Skip to main content
  • This chapter is unavailable for purchase
  • Print publication year: 2013
  • Online publication date: April 2013

9 - Sanctions, countermeasures and collective security

from Part I - The structure of international law


Popular wisdom has it that international law is a system without sanctions. This nugget of wisdom was popularized by the legal theorist John Austin, writing in the early nineteenth century that international law was little else but ‘positive morality’; there were rules applicable in the relations between states, but these hardly added up to something that could meaningfully be considered ‘law’, for true law, so Austin suggested, consists of emanations from a sovereign backed up by force. International law, not having a sovereign and not accepting the centralized use of force, therefore could not be considered as law. At best, international rules could be morality, and since they were sometimes written down they could qualify as ‘positive’, but that was as far as Austin was willing to go.

While highly critical of Austin, the legal philosopher H. L. A. Hart, in his classic The Concept of Law written in the latter half of the twentieth century, none the less reached a fairly similar conclusion; to his mind, international law was, in a way, law, but did not add up to a legal system properly speaking, largely because rules relating to how international law was made and enforced seemed to be lacking. Again then, the relative dearth of sanctions seemed to suggest that international law was not really law, and even to this day the legal nature of international law is sometimes questioned. To those who equate law with punishment, international law must seem problematic indeed.

Recommend this book

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this book to your organisation's collection.

International Law
  • Online ISBN: 9781139022569
  • Book DOI:
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to *
Austin, John, The Province of Jurisprudence Determined (Cambridge University Press, 1995 [1832], W. Rumble ed.)
Hart, H. L. A., The Concept of Law (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961)
Kelsen, Hans, Principles of International Law (New York: Rinehart & Co., 1952)
Akehurst, Michael, A Modern Introduction to International Law, 6th edn (London: Unwin Hyman, 1987)
Simma, Bruno and Tams, Christian, ‘Article 60 – Convention de 1969’, in Olivier Corten and Pierre Klein (eds.), Les Conventions de Vienne sur le droit des traités. Commentaire article par article (Brussels: Bruylant, 2006), 2131–76
Shaw, Malcolm N., International Law, 6th edn (Cambridge University Press, 2008)
Carr, E. H., The Twenty Years’ Crisis 1919–1939 (London: Macmillan, 1983 [1939])
Bass, Gary J., Stay the Hand of Vengeance: The Politics of War Crimes Tribunals (Princeton University Press, 2000)
Klabbers, Jan, ‘Reflections on the Politics of Institutional Reform’, in Peter G. Danchin and Horst Fischer (eds.), United Nations Reform and the New Collective Security (Cambridge University Press, 2010), 76–93
Gazzini, Tarcisio, The Changing Rules on the Use of Force in International Law (Manchester University Press, 2005), 43–54
Lowe, A. V., International Law (Oxford University Press, 2007)
Broms, Bengt, ‘The Definition of Aggression’ (1977/I) 154 Recueil des Cours, 299–400
Stone, Julius, ‘Hopes and Loopholes in the 1974 Definition of Aggression’, (1977) 71 American Journal of International Law, 224–46
Barnett, Michael and Finnemore, Martha, Rules for the World: International Organizations in Global Politics (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2004)
Abi-Saab, Georges, The United Nations Operation in the Congo 1960–1964 (Oxford University Press, 1978)
Fröhlich, Manuel, Political Ethics and the United Nations: Dag Hammarskjöld as Secretary-General (London: Routledge, 2008), at 155
Wilde, Ralph, International Territorial Administration: How Trusteeship and the Civilizing Mission Never Went Away (Oxford University Press, 2008)
Klabbers, Jan, ‘The Scope of International Law: Erga Omnes Obligations and the Turn to Morality’, in Matti Tupamäki (ed.), Liber Amicorum Bengt Broms (Helsinki: Finnish ILA Branch, 1999), 149–79
Farrall, Jeremy Matam, United Nations Sanctions and the Rule of Law (Cambridge University Press, 2007)
Klabbers, Jan, Treaty Conflict and the European Union (Cambridge University Press, 2008)
Tzanakopoulos, Antonios, Disobeying the Security Council: Countermeasures against Wrongful Sanctions (Oxford University Press, 2011)
Alvarez, Jose E., International Organizations as Law-makers (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Tamanaha, Brian Z., On the Rule of Law: History, Politics, Theory (Cambridge University Press, 2004)
Fuller, Lon L., The Morality of Law, rev. edn (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1969)