International Workshop about Nordic Jurists and the Rise and Evolution of International Law

Hans Blix centrum, together with its partners Centre for Modern European Studies at the University of Copenhagen and PluriCourts at the University of Oslo, will host the international workshop "Nordic jurists and International Law, 1880s-1970s" between 26 and 28 January. 28 researchers from various disciplines, based at 15 universities in nine countries, will gather in Stockholm to discuss the contribution of Nordic jurists to the rise and evolution of International Law.

Workshop programme (467 Kb)

From the late 19th century and into the 20th century international law became increasingly woven into the fabric of international relations. With the creation of global intergovernmental organizations on the back of the first and second world war, moreover, international law, legal techniques and the juridification of multilateralism and global governance has been a fundamental staple of international politics. Supporters have lauded it the meta-language of a globalizing world, able to regulate the conduct of nations and discipline the dynamics of an anarchic system. Critics have, at best, seen it as a utopian but unsuccessful force to civilise international politics, at worst another tool in the box of hegemonic powers, with the ability to distinguish between the civilized and uncivilized, the deserving and undeserving, a stranglehold to keep the society of states in a hierarchy of graded sovereignty.

Throughout this period, the Nordic states have been some of the most ardent supporters of a world governed by laws. International law ensured their neutrality and mercantile rights before WWI; it was at the heart of their visions of the post-World War I order; and it remained a fundamental feature of their commitment to the UN system, international refugee law, human rights, and laws of the sea (to name a few subjects) in the post-World War II decades. One possible explanation for this was general in nature: small states want rule-based international systems, because it minimizes the risk of being the victim of the arbitrary force of larger states. Another, not necessarily contradictory, reason for the Nordic's support for an international rule-based system lies in the positive experience of Nordic states in resolving international disputes peacefully through judicial means. From the interwar period onwards, Scandinavia and later Norden, became a zone of relative tranquillity, partly because disputes (like Aaland Islands and Greenland) were settled through legal mechanisms.

The Scandinavian and later Nordic countries were also granted privileged access, among the small states, within the essentially west-centric international systems of the inter- and postwar decades, socializing them into the language and practice of internationalism, global governance, and international law. Nordic lawyers were important actors in these ‘socializing’ processes (e.g. Alf Ross, Åke Hammarskjöld). However, the perhaps most striking feature is the sustained contribution and leading role taken by Nordic jurists from the late 19th century onwards in the revision and renewal of international law. Systematically, Nordic jurists (e.g. Östen Undén, Frede Castberg, Erik Castrén, Erik Colban, Francis Hagerup, Sture Petrén, Max Sørensen, Hans Blix) have been at the entrepreneurial forefront of legal internationalism; weaving international law into the fabric of international relations.

With these general observations in mind, this two-part workshop invites papers that explore several fundamental questions under the broad heading Nordic jurists and legal internationalism, 1880s-1970s.