Each and every day it becomes more and more apparent that countries don’t exist in isolation. Disputes between countries and international incidents touch the lives of ordinary citizens due to the widespread access and rapid exchange of information in the digital age. The intersection between international affairs and relations and national governments has certainly become more prominent in the twenty first century, and it is at this intersection of national and international laws and norms where important questions are raised.
There is an inherent tension between international and national legal norms. It is unclear, at least on the surface, whether national laws or international laws reign supreme. There are two distinct areas where international law and national laws interact that are particularly interesting. First, there is the case of international treaties that a country is a signatory to. Those treaties are often specifically incorporated into national law and to that extent act precisely as a national law does. Second, there are the cases of international conventions, which may or may not be adopted into a national system, but often lack any binding constraint or measures of enforcement. Is there any normative power to follow these international norms or rules, and if so where does that power come from if it is not found in a system of binding national laws?
Some preeminent scholars have attempted to answer these kinds of questions. For a very conservative, and very influential, approach to the intersection of international and national laws see the work of John Bolton below. The Breyer article has a good introduction to the problems associated with international law for those who are looking for a more foundational address.
Bolton, John R. “Is There Really “law” in International Affairs? (Symposium: War and the United States Military).” Transnational Law & Contemporary Problems 10, no. 1 (2000): 1-48.
Breyer, Stephen. “The Court in the World.” The Justice Stephen Breyer Lecture Series on International Law 2014-2016: 1-14. Brookings .