In Blog

Risk is a choice you take having balanced the cost against the gain. In the corporate investment world a vast number of factors are considered in taking financial risk. By contrast in the legal world there are far fewer, laws are designed to simplify our moral or ethical choices based on defined criminality. If you break the law you must be prepared to face the consequences. The law defines right from wrong, there is no middle ground. If you take the risk of law breaking then the gain must be worth it.

A French minister recently summed this up succinctly: ‘you are either pregnant or you are not, you cannot be half pregnant’. This was said in response to the suggestion by the UK government that a new bill would break international law…but only a small part of it. This is like a burglar claiming that although he stole your TV he didn’t steal your car so he wasn’t a real thief. Laws are set to establish behavioural standards of society and to set a scale of punishments to act as a deterrent. 

International law is not much different in principle but it poses more enforcement challenges.  Consider the actions of the Chinese government with regard to Hong Kong in violating a treaty to respect the semi-independence of the province for a defined period. Short of military action, what can other countries do to register their distaste for such violation? In Victorian times we used ‘gunboat diplomacy’ and aggressive noises collectively known as ‘sabre rattling’.

Today the weapon of enforcement for international violations tends to be the trade sanction, but this is a blunt weapon that inflicts more hardship on the local populace that its errant government.  Governments willing to inflict such hardship on their populace are frequently corrupt and rarely democratic. Most have sacrificed the right to represent the will of the people in their desperation to hold onto power. This is not Britain but this is where violation of international law leads irrespective of short term gain or political advantage.

One thing is for sure, if you are prepared to renege on a treaty signed barely eight months ago, then those with whom you signed it will not trust anything you promise in future. Is this just high stakes brinkmanship masquerading as a tough negotiation?  Trust once lost is very hard to regain, ask any thief who has tried to get work once released from prison. If you break the law, you evidently to have no respect for it. It is not a matter of punishment or getting caught, the biggest risk is your reputation as someone to trust. This is not the way to secure future trade agreements, think of the message it sends to those with whom you want to trade.