The World Crisis and International Law – The Knowledge Economy and the Battle for the Future

Event date
11 May 2023
Event time
12:45 - 14:00
Oxford week
TT 3
The Dorfman Centre, St Peter's College, and Online via Zoom

Professor Paul Stephan

To join online, please complete the Registration Form by 5:30pm on Wednesday 10 May 2023. Please note that if you register for online attendance after this time, a Zoom link may not be sent to you. If joining in person, registration is helpful but not essential.

Abstract: The world’s prospects are terrible. A nuclear power has invaded its neighbor Ukraine, while another threatens to destroy Taiwan’s independence as it has Hong Kong’s. Populist nationalism ascends in the West’s leading liberal democracies as well as rising powers in the South. All stymie international cooperation and law. Yet meeting the great threats on the horizon — proliferation of terrible weapons, pandemics, global warming, ever growing inequality, mass migration in the face of failed states and environmental catastrophe, terrorism, the pollution of cyberspace, the death of privacy, and the metastasizing of state surveillance — demands international trust and cooperation. Are we doomed?

What brought us to this perilous state? The knowledge economy doesn’t explain everything, but it does a lot. The explosion in technological breakthroughs that makes us wealthier and more powerful also drives the forces that feed these threats. How can we adapt?

The situation is dire but not hopeless. The unfolding of this century has overturned lot of what many did and believed at the end of the Cold War. But pathways to productive international cooperation exist and can be extended.

This book portrays international law as the canary in the coal mine. It shows how the many projects of the 1990s — the conversion of the GATT into the WTO, the European Communities into the EU, the reinvention of NATO from military alliance to values entrepreneur, the privatization of foreign investment protection, the human rights revolution, open borders for migrants, and the invention of cyberspace — have become targets of populist revolt. It calls for new approaches based not on grand international architecture, but on state-led innovation. Trial and error may not save us, but nothing else will.

Speaker: Paul Stephan is the John C. Jeffries, Jr., Distinguished Professor of Law and the David H. Ibbeken ’71 Research Professor of Law at the University of Virginia, and a senior fellow at UVA’s Miller Center. He worked on behalf of the Department of Treasury to assist Russia in the creation of its tax system from 1993 to 1998. He served as Counselor for International Law to the Legal Adviser of the Department of State in 2006-2007, and as Special Counsel to the General Counsel of the Department of Defense in 2020-21. He was coordinating reporter for the American Law Institute’s Restatement (Fourth) of the Foreign Relations Law of the United States from 2012 to 2018. Stephan joined the UVA Law faculty in 1979 after completing clerkships with Judge Levin H. Campbell of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit and Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr., of the Supreme Court.

For further information on his recent book on the same topic as his presentation, please see here


The Public International Law Discussion Group at the University of Oxford is a key focal point for PIL@Oxford and hosts regular speaker events. Topics involve contemporary and challenging issues in international law. Speakers include distinguished international law practitioners, academics, and legal advisers from around the world.

PIL Discussion Group Convenor: Ayako Hatano (

The Discussion Group's meetings are part of the programme of the British Branch of the International Law Association and are supported by the Law Faculty and Oxford University Press.

The speaker will commence at 12:45pm UK Time and the speaker will present for around 30-40 minutes, with around 30 minutes for questions and discussion. The meeting should conclude by 2pm UK Time.

Practitioners, academics and students from within and outside the University of Oxford are all welcome.

Found within

Public International Law