The Public Law Potential of International Arbitration

detail of historic scales with globe on it and metallic weights in dark backIn a recent lecture delivered at the University College London, Yves Fortier spoke about the potential of international arbitration to reach beyond private justice and play a greater role in public international law and the regulation of state conduct. Fortier, an international arbitrator and former diplomat, has previously been ambassador and permanent representative of Canada to the United Nations in New York and served as president of the UN Security Council in 1989.

Fortier acknowledged “the contemporary success of international arbitration and the ability it has had to influence and bend states to a system of international general principles.” He also spoke of “re-conceptualizing” international arbitration as “a tool of international governance”. Arbitration, in Fortier’s mind, has great potential to contribute positively to international law and the public good.

“There is no denying that the success of international arbitration has been limited in some measure to international economic law, where it is actively championed,” said Fortier. But “this should not, in any way, prevent experiments with the practice in other areas of international law.”

Fortier contrasted the effectiveness of international arbitration with the generally limited success of several international courts. Therefore, he urged lawyers to explore more innovative ways of adjudicating international disputes rather than seeing courts as the perfect form of dispute settlement. Fortier recognized that international arbitration sometimes falls short of the ideals of an international court. “But why”, he asked, “should this prevent us from acknowledging its effectiveness?”

A video of the lecture can be accessed here.