“Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, you are unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it so,” said Noam Chomsky, American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, social critic, and political activist. For many people, taking that next step forward to create a better future for the world means diving into the field of international law. Countries interact with each other through international laws, rules, and regulations, as well as special treaties and agreements. This creates a global network of binding treaties and agreements that can be enforced and regulated, hopefully, for the better good, for all. 

International law is the study and practice of the set of rules, agreements, and treaties that are binding between countries. There are many subcategories of international law, so specializing in one branch of international law is a possibility. International laws promote peace, justice, common interests, and trade. For example, the South China Sea and the Arctic Sea are hotly disputed areas where maritime law comes into play to regulate who gets to access these bodies of water. Have you ever thought about the next frontier of space and space travel? Regulations and laws need to be in place for this unexplored and uncharted territory. Who knew space law is a real field of study? 

We live in a fast-paced globalized world where our laws are globalized too. The Oxford Handbook of Law and Politics describes how this has developed over time: “The ‘globalization of the law’ became a central topic in legal and social science scholarship in the 1980s. The topic refers to ‘legalization’ diffused into two related kinds of domains. First, it refers to the development of an enhanced role for legal rules and procedures in transnational political and economic matters. Second, the topic refers to the increased importance of the domestic ‘rule of law’ in countries throughout the world.” Suffice to say there would be chaos and likely more conflicts if we did not have international laws in place.

Following the end of World War II, the United Nations was formed to maintain and promote international peace. The United Nations is the regulatory body that oversees the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court. These two courts are vital to upholding the international laws and statues established by the participating countries. All students interested in international law should be aware of the important role the United Nations plays in this area. The organization explains, “Among the greatest achievements of the United Nations is the development of a body of international law -- conventions, treaties, and standards -- central to promoting economic and social development, as well as to advancing international peace and security. Many of the treaties brought about by the United Nations form the basis of the law that governs relations among nations.”

“International law may be enforced by states taking unilateral action if it is in their interest or through multilateral measures where sufficient consensus exists. Reciprocity can play a role, as many benefits can be gained from following laws. In addition to ad hoc efforts to enforce international laws, a number of formal courts have been established for that purpose,” points out Eric Brahm in an essay on international law. Acting alone or together as a unified front -- unilaterally or multilaterally -- it is important to know that every country’s actions create large ripple effects that influence the entire world. The prospective student of international law will learn the nuances, and the ins and outs, of this fascinating field of study.

Here are three little-known specialties in international law that might be of interest for their unique globalized and challenging nature.

1. Air and space law

The newest field in international law, air and space law, is a rapidly developing and growing field of study. Just like there is no recorded limit to space, the sky’s the limit here! In 1985, the International Institute of Air and Space Law was established with the goal of collaborating with "many world-class academic institutions. The institute maintains close contact with national and international organizations and businesses worldwide and is guided by a prestigious International Advisory Board.” The history of this particular field of study, obviously, begins with the Wright Brothers recording the first successfully launched airplane and continues with the first human landing on the moon. Today, air and space law contends with the regulation of unmanned aircraft, such as drones, and helps maintain agreements with international air space regulation. 

“The world of aviation and aerospace is on the cusp of a revolution based on autonomous flight and drone technology. While today’s drones are used for such tasks as inspecting tracks or power lines and assessing wildfires, tomorrow’s larger models will transform industries like construction and retail by carrying heavy cargoes to hard-to-reach places. In less than a decade, traffic congestion and urban pollution could be eased by electric unmanned aircraft transporting people or products around cities,” write Dave Marcontell and Steve Douglas for Forbes. This field is only going to expand in complexity as innovations in technology become more readily available on the mass market for consumers. Getting into the specialty now could set you up for a successful career.

2. International trade and investment law

International trade and investment are driving forces in the world’s economy. Without regulations and laws, there would be no corporate accountability and those with the most resources would run unchecked. Also, maintaining international agreements and treaties are essential for the checks and balances established by such important regulatory bodies such as the World Trade Organization. A student interested in international trade and investment will gain a broad overarching understanding of how these laws work through challenging and interesting curriculum. 

A third-year Cambridge law student says, “What I like about studying law in general is that you can see its application in the world around you -- but with international law, you get to see what you’re studying applied on a global scale, often as front page news. In supervisions and lectures we discussed how international law applies to current events -- like Crimea, for example, or Syria -- and considered topical, controversial questions such as whether Palestine is a state, or when states can use armed force.” You definitely won’t get bored if you study international law! Additionally, if you’re more business-minded, you may want to consider international trade and investment law. It may just be the perfect fit. 

3. International maritime law

Maritime law, also known as admiralty law, is the field of law that governs nautical issues and private maritime disputes. At the international level, maritime law governs relationships between countries operating or using ocean-going ships. Moving cargo from one side of the world to the other is not like it was back in Vasco da Gama’s day. In the 15th century, the Portuguese explorer roamed unfettered over the open seas. Today, shipping containers are heavily regulated and the world’s economy relies on the movement of goods from one country to another. As a student of maritime law, you’ll learn in detail the maritime laws and codes that have been in place for centuries. Getting a good grasp on how important they are and how they influence the world’s economy and politics, will be eye-opening and also help advance your career as an international law lawyer. 

Whatever field of study you choose to specialize in, international law offers intriguing specialties that lead to exciting, and potentially lucrative, career opportunities. For example, many international law students work in government positions, for international trade organizations, or help define policy. However, there are many other career paths a degree in international law gives you access to. As The Guardian points out, “Studying international law allows students to develop insights into the global legal system and its influence on both national and international policies.” 

International law student Michael Greenfield, interviewed in The Guardian, says, “International law has opened up exciting opportunities for me. I have developed knowledge of key concepts and structures, which I will be putting into practice this summer at the UN.” He adds, “This doesn’t mean that my career path has narrowed down – in fact, it has opened up an array of opportunities that I wouldn’t have known about if I was not studying international law.”