On October 14 and 15, the Hamilton Lugar School hosted Navigating the Backlash Against Global Law and Institutions, an international conference that seeks to address the “backlash” against global norms, laws, and institutions in the face of nationalism, violence, instrumentalism, and unaccountable actors. Scholars from IU, the University of Maryland, and the Australian National University, in addition to policymakers with local and international experience, came together to survey destabilizing global political developments and to propose potential responses to those threats.
The conference started with the inaugural International Law and Institutions Lecture, given by Justice Michael Kirby, a human rights advocate and former Justice of the High Court of Australia. The conference continued the next day with a number of panels featuring experts on a range of issues related to global governance and the rule of law.
During the session on Scene Setting, Shruti Rana, Director of the International Law and Institutions major and Professor of International Law Practice at the Hamilton Lugar School, hosted a panel with Dr. Daniel Biss, a former Illinois state senator and senior fellow at Americans for Financial Reform; Professor Peter Danchin, from the University of Maryland; and Professor Jeremy Farrall, from the Australian National University. The group discussed the growing sense that we are in a moment of turmoil: the liberal, post-World War II order built on institutions like the UN seems to be crumbling at that hands of nationalistic populism that is skeptical of elite authority.
Professor Danchin argued that while many believe that the current state of affairs can be explained by economic factors such as wealth inequality, in fact we are a facing a crisis of values and in fact a crisis of liberal democracy itself. Populists, he argued, are not interested in reform because they view the current system itself as corrupt and inherently unresponsive. Dr. Biss, meanwhile, argued that the public tends to ask two political questions: Do we believe that elites are good at their jobs? And do we believe that elites are on our side? Currently, he said, the appeal of right-wing populism is the message that it’s us against them, and they aren’t performing their job well.
During the session on Navigating the Backlash to International Peace and Security Norms and Institutions, hosted by Jeremy Farrall, who is Associate Dean at the Australian National University School of Law, panelists discussed a range of issues. Among them were challenges to international law regarding the use of force, the extent to which the United States has benefited from the current international order, the violent rather than peaceful creation of South Sudan, the question of who owns resources in outer space, and the reframing of cyber security as a comprehensive network of laws and customs designed to promote cyber peace. During the question and answer period, panelists explored to what extent the UN was an important and relevant player in the international field, whether there is accountability for ethnic violence in South Sudan, and hate speech and data ownership online.
Remaining sessions for the day included International Refugee and Asylum Law, International Humanitarian Law, and Global Economic Institutions and Governance. Taken together, panelists covered topics ranging from Germany’s acceptance of Syrian refugees, to the reluctance of both state and non-state actors to abide by established international humanitarian law, to ways in which the United States and other major economic actors are weakening multilateral trade. The conference ended with a panel on key insights and next steps, which sought to weave the themes of the day together and offer a possible vision for how the United States and other actors might promote a new, more effective, and more resilient global order.
In what ways the United States both is and isn’t living up to its international commitments and abiding by global norms and laws was a major theme of the conference, as were creative opportunities to promote human rights and the rule of law. During the session on International Refugee and Asylum Law, for instance, Professor Daniel Morales, of the University of Houston Law Center, argued that if the US government isn’t going to admit significant numbers of refugees, then perhaps local communities could themselves petition to accept refugees, which would both increase the numbers of refugees in the country and also serve as a model for how the democratic, bottom-up practice of human rights might work.
Over twenty experts provided insights during the conference, as the Hamilton Lugar School continues to assert itself as an institution of global reach that gives its students opportunities to learn from scholars and policymakers in some of the world’s most vital fields.