Winner Dissertation Prize 2023
Contemplating an uneven landscape: the authority of international law.
Supervisor: Prof. dr. P.C. Westerman & Prof. dr. M.M.T.A. Brus
Co-supervisor: Dr. A.J.J. de Hoogh
Nomination: University of Groningen, Faculty of Law
Report by the selection committee
Some works of scholarship are topical by being perennial. Kostiantyn Gorobets dissertation entitled ‘Contemplating an Uneven Landscape: The Authority of International Law’ is a clear case of this. It addresses the very nature of international law, which makes it perennial. And it does so at a time in which that very authority is shaken and often distorted, which makes it very topical as well. Indeed, more than a few scholars have seen the brutal war ravaging Gorobets country of birth as a reflection of the waning of international law’s rules.
And indeed, armed conflict can be destructive of the authority of law. As Erasmus wrote in his Adages:
“There are some whose only reason for inciting war is to use it as a means to exercise their tyranny over their subjects more easily. For in times of peace the authority of the assembly, the dignity of the magistrates, the force of the laws stand in the way to some extent of the ruler doing what he likes. But once war is declared then the whole business of state is subject to the will of a few.”
However, Erasmus’ view on the fragility of law is certainly not all that there is to it. Indeed, he might have been charmed by how this dissertation takes a few steps back and zooms out, to enable a fresh look at what kind of animal international law is.
Gorobets argues elegantly, in his deeply original dissertation, that we should approach the authority of international law on its own merit, as something different and not lower or lesser. And in doing so, to not only study the peaks, but also to be aware of the valleys in the landscape of international law. In his dissertation he argues that the authority of international law does not originate so much from its normative content alone or from the actors supporting it, but mostly from the specific way in which it supports normative arguments. It provides a language to engage in both moral and political debates. As phrased in his dissertation:
“Authority … is being shaped, reinforced, or denied and destroyed, every time relevant actors advance justifications of their action within or outside the framework of existing legal norms, and when these justifications are accepted or rejected by other actors.”
Gezag … wordt gevormd, versterkt, of ontkend en vernietigd, telkens wanneer relevante actoren hun acties rechtvaardigen binnen of buiten het kader van bestaande wettelijke normen, en wanneer deze rechtvaardigingen door andere actoren worden aanvaard of verworpen.
In this sense, international law, far from being just a borderline case of what law is, can tell us something about the nature of law in general.
According to the jury, the elegantly written dissertation deftly combines public international law and legal philosophy. It takes the reader along a path of discovery which is accessible for legal scholars and philosophers alike. It offers food for thought beyond the classical debates, deepens those and offers fresh new insights.