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  • Print publication year: 2007
  • Online publication date: June 2012

16 - International law

from Part 2 - The traditional agenda: states, war and law



This chapter presents an account of how international law functions in relation to international relations. First, it surveys the sources and philosophical underpinnings of international law. Second, it outlines the scope of subjects addressed by international law. Third, it considers some of the ways international law impacts on Australia. Finally, it addresses the question of whether international law really matters in international relations.

International law began as a system of law governing relations among states. It has evolved in conjunction with the evolution of the international states-system so as to encompass the activities of intergovernmental organisations, multinational corporations, not-for-profit non-governmental organisations and individuals. It is essential for students of world politics to learn about the functioning of the international legal system because international law is integral to world politics. The breadth of the subject matter encompassed by international law and the increasing complexity of the international legal system mean, however, that even international lawyers often specialise in only a few aspects of international law and whole books are devoted to single topics in international law. This chapter does not attempt to cover all the content of international law but to introduce the reader to how the system of international law functions and to offer guidance as to where to find information on particular subject areas of international law when the need arises.

Further reading
Barker, J. Craig 2000, International law and international relations, London: Continuum. An introductory international relations text on international law, which includes clear explanations of how the various international relations theories view international law.
Beck, Robert J., Arend, Anthony Clark and Lugt, Vander, Robert, D. (eds) 1996, International rules: approaches from international law and international relations, Oxford: Oxford University Press. Useful guide to alternative theoretical approaches to international law.
Blay, S., Piotrowicz, R. and Tsamenyi, B. M. 1997, Public international law: an Australian perspective, Melbourne: Oxford University Press. Australian textbook on international law.
Brownlie, Ian 2002, Documents in international law, fifth edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press. General collection of international legal documents.
Byers, Michael (ed.) 2000, The role of law in international politics, Oxford: Oxford University Press. Essays by leading writers on aspects of the political functioning of international law.
Malanczuk, P. 1997, Akehurst's modern introduction to international law, seventh review edition, London and New York: Routledge. Introductory textbook on international law often used by political scientists as well as law students.
Sands, P. 2005, Lawless world: America and the making and breaking of global rules, Camberwell: Penguin. Provocative critique of the Bush and Blair administrations' attitudes towards international law by an eminent international lawyer.