Book chapter (electronic)
in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of International Studies
International Law (IL) is the set of rules generally regarded and accepted as binding in relations between states and between nations. It serves as a framework for the practice of stable and organized international relations (IR). International law differs from state-based legal systems in that it is primarily applicable to countries rather than to private citizens. National law may become international law when treaties delegate national jurisdiction to supranational tribunals such as the European Court of Human Rights or the International Criminal Court. The immense body that makes up international law encompasses a piecemeal collection of international customs; agreements; treaties; accords, charters, legal precedents of the International Court of Justice (aka World Court); and more. Without a unique governing, enforcing entity, international law is a largely voluntary endeavor, wherein the power of enforcement only exists when the parties consent to adhere to and abide by an agreement. This is where IR come about; it attempts to explain behavior that occurs across the boundaries of states, the broader relationships of which such behavior is a part, and the institutions (private, state, nongovernmental, and intergovernmental) that oversee those interactions. Explanations can also be found in the relationships between and among the participants, in the intergovernmental arrangements among states, in the activities of multinational corporations, or in the distribution of power and control in the world as a single system.