News ID: 230
Publish Date: 18 June 2023

Unilateralism and regulatory policy

International law is the result of multilateralism and the functioning of international governmental organizations. Over the past decades, international decisions, to some extent, have been reflections of unilateral mechanisms developed and endorsed by certain world powers outside the framework of international law. Such mechanisms continue to permeate basic pillars of international law, imposing the will of the world’s major powers on many international subjects.

By Abbas-Ali Kadkhodaei

Many unilateral rules that have emerged in the past years and are recognized today as international norms by their creators are not developed by international organizations such as the United Nations and have no apparent legal basis. There is no global consensus behind them and they are imposed on international subjects through several influential global actors and their objectives. 

Therefore, the application of any international norm, rule, or regulation to decisions outside the framework of international law by the international minority, which appears under such titles as Directives, Standards, Deeds, and Declarations, is explicitly in contradiction with the principles and objectives of the United Nations as well as international judicial opinions. It is undeniable that nations’ norms must be recognized by their domestic legal systems and Constitutions. Accordingly, normative development in international law will not occur except by consensus on all subjects of the international community, whose governing formalities stem from the Charter of the United Nations and the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. 

It should be added that states cannot operate outside international law and norms; in other words, they cannot make the rules and then avoid them. Moreover, the argument that decisions developed unilaterally outside the framework of the existing structures will be legally valid has been strongly rejected by jurists. A peremptory norm of general international law (jus cogens) is a norm accepted and recognized by the international community of States as a whole as a norm from which no derogation is permitted. Therefore, the agreement of states or acceptance by the international community as a whole is always required. On 8 July 1991, Qatar filed an application against Bahrain which involved a longstanding territorial sovereignty and maritime boundary dispute between the two Persian Gulf neighbors. In its judgments, the International Court of Justice stressed that signing international agreements constitutes international obligations for the parties.1

Today, international law is seeking to tackle inequalities by constraining the arbitrary and unfair exercise of power. Its aim is to strengthen the principle of the rule of law enshrined in the UN Decade of International Law; it considers that the main purpose of the Decade should be to promote acceptance of and respect for the principles of international law.2 

Furthermore, the UN General Assembly at the 2005 World Summit Outcome said: “Good governance and the rule of law at the national and international levels are essential for sustained economic growth, sustainable development, and the eradication of poverty and hunger”.3 

Therefore, no international institute or organization -governmental or non-governmental- can cast the slightest doubt on the principle of the rule of law in the framework of international law. Strong criticism has been leveled against international law over its silence in the face of important political and social developments, paving the way for powerful countries to give their own narratives of events through resolutions, treaties, codes of conduct, and action plans. 

From among intergovernmental political forums, we can refer to the Group of Seven which usually- by undermining international rules and norms, uses its power to proceed ahead with its plans and guarantee the interests of its member states. The formation of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and the adoption of the Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation (HCoC) are not normative instruments but initiatives developed by the G7, originally G8. These are not the result of international consensus. Decisions taken at the G7 are not legally binding. G7 Leaders’ annual Declarations cannot be imposed on the international community, but the group exerts political influence.

According to Article 2 (1) of the UN Charter, “The Organization is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its members”.  The principle of sovereign equality, which was written into the UN Charter of 1945, emphasizes that all states are equal before international law no matter the size of their territory, population, economy, or military. But today many countries are abiding by the world powers amid growing fear over their economic sanctions and other measures. 

But today the international community can no longer give in to the excessive demands of a handful of influential countries that have contributed the most to global crises under the slogan of uprooting economic inequalities. This is a critical juncture for international law, and it cannot ignore its strong bond with the principle of state consent and instead back authoritarian countries’ unilateral and coercive mechanisms and approaches. 

In conclusion, it should be noted that any consensus against the Islamic Republic of Iran’s inalienable rights at the international level negates the principle of sovereignty under international law. Therefore, the West’s attempts to make fabricated rules and norms against Iran’s missile program have no legal validity and contradict binding rules and regulations of international law. Endorsement and recognition of Iran’s peaceful missile program are among the international community’s obligations towards Iran.  

1:  See case related to maritime delimitation and territorial issues between Qatar and Bahrain (Qatar vs Bahrain) (jurisdiction) [1994] ICJ Rep. 25

2: UN. General Assembly (44th sess.: 1989-1990), A/RES/44/23

3: World Summit Outcome Document, UN Doc. A/RES/60/1, 16 Sept. 2005, at para. 134.

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