Thomas Gammeltoft-Hansen, RWI’s Research Director, recently released the Power of Legality: Practices of International Law and their Politics, a new book co-edited with Nikolas M. Rajkovic and Tanja Aalberts.
The book focuses on legality, acknowledging the different understandings and outcomes that are associated with legality through scholarly, institutional and policy settings. It looks at how people use the term in international affairs, seeking to bridge the gap between international lawyers and international relations scholars.
Law is a cornerstone that must be present in a functioning society, without which anarchy and chaos would likely ensue. The question of being in compliance with the law is omnipresent in today’s world regarding both domestic and international affairs. It is a question that is often – but, as argued by Gammeltoft-Hansen, ought not to be – segregated, held in the clutches of governments. But should governments be the only students in the classroom allowed to raise their hands? In an ever developing world, many more actors are entering the arena regarding legality, bringing into question this exclusivity.
Gammeltoft-Hansen and his co-authors acknowledge that there have been numerous prior convergences between the two scholarly disciplines of international law and international relations, but feel the need for a new vantage point, which is something that, they argue, the concept of legality offers. The book takes this concept and develops it using a bottom-up approach.
“Such an endeavor should be developed from below instead of from above. Rather than coming with one set of theoretical predispositions, we are starting very much from the practices that go on: how states and other actors engage with, think about, and act in relation to international law,” says Gammeltoft-Hansen. “It links to the kind of practice-oriented research that has also permeated other disciplines, including International Relations. This approach lets us zoom in on the intricate dynamics between law and politics. And part of what we want to do with taking a bottom-up approach is acknowledge these sort of interplays and understand the kind of interactions that are happening,” he adds.
The shape of sovereignty has changed, with states now holding less freedom and more commitments, but Gammeltoft-Hansen contends that this has not led to a situation in which there has been a reigning in of political space. The starting point of the book addresses how States are now having to be more creative in regard to their international legal commitments. “The political maneuvering continues, not outside in the margins of international law, but more and more actively through international legal structures and institutions that states are shopping amongst: Different regimes, exploiting interpretative uncertainties. Both States and other actors are stepping up their game in regard to international law.”
Many have argued that this creativity has led to governments reducing international law, perceiving it has something that they can ignore when it suits their agenda to do so. Gammeltoft-Hansen takes a more positive stance in regard to this issue. “We try to identify a sort of framework in order to understand that legality is something that is not simply ascribed or successfully claimed by government, but is equally something that is negotiated in a wider field of scholars, courts and NGOs. Sometimes states do find themselves with clear limits with what they can and cannot do. For example, most recently, Australian courts struck down parts of Australia’s deals with the island states, and Greek courts challenged the legality of the EU-Turkey deal.”
Gammeltoft-Hansen hopes that the Power of Legality will intrigue scholars both interested in International Relations and in international law, and he puts further emphasis on those within the field of human rights. The book is filled with human rights-based examples. “We would like to get scholars interested in thinking about the role that international law plays: the role both of academics and of practitioners, what that ought to mean for research, and what that ought to mean for how we as NGOs, advocates, barristers, and judges approach difficult international legal questions. The collection really brings together a number of very prominent, but also younger scholars working on some of these issues, coming from both international law and international relations backgrounds,” says Gammeltoft-Hansen.