Archive for the Journal Watch Category

International Law as History and Geography Applied

Posted in General Thoughts and Comments, Journal Watch with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2009 by jeremyleong

Some time ago, I was taught that international law was history and geography applied. In “Imagining Sovereignty, Managing Secession: The Legal Geography of Eurasia’s ‘Frozen Conflicts’”, Christopher Borgen seeks to validate this proposition to a good measure.

 

In the course of his analysis of the series of ongoing succession-ist crises in the post-Soviet states of Moldova, Georgia and Azerbaijan, Borgen pits respect for the right to self-determination against respect for pre-existing borders. He argues, “(s)ecessionist entities that are able to point to some previously existing boundaries to which they will conform have claims that are more likely to be viewed as legally legitimate…Thus, in an attempt to impose a bright line rule on the messiness of ethnic conflict and separatism, the international community gives weight to cartography and political geography. Being able to show a delineation on a map may not be dispositive of a claim for external self-determination, but it helps.”

 

He goes further, noting the prospects for the Westphalian system. “This legal system presupposes the existence of a state system and for its proper functioning, it has defined rules concerning secession that protects the existence of states. Geographical concepts such as territory and borders are used to this end…But states are still the core of the increasingly complicated international system and, absent any showing of a viable alternative, are still the best hope for broad-based approaches to peace and justice. Long live Westphalia.”

 

It is refreshing piece of inter-disciplinary legal scholarship. However, while reading it, I get the feeling that Borgen is wielding a dated instrument. Geography has always been part of international law. Or at least, it has always been part of the narratives that international lawyers construct. No points for saying it out loud now.

 

More importantly, it is a blunt instrument. Inter-disciplinary international law scholarship has developed far more incisive ways of looking at geography. For instance, law and economics scholars may view geography as an allocation of entitlements. This has the added benefit of accommodating the concept of territorial sovereignty as a basket of rights which may be further allocated. Constructivists may focus on the idealational value of geography. They may look at how territory, as defined on various pieces of parchment, provokes a response from people and policy makers. Behavioral economists may ask if there is a heuristic bias toward protection of territorial rights as opposed to other legal rights. Do we feel differently when faced with an infringement of territorial sovereignty as opposed to a piece of legislation which affords prescriptive jurisdiction?

 

Perhaps, these are more salient issues to examine in the future. The Opinio Juris blogpost which links to the paper is found at http://opiniojuris.org/2009/02/23/imagining-sovereignty-managing-secession-and-fourth-generation-warfare/.  

Fragmentation of International Law: Dispute Settlement

Posted in General Thoughts and Comments, Journal Watch with tags , , , , , , , on February 3, 2009 by jeremyleong

Here is a new angle for the fragmentation of international law discussion, in particular how individual international tribunals deal with fragmentation. Ruti Teitel and Robert Howse in “Cross-judging: Tribunalization in a Fragmented but Interconnected Global Order” argue against studying tribunalization in an aggregate quantitative assessment. Instead, they advocate a deeper qualitative study of whether tribunalization and fragmentation “introduces new dissonances and points in different and perhaps conflicting normative and institutional directions” to individual tribunals.  

 

In canvassing international human rights tribunals and international economic law tribunals, they find:-

 

Instead international legal order will resemble the messy porous multiple value and constituency politics of democratic pluralism, which is nevertheless underpinned by a more absolutist baseline commitment to the preservation of the human as such. This may still be in a sense fragmentation, but in mirroring non- or anti-hierarchical democratic pluralism this kind of fragmentation enhances rather than menaces international law’s claim to legitimacy… Tribunalization can come to sight both in “humanity law” and in international economic law as an attempt to purify international legal regimes from “politics”-a response to the international law skeptics’ claim or suspicion that international law is just an epiphenomenon or a justificatory rhetoric for power politics.”

 

My view is less hopeful. Teitel and Howse accept the limits of the assumption that “(t)ribunalization means depoliticization.” Tribunalization only leads to a new level of political game with new constraints. Yet, they accept that tribunalization and fragmentation need not be a problem so long as there remains a “commitment to openness in the project of legal hermeneutics” – a praxis driven,

construction and evolution of legal order, whether domestic or international.  

 

At the extreme, this is not merely constructivism but a form of “uber-constructivism”. To extend Wendt’s oft quoted observation that states do not know what they want, Teitel and Howse are postulating that tribunals do not know what they want. This ignores a simple legal and political fact of life for tribunals. Tribunals are creatures of consent and are bound by that consent. Their mandates are spelt out by treaty. Simply put, tribunals are told what they should want. Yes, I agree that sometimes this instruction is not spelt out all that clearly. However, to assume that states parties to dispute settlement treaties have themselves a collective commitment to openness in the project of legal hermeneutics” jumps too many analytical steps.

 

At their most conservative, Teitel and Howse may just be advocating for some sort of universalist interpretative technique which results in harmonization. To date, this exists: the VCLT. But Teitel and Howse appear to be advocating something beyond the VCLT and if so, must, in the absence of further evidence, fall foul of positive international law.

 

The paper can be found at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1334289.

 

Views and comments are very welcome!

Obama, Change and International Law Part II: A Historical View

Posted in General Thoughts and Comments, Journal Watch with tags , , , , , on February 3, 2009 by jeremyleong

Sometime ago, we asked about how the new US President and his “Change” campaign affects international law.

 

Mary O’Connell from Notre Dame Law School offered a historical perspective in a Jurist Op-Ed. She traces US treatment of international law from Morgenthau to Obama and argues that scholastic developments in “political science and law have resulted in a decline in respect for and even knowledge of general international law in this country.”

 

Yet, she concludes on an optimistic note:-

 

“President Obama studied international relations at Columbia University and law at Harvard when the intellectual emphases were on civil and human rights but not general international law. Many of his new advisers in foreign policy are well known for their concern for human rights but are also associated with pressing for the use of military force even in violation of international law. Indeed, it is understandable that any student of political science in the United States in recent decades would conclude that the best way to show American commitment to human rights is to be willing to use military force in response to human rights violations…Complying with international law across the board in areas of human rights, the environment, the economy and the use of force may sound like a radical change for America. But it is change we should believe in.”

 

Complying with international law across the board is already proving extremely challenging. On one hand, President Obama, has taken immediate action on the Gitmo/human rights front. On the other hand, we wonder whether the US will succumb to protectionism and test the limits of WTO law in the face of the current economic crisis. (At least one commentator thinks so. See http://opiniojuris.org/2009/01/29/the-obama-stimulus-violates-international-law/)

 

For the full text of O’Connell’s Op-Ed, see http://jurist.law.pitt.edu/forumy/2009/01/president-obama-new-hope-for.php. Cyber hat tip to Opinio Juris for pointing it out.

Fragmentation of International Law: Forum Shopping

Posted in General Thoughts and Comments, Journal Watch with tags , , , on January 16, 2009 by jeremyleong

The fragmentation of international law has recently taken a new and practical twist in a narrow field of international law.

 

WTO law is no stranger to fragmentation. The “trade and …” agenda is rife with debate over how international environmental law, international human rights law etc interacts with international trade law. But now, there is a re-newed discussion of how regional trade agreements (“RTAs”) interact with WTO law in a dispute settlement context.

 

First, where parties to a trade dispute are members to both the WTO and a RTA and the RTA in question provides for dispute settlement, which dispute settlement clause should prevail? The Mexico-Soft Drinks and Argentina-Poultry cases in the WTO show that this ambiguity allows disputants to forum shop. Moreover, concurrent jurisdiction between the two allows losers to have a second bite of the cherry.

 

In the most recent edition of Journal of International Economic Law, CL Lim and Henry Gao (in “Saving the WTO from the Risk of Irrelevance”) advocate that RTA disputes should be resolved through the WTO DSU system. In the context of recent WTO Panel and Appellate Body decisions in Mexico-Soft Drinks and Argentina-Poultry, they argue that the WTO DSB may be the most effective forum to resolve RTA disputes as it provides a multilateral solution without sacrificing the utility of bilateral consultations.

 

This leads to the second question. Which law should a tribunal apply? WTO law or RTA law? Lim and Gao suggest amending the DSU to allow WTO tribunals to apply RTA law. I refrain from commenting on the political viability of this suggestion for the moment. In the absence of such an amendment, what can tribunals do? The International Law Commission has suggested various principles such as allowing lex specialis to supercede lex generalis and having later law prevail over earlier law. This has been considered by WTO tribunals. Yet, these principles mask what appears to be the development of a body of jurisprudence concerning choice of international law.

 

Can existing principles which apply to conflicts of domestic law be used analogously in conflicts of international law? Prof. Trachtman explains the international allocation of jurisdiction between states in terms of property and liability rules. This assumes that states may or may not have an interest in having their law applied extra-territorially. But how about between international and/or regional institutions? Can it be said that there is jurisdictional competition between the WTO and RTA organizations to resolve disputes and apply their own law?

 

I know that more work on choice of international law is being carried out and will update accordingly. Meanwhile, I would love to hear any comments or views out there.

Discussion Paper: “Regime Proliferation and the Tragedy of the Global Institutional Commons” by Daniel W. Drezner

Posted in Discussion Papers and Commentary, General Thoughts and Comments, Journal Watch with tags , , , on January 16, 2009 by jeremyleong

We have posted our first discussion paper of 2009. Prof. Daniel Drezner has kindly contributed “Regime Proliferation and the Tragedy of the Global Institutional Commons”. This paper examines the aftermath of the 2001 Doha Declaration on intellectual property rights and public health and recent efforts to create a weapons of mass destruction interdiction regime. It argues that “(a)fter a certain point, proliferation shifts global governance structures from rule-based outcomes to power-based outcomes – because institutional proliferation erodes the causal mechanisms through which regimes ostensibly strengthen international cooperation.”

 

This discussion also calls to mind a couple of papers which appeared in a symposium organized by the Cornell International Law Journal. In “Global Institutional Reform and Global Social Movements: From False Promise to Realistic Hope”, Richard W. Miller argues that the search for “institutional fixes” distracts from more productive discourse about improving global governance by thinking about global social movements. He describes existing social movements as “an international bunch of people” who seek to relieve the inequities and burdens of globalization, etc etc. They regard each other as allies, wish each other’s causes well, share information sources etc etc. Their purpose: presumably to change mindsets. Thus, in contrast to Drezner’s rationalist approach, Miller’s thesis appears rooted in constructivism. See (2006) 39 Cornell International Law Journal 501.

 

Robert Hockett in “Institutional Fixes versus Fixed Institutions” (2006) 39 Cornell International Law Journal 537 offers a bridge between the rationalist and the constructivist. He notes, “(a)n institution is often a kind of transition belt or drive shaft for the effectuation of social movements’ aims themselves; and it is, even more than that, structurally speaking a kind of blueprint for what the movement actually envisages as endpoint if that movement has fully theorized and specified what its ultimate aims are. We might liken the institution to a clutch or a drive shaft, and we might then liken the movement to an engine. Or we might say that the institution is the material embodiment of what the movement articulates by way of a blueprint for a better world.”

 

We hope to continue our discussion on regime proliferation and on the fragmentation of international law in the very near future.

 

Meanwhile, Dan Drezner’s paper may be found at http://fletcher.tufts.edu/FILA/pdf/FILADiscussionPaperNo0109.pdf.

Constitutionalism and International Law: Clarity from “Impurity”

Posted in General Thoughts and Comments, Journal Watch with tags , , , , , on October 26, 2008 by jeremyleong

There has been resurgence in discourse relating to the relationship between domestic constitutional law and international law. Further, perhaps in an effort to re-examine normativity in international relations, there has been increased discussion of the prospects of international constitutionalism. The latest edition of the European Journal of International Law has several such articles:- “Human Rights as International Constitutional Rights” by Stephen Gardbaum and “Human Rights, International Economic Law and ‘Constitutional Justice’” by Ernst-Ulrich Petersmann, amongst others. Similarly, the latest edition of the International Journal of Constitutional Law features a number of articles which examine the impact of international law on domestic constitutional law and vice versa. Elements of this body of scholarship draw on disciplines such as moral philosophy and rational choice theory.

 

This enterprise is, however, not new. But it has undoubtedly taken on added sophistication. Hans Kelsen was one of the first to think about the relationship between the domestic and the international legal orders. From his “Pure Theory of Law”, Kelsen posited that international law is a source of validity for changes in the basic norms of domestic legal systems. This suggests that all domestic constitutional orders derive validity from international law. Further, this theory is considered “pure” insofar as it is derived from cognition focused on law alone. To Kelsen, an “impure” theory of law would include ingredients of psychology, ethics and other disciplines or ideologies.

 

What would Kelsen say about the “purity” of current interdisciplinary scholarship in international constitutionalism then? Domestic constitutional law scholarship has itself evolved along inter-disciplinary lines. For one, fairness and justice discourse is seldom far away, as evidenced by the works of Rawls and other moral philosophers. Further, public choice theory and other law and economics theories have had significant impact on domestic constitutional law scholarship. I suppose it is only natural for these and other extra-legal disciplines to have had the same effect on international constitutional scholarship and hopefully, increased scrutiny from multiple angles will help clarify the factors that continue to divide the international and domestic spheres. I believe a collection of essays edited by Professors Joel P. Trachtman and Jeffrey Dunoff on this very topic is forthcoming. We shall update you accordingly.

Cheap Talk? How much is “Jawboning” Worth in International Law?

Posted in General Thoughts and Comments, Journal Watch with tags , , , on October 21, 2008 by jeremyleong

 

In “The New Sovereignty”, the Chayes note that “jawboning” or “naming and shaming” of states may be a significant factor leading towards compliance with international treaties. The latest edition of International Organization has an interesting article on this issue. In “Sticks and Stones: Naming and Shaming the Human Rights Enforcement Problem”, Emilie M. Hafner-Burton provides some empirical data on the effect of “naming and shaming” on human rights abuses and enforcement. The methodology employed (described by me in overly simplistic terms) measures and compares human rights abuses (referenced in the Torture Convention and the ICCPR) in 145 states before and after “shaming” by NGOs, the UN and the media. Accordingly, an index of “shaming” as well as human rights abuses is developed.

 

The study finds that “naming and shaming” is not all cheap talk.  It is noted though that, “governments subjected to global publicity efforts often behave in contradictory ways, reducing some violations of political rights afterward— sometimes because these violations are easier or less costly to temper yet some governments continue or expand their use of political terror—sometimes because terror is less in governments’ control or can be used to cancel out other improvements governments make but do not want to work”. In particular, the evidence produced seems to show that, on the one hand, governments “named and shamed” as human rights violators often improve protections for political rights after being publicly criticized, for example, holding elections or passing legislation to increase political pluralism or participation. On the other hand, “naming and shaming rarely is followed by the cessation of political terror and, paradoxically, sometimes is followed by more.”

 

It is posited that this paradox can be explained by various factors including, the varying capacity of different governments to reform, and that “some governments abuse human rights strategically—when faced with global pressures for reform…(using) terror, such as killings or beatings, to counteract the effectiveness of political reforms they make in response to international pressures, such as holding elections”.

 

How does this square with existing work on how states’ reputations affect compliance with international law? Rachel Brewster most recently examined this issue in “Unpacking the State’s Reputation”, which can be found at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1268322.

 

Brewster notes that most work relating to state reputation and compliance rests in constructivist theories of socialization and acculturation and attempts to find a rationalist basis for the same. This rationalist basis rests on the proposition that “reputation is a causal mechanism because it influences the future range of cooperative activity available to the state. Without a good reputation, other states will not want to enter into cooperative agreements that provide joint gains but hold the possibility of opportunistic defection.” Accordingly, assuming that compliance involves a Prisoner’s Dilemma, reputational costs associated with violation change the payoffs for a state in deciding whether or not to cooperate or defect. However, she keenly identifies crucial limits to this model which stem from the indefinite nature of reputation. In particular, problems arise with respect to varying time horizons for different states, distinguishing the reputation of the state from that of the regime, and the distinction between a reputation for “legality” and a reputation for “cooperation”. She concludes, “(b)y adopting a more limited view of reputation, we can determine when reputational concerns are important to compliance and where other (rational or non-rational) approaches to international law are needed.”

 

In some ways, Hafner-Burton’s work addresses some of Brewster’s concerns. In particular, it attempts to distinguish instances where the state has control of reputation from instances where it does not. Further, by sticking closely to human rights obligations in the Torture Convention and the ICCPR, “reputation” is given more definition i.e. “reputation as a human rights law violator”. However, it was unable to adjust for variable time horizons and only included a fixed effect for time. More importantly, it was unable to account for the varying weights which different states place on reputation. As Brewster notes, “(i)ncluding reputation in the calculus, where the weight of reputation can be incredibly high or vanishingly small, allows rationalist scholars to explain any act of compliance with international law. Reputation becomes an error term that makes rationalist claims invariably correct.”

 

Was sufficient justice done to “jawboning”? You be the judge.