Academic journal article Chicago Journal of International Law

Modeling Domestic Politics in International Law Scholarship

Academic journal article Chicago Journal of International Law

Modeling Domestic Politics in International Law Scholarship

Article excerpt

Table of Contents

I. Introduction .................... 3

II. Documenting Economic Foundation? Contributions .................... 3

III. Principal-Agent Models .................... 9

A. Overview of Principal-Agent Theory .................... 10

B. State Responsibility and Odious Debt .................... 11

C. International Organizations .................... 14

D. The Laws of War .................... 17

IV. Domestic Distributional Conflict Models .................... 19

A. Unitary States, Interest Group Politics and TRIPS .................... 20

B. Unitary States, Unilateral Regulatory Moves, and Global Environmental Challenges .................... 22

V. Conclusion .................... 26

I. Introduction

How has the use of rational actor models contributed to debates in international law? In reviewing Eric Posner and Alan Sykes's book Economic Foundations of International I mw ("Economic Foundations''), we take the opportunity to highlight some key insights derived from rational actor models and to specify avenues for future inquiry. Section II of this review argues that Economic Foundations is an unusually comprehensive volume that breaks new ground by applying rational actor models to several understudied fields, including remedies, state responsibility, and the law of the sea. We document this claim through a brief review of articles published in two of the flagship journals of international law and international relations, the American Journal of International I mw ("AJIL") and International Organisation ("10"), respectively.

At the same time, we argue that scholars can make much progress by relaxing the most troubling assumption of the rational actor models currently used in international law: the unitary state assumption. Scholars who adopt this assumption posit that states can be elegandy understood as singular entities that act to maximize a well-defined national interest. In Sections III and IV, however, we show that disaggregating the state does not require abandoning the simplicity and rigor of rational actor models. In Section III we apply principal-agent models commonly used in many other disciplines to key debates in international law; disaggregating the state into voters (principals) and government officials (agents) can yield useful insights. In Section IV we compare unitary state models to models of domestic distributional conflict among key interest groups within each state. We illustrate how different rational actor models yield different conclusions for international law debates. That is, we suggest that some of the most controversial implications of earlier rational choice studies stem from the unitary state assumption in particular, rather than from the broader assumption that actors act rationally in pursuit of their interests. Disaggregating the state in this fashion also allows us to highlight similarities between economic and sociological accounts of international law, seemingly disparate perspectives. Our primary contribution here is showing that international legal scholarship has much to gain by applying alternative but workhorse models from political economy to several subfields of international law.

II. Documenting Economic Foundations' Contributions

Economic Foundations is a comprehensive scholarly project that neatly presents the insights derived from rational actor models to almost every subfield of international law. In doing so, Posner and Sykes not only summarize prior material but also present new arguments about previously understudied areas. The result is a noteworthy book that will undoubtedly serve as a keystone reference for future scholars. Here we highlight three interrelated achievements. First and foremost, the book is unusually comprehensive when applying the rational actor model to international law.1 Posner and Sykes identify and analyze sixteen distinct substantive international legal fields to varying depths. …

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