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The Rules-Based International Order: Catalyst or Hurdle for International Law?

The increased use and references to the "rules-based international order" (RBIO) in political statements and declarations prompts questions about the meaning and scope of this concept. The RBIO can be a good thing, as it rests on desirable common values, such as multilateralism, peace, development, human rights. However, due to different understandings of the concept and its content, there is not always clarity on what proponents mean when they refer to the concept, and what we as 'consumers' - from different disciplines - imply of the concept. In turn, it can mean a world order based on international law, or something which is different from the world order based on international law, however a common message whenever the concept is used is the refusal of negative unilateralism and the desire to exclude the possibility of legitimising arbitrary actions of some states through abuse of the existing rules of international law. The issue however remains, that because of fragmented understanding of RBIO this positive idea may be easily subject to political instrumentalization and weaken public international law by creating leeway for governments to selectively choose some (but not others) parts of public international law to uphold.

The paper discusses the meaning of the RBIO concept and its relationship with Public International Law and spells out the reasons/conditions when such an order is beneficial, taking perspectives from the Global South into consideration, with the African region as a case study. The paper explores and discusses these issues with regard to areas such as conflict resolution, trade, human rights, and sustainable development, contributing to the discourse on shaping an inclusive global order while also highlighting African views on possible reforms of the RBIO grounded in Public International Law commitments.

This paper is co-authored by Dr Julinda Beqiraj, Maurice Wohl Senior Fellow in European Law, Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, BIICL, Iris Anastasiadou, Researcher in Public International Law, BIICL, and Anna Darnopykh, Volunteer Researcher at BIICL, studying at Humboldt University, Berlin


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