Getting International Law Back on Track?
The past decade has been a challenging one for international law. Major powers have shown an unexpected appetite for territorial expansion and have intensified their hostility to international dispute resolution. Populist upheavals have led many governments to turn inward and neglect their international obligations on issues ranging from refugees to the climate. The coronavirus pandemic and ever-deepening economic and strategic rivalries have called the durability of the international economic order into question, as the desire for self-reliance and concerns about national security are increasingly given priority over the benefits of international integration. And the international community has yet again proved unable to protect people from unspeakable suffering, whether it has come in the form of indiscriminate attacks, starvation, or mass internment.
International law as a discipline has also faced calls for renewal from different voices: indigenous peoples, NGOs, and other subnational and nonstate entities are increasingly shaping developments in international law, and social movements that have been calling out gender, racial, and other forms of discrimination in our societies have also cast a bright light on the hierarchies and biases of the international legal profession itself.
If the 2020s are to provide an opportunity to get international law back on track, we need to learn the lessons of the past decade. But should we be trying to recover our bearings in order to pursue previously charted goals? Or have we been irreversibly thrown off course, such that we need to plot an entirely new path? The 2021 Annual Conference of the Canadian Council on International Law will provide a forum for a frank and inclusive debate of these questions as they play out in the various areas of public and private international law.