Lecture Notes


























International Law

Treaties between countries are known as "international laws."

Most of us think of laws as things the government requires us to do or not to do. If we break the law, the government punishes us. Most laws in the United States apply to everyone. International law requires us to think of law in a slightly different way. International laws are more like legal contracts. For example, if you sign a lease agreement with your landlord, you are signing a “legally binding” contract. You might think of it as “a law between two people.” If you fail to pay the rent, you have broken the law. Perhaps you will be punished, or perhaps not. It doesn’t really matter. In either case, you’ve still broken the law.

Countries, like people, have legal obligations. For example, if the U.S. and Mexico sign a treaty saying that each will deliver the others’ mail, then that treaty constitutes a “legally binding contract,” and by signing that contract, the U.S. and Mexico have created (or agreed to) an international law. This particular law may not apply to every country in the world; in fact, it only applies to the countries that have signed the mail-sharing agreement. However, having signed the agreement, if the U.S. were to stop delivering letters from Mexico, it would certainly be breaking an international law.

Would the U.S. get punished for breaking this law? Maybe, or maybe not. But once again, that’s really a separate question. Whether or not the U.S. gets punished, the fact remains: by breaking an agreement it had previously signed, the United States would be violating an international law. 


Check Your Understanding

  1. What is international law?
  2. Do international laws apply equally to every country in the world? Explain your answer.