Lawyer and former diplomat Lawrence Herman spoke about our unsettled times whose events force us to reflect on the nature of the international system, at the 10th Annual CUSLI Distinguished Lecture held on November 14.
Herman, who has enjoyed a long career in both government and private practice and is now a member of the Canada-US Law Institute’s Executive Committee, commented on the recent election of Donald Trump, saying it highlights anti-globalization forces and challenges a system of rules and institutions in place since World War II.
“The question is whether multilateralism is dead and with it the continued evolution of international law on a global scale,” he said. “The gains that have been made in dealing with climate change through the Paris Agreement are in jeopardy with the Trump election and it remains highly doubtful whether new multilateral efforts can move the trade agenda forward.”
He pointed to the massive retrenchments that seem to be happening; the shelving of the TransPacific Partnership, the withdrawal of countries from the International Criminal Court, and the questioning the foundations of the European Union in the form of the Brexit vote last June.
Herman contends the shattering and dispersal of international agreement calls into question whether there is any consensus in sustaining and creating international organizations.
“We are unlikely to see the international consensus again that created the GATT and World Trade Organization,” he said.
But he said we still have have rules which will survive “the short term destabilization and turbulence.” He pointed to the Law of the Sea as a “shining example” of this.
“Larry’s insights are timely, honed as they are from long experience in government and the private sector,” said Professor Chi Carmody. “What is occurring today may be symptomatic of a desire to debate, discuss and interrogate the world of law and international law that we have built.”
Herman served in the Canadian Foreign Service in the 1970’s in a variety of posts, at the United Nations in Geneva and in Ottawa, representing Canada in numerous international bodies, including UNCTAD, GATT, OECD and the UN Conference on the Law of the Sea. Since 1980 he has concentrated on the practice of international trade and international business transactions, advising business clients, governments and international agencies.