Symposium : The Impact of International Law on Foreign Policy-Making: The Role of Legal Advisers

Introductory Note


The role of international law in international relations has been the object of much rhetoric since the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq on August 2, 1991. It might be useful to contrast a number of statements which were made in the wake of the various resolutions adopted by the UN Security Council with the findings of a research project conducted at the European University Institute since 1988.

The aim of this project was to enquire into the role of international law in orienting the foreign policy of States. To test the effectiveness of international rules, an empirical method was chosen: to seek the views on the matter of those who are directly involved in the daily implementation of international standards of behaviour, i.e. legal advisers to foreign ministers and foreign ministers or former foreign ministers. The research focussed on (1) the areas where rules of international law do or do not play a role, (2) those where they cannot play any role whatsoever, as well as (3) those where they might prove more effective that at present in controlling States' behaviour.

To carry out the research a questionnaire was drafted and circulated to a number of persons. Many of them then came to Florence in the second half of 1988 for the purpose of both giving a lecture on the subject and providing a detailed answer to the questionnaire. As regards in particular the legal advisers, the questionnaire was aimed at analyzing their role both in substantive terms (do they play a relatively impartial role - dispensing advice and opinions? or are they called on to act as government advocates - arguing and defending the government's position? to what extent can they make a case for complying with international legal standards as opposed to national interests?) and also in procedural terms (are they invited to attend cabinet meetings? how often do they meet ministers? are they ever consulted before major decisions are taken?).

Although some of these texts are still to be updated by their authors, the Board of Editors of the EJIL thought that in the meantime their publication might cast a more realistic light on an issue that has been the object of much attention lately.

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