Rabkin on “The Fantasy World of International Law”
Jeremy Rabkin has this piece in the Weekly Standard on what the latest Mideast conflict has to say about IL. As is true of Rabkin’s other work, it’s nicely argued and knowledgeable. Without getting into the substance of the particular issues (Rabkin’s take here hinges on classifying standards of proportionality as something other than customary international law to which Israel not otherwise bound), I take his point that it’s hardly surprising that Israel doesn’t meekly submit to IL arguments, given its precarious security situation. As Rabkin notes, these IL standards “all make sense, in a way–particularly if you live in Luxembourg and never have to give any thought to your own defense, because others will see to it for you.” (Perhaps the most articulate exponent of what I call sovereigntism, Rabkin has been known to dismiss IL generally as “fine for the French” but not for the rest of us.)
But Israel is in a highly unusual situation in the current global context; more places these days are like Luxembourg, places in which IL can and is increasingly governing behavior on the ground. So whatever the weakness of IL norms in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, it doesn’t show IL to be a fantasy, just that (like all other legal regimes) it isn’t amenable to perfect application or enforcement.