Custom, Power and the Power of Rules: International Relations and Customary International Law

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CUSTOM, POWER AND THE POWER OF RULES: International Relations and Customary International Law by Michael Byers. 250 pages. Cambridge University Press, Port Chester, NY. 1999. $54.95.

From the beginning, Custom, Power and the Power of Rules reads like a Ph.D. dissertation. And it is, although it is a "substantially revised version." Chapter section headings such as "The Epistemological Circle" and "Jus Cogens and Erga Omnes Rules" make clear this book is not for the faint of heart.

Michael Byers was degreed in international relations before he began his legal studies. With this book, he attempts to illustrate the confluence of international relations and international law and how an interdisciplinary approach would strengthen understanding of international law. He asserts that few international lawyers have examined the role of power in international law and that his book discusses the subject in ways that distinguish it from previous treatments.

Byers' thesis that international law is buoyed by the inevitability of states ignoring their own short-term interests in favor of less concrete advantages beyond the horizon is contradicted by the current actions of the United States and its NATO allies in Serbia and Iraq. In these cases, the actors appear to have decided that if the object of aggression is a mean-spirited dictator, shortterm goals outweigh international law. This does not fit Byers' theory. …