, which are vital to state behavior. In the modern dynamic, where cultural influences are widespread, it is necessary to take into account its impact on the behavior of states. Liberalist also hold that interaction between states is not limited to political, but also economics, whether through firms, organizations, and individuals. It is interplay between them that influences a states role in the world. Instead of the anarchist views of realists, liberalists believe that there are ample opportunities for cooperation, rather than conflict, and broader notions of power such as cultural capital. An example would be the influence of American films leading to the popularity of American culture and creating a market for American exports. Though the goals stem from domestic self interests, I agree with the liberalist attitude that the states gains can lead to co-operation and interdependence, and finally peace.
That is not to say that the liberalist theory is without weaknesses. Liberalism makes no attempt to question the status quo. It holds international institutions as benevolent forces, while they may actually be in pursuit of rational self-interest. Realists will argue that liberalist arguments can be grounded in realism. Raw economic power and military power still trumps cultural and other broader notions of power. The core concepts of realism are conflict and relative gain, and states are viewed as unified principal actors motivated most by a desire for power. Indeed, liberalists may be too utopian in their outlook, and the anarchic view of the realists illustrated by current world events such as the Gulf War cannot be ignored. With terrorist attacks running rampant, and in my opinion, the United States attempting to exploit its position as the number one world superpower, realist theory has gravity in the modern global climate. With cross-cultural struggles throughout our world history, states have had to amass resources in pursuit of security as well as to quench their thirst for power.
Liberalism will combat the realist methodologies by emphasizing the growth of globalization, treaties between countries, cross-cultural understanding, as well as the WTO and the United Nations. I agree that, despite, stagnation between the rich and poor, the modern world is making attempts at co-operation and peace. Of course, I am influenced by my American upbringing, where liberalist ideologies such as individuality and democracy have been ingrained.
Institutionalism shares the assumption that states act as unified actors in pursuit of self-interest. More than liberalists, they account for the influence of system-wide institutions to influence state behavior. With the world increasingly being run by various organizations, from political branches, to corporations, to other types of international institutions, the theory focuses on their effects on society. With the pervasive influence of institutions on human behavior through rules, norms, and other frameworks, they are correct in that these organizations do influence choices of individuals. As companies battle for power and profits, the struggles of these institutions do conflict with liberalist ideas of co-operation and interdependence. Recent institutionalist theory has adopted broader views of institutions that encompass international legal institutions.
The counterargument is that some of the concepts of institutionalism support the liberalist theory. Organizations such as the IMF, World Bank, GATT, and NATO encompass objectives that, ideally speaking, will lead to worldwide cooperation and a peaceful global society. Societal institutions exist in a realm beyond that of just self-interest, and in actuality have underlying goals of positively influencing and bringing together societies with their global influence. This view exists in an idealistic framework, but liberalists will stress that institutions function as instruments in unification, not just self-growth.
Constructivists reject standard liberal views on international relations and argue that state interests stem from identities and international norms. The focus is on how ideas construct the social environment