International Law, Organizations, and Power

Issues of International Law

In recent years, international law practices have seemed to have increasing influence in the modern world. With countries working together more closely than ever, it is important to ensure that every participant has equal rights and opportunities. Although foreign interference can play a positive role in matters like economics, it may also act as a tool to pressure other countries and gain desired responses in the form of particular policies.

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International Law and the Chinese Foreign Policy System

International law in China did not work until the middle of the 19th century, and it had an adverse effect on the country’s previous system. As Yang Zewei describes in his article, the implementation of international law there led to a destruction of the Confucian worldview and the Tributary System, making China a hostage of the treaties it was forced to sign (285). The Confucian worldview entailed a view of China as a superior state, based mainly on its level of cultural development.

Although the Celestial Empire of China executed the system, where it was the leading state, its government did not keep the tributes’ loyalty by force. Instead, the emperor conducted policies to keep harmony in international relations. However, international law, though viewed as a practice of equality, often treated non-European countries as barbarians and imposed treaties that did not benefit them—as was the case when China had to accept international law as a result of losing the Opium Wars.

The power of NGOs

Even though NGOs do not possess real law-making power, they strongly affect the discourse of international law. In his article, Steinberg argues that these organizations interfere in the politics of various countries by using their so-called “soft power” (24). He discusses the polemics of NGOs, which often support their reports with one-sided stories in order to present one participant of the conflict in a better light than the other.

For example, the article gives evidence of NGOs portraying Israel or Palestine in a particular way when one country has drastically violated human rights during the Israeli-Arab conflict. In fact, the emotional language of these reports has a significant influence on the public, which in turn shows its discontent and pressures international organizations like the UN to act in a particular way. Steinberg’s article demonstrates how international law may be influenced by beliefs about and speculations over democratic values.

Human Rights and Business

Although the business sector had not been a major participant in human rights issues for a long time, the situation has changed over the past few decades. Cragg et al. explain that despite the fact that human rights have been a part of social discourse since the Renaissance era, the business sphere only began to be affected by them at the end of the 20th century due to globalization (2). The reason for this change is that previously these matters had been considered to be of governmental concern.

However, as companies today tend to transfer their manufacturing to other states, the discussion arises about whether they should comply with international regulations of human rights only in their own countries. Various pieces of evidence have shown that working conditions even within a single company may vary by country, which is why international law plays such an important role in maintaining equality in business practices around the world.

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It is hard to underestimate the power of international law. Organizations like the UN influence all sorts of global relations among countries. While they are usually viewed as peacemakers and fighters for equality, these organizations may also have a negative effect if used by some governments to achieve self-seeking benefits.

Works Cited

Cragg, Wesley, Denis G. Arnold, and Peter Muchlinski. “Human Rights and Business.” Business Ethics Quarterly, vol. 22, no. 1, 2012, pp. 1-7.

Steinberg, Gerald M. “The Politics of NGOs, Human Rights and the Arab-Israel Conflict.” Israel Studies, vol. 16, no. 2, 2011, pp. 24-54.

Zewei, Yang. “Western International Law and China’s Confucianism in the 19th Century. Collision and Integration.” Journal of the History of International Law, vol. 13, 2011, pp. 285–306.

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