Final Thoughs on Discussion of How International Law Works
As this it my final post in connection with this discussion of my book, How International Law Works, I want to thank Opinio Juris for giving me this opportunity, and the commentators for so thoughtfully sharing their opinions. Much of the discussion has been about the methodology used in the book, and as I have had my say on that subject in my several prior posts I will not dwell on it now.
Let me instead mention a couple of things that I hope the book has achieved or will achieve as more people get the chance to read it. I hope the book provides a foundation for further rational choice analysis of international law. I, for example, have recently been working on international tribunals, a subject that is not covered in detail in the book. More could be said from a rational choice perspective on just about any international law topic.
I also hope the book contributes to the discourse between international law and international relations. These fields have grown closer in the last twenty years, and I think both have benefited. This book seeks to address both sides of this narrowing divide, and hopefully is useful to both.
I very much want this book to also speak to more traditional international law scholars. There is no natural tension between conventional views of international law and rational choice. It is true that rational choice, because of its emphasis on reasoning from assumptions can sometimes seem abstract and disconnected from reality, but that is exactly why it is important to have constant reminders of the need to address real question and real puzzles. A rational choice approach, it seems to me, strengthens the study of international law in part because it provides theoretical underpinnings with which international law and legal scholars can respond to critics, analyze hard questions, and debate the role and workings of the field.
The world needs international law now, perhaps more than ever before. Problems from climate change to nuclear proliferation to hunger to disease to terrorism will only be solved with the help of international legal structures and institutions. Whatever else international law scholars do, we need to be thinking about when international law can help with these problems and what structures or approaches are most effective. We, need, in short, to think very hard about how international law works.