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The Outlaw World
Description: "Michael Byers states that the objective of his book is to "provide the interested non-lawyer with a readily comprehensible overview of the law governing the use of force in international affairs." Clear and informative, his account is particu
Date: 26 April 2006
Author: Brian Urquart
Source: The New York Review of Books, Vol. 53, Number 8
The New York Review of Books, Vol. 53, Number 8 - May 11, 2006


THE OUTLAW WORLD

By Brian Urquhart


Lawless World: America and the Making and Breaking of Global Rules from FDR's Atlantic Charter to George W. Bush's Illegal War

by Philippe Sands

Viking, 324 pp., $25.95

Lawless World: The Whistle-Blowing Account of How Our Leaders Are Taking the Law into Their Own Hands

by Philippe Sands

Penguin, updated edition, 404 pp., £8.99 (paper; to be published in the US in September)

War Law: Understanding International Law and Armed Conflict

by Michael Byers

Grove, 214 pp., $24.00

Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq
by Stephen Kinzer

Times Books, 384 pp., $26.00



"A rule-based international society" may seem a lackluster phrase, but it describes, for those who wish organized life on this planet to survive in a decent form, the most important of all the long-term international objectives mankind can have. That international law has already been formulated to deal with a wide range of human activities is one of the great, if often unappreciated, achievements of the years since World War II. Yet the obstacles to its being effective are enormous. We all know that international law is often challenged by the caprices and diverging interests of national politics and that it still lacks the authority of national law. With a few important exceptions, international law remains unenforceable; when it collides with the sovereign interests or the ambitions of states, it is often ignored or rejected. It is still far from being the respected foundation of a reliable international system.


In the first years of the new millennium, and especially after the terrorist attacks of September 11, the development of international law has encountered an unexpected and formidable obstacle—the ideological opposition of the Bush administration, both to vital treaties and to international institutions. This attitude culminated in the 2003 invasion of Iraq without the specific authorization of the UN Security Council, and without allowing UN inspectors to complete their work. Prisoners captured by the US were denied the protection of the Geneva Conventions and were often treated brutally. It is therefore no surprise that the three very different books under review all end by deploring the United States' war for regime change in Iraq and the illegal abuses that have accompanied it..."



REVIEWS



War Law: Understanding International Law and Armed Conflict

by Michael Byers

Grove, 214 pp., $24.00



"Michael Byers states that the objective of his book is to "provide the interested non-lawyer with a readily comprehensible overview of the law governing the use of force in international affairs." Clear and informative, his account is particularly valuable at a time when there is a worldwide debate, arising largely from the Iraq situation—but also relevant to the genocide in Darfur—about the circumstances in which it is legally appropriate for one country to use force against another or for international intervention on humanitarian grounds..."

Click here for the complete review

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