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Geopolitics and International Law in the Jurisprudence of the International Court of Justice (ICJ)

Head of Section:

Achilles Skordas

About the Project:

The project seeks to clarify the relationship between geopolitics and international law, aiming to identify and analyze the geopolitical factor in the jurisprudence of the International Court of Justice (ICJ). It also intends to reconstruct the basic geopolitical concepts, including in particular ‘space’ and ‘geopolitical systems’. The project will also reflect on how geopolitical designs and Weltbilder, regional legal spaces, and the complex interaction between geopolitical systems have an impact on the conceptualization and interpretation of international law by the ICJ. The overall direction of the research is to develop the relationship between geopolitics and the ICJ in legal doctrine, legal theory, and sociology of international law.

As the main judicial organ of the United Nations, whose function is the preservation of peace and security, the ICJ is expected to consider the implications of its jurisprudence on geopolitical systems and should take into account the requirements of  diplomacy when interpreting and applying international law. To fulfil this function, the Court should evaluate the normative und factual weight of global and regional interests and constituencies that may be affected by the dispute settlement between States and consider the regional legal developments and legal philosophies of a variety of geopolitical systems and spaces in the interpretation of international law.

Therefore, the audiences of the ICJ are not limited to the States directly implicated in the judicial process or to the abstract ‘international community’, because the Court also addresses issues of particular significance to specific geopolitical systems, interests, and configurations. The judgements, orders, and advisory opinions of the Court are read, interpreted, understood, or misunderstood within a concrete ‘geopolitical time’ by a variety of interested and antagonistic groups of State and non-State actors with stakes in the disputes. The Court is expected to be aware of the different perspectives of the audiences that will be affected by its jurisprudence, and adopt decisions taking into account their legal policies and normative visions.

The Court is not a passive observer of the geopolitical state of affairs, but an active ‘co-framer’ of normative and geopolitical semantics. The ICJ selects and evaluates information relevant to the diplomacy of the dispute and determines, directly or indirectly, the coordinates of the relevant geopolitical environment. Therefore, the Court should also guide the parties involved into a settlement that preserves peace and security and offers guidance to the broader constituencies and geopolitical systems affected by its jurisprudence. The ICJ should not limit itself to a formalist interpretation and application of rules, but its decisions should actively seek an interpretive alternative that supports preventive diplomacy and peaceful change in world order, and shapes the perceptions on international law and geopolitics. Some decisions and advisory opinions correspond to this model, but others do not.

The project explores the relationship of the ICJ jurisprudence with the practice of other UN organs that are playing a fundamental role in defining the world order, including the Security Council, the Human Rights Council, as well as international courts and tribunals whose case-law is relevant to the subject of the project.  As the ICJ cannot avoid the ‘minefield’ of geopolitics, the project will explore the best way for the Court to offer jurisprudential signals that could facilitate governance, prevent conflict, and influence the geopolitical perceptions of the participants in international relations.

Publications