Universiteit Leiden

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Research programme

Exploring the Frontiers of International Law

The international legal order is in a process of transformation. Hardly any sector of life is unaffected by international law. Many areas of domestic law have an international equivalent, or are influenced by different forms of international regulation, executive action or adjudication.

2015  -   2020
Carsten Stahn
  • Grotius Centre for International Legal Studies

The research programme on ‘Exploring the Frontiers of International Law’ was set up in January 2015 as a result of the decision to split up the research programme on ‘Securing the Rule of Law in a World of Multi-Level Jurisdiction’ into independent sub-programmes. This decision has enabled the research group to provide greater specificity and thematic coherence to the research, to address macro challenges of international law, and to integrate impulses from various specialized fields and disciplines.
This re-orientation is a natural consequence of the organic growth of the Grotius Centre in past years, and the structural openness of the programme towards critical analysis and cross-disciplinary inquiry.

New Focus
The new focus continues lines of research pursued under the umbrella of ‘Sovereignty, International Governance and Global Values’. But it provides a clearer framework to analyze how globalization transforms the international legal order. It is grounded in the idea that the growing extension of global norms and institutions (e.g., through regulation, executive action, adjudication, norm diffusion or institutional interaction) presents challenges for the international legal order (e.g., coherence, fairness, integrity, transparency) that require careful scrutiny.

The Concept Frontiers
The concept of frontiers provides an innovative framework to understand such processes. The concept refers not only to physical boundaries or demarcation lines. It serves as a means to analyze and understand legal concepts, practices and discourses across different fields of international law, and to identify synergies, differences and limitations. This perspective facilitates a holistic and critical assessment of international law and practice.

Lines of inquiry

The research programme pursues several objectives. The main purpose is to assess whether and how international law applies to new social phenomena and global challenges, such as peace, justice, sustainable development or environmental protection. The programme investigates both the contributions, and the limitations of international law, in responding to global problems. It pursues three different objectives: to identify existing international norms and practices, to engage with their critiques, and to identify ways and means to improve the status quo. Through this orientation, the programme seeks to offer a better account of the identity and effectiveness of international law, and its societal relevance. It also explores the divergences and synergies between international law and related disciplines in responses to global challenges.

It pursues several overarching lines of inquiry:

  • What is the role of international law in relation to major global challenges, such as peace, security, global justice, sustainable development, protection of global commons?
  • How do international legal discourses evolve, and what are their continuities, innovations and critiques?
  • How do legal norms, concepts and practices develop through regulatory, executive or adjudicative processes and how are they are applied at the international, national or local context?
  • How does the transformation of international law influence the operation and interaction of different areas of international law, including their mutual influences and limitations?
  • What goals and means does international law pursue, and how can they be refined?

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