International Law and International Relations: Challenge to Foreign Policy of a State.

International Law
  • Reading time:13 mins read
  • Post author:Aisha Saeed
  • Post category:Stratagem

States are bound by international law and work towards the creation of a peaceful world, but these laws that states are bound to follow also challenge the national interest of states at some point, hence leaving the foreign policy of the state in a vague vacuum of national interest verses  international law and international relations. The international law bounds states to form peaceful ties with the other states but in a complex and ever changing political scenario in the contemporary times, where at times even international law seems to fail to provide answers to the conflicts, the foreign policy goals of states are beset by laws , treaties and indentures, particularly those of weaker actors.

States function on different policies and laws. Some of these laws are for internal functioning of the state; others are of the external dealings that the states have to maintain in order to become an effective member of the international community. Globalization has blurred the lines of isolation between the states. State interactions have become common and no state can seem to exist by isolating itself from the rest of the world. The interaction of nations or states and their dealings with the rest of the states around the world have become a discipline in its own right. The phenomena of globalization was so rapid that it influenced everything and everyone; from culture to people to states. States have attained the role of actors or representatives in the international community that has been formed as a result of globalization.

Any action taken by a certain actor in the international community will make some “cause and effect” impact on the other states, linked to it by any means. So, with changing milieus of the international community of the states, Political Science as subject has expanded into many roots, making subjects like International Law, International Relations and Foreign Policy. These three might be considered as different subjects as each has its own depth, but all of these are interlinked, which makes it hard to understand one, without understanding or at least knowing about the other. They are different yet connected with each other under the bigger umbrella of Political Science itself. If one studies international law, they cannot understand the working of the laws unless and until they study International Relations. The same rule would apply if one needs to study International Relation. The foreign policy on the other contrary requires more understanding of the local state systems and its own national interests. Some might argue that a foreign policy is formulated keeping in mind the international scenarios of the world. The foreign policy defines how a state will manage its dealings with the other states. It is a set of rule which can be changed by the state according to its own will and needs of the time. The magazine Foreign Policy, gives an easy definition, which explains foreign policy as:

“A foreign policy is a set of laws or rules, of political nature with the aims that tend to sketch out, how certain state, will interact or built its relations with the other nations of the world. Foreign policies usually are formulated to facilitate in protecting or safeguarding a state’s national interests, national defense, ideological concepts or values along with the economic prosperity of a country. This can be achieved by diplomatic or other forms of collaboration with other countries, or by hostility, conflict, and development. Formulating a foreign policy is generally the task of the head of administration and the foreign minister or appointed official.”

Although, foreign policy is a matter of the state but it cannot be formed by violating or even fully complying with the concepts of international law or International relations, as they are both linked together and are considered an integral part of each other but a state’s foreign policy defines its stance on whether it wants to abide by International Law or by the factors that influence its own political and national interests. States have to grapple to maintain a balance so as to withstand the pressures they confront in safeguarding their interests.

As International Law and International Relations are considered to be two optics, (R.O. Keohane), they both have effects on each other. States which follow International Law are automatically considered to follow rules of International Relations. Also that the two (International law and International relations) somewhat serve the same objectives hence they work towards the same agendas (Anne-Marie). Others put forward the very question of why states or nations have to follow or obey International Law, (Harold Hongju Koh). This questions the reasons which compel a state to follow international laws which at times can differ with the national interests or polices of the states.

At the same time there is a need to understand how the two, International Law and International Relations work together and how they differ from foreign policy of the state. (John K. Setear).

Although International Law and International Relations are much easier to discuss together but at the same time, in a world which is getting dependent on one and other via globalization, politics has also become globalized and to avoid war and conflicts states are working together. The state’s foreign policy now, is much likely to serve and abide by international laws rather their own national interest. This gap leaves a state in making harsh decisions on whether to comply by the international laws or make foreign policies that serve and protect their own national interests.

The unapproved use of Drones by U.S in Pakistan left a sense of confusion. If the case is inspected through the three prisms mentioned before, it will not be able to deduce a satisfying answer. Pakistan is a considered a sovereign state in the international community, yet drone attacks within its airspace by the United States, led many to question the power of United States. These drone attacks have led to colossal civilian causalities in tribal belts. Applying International Law on this case, the state laws forbid any unlawful acts against the other state which also involves violations of human rights. Although, some argue that there existed a secret treaty between Pakistan and United States regarding the use of drones but only to an extent of intelligence gathering, in which case other international players cannot intervene as it becomes an inter-state agreement. However, the proof differs the proposed proposition.

If looked at the case through the prism of International Relations, it still seems to be unable to find a solution of the issue of drone attacks. The concept of war has changed greatly with the advancement in technology of weapons. Drone attacks and its technology is one of the examples. International Relations ordains Pakistan to find peaceful solution to the issue of drones with the United States and prevents Pakistan from cutting off its relations with the United States because of the status of ally and also because Pakistan requires a great deal of aid from the United States. If Pakistan cuts off its ties with the U.S over this question of drones and seeks justice, it could face sanctions or cut-offs in Coalition Support Funds (CSF), making Pakistan isolated from the main power players of this anarchical world political scaffold.

So both the International Law and International Relations have failed to provide a solution to the question of drone attacks. This indicates that the realist perspective prevails in the world of international politics which disregards International Law and hence International Relations hinge upon this worldview.

Strong states are more preponderant than weaker states and usually the stronger states get away even with the violations of universally accepted human rights. The same is the case in the relationship between Pakistan and United States. Pakistan is considered a weaker state even in the international political arena of the world. Aid makes the position of Pakistan feeble as the cost of relational straits is way too high. Pakistan cannot take up the issue of drone attacks to any international organization. It is hard to look for answers or solutions in International Law or International Relations as, up till now only Pakistan has faced this issue, and is the only one in the reign and also because all of this is a post 9/11 policy of United States. The international community has since then seen a shift in global politics and the concept of war against terrorism has become a policy of many other states which are in alliance with the United States. Solutions to this cannot be found in older laws or understandings of International Law nor does International Relations provide an answer. The post 9/11 sencenairo affected Pakistan much more than anticipated by anyone, even the Pakistani government. Pakistan suffered due to its relationship with United States and was made to pay the price in terms of an abusive relationship. This is where the question of why states have to follow International Law comes in. Can a state survive without having to adhere to International Law or abstain from International Relations? Or this isolation can cause more sanctions and lessen trade or other important factors on which the state operates?

Foreign Policy is not international politics (Kenneth) which implies that foreign policies of a state have less to do with the international politics. This concept given out by Kenneth , indicates the confusion that lies within the rules and laws set out by the international community, but at the same time the international community expects a state to act as a law abiding  member. So if international politics deals with the politics of international importance, where then does the importance of a state to have its own independent policies lie? Even Kenneth is of view that unless and until there is a clear distinction between how the states interaction with one and other and how they make their policies, there will also be confusion and problem in looking for answers in the international law and international relations.

Foreign policy is an internal matter of the state. It is the state or head of government, officials that formulate policies of the state and how the state will behave with other or few states in particular. National interests form the core of a foreign policy of a state. These national interests can be of any nature. Interests are determined by the government of the states. At the same time anything which is of national or ideological value to the nation by and large, is not compromised by any state. The issue of drone attacks has led to many changes in the foreign policy of Pakistan. These polices have not been stable and have faced many external pressure from the stronger states of the world like the United States. With the influence on the foreign policy, United States has made Pakistan more bound to International Laws and its relations by giving economic aid and calling Pakistan an important ally in the war against terrorism. The Pakistani foreign policy has always been under external pressures as Pakistan is still considered as a weak state. National interests can be maintained by negotiating on secondary interests; if there is any external pressure involved. Being beleaguered by international laws and its relation with United and to form a policy over Drone attacks is of great challenge to the policy makers as both the civilian government and military understand that ties cannot be severed with the United States. It is a challenge to make foreign policy of a state that has a lot of influence from outside and in particular from the stronger states in the world order. In case of Pakistan, International Law and International Relations seem to be the determinants of the policy of the state and the policy makers abide by the rules and laws set out of the two determinants. Individual state behavior of Pakistan is seen very rarely and is confined to certain states only. Pakistan’s relationship with China and Turkey, seem more likely the policy of the state itself, this is where lesser or no external pressure has been seen. Independent states have independent foreign policies and act as sole representatives within the international political community. Keeping in mind the case of drone attacks and other interventions by United States and some other players, Pakistan’s foreign policy is not truly a policy that is meant to safeguard the national interest of Pakistan. Otherwise, violation of the territorial sovereignty is a clear violation of International Law and International Relations alike. Both of these would offer, somewhat similar suggestions regarding the punishment to the violator. This is also due to the fact that Pakistan follows international rules and laws and considers it a duty as a member of the global community to eradicate any forms of threat to any other state or even itself, from its own soil. As stated by Waltz that foreign policies are a product of the internal government of a state and nothing to do with the factors outside the state. A state can assert itself internationally if it is cohesive and strong domestically.

It can be concluded that such issues of Drone attacks or any other modern fighting techniques do not have any clear answers if seen through the lens of international law and international relations. Although, International Law and International Relations are much easier to discuss together but at the same time, in a world which is getting dependent on one another via globalization, politics has also become globalized and to avoid war and conflicts states are working together. The state’s foreign policy now, is much likely to serve and abide by international laws rather than on their own national interest. This limitation compels a state in making harsh decisions on whether to comply by the international laws or make foreign policies that serve and protect their own national interests.

Like International Law and International Relations can work together, the foreign policy and the decisions of a state need to be thought about at an academic level. It could be studied as a new module of International Law and International Relations, as foreign policies are rather dictated by national interests (Secondary and Vital) and the underpinning of world politics, which at times means that individual states are constrained to wrest initiative.

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Aisha Saeed is an independent analyst & regularly contributes to leading publications. Her area of expertise is media warfare.

Aisha Saeed

Aisha Saeed is an independent analyst & regularly contributes to leading publications. Her area of expertise is media warfare.