Regional regimes in comparative perspective: the value of dissonance; regional arrangements and the pursuit of harmony in international law.

Author:Burchill, Richard
Position:Proceedings of the One Hundred Fifth Annual Meeting of the American Society of International Law

This panel was convened at 9:00 a.m., Friday, March 25, by its moderator, Joseph Weiler of New York University School of Law, who introduced the panelists: Richard Burchill of the University of Hull; Maxwell O. Chibundu of the University of Maryland School of Law; John M. Wilson of the Organisation of American States; and Walter Woon of the National University of Singapore, Faculty of Law. **

It is a simple truism that the international system is made up of diverse states with varied histories and circumstances. International law's primary objective has been to create a system of rules and procedures that overcome these differences so that interactions between the diverse actors can occur. From the early part of the 20th century, international law has struggled with two developments where regional arrangements are a central point of discussion regarding the universal nature of international law. The first is international law's move from being primarily a procedural system between states to a system pursuing normative values and objectives extending beyond the self-interests of states. The second development is the increasing diversification of the international system as more and more non-European states have gained sovereign status in the international system. Regional arrangements have been a central feature for both of these developments as regional constructs have furthered normative projects, such as human rights protection, beyond what has been possible at the universal level. Furthermore, the increasing growth of regional arrangements brings about amplified assertions of diversity as particular groups of states use the regional forum to project their collective views on the nature and practice of international law.

Despite the prominence of regional arrangements in international law and in the organization of the international system, international law has not adequately addressed the matter, and most approaches have been about concern over a potential threat posed by regional arrangements. This has been most clearly expressed in the developments of international organization in the 20th century. Woodrow Wilson's ideas for the League of Nations were premised on a single universal international law applicable to all states through universal membership in a single international organization. He believed it was the creation of regional groupings among states that led to competition, and then conflict, contributing to the outbreak of World War I. The belief in the need for a universal organization and legal system continued into the creation of the United Nations. At the same time, the political realities of the international system, whereby a number of regional arrangements were already in place (such as the Organization of American States and the Arab League) had to be acknowledged within the UN framework. However, neither the League nor the United Nations established a definitive legal relationship between the universal and the regional for the purposes of general international law and organization. The League's Covenant, in Article 20, called for the abrogation of any international agreements that contradicted the organization's purposes. Article 21 in turn recognized that all other international agreements, including regional-based instruments, were acceptable provided they were designed in a way that was compatible with the universal organization's objectives. In the UN Charter, the universal body does have a privileged position in the maintenance of international peace and security through the Security Council's role in this area. Chapter VIII of the Charter...

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