Steven Ratner is the Bruno Simma Collegiate Professor of Law at the University of Michigan. His teaching and research focus on public international law and on a range of challenges facing governments and international institutions since the Cold War, including territorial disputes, counter-terrorism strategies, ethnic conflict, state and corporate duties regarding foreign investment, and accountability for human rights violations. A member of the board of editors of the American Journal of International Law from 1998–2008, he began his legal career in the Office of the Legal Adviser at the U.S. State Department. He has served as a member of the UN Secretary-General’s Group of Experts for Cambodia and his Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka. In 2008–09, he served in the legal division of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva. Since 2009, he has served on the State Department’s Advisory Committee on International Law and since 2013, he has been an adviser to the American Law Institute for the Restatement (Fourth) of the Foreign Relations Law of the United States. He has also served as an expert on international investment law in various arbitrations.
In a world suffused with conflict and human misery, global justice remains one of the most compelling missions of our time. Although philosophers of global justice have often stayed clear of legal institutions, international law plays a critical role in understanding the prospects for global justice. For the core rules of international law – even if they came about as a result of power politics and historical contingencies – have their own morality and represent a real-world incarnation of a vision of global justice. That ethical vision is one that I term ‘thin’ justice. While not as ‘thick’ as the justice we might minimally expert for domestic polities, nor the limit of justice for which we should strive in the international realm, it is justice deserving of the name and consistent with a cosmopolitan vision of the world. After explaining my notion of thin justice, I will apply my standard of justice to international law rules concerning a state’s authority to protect human rights beyond its borders.