Essay on the Scope and Contents of International Law

For the conduct of international relations, the actions of public officials designated by the State to represent it are distinctly acts of the State, for which the State is held responsible.

The area of State jurisdiction extends to the area in which the national laws of a State have effect and embraces its whole territory, except where it has extended immunity to diplomats of other countries.

The State controls the seas, “territorial waters” for three miles off its coasts and all ships within those waters fall in its general province save for crimes committed on board the ship. Foreign ships in ports have only limited immunity.

Rivers flowing through or between more than one State, such as the St. Lawrence or Rhine, are not open to the ships of all States. Some of these international rivers, like the Danube, have been supervised by international commissions.

Canals, irrespective of their location, are governed by the States owning them. On the high seas, that is, waters outside territorial waters, all States enjoy and exercise legal equality. States have complete jurisdiction over the air above their territory and the soil and resources beneath.

Here it is important to distinguish between International Law and International Private Law (conflict of laws). International Private Law is a branch of International Law, but whereas the former deals with individuals and affects their private rights, the latter is concerned with the State as an entity.

International Private Law deals with the rights and obligations involved when individuals claim in one State right acquired under the laws of another.

These rules cover the validity of foreign marriages and divorces, wills, contracts, etc. But the Nuremberg trials of Germans, after World War II, in which individuals were held to account for actions of States, indicate that individuals are accountable to International Law.

The scope of International Law, therefore, extends to equal and sovereign States in no way subordinate to any other. All stand on a footing of equality so far as their status of statehood is concerned. “No principle of law is more universally acknowledged,” said Chief Justice Marshall, of the United States Supreme Court, “than the perfect equality of nations.

Russia and Geneva have equal rights. It results from this equality that no one can rightfully impose a rule on another.” In outlining the scope and division of the relations among States, distinction should be made between the normal rights and obligations that exist in times of peace and the exceptional rights and obligations that exist in times of war.

The first are called the laws of peace and the second the rules of war. The rules of war necessitate consideration of relations between actual belligerents, and the relations between the belligerents and neutrals. A more comprehensive division of the contents of International Law is:

1. Laws governing States in times of peace;

2. Laws governing States in times of war;

3. Laws governing States in the relation of neutrality.

The laws of peace embrace the rights and obligations concerning the independence and equality of the States. They also include a discussion of the territorial limits of jurisdiction, the relation of a State to the adjacent waters of its coast and other allied problems.

With this are connected the jurisdiction and responsibility of a State with reference to its citizens living within the State or abroad, rules governing aliens and principles of naturalisation.

Finally, there are the rules of intercourse of States. These cover the rights and duties of officials attached to foreign offices; organization and procedures of International conferences; nature and method of treaty-making.

The larger part of International Law consists of the rules of war. Here we study the classification of wars; declaration of war; laws and customs of war on land, sea and air; effects of war; agents, instruments and methods of warfare; treatment of public and private property in war both on land and at sea, etc.

Under the law of neutrality the scope of International law extends to the duties of belligerent States to neutral States, duties of neutral States to belligerent States, neutral commerce, contraband, blockade, etc.

International Relations:

In history the bounds of cooperation have never coincided with political frontiers. Inter-State contacts and relationships are as old as the State itself. In the ancient past these contacts and relationships had been regional rather than world­wide, because communications were imperfect and the scramble for the inadequate and inelastic means of sustenance were keen.

A new era opened with the progress of modem science and its application to industry and transport. The nineteenth century revolutionised the relations of peoples. It rapidly made of the world a single economic whole followed by international intellectual cooperation.

International economic and intellectual interdependence and cooperation naturally brought about an extension of governmental co-operation. During the present century the process has, in spite of forebodings and setbacks, developed by leaps and bounds and now inter-State relations are at the core of the problem of international politics.

Hitherto international relations formed part of the study of Political Science and History. But recently a distinct discipline of international relations has emerged. International relations, despite international interdependence and cooperation and establishment of institutions of systematic international consultations and regulations, like love, had never run a smooth course. Successive wars are a reminder of the shifting behaviour and attitudes of the States toward one another.

There is dualism in diplomacy based largely on parochialism, chauvinism and militarism. A very common line of thought is reflected by Horace Walpole who declared that no great country was ever saved by good men, because these would not go the length that might be necessary.

Hobbouse notes that “in all relations with weaker people we move in an atmosphere vitiated by the insincere use of high sounding words. If men say equality, they mean oppression by forms of justice. If they say tutelage, they appear to mean the kind of tutelage extended to the fattened goose.”

Those who preach peace, goodwill, mutual trust and cooperation in international relations and behaviour are the foremost to defy the rational demands of international amity. If there had been no major war since World War II, there had been quite a good number of minor wars and tensions and conflicts are the order of the day making way for cold or hot war.

Attempts have been made, from time to time, to evolve a scheme of an ideal society wherein should reign perfect inter-State harmony and chances of irritants, conflicts and war should not exist anymore.

But no one has ever suggested why should tension and conflicts take place and States go to war at all; what are the basic factors that determine the international behaviour and attitudes of the States, and why would they vary from time to time.

These issues determine the foreign policy of a State and a band of intellectuals of international relations have made it a specialised area of their study and investigations.

They have adopted scientific tools of analytical study to interpret the facts of international politics, examine and analyse the forces and pressures that shape the foreign policy of a State and changes it involves from time to time.

Their approach is not Utopian, as in the past, but objective and matter of fact. They deal with bare realities and not idealism and as Carr says, it is a “serious and critical analytical thought about international problems.”