The Peace of Utrecht’s greatest claim to fame in the historiography of the law of nations is that it introduced the balance of power into the positive law of nations. This paper assesses what this inclusion signified to the treaty negotiators at Utrecht and what the balance of power meant to them both as a political principle and for its legal implications. In origins, the inclusion of the balance of power in the Utrecht Peace Treaties only held legal consequences in relation to the prevention of personal union between France and Spain. In the treaty practice of the next four decades, references to the balance as a basis for concrete legal rights and obligations gradually expanded to other succession issues. It is sometimes claimed that Utrecht marked the transition of a European order based on legitimate dynastic right to an order based on the common interest of peace and balance of power. While this claim has merit, it does not signify a complete overhauling of the old system. Over the 18th century, the legitimate claims of dynasties would remain foundational to the system of Europe. But progressively, they had to be balanced with the public interests of state, which at times were defended through an appeal to the balance of power.
In neither of his two major forays into the laws of war and peace – De iure praedae or De iure belli ac pacis – did Hugo Grotius discuss the legal institutions of reprisal – whether special or general – or privateering in their own right. His profoundly novel reading of the just war doctrine in the context of his theory of natural rights, however, gave powerful legitimisation to the practices of special reprisals, as well as of privateering in times of war and of peace.
The mere use of the terms ‘globalization’ and ‘global law’ is ripe with dangers, as if often causes the academic debate to slip towards the all too simple question of how much global law there really is. In fact, these are container terms which have become fashionable to indicate the historic and paradigmatic shift law is undergoing. Under it are caught three fundamental and interrelated evolutions which are dramatically changing the way we practice, teach and research law: the turn from systemic, disciplinary and methodological monism towards systemic, disciplinary and methodological pluralism. In this perspective and in the light of the challenges these shifts bring to the world of legal practice and academia, ̒global law’ becomes more than the sum of those legal rules and concepts which are truly global. It gains some of the function the ius commune of late-medieval Europe had: that of a lighthouse to which all the ships and boats of local law have to steer to.