International Law in Resolving International Conflict

Subject: Politics & Government
Pages: 5
Words: 1375
Reading time:
6 min
Study level: Master


The existence and role of international law are subjects that should be examined in detail. Laws govern the behavior and interactions among humans and entities of all sorts. In the international context, the rules are set to guide how states act against each other in specified situations. Interstate clashes are an interesting context because international law is expected to offer solutions or, at the least, a framework with which the nations resolve the conflicts. However, some disputes between countries have persisted for decades without any signs that international law will intervene. This essay discusses how international law can help solve global conflicts or lessen the damage done to civilians. It defines international law and discusses those elements that can work best in conflict situations.

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International Law

The concept of international law has been defined differently by various authors and institutions. In the traditional sense, international law entails those principles, rules, and customs regarded as binding obligations by sovereign states or institutions with an international personality. A more contemporary definition often appearing in the modern political environment is that international law does not only apply to states but also to international organizations such as the United Nations (UN), intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), and the organization of American States (OAS) among others. The basic tenet, however, is that international law guides the conduct of countries and the entities defined above in their relations and relationships with both judicial and natural persons (Von Glahn & Tailbee, 2016). With these definitions, international law can be applied in dispute situations to dictate how states conduct or engage in war with one another and how the non-combatants are handled in similar cases. Conflict such as the long-lasting Arab-Israel feud and the ongoing Nagorno-Karabakh often involving violence and armed combats should lay the foundation of how international law is applied in such scenarios.

Applications of International Law

The application of international law can be best examined from the perspective of the international bodies responsible for enforcing or guiding the use of transnational law. In disputes, however, it is also possible to observe those provisions or sections of the international law that work towards easing the effects or continuity of the war. The Hague Treaties of 1899-1907 was established to regulate armed conflicts and similar crimes (Masoud, 2019). Their main objective is to restrict the use of the military as much as possible. Therefore, a war may only start when a declaration is justified or after there has been a warning confirmed that a confrontation will emerge after certain conditions. It can be argued that the Hague Treaties attempt to make armed combat the last option after all other possible alternatives have been tried and failed. With these treaties, international conflicts are handled amicably thereby safeguarding the warring countries and the civilians from the devastations caused by war.

Other Transnational legislations include the Geneva Conventions established between 1864 and 1949. These were intended to protect wounded and sick victims. In addition, they seek to safeguard civilians and property from the clashes. These conventions have formed a legal system whose sole responsibility is to lessen the detriments of war by balancing humanitarian considerations and military necessities. If a war is declared or another armed dispute emerges between two parties, the Geneva Conventions apply at all times. Their application is obligated regardless of whether or not one party fails to recognize the state of war or if the partial or total occupation was met with armed resistance. As mentioned above, safeguarding the non-combatants in a dispute becomes one of the core responsibilities of international law (Masoud, 2019). The Geneva conventions are, therefore, the perfect examples of humanitarian protection. Additions to the Geneva Conventions were founded in 1977 and they could also be viewed as new laws or protocols added to further protect the victims of armed disputes in these non-international clashes.

Other elements of international law that are applied to conflict situations are international customs. According to Masoud (2019), these norms are formed through repeated actions of states during military occupation and war. Most importantly, the standards are based on the Hague and Geneva conventions discussed above. Their essence is to facilitate amicable dispute resolutions and behaviors that cause the least harm to civilians.

The international laws or conventions discussed above can be considered as best practices in a conflict where each party is obligated to observe set guidelines. The concern expressed earlier on is that these laws have not necessarily prevented some of the most common ongoing disputes. The description given above illustrates the fact that international law does not seek to avert war but to manage the resulting damages. The major issue in a battle is that collateral harm could be minimized. Private citizens are often among the ones that suffer most despite their neutrality in war. International humanitarian laws embedded in the additions to the Geneva conventions, as described by Alexander (2015), offer a pathway for the protection of civilians. Humanitarian law is also focused on how war is conducted.

Several studies explain how international humanitarian law facilitates a resolution or helps minimize the detriments of international conflicts. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is considered to be the promoter and guardian of international humanitarian law (Alexander, 2015). The ICRC views this rule as part of the universal law applied in the regulation of inter-country relations and safeguards the non-combatants. The civilians under consideration, in this case, include the wounded and the sick, as well as those prisoners captured in battle. The humanitarian law is responsible for outlining and implementing the rights and obligations of warring groups in a battle. With ICRC, therefore, the application of the international regulation in clashes is manifested through the deployment of lawyers and other monitoring and adjudicating to ensure that the guideline is followed. As opposed to the Hague laws, the international humanitarian edicts are more focused on the methods used in warfare.

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The laws discussed so far are protectionist, but there are cases where they are also preventive. There are instances where international law can offer a guideline for conflicting nations regarding how to approach the cause of conflict and facilitate better alternatives such as cooperation. The water situation in Central Asia is a good example of how international law prevents conflict. Specifically, the United Nations Convention on the Non-Navigational Uses of Water provides several legal principles and a water diplomacy framework that offers a zero-sum and mutually beneficial approach to water negotiations (Murthy & Mendikulova, 2017). Such an international law is essential because it looks at the root causes of a dispute and presents the warring parties with a model that pursues a mutual benefit. The rationale here is that a war would mean suffering for all parties in a water conflict, especially for a region where water scarcity is a sensitive geopolitical issue. Cooperation in certain cases such as shared critical resources is better than a gamble seeking full control.

The case of Central Asia shows that international law can play a vital role in resolving conflicts. However, it can be observed that the resolution is often frustrated by the warring states failing to abide by the laws where they select methods that work best for the states. The case of Israel and Palestinian Arabs is an example that international law is meaningless without proper enforcement. While the State of Israel would be open to diplomacy and non-military engagement, Palestinian Arabs are adamant in their quest for the destruction of Israel (Dolinger, 2019). The UN Security Council is tasked with the implementation of international law in interstate disputes. The let-down in the attempts to solve the Israel-Palestine clashes can be seen as a consequence of a misinterpretation of international law.


In conclusion, international law provides states with guidelines on how to relate to natural and judicial persons. Many of the conventions as discussed in this essay focus on the conduct of war where a protectionist approach is adopted as the law seeks to protect the civilians and property thus lessening the damages. Resolving and preventing conflicts is also possible under international law as explained using the case of Central Asia. The voluntary application and sometimes disregard of the international by some states explain why some conflicts remain unresolved for decades.


Alexander, A. (2015). A short history of international humanitarian law. European Journal of International Law, 26(1), 109−138.

Dolinger, J. (2019). UN antagonism towards the State of Israel resolution 2334 of the UN Security Council: A misinterpretation of international law. University of Miami Inter-American Law Review, 50(59), 59−121. Web.

Masoud, D. F. (2019). The effectiveness of international law in resolving international armed conflicts. Journal of Law, Policy and Globalization, 91, 117−129.

Murthy, S. L., & Mendikulova, F. (2017). Water, conflict, and cooperation in Central Asia: The role of international law and diplomacy. Vermont Journal of Environmental Law, 18(3), 400−453. Web.

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Von Glahn, G., & Tailbee, J. L. (2016). Law among nations: An introduction to public international law (11th ed.). Routledge.