International Law and Global Governance

Term Paper, 2008

8 Pages



1. Introduction

2. International Law: Definition, development and principles

3. Global Governance: Definition, principles and relations to International Law

4. Theory & practical implementation of the concepts

5. Conclusion

Appendix: Bibliography

International Law and Global Governance

1. Introduction

In the following, I am going to discuss characteristics, similarities and distinctions, problems and the grip on reality of International Law and Global Governance. At first, International Law, including its historical development and most important principles, is presented. I continue with the introduction of the concept of Global Governance. At the end of this chapter, the relations between the two theories are explained and principal distinctions and similarities are mentioned. Coming to an end, I am going to ask for the grip on reality and compare theory with practical implementation. Finally, I will draw my conclusions.

I decided to write about this topic because it gains more importance and actuality from day to day. International Law and Global Governance are vital constituents of international relations. Especially when I prepared my report on Institutionalism I became aware of their significance. Everyone, who wants to live in a world as peaceful as possible, must make up his or her mind about those concepts because International Law and Global Governance are the only functional theories offered by political science that could possibly sooner or later reach this goal.

2. International Law: Definition, development and principles

“International Law” is a term which does not completely speak for itself. The “Law” (which means principles of justice standardized by contract and custom1 ) does not refer to nations, but to states - since these are the main actors in international relations. Nevertheless, there are further subjects of International Law, for example international organizations like the EU or ethnic minorities.

International Law aims to set rights, duties and rules for the intercourse of these actors. The actors must lead a continuous relationship (otherwise there would not be any need for regulation by law), recognize each other as subjects of International Law and acknowledge that agreements or treaties can not be changed by one party only.


One may already find examples for such rules between states in the Greek system of city-states. They developed “inter-city-state” rules for trade, war and asylum. The Peace of Westphalia from 1648, which marked the end of the Thirty Years’ War, is generally accepted as the beginning date of classic International Law. This Law referred mostly to lords and kings as representatives of sovereign states and stretched out to non-European countries during the 19th century.

Modern International Law evolved in the 20th century with the foundation of the League of Nations and the United Nations Organization regarding the experiences of the World Wars. It is continuously gaining new areas and depths (e. g. concerning enforcement and sanctioning) as well as in process of globalization. Vital impulses for this development came from decolonization. Only as sovereign states the former colonies could participate in the international system. Modern International Law shows a tendency towards a genuine right of humans and peoples next to the “Staatenverkehrsrecht”2 (mere rules for states’ coexistence). But the most essential difference between classic and modern International Law is the judgment of war: whereas peace and war were both legal and equally judged states before the First World War, war and violence became more and more banned and forbidden during the 20th century.


One of the key principles of International Law is sovereignty. It stands for independence - inwards and outwards. Sovereignty means to have no other commander or authority above oneself, but it must not be confused with not being obliged to follow the law. Of course, one must keep in mind that absolute independence is hardly reachable even for a “sovereign” state. Most states in our modern international system depend on (e. g. trade) relations with other countries and they recognize international organizations as authorities, which may influence their national governance.

In addition, the content of the idea “sovereignty” has undergone deep changes during the past 300 years: while it was originally considered a quality of kings and lords in their capacity as state leaders, sovereignty belongs to the people nowadays, at least in democratic states.

To summarize, one might possibly say that due to globalization and democratization some parts of inward and outward independence dropped away which makes it a bit more difficult to shape an idea of sovereignty. Maybe we would get a helpful answer if we asked people or regions who are not as used to it as we are in Western Europe but long deeply for sovereignty like Kosovo or Chechnya. From the principle of sovereignty all other principles of International Law can be derived, for example that all states are equal. International Law never knew any kind of hierarchy - this is what the theory says. In reality, the amount of influence each country has in international relations (and organizations) differs widely and depends mostly on economic power. This is easily noticeable glancing at the development of China’s international role: the more its economic influence grows, the more grows its political influence in international relations as well.

Another essential principle of International Law is mutuality. It is the explanation because of which the international system can work at all and the actors observe the rules - even without a central authority that distributes sanctions for violations of International Law. It also explains why the actors keep conventions or treaties.

The last important principle that needs to be mentioned is the most difficult one: the prohibition of intervention. It developed as a part of modern International Law - in view of the fact that intervention could not have been forbidden while war was still allowed. Principally, it shall serve as a shield for weaker countries. It means that neither execution nor threat of any kind of violence - military, diplomatic, economic, propagandistic etc. - between sovereign states is legal.

But this principle often collides with other norms of International Law, above all in the field of human rights. In each single situation the international community (or rather the constituent members in the UNO) is required to weigh different goods like sovereignty, protection of human rights or prevention of genocide against others.

3. Global Governance: Definition, principles and relations to International Law

Concerning Global Governance, there is no particular definition everybody agrees on. One possible suggestion may be the following: Global Governance means the diversity of procedures that create rules for the local, national, regional and global level in a free exchange against the background of globalization.3 Since the demands made by the problems in a globalized world differ broadly from the capacity of nation states to manage global problems with conventional methods, international politics is forced to be globalized as well.

The expression Global Governance appeared for the first time in a report of the Commission on Global Governance in 1995. Immediately, a discussion started about different interpretations of the term. Some believed that Global Governance means no more than an increase of multilateralism in international politics, which is wrong. Others assumed that Global Governance is equal with or demands a world government, which is also wrong. The idea of a world government is neither realistic nor desirable because it could hardly gain democratic legitimacy and would be too far away from the actual problems. Global Governance definitely implies the thought that governance should take place on different levels, not only on the global one.


As I already mentioned, Global Governance is not limited to the global level. On the contrary, it is a vital principle that governance should take place on the level which is suited best for the particular problem. This is called principle of subsidiarity. For instance, the regulation of international cash flow can not be limited to the national level whereas the creation of a nature reserve in Bavaria should be handled by local authorities. Accordingly, it is often the case that general formulations of political goals are carried out on an international level (e. g. the formulation of the Agenda 21 at the world conference for environment and development of the United Nations UNCED in Rio de Janeiro in 1992), but the concrete implementation (creating nature reserves or laws for environmental protection) takes place on the spot - in the nation state or on an even lower level.

Furthermore, Global Governance is characterized by cooperation of state and non-state actors, for example supranational systems like the European Union, NGOs (non-governmental organizations) like Greenpeace that stand for the civil society, international organizations like the WTO (World Trade Organization) or international regimes that are bound to a particular area of politics like the MTCR (missile technology control regime). Many global problems require collaboration of these actors as it is the case in the field of human rights. They can only be protected effectively when the nation states ratify international conventions and NGOs like amnesty international observe thoroughly their compliance. This development is accompanied with an increasing significance of informal agreements.

Another condition of Global Governance is the redefining of sovereignty rights. This means to link national governance and sovereignty to the compliance of globally accepted standards, e. g. human rights. Countries, which do not follow these rules, must expect sanctions of the international community. However, this concept must be based on legitimacy and requires certainly a reformation and democratization of the United Nations Organization. Sanctions that are not clearly approved and defined by international institutions like the UNO (e. g. the Iraq War) are not legal even if they are necessary, desirable or morally advisable. Of course, one can also not deny the problem to find these “globally” accepted standards. They might vary decisively due to cultural differences.

Relations between Global Governance and International Law, similarities and distinctions Global Governance means political regulation on a global, international level. Such regulation requires rules and the substantiation of rules is law - which leads us to International Law. Vice versa, Global Governance is a progression and further development of International Law. The single warranty for the observance of International Law was the principle of mutuality until the concept of Global Governance arose. While in former times states could only hope that contracts were kept for the simple reason that the other party also would not like to be betrayed, states are nowadays urged or even forced to keep conventions because otherwise they are going to be punished by international governance institutions. At least, this is what Global Governance aims for. Thus, Global Governance multiplies the influence of international rules and norms on inner-state matters: be it a prescription of the EU that alters German citizens’ customer habits or an internationally legitimized intervention that changes even the government of a country. It restrains sovereignty much more than International Law alone does. Looking at the beginning time of the concept of Global Governance, it is easily recognizable that this concept developed due to severe breaches of International Law during World War One and Two (apart from demands of globalization) and consequently the claim for international institutions which are enabled to formulate stricter rules, control their compliance and punish their violation.

Both International Law and Global Governance depend on a certain minimum consensus amongst all actors, despite innumerous differences, e. g. cultural ones.

On the other hand, International Law is mainly independent from the type of government inside a state, it works in a community of monarchies, democracies, autocracies and so on, whereas it emerged during the last years that Global Governance is closely coupled with democracy: rules, which are democratically legitimized, are much more likely to be followed than other rules. The observance of rules guarantees the effectiveness of governance - and this again strengthens the trust in and the satisfaction with the democratic political regulation. The more a system of governance lacks central authorities and successful sanctions, the more it requires voluntary compliance of rules. Global Governance without democratic legitimacy will always be problematic. An additional difference between the two concepts is that the equality of all actors, as it is a principle of International Law, is realized even less in Global Governance, for example there are states with particular functions that enlarge their power like the five permanent members of the Security Council of the UNO. Eventually, Global Governance involves much more different actors, e. g. NGOs which are not subjects of International Law.


1 Krell, Gert 2004, Weltbilder und Weltordnung (p. 148)

2 Krell, Gert 2004, Weltbilder und Weltordnung (p. 149)

3 Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, Zahlen & Fakten: Globalisierung, Global Governance - Einführung

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International Law and Global Governance
University of Applied Sciences Bremen
Inter- and transnational Relations
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ISBN (eBook)
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sehr dichte, schön formatierte Arbeit (Anm. der Red.)
International, Global, Governance, Inter-, Relations
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Lisa Wegener (Author), 2008, International Law and Global Governance, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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