Jost Delbrück: an acknowledgement


Foto: Ute Boeters

Foto: Ute Boeters


Probably no one was and is as closely connected with the Walther-Schücking-Institute for International Law at the Christian-Albrechts-University of Kiel as Jost Delbrück. Not only was he head of the Institute for almost a quarter of a century, and thus longer than any director before and since then, but the Institute was already an academic home for the young Jost Delbrück: After three months as a trainee lawyer in 1961, he became a research assistant there while working on his PhD thesis. In 1964, after having completed his doctorate, Delbrück took up a position as a senior research assistant at the then "Institute for International Law", where he received his postdoctoral qualification (Habilitation) under the supervision of Eberhard Menzel in 1971 (he had taken the difficult-to-obtain diploma from the Hague Academy of International Law with him en passant in 1968). A deputy professorship in Hamburg and a prestigious appointment as successor to Gerhard Leibholz in Göttingen in 1972 led him away from Kiel, albeit only for a short time: In 1976, he returned to Kiel and the Institute as Menzel's successor, to which he remained loyal as director until 2001 and as emeritus beyond that.

Jost Wilhelm Ernst Delbrück was born on 3 November 1935 in Pyritz (today known as Pyrzyce) in Pomerania. After the World War, he studied law and political science in Kiel, Marburg and Tübingen from 1955 to 1958. Twice he took the opportunity to study at the University of Indiana in Bloomington, his alma mater in the USA, to which he would remain just as faithful as to the University of Kiel: In 1991 he became a permanent visiting professor there, and in 1993, together with colleagues, he launched the "Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies". Back in Kiel as a recent graduate with an LLM degree (which was rare among German lawyers at the time), he worked on his thesis on the "Development of the Relationship between the Security Council and the General Assembly of the United Nations". Georg Dahm, whom he had already met during his law studies, was not only the supervisor of the thesis but Jost Delbrück's actual teacher and mentor. He later proved his loyalty to him, too, by presenting a monumental new edition of the first volume of Dahm's textbook on international law between 1989 and 2002 together with Rüdiger Wolfrum, whose first volume alone grew to no less than three extensive sub-volumes. In contrast to the revered teacher Dahm, the relationship with the supervisor of his postdoctoral thesis ("The Race Question as a Problem of International Law and National Legal Systems"), Eberhard Menzel, remained respectful but distanced.

As a professor in Kiel, Jost Delbrück undertook an almost unbelievable workload. He was particularly involved in academic self-administration and was first president, then rector of the Christian-Albrechts-University from 1985 to 1989, and he was a member of the Senate from 1992 to 1996. He was a member of the Senate Commission of the German Research Foundation (DFG), and from 1985 to 1997 he was a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. From 1997 to 2001 he chaired the German Society of International Law. But he did not only feel committed to the world of international law. From 1978 until its splitting into two independent courts in 1991, he served as a judge at the joint Higher Administrative Court of the federal states of Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein in Lüneburg. Furthermore, from 1992 to 1997 he was a member of the Chamber of Public Responsibility of the Protestant Church in Germany.

In a laudatory speech, Christian Tomuschat once cited this commitment in the most diverse areas of society as one of the three reasons why Jost Delbrück has become an indisputable authority, especially in the field of peace and conflict research. The others are a "close observation of reality" as well as "the firm standpoint that does not fluctuate according to the political climate, but from the very beginning was embedded in a fixed coordinate system ". With this fixed standpoint and always keeping abreast with current affairs, Delbrück has devoted his work to questions of multilateralism, war prevention and peacekeeping, topics which form the cantus firmus in his thematically broadly diversified oeuvre. Delbrück’s optimistic (from today's perspective probably too optimistic) conceptualisation of international law after the end of the East-West conflict as a “world domestic law” inspired a whole generation of young international law experts. "Peace through law" - Jost Delbrück also adopted this life motto of Walther Schücking. It is therefore not surprising that it was above all Jost Delbrück, to whom it is owed that in 1995 the Kiel "Institute for International Law" received its second director (from 1926 to 1933) and first German judge at the Permanent Court of International Justice as a namesake.

Appreciating Jost Delbrück’s lifetime achievements would be incomplete if one important side remained unmentioned: that of the academic teacher. He has supervised over 30 PhD dissertations in Kiel, covering the entire spectrum of public law, international law and European law. However, he has had an even more lasting influence on German international law studies through an illustrious group of scholars whom he tutored: from Karl-Ulrich Mayn (habilitation 1980) and Eibe Riedel (1983) to Hans-Joachim Schütz (1990) and Stephan Hobe (1996), and on to Anne Peters and Christian Tietje (both 2000) - not forgetting Klaus Dicke, who formally received his postdoctoral degree from the Institute for Political Science in 1992, but is in fact a true Delbrück disciple. What unites them all is their individuality. This perfectly reflects the academic teacher Jost Delbrück, who encouraged and inspired, but never wanted to shape young people in his own image.

Jost Delbrück received honorary doctorates from the University of Indiana Bloomington (2002) and the University of Magdeburg (2002). In 2006 he received, together with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the first “Kieler Prunksiegel”. Jost Delbrück passed away on 6 November 2020. "His" Institute will always remain connected to him.