Institutions of International Law. How International Law Secures Orderliness of International Affairs

23 Pages Posted: 4 Jun 2019

Date Written: May 14, 2019


This article is a plea for adopting a reinvigorated, analytic perspective on contemporary international law, building on MacCormick’s powerful insights into law’s essential structure. The article proposes that international law as whole forms an institutional normative order. The idea of institutional normative order has certain conditions. These link a normative conception of international law with the means of achieving it. The article makes three arguments on these conditions. It first argues that the function of international law is to create order in the sense of orderliness for its principal users, States and international organizations. It then claims that international law establishes normative order through international rules that are binding from the viewpoint of States and international organizations. An international process of rule-making embedded in State practice turns norms into such rules. The process is being held as a bindingness-creating mechanism because it formalizes rules through recognized means and organizes collective consent to authorize them. States and international organizations then apply these rules by exercising international legal powers under a defeasible presumption of legality. Third, the article argues that this normative order becomes institutionalized. The institutions of international law are grounded in ideas about agencies, arrangements, and master-norms that integrate the mass of international rules and principles. The article exemplifies these arguments for UN-driven international law with the relating recent jurisprudence of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) and Annex VII tribunals, and the Court of Justice of the European Union. The upshot of this idea of international law as institutional normative order is unity, or indeed a system. No part of international law can be seen outside of this context and hence the burden of argumentation is on those wishing to make the case for divergence.

Suggested Citation

Roeben, Volker, Institutions of International Law. How International Law Secures Orderliness of International Affairs (May 14, 2019). Available at SSRN: or

Volker Roeben (Contact Author)

University of Dundee, CEPMLP ( email )

Carnegie Building
Dundee, DD1 4HN
United Kingdom
01382 386894 (Phone)

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