Ujal Singh Bhatia
Thursday, October 27
Thursday, October 27
Honourable Bob Rae
Friday, October 28
Solidarity and Enlightened Self-Interest in International Law:
Relic or Aspiration?
The theme of this year’s conference is Solidarity and Enlightened Self-Interest in International Law: Relic or Aspiration?
The Charter of the United Nations refers to “the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members”, but the international order, like almost every other area of human endeavour, is defined by marked asymmetries in resources, influence, and power. Over the course of the second half of the 20th century, a broad consensus emerged that friendly relations among nations require restraint in the application of economic, institutional, and military capacity. It became widely accepted that the pursuit of common goals, notably with respect to climate change, public health, security, migration, and economic development, required an enlightened conception of self-interest on the part of the best-resourced States to account for the needs of smaller players and to avoid externalizing the consequences of global challenges.
Yet contrary to the lofty hopes of the immediate post-Cold War period, ideological dominance and assertions of State sovereignty have returned with a vengeance. Whether in the context of the global pandemic, the climate crisis, the trade war, or the (re-)establishment of geopolitical “spheres of influence”, the unapologetic pursuit of narrow self-interest has made an astonishing comeback. States with the ability to both wreak havoc on international norms and weather the resulting criticism are increasingly choosing to do so. International law and international institutions struggle to impose themselves as an effective brake on these actions or to incentivize productive cooperation. These developments may lead international lawyers to wonder whether the ideals of solidarity and enlightened self-interest in international law will give way to the (re)assertion of self-serving power and domination as primary drivers shaping the world legal order.
At its 51st Annual Conference in 2022, the Canadian Council on International Law (CCIL) invites policymakers, practitioners, academics, and students of international law to reflect critically on the significance of and the challenges posed by these developments. Without limiting the range of approaches that might be taken to addressing this theme, some questions that participants could address include:
How will Russia’s invasion of Ukraine affect the wider international legal order?
How have these developments affected international law’s role in the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic? How much have the shortcomings or successes of that global response been attributable to the predominant role of States relative to the World Health Organization, or to ability of other international legal mechanisms to corral the resources of non-state actors such as multinational pharmaceutical companies?
Do these developments simply mean that international law has less of a role to play in advancing common interests or addressing global challenges? Is it destined to become a dwindling set of checks on state power rather than an enabler of collective action? Are there instruments from previous epochs that international lawyers need to dust off to deal with a harsher world? Or new instruments that need to be developed?
What are the roles and responsibilities of the new titans of technology and commerce in a world where State accountability is at a low ebb? In what ways is international law equipped or ill-equipped to manage this new category of non-State actor, whose broad use as platforms for human interaction places them in a position of global influence well beyond that of many States?