International Laws: Helpful or Useless? – Julia Norman

International norms and laws are widely recognized ideas that are created in order to promote peace and cooperation among countries. Although in theory international laws should increase communication among countries, the real question is do international laws improve compliance from the international community. In 2013, the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad violated the almost universally accepted international norm against use of chemical weapons. It is hard to say what comes after an international law has been broken, since there is very little backing up most international laws. Does the country that breaks the law deserve consequences? Or, is it simply legitimate but illegal? Even when international norms become binded by a law, it almost never improves compliance.

When Syria broke its promise to not use chemical weapons, it was debated what measures should be taken. The enforcement decisions are made by the United Nations Security Council and are based weather breaking the international law poses a threat to the peace and security of the international community. In this circumstance, it was difficult to debate weather the use of chemical weapons posed a threat in the international community. This is an extremely common occurrence when an international law is broken. Although Syria said they would not use chemical weapons, there is nothing really stopping them. This serves as an example as to why international laws do not improve compliance.

Additionally, President Vladimir Putin of Russia has recently  been accused of violating international law by sending troops into Crimea. The United Charter (article 2(4)) prohibits “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.” Although President Putin may be breaking an international law, there is nothing in the United Nations charter that specifically states, if a country breaks the UN charter, there will specific consequences.

Although there are international norms and laws, most of the time there is nothing backing up the law. Without punishments such as consequences or sanctions, it makes international laws hard to promote compliance.  Most nations act in the self-interest of their state and will use military or weaponary use when they feel threatened. Even with an international norm in tact and the agreement to abide by the rules, states will act in the interest of their people. Numerous countries have acted against international laws. Although formal international laws may be binding, they  almost never improve compliance.


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