International Law: A viable career option in Australia apart from the Domestic Law
Many have questioned whether international law has been effective in regulating state action. Skepticism regarding international law is centered on its lack of enforceability. Since we tend to see international law through the domestic legal paradigm, it appears to lack enforceability. When comparing the two legal systems, this is naive. Domestic law is centralised, with command of sovereignty 'enforced' via a vertical chain of enforcement. Conventionally, states delegate authority to their institutions, such as the police and courts, to compel their subjects to obey their laws.
However, international law operates in a fundamentally opposite manner - through horizontal enforcement. The unusual enforcement structure of international law is effective because the goal of international law differs significantly from that of domestic law. International law's objective is to influence and affect state behaviour, which is compatible with why it was formed in the first place - to aid in the maintenance of international stability and order. Unlike domestic law, international law is not concerned with deterrence: it does not strive to penalise governments as a deterrent to other states. And the fact that international law occasionally fails because governments violate it is hardly an argument against it: even domestic law is frequently unable to stop a person who has determined to commit a crime, whether theft or murder.
Instead of punishment and deterrent, international law seeks to alter how governments engage with one another while simultaneously attempting to ensure that certain standards are met. International law codifies as law norms previously in an agreement between nations, and subsequently encourages more universal state conformity with international law. When these criteria are followed by a large number of states and stay consistent over time, they become norms, and all states are held accountable. Even before the Law of the Sea was written, governments respected the rights of lesser states over their territorial seas and upheld maritime sovereignty more broadly in their interactions with one another.
International law is enforced not only by coordination and cooperation among members but also through penalties for breaking the law. As a result, for the most part, governments follow international law, a point that is frequently missed due to the temptation to compare the enforceability of international law to that of domestic systems. Domestic law differs from international law in that its objective is punishment and deterrent.
A career in International Law in Australia
Given that the vast majority of international attorneys represent nation states, the clearest road to a career in international law is through an involved government body such as the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Of course, the nature of international law necessitates frequent travel to locations such as The Hague, Paris, Geneva, Brussels, and New York. Fortunately, Australian lawyers have a strong presence in each of these cities' international law communities. Their routes to success in this area, however, are frequently indirect, with many first earning appropriate postgraduate degrees before demonstrating their worth in supporting jobs (such as suitable internships) or the corporate sector.
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