Comparative international law

Project leader(s)

This project looks at cross-national similarities and differences in the way in which international law is understood, interpreted, applied, and approached by different actors in and from different states. Lawyers are used to employing comparative approaches when dealing with national laws and domestic legal systems because it seems obvious that these might differ in interesting ways or that some approaches might be similar based on factors such as language, colonial history, and membership in the same legal family. But lawyers do not typically employ comparative law approaches when it comes to international law because the field’s universalist assumptions and ambitions makes the search for national differences seem both less obvious and potentially threatening.

During the Cold War, it was common for lawyers to refer to Soviet and Western approaches to international law, which made sense given that there were two superpowers with rival approaches to international law. However, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rise of the United States as a unipolar power, it was more common to find a universalist approach that discounted differences as aberrations from the norm. However, as the world moves into an age of declining US and Western power and rising multipolarity, it seems likely that discussions of particular national or regional approaches from different great powers will again become an important feature of international law discussions. This is occurring with certain contemporary issues, such as the law of the sea and cyber security.

So far, this project has led to a 2015 symposium in the American Journal of International Law and also resulted in 2017 an edited collection called Comparative International Law (OUP) and a book called Is International Law International?

Related books

  • Is international law international? (Anthea Roberts, OUP, 2017).
  • Comparative international law (Anthea Roberts, Paul Stephan, Pierre-Hugues Verdier & Mila Versteeg eds, OUP, 2017)

Articles from ‘Exploring comparative international law’ special edition of The American Journal of International Law

Roberts, Anthea 2016

RegNet scholar takes out funding for study of global law schools

05 September 2016

RegNet scholar, Anthea Roberts has secured funding through the Asia-Pacific Innovation Program (APIP) to undertake an in-depth examination of legal education in a globalis


Dr Anthea Roberts

Anthea Roberts is a Professor at the School of Regulation and Global Governance (RegNet) who specialises in public international law, international economic law, comparative international law and...

Law, justice & human rights

RegNet is one of world’s leading centres for socio-legal research. This cluster aims to lead the development of transformative ideas in the fields of criminology and restorative justice; human rights and international law; legal pluralism; peacebuilding; the regulatory dimensions of international and domestic law; and rule of law.

Updated:  10 August 2017/Responsible Officer:  Director, RegNet/Page Contact:  Director, RegNet