Proponents of the rule of law will be glad of the profile granted it by the World Bank’s Law Justice Development Week. Yet they should also beware – its old enemies continue to plot ways to hijack the agenda.

Who are these “enemies”? First, let’s look at the faux promoters of rule of law. These are the people that, in government, champion the phrase when they actually mean rule by law decreed under a leadership that cannot be held to account. They are the people in business whose calls for rule of law are qualified by defense of the status quo, justified by claims of over-regulation, an unleveled playing field and the risks of being “first movers”. Or, they might be realists that wield disillusionment as the reason to give up on international legal regimes, citing the failed attempts at global legal solutions: the Copenhagen summit on climate change, the Doha round on world trade, various rounds on fisheries, reform of international institutions…the list goes on.

Then there are the dis-investors who deny (or siphon away) the resources needed for governments to enforce the law and give civil society access to justice. The cynics in this group say “follow the money” and resign themselves to corruption in its many guises. Don’t forget the “there-ought-to-be-a-law” crowd, pressing for more rules when rules are not the effective solution or when better enforcement of what’s on the books would do. Last, but certainly not least, we face the state sovereignty die-hards who believe that borders are a sacrosanct shield against the advance of universal norms.

Creative ways to confound these enemies are cause for celebration, including name and shame campaigns, industry standard-setting bodies, joint NGO and business initiatives, and the occasional global treaty successes (ozone and cluster bombs come to mind). The many players involved have weapons – social media, global consumer power, investment and business skills, modern science, and the enlightened consensus for change among willing and capable actors.

The rule of law itself is an effective weapon in the many spheres where it has been made to work.  Even in as yet untamed spheres, rule of law principles provide the foundation for new forms of coordinated governance that have legitimacy and are sustainable.

But, beware the enemies. At ease paying lip service to the noble concepts behind rule of law, they will deploy their narrow-interest arguments, disinformation, funds, passivity and patience more than ever when faced with concrete rule of law initiatives.

Author: Tom Siebens is an international finance lawyer with 32 years of experience in the field. Since 2009, he has been a Member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Rule of Law.

Image: Graduates from Harvard law school hold up gavels in celebration REUTERS/Adam Hunger