The promise (and premise) of international law is that of a world order based on principles, rationality and the peaceful settlement of disputes. International law insulates us from brute power, brute force and the crude but simple – and often compelling – conclusion that might makes right. In the absence of any international police, it is also an abstraction whose power and effect depend solely on moral authority and respect for an ideal.
Good luck with that. The idea was most famously – if not reputably – dismissed by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, who reportedly responded to exhortations to stop persecuting Catholics in order to win them over in the fight against Nazism with: “The Pope? How many divisions does it have?
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