Imperial Colonialism in the Genesis of International Law – Anomaly or Time of Transition?

In: Journal of the History of International Law / Revue d'histoire du droit international

Drawing on the works of Alexandrowicz and Grewe, this article intends to illustrate the relevance of colonialism to the evolution of present, universal international law. The central question addressed is as follows: Do we have to regard the exclusionist international law of the imperial era (culminating in the late 19th century) as an anomaly, or ‘accident’ in international relations and hence the achievement of universal participation half a century later as a ‘return to normalcy’, or was colonialism, alongside the law that governed it, a period of transition from international law as a genuinely European order to the universal order it is today? Alexandrowicz’s and Grewe’s answers to these questions appear to be diametrically opposed. More important than judging who of them is right is understanding why these scholars arrived at such diverging conclusions.

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    Yasuaki Onuma‘When was the Law of International Society Born?’Journal of the History of International Law 2 (2000), 1–667; Yasuaki Onuma, ‘Towards an Intercivilizational Approach to Human Rights’, Asian Yearbook of International Law 7 (1997), 21–81; Ram Prakash Anand, ‘Review Article on Onuma Yasuaki’s ‘When Was International Law Society Born? – An Inquiry of the History of International Law from an Intercivilizational Perspective’, Journal of the History of International Law 6 (2004), 1–14, 13.

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    Charles H. Alexandrowicz‘Treaty and Diplomatic Relations between European and South Asian Powers in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century’Recueil des cours 100 (1960), 207–322316.

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    Wilhelm G. Grewe‘Vom europäischen zum universellen Völkerrecht’ZaöRV 42 (1982), 449–479; Lassa Oppenheim, International Law, vol. i, 2nd edn (London: Longmans Green Co. 1912), 46. Critically Orakhelashvili, ‘Idea’ 2006 (n. 14), 338.

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    Anthony Anghie‘Finding the Peripheries: Sovereignty and Colonialism in Nineteenth-Century International Law’Harvard International Law Journal 40 (1999), 1–8070. Cp. Koskenniemi, ‘Histories’ 2013 (n. 22), 225.

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  • 29

    Cf. also critique by Emmanuel Jouannet‘Comment on Onuma Yasuaki’s When was the Law of International Society Born? – An Inquiry of the History of International Law from an Intercivilizational Perspective’Journal of the History of International Law 6 (2004), 27–3230.

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    Traité de paix de Paris, 30 March 1856.

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    Jörg Fisch‘Power or Weakness? On the causes of the worldwide expansion of European international law’Journal of the History of International Law 6 (2004), 21–2621; Onuma, ‘International Society’ 2000 (n. 6), 63.

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    Pitts‘Empire’ 2012 (n. 19), 95; Also Miloš Vec, ‘Universalization, Particularization, Discrimination’InterDisciplines 2 (2012), 79–10186.

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    Heinhard Steiger‘From the International Law of Christianity to the International Law of the World Citizen’Journal of the History of International Law 3 (2001), 180–193180 et seq. Similarly Anand, Developing Countries 2011 (n. 12), 2.

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