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What is “international law”?
International law includes all of the generally accepted rules that govern the relations between nations or countries and their citizens. The concept of international law is much broader than domestic law, which is generally attributed to statutory authority vested by a federal, state, or local governmental body. In many ways, international law is an agreement upon common understanding between two or more separate nations. International law may include a particular country’s law applied internationally or in an international setting. For example, international law may subject the citizens of one nation to the jurisdiction of international courts or tribunals. The US Supreme Court addressed the United State’s view of international law as “a part of our law, and must be ascertained and administered by the courts of justice of appropriate jurisdiction as often as questions of right depending upon it are duly presented for their determination.” In any event, international law establishes standards or expectations for conduct between nations and between or by the citizens (including businesses) of other nations. Developing and employing an international legal framework in this manner provides additional certainty and stability between nations and between individuals. More specifically, international organizations and agreements facilitate trade and minimize the risk for businesses.
• Note: International law is generally binding upon a nation pursuant to that state’s voluntary agreement to be subject to that law. A business operating internationally may be subject to both international law and the law of the nation in which it is doing business. This is collectively referred to as international law throughout this chapter.
• Discussion: What do you think about the definition attributable to international law? Is the definition broader or narrower than you expected? Why do you think nations seek commonality of law in certain circumstances? In what way does it affect commerce between nations?
• Practice Question: What are the differences between domestic laws in the United States and international laws? How do international laws come into existence? Who do they control?