SO WHAT IS INTERNATIONAL LAW ANYWAY?
Glad you asked! International law is the system of rules generally observed and considered binding in the relations between nation states. It is sometimes referred to as the "law of nations". This system of rules and principles is well organized and can often be effectively cited as to sources much like national domestic law. It is based on treaty, custom, precedent and "...consensus of opinion as to justice and moral obligation , which civilized nations recognize as binding upon them in mutual dealings and relations." (Source: Black's Law Dictionary)
The Oar Mace of Admiralty
INTERNATIONAL LAW MAY BE SUBDIVIDED INTO AT LEAST THREE DISTINCT AREAS OF STUDY:
For convenience in this review we will subdivide International Law into three subdivisions. These are:
- Public International Law (Law of Nations)
- Private International Law ( Law of relations between commercial organizations and individuals contracted across international borders)
- International Law of Utilities ( International regulation of postal activities, air and seaways, telecommunications, etc.) What we refer to as "International Utility Law impacts greatly on maritime activity. For example shipboard communications are heavily impacted by international telecommunications law, shipboard waste disposal is affected by international pollution accords. Mineral exploitation on the Outer Continental Shelves and deep seabed mining are subjects of such law. All three of these areas are of great importance in maritime activity. Maritime professionals must be concerned with the Public Law of Nations as these spell out such concepts as privileges and immunities of naval and merchant marine personnel, the law of armed conflict, boundaries between the high seas and the territorial seas, and many other issues of daily concern in maritime activity. The commercial shipping and naval communities are also impacted by Private International Law which governs the flow of international cargoes, contracts, and insurance. Shipboard communications as noted earlier are affected greatly by international telecommunications law. Shipboard waste disposal is affected by international pollution accords. Mineral exploitation on the Outer Continental shelves and the deep sea beds are subjects of international convention. SOME HISTORICAL BACKGROUND: The concept of International Law is not recent. The communications, transport, and weaponry advances of modern times have added immensely to the system's perceived importance, growth, and codification. The continuing developments in these areas in the twenty first century will continue to generate further growth in the system. However, the system has been around since ancient times. The Early Egyptians had treaties recognizing the soverignity of neighboring states. These agreements contained detailed arrangements for immigration, refugees, diplomatic exchanges, and some trade matters. One of the earliest examples of a "Law of armed Conflict" was the Code of Manu on the Indian subcontinent which may have been written as early as 500 B.C.. The Greek city states operated in close proximity to each other and were economically interdependent. Consequently, they devised a rather detailed system of formal rules governing their many mutual interests. Many modern ideas of International Law originated with these city states. The Greeks appear to be the first to embrace concise and codified methods of treaty interpretation. They provided for arbitration, and for the exchange and immunity of ambassadors. Much of what we call Public International Law evolved from the early Greek city state practices. By the early twentieth century International Law had expanded to government, public, and private international concerns. Freedom of the seas became an established concept after years of enforcement largely by English speaking navies. Postal, and later submarine cable agreements were established. Extradition treaties became widespread. By the early twentieth century people and products moved in a predictable and orderly manner across national borders, in times of peace. Unfortunately , issues related to war and peace such as sovereignty, national self determination, and national self defense were insufficiently developed to prevent two world wars and almost a half century of "Cold War". The emerging post cold war era and its attendant, but as yet unclear "New World Order" will of necessity spur development in these areas. One area that we see emerging is actually very old. China simply does not accept the existing World legal system for the high seas which establishes a relatively narrow band of 12 miles off of adjacent coastal states as the territorial sea of the coastal state. Adjacent coastal states also exercise certain limited rights and responsibilities subject to the innocent passage of world shipping in coastal bands that extend rarely more than 200 miles from a base line associated with the mainland. In these areas the adjacent coastal state is recognized as having the exclusive right to erect fixed platforms and permanently moored vessels for the exploitation of minerals and benthic (bottom dwelling) fisheries. The adjacent coastal state is also expected to assume responsibility for the enforcement of migratory ocean fish species treaties in that zone. But China claims a "closed sea", usurping islands and recognized water territories of its neighbors. Their position is little different from that of Spain in the 1400s through the early portions of the 1700s. Spain was at war with England and various allies for over 50 years at one point whole fleets were sunk and thousands of naval personnel killed on both sides before Spain agreed to the current legal regime. Will China have to be brought to alignment with accepted international law the same way? So far their only response to world pressure has been to shift most of their aggressive naval activity to its new super sized Coast Guard. Their Coast Guard muscles their neighbors aside instead of their Navy and now they point at the activity and tell anyone who will listen that they are "effectively administering" the areas. This would signal that china while aggressively attempting to steal territory from neighbors is more interested in perverting the existing law than making a stand on a long ago defeated concept. Tomorrow we'll examine the sources of International Law. Let us have your comments on this series please. 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