Russia and China to Sign Joint Declaration on Principles of International Law

By Kenneth Anderson
Friday, June 24, 2016, 12:17 PM

According to a statement issued today by the Russian Foreign Ministry (thanks to the OUP International Law Blog for flagging it), during the upcoming June 25, 2016 state visit of the Russian president to China, the "foreign ministers of both countries are planning to sign a declaration on increasing the role of international law." It will (according to Tass' report) set out a

common approach by both countries to a number of contemporary international problems. The declaration is aimed at stressing the significance attached by Russia and China to the most important principles and norms of international law amid increasing instability in many regions of the world. In our view, it is important that it set forth the understanding shared by the two permanent members of the UN Security Council with regard to such topical components of international law as the principles of the sovereign equality of states, the non-use and the non-interference into internal affairs and the peaceful resolution of disputes.

I'll hold off making further comments on the declaration until the text is released. Still, to my view, the fact that this declaration is being released at all suggests that liberal internationalism, global constitutionalism, and related forms of global governance are ideologically in retreat (though even still one would be hard-pressed to know this, surveying academic international law literature). Great Powers and their power struggles are back; the US as hegemonic actor is in retreat; and international law is going to be invoked increasingly as a resource for sovereignty. Lurking just under the surface of this declaration, or perhaps even in the text, I suspect, will be three words: "Kosovo," "Libya," and "Syria." We shall see. Each of those speaks to the United States' dual role in the post-Cold War world as biggest player within the "universal" system of international institutions such as the UN and international law, on the one hand - but also ultimate guarantor of the international system, through its distinct role as hegemonic actor, external to the international system, on the other.

With the hegemon under increasing challenge by other great powers, however, here's the problem for universal global governance, universal governance institutions, universal human rights, universal international law, and all the rest of the universals: Universal international insitutions and international law have substantially depended for their effective place in the world less on their supposed "universality" than on being able to shelter beneath the protective global cloak of the hegemon, the United States. Hegemony underwrote universality. The hegemon today is in retreat. But so too are the universal regimes of liberal internationalism and global goverance that were supposed to govern the world but increasingly appear to be substantially dependencies of hegemony and tied in important ways to the trajectory of the hegemon. (This was a theme of an earlier book of mine from 2012, Living with the UN: American Responsibilities and International Order.)