The great powers and the rule of law
- Tommy Koh
In this reply to Professor Graham Allison, the writer argues that it is in the interest of both small states and great powers to abide by international law.
Professor Graham Allison is a brilliant scholar. He is currently the director of the Belfer Centre for Science and International Affairs at the Kennedy School of Harvard University. He had served previously as the dean of the Kennedy School. On July 16, this newspaper published an article by him entitled "Heresy to say great powers don't bow to international courts?"
He concluded that: "It is hard to disagree with the realists' claims that the Law of the Sea tribunals, the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court are only for small powers. Great powers do not recognise the jurisdiction of these courts - except in particular cases where they believe it is in their interest to do so."
Prof Allison also quoted, with approval, Thucydides' summary of the Melian mantra - "The strong do as they will; the weak suffer as they must…"