Few areas of international law excite as much controversy as the law relating to foreign investment. A spate of arbitration awards resulting from investment treaties has added much to the debates in recent times. These have been followed by massive literature analysing the law resulting from the treaties and the arbitration awards. Since the awards often conflict, the confusion has been exacerbated. Though the conflict in the awards is often attributed to the inconsistencies in the language in the treaties each tribunal had to interpret, the more probable explanation is that there are philosophical, economic and political attitudes that underlie the conflict which in turn reflect the underlying causes for the controversies that have existed in the area for a long time. The legitimacy of the system has been contested. The result of this lack of legitimacy has been for some states to withdraw altogether from the system and for other states to bring about newer types of treaties that provide a balance between investment protection and the state's right to regulate in the public interest.
The law on the area has been steeped in controversy from its inception. Much controversy has resulted from the law on the subject being the focus of conflict between several forces released at the conclusion of the Second World War. The cyclical nature of the ebbs and flows of the controversy is evident. The ending of colonialism released forces of nationalism. Once freed from the shackles of colonialism, the newly independent states agitated not only for the ending of the economic dominance of the former colonial powers within their states but also for a world order which would permit them more scope for the ordering of their own economies and access to world markets. The Cold War between the then super-powers made the law a battleground for ideological conflicts. The non-aligned movement, which arose in response to this rivalry, exerted pressure to ensure that each newly independent state had complete control over its economy. One avenue for the exertion of such pressure by the non-aligned movement was the formulation of new doctrines through the use of the numerical strength of its members in the General Assembly of the United Nations.
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