Thursday, January 21, 2010

Robinson & Haque: Justice & Deterrence in International Law: Improper Limitations on Responses to Unlawful Aggression

Paul H. Robinson (Univ. of Pennsylvania - Law) & Adil Ahmad Haque (Rutgers Univ., Newark - Law) have posted Justice & Deterrence in International Law: Improper Limitations on Responses to Unlawful Aggression. Here's the abstract:

Current international law imposes limitations on the use of force to defend against unlawful aggression that improperly advantage unlawful aggressors and disadvantage their victims. The Article gives examples of such rules, governing a variety of situations, showing how clearly unjust they can be. No domestic criminal law system would tolerate their use.

There are good practical reasons why international law should care that its rules are perceived as unjust. Given the lack of an effective international law enforcement mechanism, compliance depends to a large degree upon the moral authority with which international law speaks. Compliance is less likely when its rules are perceived as obviously unjust. This common sense perspective is supported by social science research showing the importance of law's moral credibility in gaining assistance and compliance, in reducing resistance and subversion, and in helping to shape shared norms. The current practice of victim states' ignoring the legal limitations, with studied indifference to such "violations" by the international community, only legitimizes and habituates law-breaking, further undermining international law's moral credibility.

Interpretations of international law can be constructed that would narrow the gap between the legal rules and moral intuitions regarding the use of defensive force. Such revisionist interpretations may be a useful temporary measure, but are not a solution, because the gap between law and justice can be narrowed but not closed by reinterpretation alone. Ultimately, reform is required of international law's foundational texts, in particular Article 51 of the U.N. Charter.

International law limitations on responses to aggression are also improper for reasons beyond their conflict with the principles of justice instantiated in domestic criminal law. International law and domestic criminal law are importantly different. Most fundamentally, international law lacks an effective law enforcement system. In order to effectively control unlawful aggression, international law needs to have fewer limitations on responses to aggression, not more. A series of examples of such improper limitations are given. They have the unfortunate effect of promoting aggression and instability by undermining effective deterrence. Again, there exist possible reinterpretations of international law that could avoid some of the improper limitations but, ultimately, a reform of international law's foundational texts is required.

Opportunities for reform of international law are rare, but luckily the Assembly of State Parties to the International Criminal Court is currently developing an amendment to the Rome Statute that identifies the crimes over which the Court has jurisdiction. Tragically, rather than taking this opportunity to confront international law's existing problems, the current Draft Amendment compounds those problems by imposing individual criminal liability on leaders of victim states who authorize defensive force against unlawful aggression in violation flawed current law.