What is the function of international law in 2020 and beyond? Does it serve to challenge states, international institutions and non-state actors as society appears to be moving into a more authoritarian age? Does it constrain the behaviour of actors domestically and on the international stage, and does it challenge the development of norms that depart from the liberal rules-based order that has characterised the development of international law from the middle of the 20th Century onwards? Or does international law function to appease powerful international or domestic actors? The word ‘appease’ has its origin in the Latin ad pais or ‘at peace’; a noble aim for any system of law. But does international law today pacify, placate, assuage or satisfy the demands of states, institutions, protestors and society more generally; to appease in its modern incarnation? Does appeasement put at risk security, the environment and the very foundations of the international legal system? The relationship between challenge and appeasement is as old as international law itself and has been described and critiqued in numerous philosophies and approaches to international law. Today, across many fields – including the environment, trade, human rights, security – the tension between challenge and appeasement is profound and, arguably, destabilising.
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