Book cover courtesy of Oxford University Press

Anthea Roberts wins top international law award

4th February 2018

Associate Professor Anthea Roberts from the ANU School of Regulation and Global Governance (RegNet) has won the American Society of International Law’s most high profile and prestigious book prize for her recent monograph Is International Law International? (Oxford University Press, 2017).

Dr Roberts’s book was launched to international acclaim in September 2017. Clearly striking a nerve in today’s new competitive world order, the book was an immediate hit, selling out worldwide in less than 5 weeks and generating more likes on Oxford University Press’s International Law Facebook page than any previous book.

In a review on the prominent US website Lawfare, Professor Sam Moyn from Yale University described the book as “magisterial,” proclaiming: “instantly, it is a classic that anyone who wants to reflect on the field must read”. Many others have agreed, including:

“I am very serious when I say that nothing in the field will be quite the same after this book has been published. It is such an eye-opener.”

Martti Koskenniemi, Professor of International Law, University of Helsinki, and Director, Erik Castrén Institute of International law and Human Rights, Finland

“This book is a must-read for every international lawyer and negotiator.”

Anne van Aaken, Professor for Law and Economics, Legal Theory, Public International Law, and European Law, University of St. Gallen, Switzerland

Details about the Prize

The American Society of International Law awards a prize for the best contribution to creative scholarship in international law, which is open to all authors from all countries around the world. In justifying the selection of Dr Roberts’ book, the American Society explained:

“Roberts turns a beguilingly simple question into a globe-trotting, multi-method quest for a map of international law’s players and meanings. Simultaneously irreverent and serious-minded, Roberts develops an original research agenda that takes her and the reader through the migratory flows of international lawyers around the world, the divergent methods through which they are educated, and the different professional tracks through which they are socialized. The book does not just dissolve international law’s myths of universality; it is a nascent sociology of the field of international law and the beginning of a new field of comparative international law.”

Dr Roberts will receive the award in April in Washington DC at the American Society of International Law’s Annual Meeting. This award is generally considered the most prestigious book prize for international law, as evidenced by the calibre of its previous winners, which include two high profile Australian international lawyers:

  • Another RegNet academic, Professor Hilary Charlesworth, previously won the award in 2001 for The Boundaries of International Law: A Feminist Analysis by Hilary Charlesworth and Christine Chinkin (University of Manchester Press, 2000). This is now considered the foundational work on feminist theory in international law.
  • His Excellency James Crawford, formerly Whewell Professor of International Law at Cambridge University and now a Judge on the International Court of Justice, won it in 1981 for The Creation of States in International Law (Oxford University, Clarendon Press, 1979). This text is now considered the authoritative work on statehood in international law.

Why is the book important?

Dr Roberts’s work challenges the central claim of international law to being universal and international. Using the five permanent members of the Security Council as her case studies, she demonstrates how international lawyers in different states, regions, and geopolitical groupings are often subject to distinct influences that affect how they understand and approach international law. Dr Roberts shows dramatic stand offs between Western and Chinese/Russian international lawyers regarding the South China Sea and Crimea respectively, as well as other differences, such as the way in which French and US international lawyers teach the (il)legality of the 2003 Iraq War.

As the world moves past an era of Western dominance toward a new, more competitive multipolar order, it is imperative for international lawyers to understand the perspectives and approaches of those coming from diverse backgrounds. By taking readers on a comparative tour of different countries’ approaches to international law, Dr Roberts encourages international lawyers to see the world through the eyes of others. As the American Society explains: “In an era in which Western dominance over international law no longer looks certain, this book provides the tools for a more nuanced understanding of international law’s politics, revealing the deeper meanings and stakes of current debates.”

Interest in the book

In March to May 2018, Dr Roberts will be presenting the book at the United Nations (for inclusion on the UN's website as part of their Audio Visual Library), the American Society of International Law's Annual Meeting, Harvard Law School, Yale Law School, NYU School of Law, Oxford University, Cambridge University, the London School of Economics, and the Graduate Institute in Geneva.

Dr Roberts has been invited to present the book at the Latin American Society of International Law, the Russian Society of International Law and the International Law Association’s Annual Meeting, among other invitations. The book is currently being reviewed in many countries around the world, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, China, France, Germany, Italy, Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Switzerland, the United States and the United Kingdom.

About the author

Anthea Roberts is a specialist in public international law, investment treaty law and arbitration, and comparative international law. Prior to joining the ANU, Dr Roberts was an Associate Professor at the London School of Economics, a Visiting Professor at Columbia Law School and a Visiting Professor at Harvard Law School. She is also currently a Visiting Professor on the Masters of International Dispute Settlement at the Graduate Institute/University of Geneva. In 2017-2018, Dr Roberts is serving as one of the two inaugural Legal Fellows for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade as part of their new Diplomatic Academy.

Dr Roberts is one of the most highly cited international lawyers of her generation in the world. She has twice been awarded the Francis Deák Prize by the American Society of International Law for the best article published in the American Journal of International Law by a scholar under 40 years of age. Dr Roberts was awarded a UK Leverhulme Prize, which is awarded across all disciplines and is designed to “recognise the achievement of outstanding researchers whose work has already attracted international recognition and whose future career is exceptionally promising”. Last year, she was also awarded an ANU Future Scheme Award, which is designed to attract and retain world class scholars like Dr Roberts to the ANU.

Find out more about the book, read a sample chapter or purchase a copy.

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