International law is whatever the people with the most weapons and most will to use them say it is.Agreed.
Coincidentally, Norm Geras looks at the issue from a different perspective, yet makes a related point:
There are many reasons why [arguments for] the sacredness or unchallengeability of law no longer carry persuasive force, but one of them is the development during the last century, and particularly after the Nuremberg Trials, of the body of doctrine we have come to know under the heading 'crimes against humanity': a set of principles limiting the scope of sovereign authority, restricting what governments may rightly do, including (indeed especially) to those living within their jurisdiction. States too, we have become accustomed to thinking, can behave in a criminal manner, for there is a law to which states and those who act for them are answerable.To which I'd add: and sometimes against other peoples--just ask mid-20th Century "Czechs, Poles, Belgians, Netherlanders, Norwegians, French. . .."
It is not difficult to see, however, that by theoretically resolving one kind of issue, this locating of another level of law - so to say 'above' states - simply lifts the problem of what to do when the law itself is wrong or remiss on to a different plane, rendering it a global rather than merely national problem. We should not repeat at the planetary level an earlier mistake of treating law and the institutions which are supposed to embody it as above moral question or challenge. Just because international law has the function of holding governments in check, it does not follow that that law and its would-be agents are always to be respected. On the contrary, I propose today, and for a reason that is topically obvious, what I'll call The Zimbabwe Thesis. The thesis could have been proposed earlier and given other names. No matter. The name is merely contingent. It is the thesis itself I want to argue for.
It is this: the regime of international law, that is, the framework of institutions that is meant to uphold international law, should be held in contempt by all those committed to democracy and human rights, so long as and to the extent that those institutions are merely a cover for inaction and/or connive at the most blatant criminality by states against their own peoples.
I read both Hawkins and Geras, but suspect scant agreement between them. Let me propose one: a morally responsible, far-sighted government unilaterally can establish and enforce broadly beneficial international law--but only when backed by force (or threat of force). I'm not saying it's inevitable--just that it has happened.
Nation-states can act "in a criminal manner." As Geras recognizes, however, inaction can be worse. When evaluating international law, remember the phrase Edmund Burke is credited with saying (though he did not): "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." So, should the Security Council, sanctions and shame fail, why not try some "gun-boat diplomacy"?