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52.6 Summary and Exercises

Summary

International law is not like the domestic law of any one country. The sovereign, or lawgiver, in any particular nation-state has the power to make and enforce laws within its territory. But globally, there is no single source of law or law enforcement. Thus international law is a collection of agreements between nation-states (treaties and conventions), customary international law (primarily based on decisions of national court systems), and customary practice between nation-states. There is an international court of justice, but it only hears cases between nation-states. There is no international court for the resolution of civil disputes, and no regional courts for that purpose, either.

The lack of unified law and prevalence of global commerce means that local and national court systems have had to devise ways of forcing judgments from one national court system or another to deal with claims against sovereigns and to factor in diplomatic considerations as national judicial systems encounter disputes that involve (directly or indirectly) the political and diplomatic prerogatives of sovereigns. Three doctrines that have been devised are sovereign immunity, act of state, and forum non conveniens. The recognition of forum-selection clauses in national contracting has also aided the use of arbitration clauses, making international commercial-dispute resolution more efficient. Arbitral awards against any individual or company in most nations engaged in global commerce are more easily enforceable than judgments from national court systems.

In terms of regulating trade, the traditional practice of imposing taxes (tariffs) on imports from other countries (and not taxing exports to other countries) has been substantially modified by the emergence of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) rules as now enforced by the World Trade Organization (WTO). The United States has a practice of regulating exports, however, to take into account national security and other foreign policy considerations. For example, the Export Administration Act of 1985 has controlled certain exports that would endanger national security, drain scarce materials from the US economy, or harm foreign policy goals. The US secretary of commerce has a list of controlled commodities that meet any of these criteria.

Exercises

  1. Assume that the United States enters into a multilateral treaty with several third-world countries under which then-existing private claims to molybdenum and certain other minerals in the United States are assigned to an international agency for exploitation. When the owner of a US mine continues to dig for ore covered by the treaty, the Justice Department sues to enjoin further mining. What is the result? Why?
  2. A foreign government enters into a contract with a US company to provide computer equipment and services for the intelligence arm of its military forces. After the equipment has been supplied, the foreign government refuses to pay. The US company files suit in federal court in the United States, seeking to attach a US bank account owned by the foreign government. The foreign government claims that the US court has no jurisdiction and that even if it does, the government is immune from suit. What is the result?
  3. Would the result in Exercise 2 be any different if the US company had maintained its own equipment on a lease basis abroad and the foreign government had then expropriated the equipment and refused to pay the US company its just value?
  4. The Concentrated Phosphate Export Association consists of the five largest phosphate producers. The Agency for International Development (AID) undertook to sell fertilizer to Korea and solicited bids. The association set prices and submitted a single bid on 300,000 tons. A paid the contract price, determined the amounts to be purchased, coordinated the procedure for buying, and undertook to resell to Korea. The Justice Department sued the association and its members, claiming that their actions violated Section 1 of the Sherman Act. What defense might the defendants have? What is the result?
  5. Canada and Russia have competing claims over fishing and mining rights in parts of the Arctic Ocean. Assuming they cannot settle their competing claims through diplomatic negotiation, where might they have their dispute settled?

Self-Test Questions

  1. International law derives from

    1. the US Constitution
    2. the common law
    3. treaties
    4. customary international law
    5. c and d
  2. Foreign nations are immune from suit in US courts for governmental acts because of

    1. the international sovereign immunity treaty
    2. a United Nations law forbidding suits against foreign sovereigns
    3. the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act
    4. precedent created by the US Supreme Court
  3. A foreign government’s expropriation of private assets belonging to a nonresident is

    1. a violation of international law
    2. a violation of the US Constitution
    3. permitted by the domestic law of most nation-states
    4. in violation of the act-of-state doctrine
  4. Arbitration of business disputes is

    1. frowned upon by courts for replacing public dispute resolution with private dispute resolution
    2. permissible when a country’s laws permit it
    3. permissible if the parties agree to it
    4. a and b
    5. b and c

Self-Test Answers

  1. d
  2. a
  3. c
  4. e