After Hegemony: The Law on the Use of Force and the Ukraine Crisis

In a post on EJILTalk! I reflect on the state of the law on the use of force in international law in light of Russia’s invasion in Ukraine. I focus especially on the impact of the fact that Western countries have often ignored the law when its constraints appeared to clash with political goals or moral demands, and how this impact changes with the turn to today’s multipolar, posthegemonic international order. In a decentralized order such as international law, the weight of the law is eroded if powerful actors treat it cavalierly. Western governments may have long thought that their own disrespect for Charter rules was inconsequential because of their own hegemonic position – because they had the means to deter or stop others from taking the same latitude. In a changed world order, this is no longer the case, and the insistence on international law by the US and Europe must now look somewhat hypocritical to those who have long been critical of Western interventionism. In today’s multipolar world, maintaining the law on the use of force will require not only decisive responses when others flout the law, but also a readiness to practice restraint oneself.

A somewhat longer development of some of these ideas (in German) can be found here.