Aside from its use as a general descriptor, the term is typically used to imply the existence of a common point of view towards such matters as specific issues of human rights. It is sometimes used in calling for action to be taken against an enemy, e.g., action against perceived political repression in a target country. The term is also commonly used to imply legitimacy and consensus for a point of view on a disputed issue, e.g., to enhance the credibility of a majority vote in the United Nations General Assembly.
Several prominent legal figures and authors have argued that the term is more often used to describe a small minority of states, and not literally all nations or states in the world. According to International Criminal Court jurist Victor P. Tsilonis, it refers to "the interests of the most powerful states" or "seven to ten states". President of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea Paik Jin-hyun and co-authors Lee Seokwoo and Kevin Tan argue that it could refer to "some 20 affluent states", giving the example of those not members of the Non-Aligned Movement, while Professor Peter Burnell of the University of Warwick suggests that a number of very important states, such as China, Russia and those of the Arab and Islamic worlds, are often distant from the concept of the "international community" and do not necessarily endorse every initiative associated with it, for example, by abstaining from key votes in the United Nations Security Council. Noam Chomsky states that the term is used to refer to the United States and its allies and client states, as well as allies in the media of those states. British journalist Martin Jacques says: "We all know what is meant by the term 'international community', don't we? It's the West, of course, nothing more, nothing less. Using the term 'international community' is a way of dignifying the west, of globalising it, of making it sound more respectable, more neutral, and high-faluting." According to American political scientist Samuel P. Huntington, the term is a euphemistic replacement for the earlier propaganda term "Free World".
- Burnell, Peter (23 October 2013). Democracy Assistance: International Co-operation for Democratization. Routledge. p. 6. ISBN 978-1-135-30954-1.
- Pisillo Mazzeschi, Riccardo (30 September 2021), "Collective Human Rights and Political Objectives of the International Community", International Human Rights Law: Theory and Practice, Cham: Springer International Publishing, pp. 473–501, doi:10.1007/978-3-030-77032-7_25, ISBN 978-3-030-77032-7
- Paik, Jin-Hyun; Lee, Seok-Woo; Tan, Kevin (2013). Asian Approaches to International Law and the Legacy of Colonialism: The Law of the Sea, Territorial Disputes and International Dispute Settlement. Routledge. p. 145. ISBN 978-0-415-67978-7.
The media may declare, for example, that the nuclear programme of this or that developing or non-aligned country is opposed by the 'international community', whereas of the non-aligned, comprising some 122 Stares, the majority, if not all of them, support the right of their membership to carry out such programmes, opposition being manifest only among a relatively small proportion of the total number of States, which now stands at 193. Vagueness is a pervasive feature of media reporting and of political discourse. But use of the term 'international community' as implying 'all States' in full knowledge that it could only cover some 20 affluent States, is more than merely vague. It amounts to failure to take due account of the basic Charter principle. ... While it is clear that the term 'international community' does not comprise all States, or even a majority of them, there is no indication to which States that term, as used in the World Summit Outcome, is intended to refer.
- Veit, Alex (4 October 2010). Intervention as Indirect Rule: Civil War and Statebuilding in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Campus Verlag. ISBN 978-3-593-39311-7.
Through the expansion of peacebuilding and related practices, the term international community has been modified. It refers still primarily to the collective of states. More recently, it is often used to describe world society. Yet as world society cannot constitute an actor, the latter meaning seems to serve mainly as a legitimating term for the former. ... The international community is a group of actors that claims to employ a common consensual perspective.
- Byers, Michael; Nolte, Georg (29 May 2003). United States Hegemony and the Foundations of International Law. Cambridge University Press. p. 30. ISBN 9781139436632.
- Travouillon, Katrin; Bernath, Julie (December 2020). "Time to break up with the international community? Rhetoric and realities of a political myth in Cambodia". Review of International Studies. Cambridge University Press. 47 (2): 231–250. doi:10.1017/S026021052000042X. ISSN 0260-2105. S2CID 230578572.
- Danilenko, Gennadiĭ Mikhaĭlovich (1 January 1993). Law-Making in the International Community. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. p. 204. ISBN 0792320395.
Those who believe that resolutions have become or are becoming an effective modern tool for rule-creation in an expanded international society often explain this phenomenon by reference to the fact that they manifest 'the general will of the international community [that] has acquired a certain legislative status.' Generally, a more cautious attitude prevails in state practice.
- Tsilonis, Victor (23 November 2019). The Jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. Springer Nature. pp. 7, 23, 173. ISBN 978-3-030-21526-2.
As analysed in more detail below, the term 'international community' does not have the meaning one would expect, i.e. the representation of the majority of States; on the contrary, the term skilfully implies the representation of the interests of the most powerful states. [p. 7] ... Nebulous concepts such as 'attracting international interest' or 'international community' need to be avoided at all costs [p. 23] ... A term through which the author attempts to imply all the recognised States in the world, and not simply the seven to ten states implied by the common but "misty" term "international community". [p. 173]
- "The Crimes of 'Intcom'".
- Jones, Katrina (13 June 2012). "Israel, US violators of international law, says Noam Chomsky". The News Tribe. Archived from the original on 1 January 2022. Retrieved 16 August 2021.
- "Noam Chomsky on Iran | Satellite Magazine". satellitemagazine.ca. June 2012. Archived from the original on 14 November 2013. Retrieved 16 August 2021.
- Jacques, Martin (24 August 2006). "What the hell is the international community?". the Guardian. Retrieved 16 August 2021.
- Huntington, Samuel P. The Clash of Civilizations, 72 Foreign Aff. 22 (1992–1993)