Cold War International Law

Presented by ANU College of Law

For two decades now, I have been reading books and listening to lectures in which (and working among international lawyers for whom) the Cold War is configured as absence or gap or excuse: a period of retrenchment sandwiched between highpoints of legal utopianism (San Francisco, Nuremberg 1945 (or Paris 1948); George Walker Bush's "New World Order" in 1991, Boutros-Ghali's Agenda for Peace in 1992). It seems a lot didn't happen between 1948 and 1991. In particular, international law didn't happen, or at least parts of it were somehow suspended. For lawyers, it was not so much an interregnum in which morbid symptoms arose but rather a period of frightening morbidity that produced an interregnum.

In this paper, then, I will map out two international laws of the Cold War. In this first depiction, we have a law of absence. Here, international law is always on the fringes of something else: working, often unsuccessfully, against (or with) the something else (power, ideology, culture). The second thinks of law as constitutive of the Cold War, or, at least, co-implicated in it. The picture offered here is of the Cold War as heavily juridified, maybe even a legal event.

Gerry Simpson was appointed to a Chair in Public International Law at the London School of Economics in January 2016. He previously taught at the University of Melbourne (2007-15), the Australian National University (1995-98) and LSE (2000-07).

He is the author of Great Powers and Outlaw States (Cambridge, 2004) and Law, War and Crime: War Crimes Trials and the Reinvention of International Law (Polity 2007), and co-editor (with Kevin Jon Heller) of Hidden Histories (Oxford, 2014) and (with Raimond Gaita) of Who's Afraid of International Law? (Monash, 2017). Gerry's current research projects include an ARC-funded project on Cold War International Law (with Matt Craven, SOAS) and Sundhya Pahuja, (Melbourne), a counter-history of International Criminal Justice and a book about international law's interior life.