International Law Without a Central Authority to Enforce It Is Ineffective

The concept of law, as we have determined, not only must meet the considerations of the people being governed, but it must also have behind it the implied power of a central authority that can enforce that law.  When we therefore try to apply the concept of law to the relations between independent nations, we run up against the limitations of this concept, the primary one being that there is no enforcement authority with the power to ensure that the laws agreed upon are being applied everywhere.  Additionally, the independent nations, each having their own military power and the psychological adherence of its citizens, can defy any international law at a time and under conditions of its own choosing.

Sri Aurobindo notes, with respect to the enforcement authority:  “The position would resemble the chaotic organisation of the feudal ages in which every prince and baron had his separate jurisdiction and military resources and could defy the authority of the sovereign if he were powerful enough or if he could command the necessary number and strength of allies among his peers.  And in this case there would not be even the equivalent of a feudal sovereign — a king who, if nothing else, if not really a monarch, was at least the first among his peers with the prestige of sovereignty and some means of developing it into a strong and permanent actuality.”

The problem is not solved by the creation of an international military or police force under the control of a centralized body, because the constituents would still identify themselves, at this stage of human societal development, as members of nations and once a nation decided to initiate a conflict or defend against an incursion, the members in the international force would quickly take sides and thus destroy the neutral authority of the enforcement arm.

Whereas the individual within the nation is obviously overpowered by the massed enforcement might of the central authority, this also would not obtain in relations between nations where strong nations could create their own counter-force or deterrence and thus, have the means to undertake actions it deemed in its vested interest despite the existence of an international law.

“Therefore, pending the actual evolution of an international State so constituted as to be something other than a mere loose conglomerate of nations or rather a palaver of the deputies of national governments, the reign of peace and unity dreamed of by the idealist could never be possible by these political or administrative means or, if possible, could never be secure.”

“The law is always the same, that wherever egoism is the root of action it must bear its own proper results and reactions and, however minimised and kept down they may be by an external machinery, their eventual outburst is sure and can be delayed but not prevented for ever.”

“It is apparent at least that no loose formation without a powerful central control could be satisfactory, effective or enduring, even if it were much less loose, much more compact than anything that seems at present likely to evolve in the near future.  There must be in the nature of things a second step, a movement towards greater rigidity, constriction of national liberties and the erection of a unique central authority with a uniform control over the earth’s peoples.”

Otherwise, the idea of international law is one that will always be very limited in its actual effect and capability to sustain peace and resolve conflicts or disputes over the resources of the planet.

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part One, Chapter 14, The Possibility of a First Step towards International Unity – Its Enormous Difficulties, pp. 122-124