International Judicial Monitor
Published by the International Judicial Academy, Washington, D.C., with assistance from the
American Society of International Law

Spring 2012 Issue

100 Ways


International Law: One Hundred Ways It Shapes Our Lives

100 Ways


By: James G. Apple, Editor-in-Chief, International Judicial Monitor, and President, International Judicial Academy.

(In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the American Society of International Law in 2006, the Society published a small pamphlet titled International Law: One Hundred Ways It Shapes Our Lives. The Introduction gives an explanation for its conception: an affirmation that “international law not only exists, but also penetrates much more deeply and broadly into everyday life than the people it affects may generally appreciate.” This column seeks to elucidate and elaborate on many of the 100 ways briefly presented in the ASIL pamphlet.)

It is not an overstatement to say that our modern society is based on, and cannot currently function without, international law. The reason for the truth of this statement is that our modern society is based almost completely on communications, specifically electronic communications. If it were not for international agreements regulating telegraphs, telephones, and more recently electronic communications using computers, the entire world would be in chaos.

The story of international controls over telecommunications begins in 1865, the year the Civil War was ending in the United States. But the story actually has an earlier time marker, specifically May 24, 1844, the day Samuel F. B. Morse sent the world’s first telegraph message, from Baltimore, Maryland to Washington, D.C. in the United States. The four-word message was “What hath God wrought?” The age of telecommunications was thus born.

Telegraph communications spread rapidly after that singular event. During the American Civil War U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, the U.S. Secretary of War and several Union generals spent many hours almost every day at the government telegraph office to convey orders to officers in the field and receive news about battles.

The use of the telegraph to convey messages from one country to another, however proved to awkward, because there was no standardization. Each country had its own system. When messages were intended to cross borders, as one commentary explained, “messages had to be transcribed, translated and handed over at frontiers, then re-transmitted over the telegraph network of the neighboring country.” It soon became apparent that some kind of international system had to be created. Bi-lateral and regional agreements were adopted in some places. However, to create a more comprehensive system, an international telegraph conference was called to convene in Paris, France in the late winter and spring of 1865. Representatives from 20 nations attended. In May of that year, those representatives signed the first International Telegraph Convention. This treaty was designed to establish a framework covering “international interconnection.” The treaty established common rules to standardize equipment, facilitated international interconnection, adopted uniform operating instructions that would be applicable to all countries, and established international tariff and accounting rules.

The original International Telegraph Union, which was established by the Convention, later expanded its coverage to telephony and wireless telegraphy (radio).

The first headquarters of the organization was in Bern, Switzerland, later changed, after World War II, to Geneva, and it has remained there ever since. In 1934 the organization adopted its present name, the International Telecommunication Union.

The year 1947 was also an important year for the Union. At a conference in Atlantic City, New Jersey, USA, the ITU as an institution was modernized. An outgrowth of that conference was the creation of the International Frequency Registration Board, which was established “ to coordinate the increasingly complicated task of managing the radio-frequency spectrum.” The Table of Frequency Allocations, previously adopted by the Union on 1912, was made mandatory. The other major event in that year was the preparation and signing of an agreement between the Union and the newly created United Nations. Under the agreement the ITU became a UN specialized agency. The agreement went into effect in the first day of the year 1949.

The ITU is now one of the largest international organizations in the world. It has 192 members (of the 193 member states of the United Nations). It occupies a large building in Geneva and has eight basic purposes, the most important of which are:

  • Maintaining and extending international cooperation among all of its members states for the improvement and rational use of all kinds of telecommunications.
  • Promoting the development of technical facilities and their most efficient operation to improve efficiency and usefulness of telecommunications by making them widely available to the public.
  • Promoting the extension of new telecommunication technologies to all of the world’s inhabitants.
  • Promoting the use of telecommunications services to facilitate peaceful relations.
  • Promoting, at the international level, a broader approach to issues of telecommunications in the global information economy.

One of the major recent initiatives of the ITU has been “the development of a global broadband multimedia international mobile telecommunication system,” known as MIT.

A permanent General Secretariat, headed by the ITU Secretary General elected for a four-year term, manages the daily work of the ITU. The current Secretary General is Dr. Hamadoun Toure of Mali. He is serving his second four-year term.

Part of a “vision statement” issued by the ITU broadcasts its importance in the world in all sectors of modern life – business, culture or entertainment, at work and at home. It reads:

“The global international telecommunications network is the largest and most sophisticated engineering feat ever created. You use it every time you log on to the web, send an e-mail or SMS, listen to the radio, watch television, order something online, travel by plane or ship – and of course every time you use a mobile phone, smartphone or tablet computer.”


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ASIl & International Judicial AcademyInternational Judicial Monitor
© 2012 – The International Judicial Academy
with assistance from the American Society of International Law.

Editor: James G. Apple.
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