Nordic Narratives of International Law

Is there a common ‘Nordic narrative’ of international law and is it distinct? Why do Nordic states mobilise specific narratives of international law?

Group photo of conference participants

Presenters and participants. Photo: Tori Loven Kirkebø (UiO)

How do Nordic judges, lawyers and academics interpret and develop international law? And how are Nordic narratives circulated and branded and by whom? These were some of the issues discussed at the recent ReNEW-funded conference on ‘Nordic Narratives of International Law’ hosted at the University of Oslo.

The UiO:Nordic projects ‘Nordic Branding: The Politics of Exceptionalism’ and ‘The public sphere and freedom of expression in the Nordic countries 1815-1900’ co-organized the conference on Nordic Narratives of International Law.

It brought together researchers from across the Nordic countries and the UK, and  from different disciplines on international law to interrogate the different imaginaries of international law that have emerged from the Nordic region. The themes covered at the conference included theory and history, the relationship of the Nordic states to particular fields of international law and the role of Nordic actors.

Iver Neumann (Oslo Met) kicked of the conference with a discussion of why there is such strong support for international law within the Nordic countries. Reflecting on issues such as the relatively small size of the Nordics, geopolitics, and history, Neumann argued that the Nordics had more to gain from maintaining the international legal order than the alternative. Thus, setting the stage for discussions on how different areas of international law plays out within and from the Nordics, with theoretical reflections on Nordic Realism from Johan Strang (University of Helsinki) and Nordic politics towards international courts and institutions from Mikael Rask Madsen (University of Copenhagen).

Diving into different areas of international law, the following two sessions opened up for discussions about varieties between the Nordics and between different legal fields. Questioning Nordic exceptionalism, presenters and commentators highlighted counter-narratives, key concepts, and differences between the Nordics. With presentations from Kristina Siig (University of Southern Denmark), Ivar Alvik (UiO), Jørgen Skjold (UiO), Kjersti Lohne (UiO), Thomas Gammeltoft-Hansen (University of Copenhagen), Johan Karlsson Schaffer (University of Gothenburg), Anne Hellum (UiO), and Amanda Cellini (UiO). 

Moving to Nordic actors in international law, the final panel discussed how specific actors influenced the Nordic approach to international law, as well as how they interact with it today. Dag Michalsen (UiO) analysed how early Nordic professors of international law were embedded in the state and were deeply influenced by the rise of international law in relations between the Nordic states in the 1800s. Langford, Kjeldgaard-Pedersen and Stiansen (University of Oslo/Copenhagen) tracked the appointments and decisions of Nordic international judges and arbitrators, finding only faints hints of a Nordic approach. Daniel Behn (University of Liverpool) analysed the branding campaign of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce which presented its commercial arbitration hub as a key contributor to world peace and international law.

Contributions presented at the conference and invited contributors will be included in an edited volume with the aim of publication in late 2020, early 2021.

Published June 14, 2019 10:41 AM - Last modified June 25, 2019 1:43 PM