Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law

First Page



Over the last few years there has been a revival of interest in international law as a mechanism for conflict resolution. These same years have seen a demonstration of the undeveloped state of international law, particularly concerning intrastate conflicts. The wide disagreement about questions of fact, legal consequence, and world order implications of internal war is a telling commentary on the current problems of applying legal standards to such conflicts. A major part of the disagreement can be explained in terms of the specific problems relating to fact determination and authoritative interpretation engendered by the nature of the environment in which the international legal order must function. The ambiguous and emotionally charged atmosphere that is characteristic of all international actions when force or the threat of force is involved also contributes to the disagreement.

Conflicts such as the Arab-Israeli dispute clearly raise the question whether the traditional approaches and concepts of international law are adequate to characterize the range and variety of contemporary internal disorders and the types of involvement by third states. In addition, many international legal norms are not specific enough in content to allow "illegal" behavior to be identified with confidence. This is true especially of norms purporting to limit the use of coercion. Under the general heading of "minor coercion," the many different forms of coercive influence have remained largely undifferentiated in law. The major problem is not the perennial one of making appropriate judgments about state behavior, but the more complex problem of constructing categories that will accurately reflect the changed and changing milieu in which the law must function.