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CUSLI lecture highlights turbulent times in international law

Lawyer and former diplomat Lawrence Herman spoke about our unsettled times, the events of which force us to reflect on the nature of the international system, at the 10th annual CUSLI Distinguished Lecture held on November 14.

Herman, who has enjoyed a long career in both government and private practice and is now a member of the Canada-U.S. Law Institute’s Executive Committee, commented on the recent election of Donald Trump, saying it highlights anti-globalization forces and challenges a system of rules and institutions in place since the Second World War.

“The question is whether multilateralism is dead and with it the continued evolution of international law on a global scale,” he said. “The gains that have been made in dealing with climate change through the Paris Agreement are in jeopardy with the Trump election and it remains highly doubtful whether new multilateral efforts can move the trade agenda forward.”

He pointed to the massive retrenchments that seem to be happening; the shelving of the TransPacific Partnership, the withdrawal of countries from the International Criminal Court, and the questioning of the foundations of the European Union in the form of the Brexit vote last June.

Herman contends the shattering and dispersal of international agreement calls into question whether there is any consensus in sustaining and creating international organizations.

“We are unlikely to see the international consensus again that created the GATT [General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade] and the World Trade Organization,” he said.

But we still have rules which will survive “the short-term destabilization and turbulence,” he said. He pointed to the Law of the Sea as a “shining example” of this.

“Larry’s insights are timely, honed as they are from long experience in government and the private sector,” said professor Chi Carmody. “What is occurring today may be symptomatic of a desire to debate, discuss and interrogate the world of law and international law that we have built.”

This article appeared in the Western Law 2017 Alumni Magazine.
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