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A changing world…

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March 27, 2005

For an average lawyer, knowledge of international law is no longer a luxury, it is increasingly becoming a requirement, according to the School of Law's newest tenured faculty member Peter J. Spiro.

As one might imagine from this statement, Spiro specializes in international law. However, he makes a compelling case for this statement - the world is becoming more globalized especially in terms of travel and communication; the traditional role of only country leaders conversing about economic, environmental or human rights issues is disappearing; many corporations are now multinational; organizations such as Amnesty International and Greenpeace are acting on the global level without having to answer to any one country; and sub-national actors, such as the states of Georgia or California, are increasingly prominent in their own right as players on the international stage. In the midst of these developments, Spiro also makes a strong case for the eroding of national identities.

According to Spiro, one of the country's leading authorities on immigration and nationality law, U.S. citizenship has traditionally been most easily defined in terms of a constitutional faith - that we were distinguished from the rest of the world by the fact of our democracy and our constitutional values. "This no longer distinguishes us in the same way that it has historically, as much of the rest of the world also comes to enjoy democratic governance." Nor can one readily define "being American" in terms of a distinctive popular culture, as others adopt American movies, television shows and other pop icons as their own. "To the extent that everyone is an American," Spiro suggests, "no one is an American."

Spiro believes this eroding national identity is not unique to the United States and is affecting other countries throughout the world, and that it is not a "reversible development." This is main premise of his book currently under contract with Oxford University Press.

When he first entered academe a little over a decade ago, international law was a "marginal field" of legal study and research. "This is fast changing," he said. "In order to perform as a lawyer, it is increasingly going to be the case that one has to have a basic understanding of international law and the distinctive mechanisms of international legal systems. This will be true regardless of the field of practice in which our graduates find themselves."