Human nature consists of three basic components. These are to live, to propagate and to dominate. If Humanity was left without any other parameters, this natural state of existence would govern its behavior. Fortunately, there are parameters that exist. These parameters are law. The topic of this paper addresses the type of law that operates in creating potential boundaries for the behavior of states. This law is called the Law of Nations or international law. Patrick Moynihan, a senator from New York, has written a book on this subject called On the Law of Nations. His book argues that states need international law to monitor their actions and to maintain order. He also notes the frequent departures states do from international law. This essay will reflect his plea to return to the norms that international law provides; it will also discuss and identify the moral dilemmas that are present with international law and its relationship with states.
The term “laisser aller” or “letting go” is used by Friedrich Nietzsche to describe this state of nature, in which man resides absently of law. His use of the term represents the struggle morality wages against nature and reason. He equates morality in any form, with “tyranny and unreason.” Nietzsche proposes that man’s natural existence be, in essence, nihilistic. Logically, the political entity known as the state, created by man will inherit these traits. Thus, the conclusion is that the creation and institution of international law are in direct violation to nature.
However, international law exists and states “generally” submit themselves to it. . Since most of this law is derived from codified norms of states, the term submission can be used. There is a disservice committed to humanity when the law is broken, not just to those who are weaker in the global community but to the law itself. A violent raping of the law is committed when it is taken in an a la carte form. The constant shifting back and forth from international law to nature creates an incoherent system and a basis for calling the reversion to the natural state, evil. In this setting “illegal” unilateral action is immoral. Conversely, the adherence to the law is equally immoral. This conclusion is drawn from the virtue of integrity. Either have a commitment to comply with morality or completely abstain from a hypocritical form of servicing the law with words and no conformity. Consistency, is an extremely important factor of a system of law.
Moynihan argues that the United State has begun to traverse a path leading away from its adherence to international law. “There is clear evidence that the United States is moving away from its long established concern for and advocacy of international legal norms of state behavior.” The implication of the United States’ departure is extremely troubling. The decline of universalism in world politics can be seen through the example of the United States. Moynihan has no trouble in finding examples in recent history to support his argument. During the Bush Administration two examples are cited of unilateral action condoned by the United States, which are violations of international law. The first is the precedent allowing the Federal Bureau of Investigation apprehend fugitives of United States law anywhere around the world. This violates the principles of sovereignty and jurisdiction. The second example is the United States’ raid on the home of the Nicaraguan embassador in Panama. This clearly violates the idea of extraterritorality. These actions are interpreted to be in violation to the very law that the United States constitution promises to up hold. Because of these actions and many others that are frequently taking place all around the globe, an underlying disregard for law in the international community exists. One could conclude that there is no real international law but international suggestion.
The moral dilemma does not exist in an isolated location, such as the United States. This is a wide spread enigma that confronts political thinkers of today. The existence of an operational universal system in a predominated arena of nationalism is nearly impossible. The two systems have been shifting since the Treaty of Westphalia, according to Hans Morganthau. He argues that nations are now “the standard-bearers of ethical systems, each of them of national origin and each of them claiming and aspiring to provide a supranational framework moral standards . . . ” This powerful argument proposes that the framework has changed. There has been a shift from that common ground to something self-interested. The reason for the shift is nationalism. Each state maintains that they have the moral system which should be universally accepted; thus, only satisfying that part of the international law that is right for them. This gives us international law a la carte and consequently, not a viable system at all.
International law exists as hybrid system of law. Unfortunately, consistency is a problem. If this was the case in law on a domestic level there are concessions for enforcement. The international community has no such institution nor stipulation for uniform compliance to its law. This creates a dilemma, how can a grouping of people whose nature is self-interested behave morally without encouragement from a compulsory mechanism?
This essay reflects the ideas argued by Patrick Moynihan in the book, On the Law of Nations. Furthermore, it argues the notion of morality in the international community, that either there is complete surrender to its principles or total abstinence in participation. Perhaps one day a solution will arise to successfully solve the dilemmas the world faces in obtaining a world of order. A world where the law is not based on mere custom but a legislature empowered to create laws that are binding to all states. Having a system that allows for enforcement and interpretation of the law will benefit the now chaotic world that hangs on the thread of sanity over the abyss of annihilation.