The 'International Community' as a Legal Notion

Christian J. Tams

With a commentary by Theresa Reinold

Keywords: international community, international law, society, United Nations, law-making

DOI: 10.14282/2198-0411-GCRP-21


The 'international community' is omnipresent in international debates. It is a point of reference. Much international action is undertaken in its name. And many a catastrophe – from Aleppo to climate change – is portrayed as a failure of the international community. As is clear from these random references, the functions, meanings and content of the concept of 'international community' are fluid: it is as appealing as it is evasive – and in fact, often it appeals precisely because it is evasive, and because a wide range of diverse, sometimes competing, meanings and expectations are projected onto it. The working paper seeks to unveil some of the functions, meanings and expectations projected upon the notion of 'international community'. While it focuses on debates in one particular field, viz. international law, its themes are of significance to a wider audience.

The Author

Christian J. Tams is Professor of International Law at the University of Glasgow, where he directs the Law School's master programme in international law. In addition to academic work, notably on the law of treaties, state responsibility and dispute settlement, he frequently advises states and non-state actors in proceedings before international courts and tribunals. He holds an LL.M. and a Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge and is a member of the Council of the German Society of International Law. During 2015-16, was a senior fellow at the Centre for Global Cooperation Research.

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