Monday, January 17, 2011

The Function of Law in the International Community: 75 Years After

What was the world like into which Hersch Lauterpacht’s most important book
The Function of Law in the International Community1 appeared?
Fifteen million Americans were out of work as President Roosevelt took office in 1933. A World Monetary and Economic Conference met in the summer to debate a programme of currency stabilization and adjustment
of inter-governmental debts. Even contemporaries understood that this was a ‘Period of Crisis’.2 They were right. 1933 was the year of Hitler’s accession as Reichskanzler and Europe’s defi nite turn to the path of darkness. By now Hitler had been joined by Mussolini who insisted Italy be treated as a Great Power, especially in terms of its colonial designs in Eastern Africa. Japan’s attack on China had led to the establishment of the puppet regime of Manchukuo. Diplomats kept on talking about non-recognition and economic sanctions but with little eff ect. The Soviet Union turned unexpectedly away from the policy of world revolution. In the following year it would join the League where it would become a staunch opponent of “revision”.

The League of Nations was in a bad way. The Manchurian situation had demonstrated the fragility of the Covenant’s collective security provisions.

The Disarmament Conference had been undermined by Hitler’s accession and Japan’s withdrawal. No country had worked more to support the conference than Britain. Against a general atmosphere of hopelessness Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald suggested in the spring a new draft convention with defi nite levels of material and provision for conference in case of threatened violations of the peace.3

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