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International Legal Theory and Teaching

AJIL Symposium: Benvenisti response to Klabbers, McCrudden, Von Bogdandy and Schmalz

by Eyal Benvenisti

[Eyal Benvenisti is the Anny and Paul Yanowicz Professor of Human Rights at Tel Aviv University Faculty of Law and Global Visiting Professor at New York University School of Law.]

I am grateful for the three incisive and insightful comments. Due to space limitations I will not be able to do justice to any of the comments in this response, but they will certainly help in my future work on this subject. I will use this brief response to clarify some parts of my argument and to situate the article in my broader research project.

To clarify my argument and hint at its potential significance I will use the pending case before the International Court of Justice concerning Whaling in the Antarctic (Australia v. Japan: New Zealand intervening). The dispute focuses on Japan’s discretion to issue “special permits” for killing whales arguably for scientific research as provided by Article 8(1) of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (1946). The said Article allows a member state to issue permits and impose conditions “as the Contracting Government thinks fit.” Japan interprets this obligation as a “good faith” obligation, arguing that neither the International Whaling Commission nor the ICJ “have power to approve or disapprove the issue of a special permit.” (Public seating, 4 July 2013, afternoon, verbatim record, p. 36 paras. 23-24). Australia argues, however, that Japan must demonstrate the scientific value of the permits because “Japan does not ‘own’ the whales it catches.” (Public seating, 10 July 2013, morning, verbatim record, p. 65 para. 23). As stated by Professor James Crawford, arguing for Australia: “In respect of resources in the international public domain, to recognize a wide margin of appreciation is, in effect, to allocate those resources to the exploiting State.” (id., para. 22). Given the global commons problem, continues Crawford, the Convention requires “a proper showing … that [research] proposals are genuinely motivated by scientific considerations and adapted appropriately to achieve scientific goals.” Moreover, Japan must “consider seriously” the views of the IWC and its subsidiary organs, otherwise the conclusion will be “that the project is not being carried out for the purposes of scientific research, but for some other purpose inconsistent with the Convention.” (id. at para. 26).

The trusteeship concept that I develop suggests that states are subject to rigorous accountability requirements not only with respect to their treatment of endangered migratory species, but also when they are using transboundary resources they share with a few other states, and even when they manage their “own” resources. For states do not fully “own” their “own” resources. Stated otherwise, following the German Basic Law concept of ownership (Article 14), “Ownership entails obligations. Its use shall also serve the public good.” As discussed in my article (at pp. 311-12), the same rationale applies with even greater force to states.

To some extent, such accountability obligations are minimal because they do not restrict the scope of sovereign discretion. If Australia is right, Japan would have to provide more data and expert analysis to prove the scientific basis for its decision to permit the killing of whales, and pay serious attention to the views of the IWC and others. But the ultimate decision would stay with Japan. Others may remain skeptical, and their suspicion may even have a stronger basis, but nothing more. This would be an “imperfect” obligation, in the sense that it would be a non-justiciable one; but an imperfect obligation is not necessarily an ineffective one, as anyone exposed to public shaming will appreciate.

The question whether the ICJ may question Japan’s explanation is a different and rather difficult one, which requires further deliberation. In my article I identified this as a question to be addressed at a later stage. Such an inquiry will have to assess the legitimate scope of review of national policymaking by external bodies such as international tribunals, in light of concerns with the impartiality of the judges, their competence to make better judgment calls than the reviewed sovereigns, and the potentially stifling impact of their interventions on domestic democratic processes. It may make sense, for example, for the reasons stated by Crawford, to authorize international tribunals to review national discretion when it applies to the use of migratory species but not to the management of domestic stocks.

This minimalist vision seems insufficient for von Bogdandy and Schmalz who want to “Push[] Benvenisti Further.” The opposite push comes from McCrudden who regards my position as “anything but ‘modest’ or ‘minimal’.” (more…)

AJIL Symposium: Comment on Eyal Benvenisti, Sovereigns as Trustees of Humanity

by Christopher McCrudden

[Christopher McCrudden FBA is Professor of Human Rights and Equality Law, Queen’s University, Belfast, William W Cook Global Professor of Law, University of Michigan Law School, and Leverhulme Major Research Fellow (2011-2014). I am particularly grateful to Kathleen McCrudden who provided helpful comments on an earlier draft.]

Eyal Benvenisti asks how far, if at all, national sovereign states are under an obligation to take into account the effects of their internal decisions on those outside the boundaries of the state. We can consider his argument either at a very high level of abstraction, or test his (and our) intuitions by using a worked example of a practical problem that raises the issue he discusses. I prefer the latter approach.

An example

Over the past couple of years, there has been an intense debate in the United Kingdom over whether the UK should leave the European Convention on Human Rights; as part of this larger debate, there has also been a narrower debate over whether (and if so how) the UK should implement the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights on prisoner voting (an issue on which I have blogged earlier elsewhere).  The way in which both the broader and narrower debates are conducted have potentially adverse effects well beyond the UK. The sight of the House of Commons defying the Court on prisoner voting, or high-ranking members of the Government arguing that the UK should leave the Convention, has potentially damaging effects on the authority and legitimacy of the Court and the Convention in other states.

It is one thing for the robust UK debate to be picked up in other stable constitutional democracies with good human rights records.  It is another thing entirely where the British debate is transmitted to barely democratic European states with a debatable human rights record, and a weak commitment to constitutionalism. In the latter states, the British ‘defiance’ gives aid and comfort to altogether darker forces, which see the British resistance as legitimizing their own visceral resistance to the cosmopolitan liberal vision that the Court and the Convention embody.  Is the UK under an obligation to take into account the adverse effects that the British debate, and any decisions flowing from it, may have elsewhere?

There is, of course, both an empirical as well as a normative issue in play here.  For the purposes of this post, I don’t want to get embroiled in the empirical question of whether the UK debates do have such effects externally (although I’m quite prepare to believe that they have). The question I’m interested in is whether, assuming that there are such external effects, the UK ought to take these into account. It is at this point that Eyal Benvenisti’s article is powerfully relevant, since it addresses directly the morality (as well as the legality) of ignoring what economists call ‘externalities’ in domestic decision-making.  On what might we base an obligation (whether moral or legal) to ‘internalise’ these externalities, for example in the debate over the UK’s continuing membership of the ECHR, or whether to implement the ECtHR’s decisions?

Benvenisti’s argument


AJIL Symposium: On Medium and Message

by Jan Klabbers

[Jan Klabbers is Professor of International Organisations Law and Director of the Centre of Excellence in Global Governance Research at the University of Helsinki.]

Much of the more serious theoretical reflection in international law aims to bring apology and utopia in alignment. This may be structurally impossible, as Martti Koskenniemi suggested a quarter of a century ago, but aiming to bridge the gap between the two is nonetheless a laudable enterprise. Eyal Benvenisti’s recent contribution to the American Journal of International Law comes closer than many before him. Partly this is because, unlike many others, Benvenisti takes both apology and utopia seriously: he is realist and idealist rolled into one. For him, sovereignty is not a bad word but a respectable concept, providing the space for legitimate exercises of self-determination. At the same time, he is aware that with globalization, many sovereign states (as traditionally conceived) are no longer able fully to help and protect their citizens. Globalization erodes independence and thus undermines self-determination – hence, sovereignty needs to be reconceived in order to take non-citizens into account and, what is more, is indeed undergoing such a re-conceptualization in positive international law.

Benvenisti has written an excellent piece, in his customary lucid and thoughtful style. The paper contributes to global ethics in a fairly novel way by positing a combination of cosmopolitanism and parochialism that seems reasonable and workable; it therewith adds to other recent studies engaged in similar enterprises, albeit from different angles (think of Kok-Chor Tan’s Justice without Borders, or Toni Erskine’s Embedded Cosmopolitanism). It contributes to international law by demonstrating that international law as it currently stands can indeed be seen to offer support to such a novel re-conceptualization of sovereignty as trusteeship. I have only one major gripe with the article, and that is that it is too short. It is too short in two ways: it neither allows for the argument completely to unfold, nor does it allow for the empirical materials to be carefully discussed. These are both obviously restrictions stemming from the format of a journal article, so perhaps the thing to question is the popularity (well-nigh sanctity) of the format, or the link between medium and message: the medium dictates the message.

My first gripe relates to the space needed for normative argument. (more…)

AJIL Symposium: Pushing Benvenisti Further – International Sovereignty as a Relative Concept

by Armin von Bogdandy and Dana Schmalz

[Armin von Bogdandy is Director and Dana Schmalz is a Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law]

In another seminal piece, Eyal Benvenisti continues his well-balanced middle course between utopian cosmopolitan aspirations and resigned state pragmatism, this time by reconstructing contemporary sovereignty. Like many others, he considers the Westphalian model of state power to be neither an appropriate description of today’s world order nor a normatively appealing model for the future. Starting from an assessment of democratic deficits and dilemmas arising from limited space and resources, Benvenisti shows why a different conception of sovereignty is morally required. He then accomplishes a brilliant reconstruction of important court decisions and doctrinal evolutions that support his normative findings. Within this reconstruction, Benvenisti integrates a great variety of legal phenomena, ranging from a vessel’s right to innocent passage, to consultation duties in WTO-law, to the responsibility to protect.

These normative and legal reconstructions are impeccable, and we are sympathetic to the general thrust of Benvenisti’s argument. However, we suggest a more pluralist approach, mainly in two respects. For one, we would complement Benvenisti’s private law paradigm with a stronger focus on international public authority, which plays little role in his reconstruction. Depending on the subject matter and the institutions available, some issues might be resolved more effectively and inclusively through international institutions. At the same time and on a more basic level, we suggest construing the international sovereignty of a country in a more pluralist manner, taking into account its relevant constitutional law. We think that Benvenisti’s legal reconstruction can be thickened, in this way, while avoiding his problematic reliance on humanity as a source of public authority.

International sovereignty has changed from a founding concept to a functional concept: once, international sovereignty provided a point of closure where legal thinking could stop. Georg Jellinek perfectly captured this paradigm in 1882 when he stated that everything could be explained “through sovereignty and from sovereignty”. Today, as Benvenisti’s analysis shows, it is far better to conceive of international sovereignty functionally, so as to serve other principles, such as self-determination, human rights, or reasonable allocation of resources. Pushing Benvenisti’s reconstruction further, we propose that the functional concept should also be conceived as relative: The specific meaning of a state’s international sovereignty should be informed by its constitutional law and practice.

Benvenisti’s article perhaps presents the world in an overly uniform manner. To start with his fabulous image of the “small apartment in the densely packed high-rise”: Great as the picture is, it neglects huge differences between states. Sticking with the metaphor, we might say that some owners possess special voting rights in the owners’ association, have special access to the common property, and own a mansion out of town, to which they can escape when fed up with the neighbors. Others, by contrast, do not have such privileges, and still others have pooled their rights for common exercise. On a more legal note, the constitutional orders of China, Germany, or Lebanon enshrine deeply different understandings of the international order and the country’s place therein. A reconstructive proposal should take those differences into account. Accordingly,  international sovereignty could be informed by the respective constitutional openness towards common projects and willingness to recognize shared responsibility.

Yet, how can such relativization take place without endangering the autonomy of international law and the equality of states under international law? (more…)

AJIL Symposium: Sovereigns as Trustees of Humanity

by Eyal Benvenisti

[Eyal Benvenisti is the Anny and Paul Yanowicz Professor of Human Rights at Tel Aviv University Faculty of Law and Global Visiting Professor at New York University School of Law.]

We live in a shrinking world where interdependence between countries and communities is intensifying. This interdependence tests the limits of the traditional concept of sovereignty which crystallized at a time when distances between nations were large and cross-border externalities were rare; a time when peoples sought self-determination and self-sufficiency, justified by the perception of a perfect fit between the authors of the law and those subject to its rule. Nowadays sovereigns manage resources that are linked in many ways to resources that belong to others. They shape through daily regulatory decisions the life opportunities of foreigners in faraway countries, while the latter cannot participate meaningfully in those decisions either directly or through their governments. This reality questions the solipsistic vision of state sovereignty as the ultimate source of authority, a vision that yields outcomes that are inefficient, inequitable and undemocratic.

The misfit between the increasingly outdated and inadequate concept of sovereignty and pressing contemporary demands has led several scholars to explore more “globalist” visions, norms and institutions in lieu of state sovereignty. But one must not be too quick to endorse the demise of sovereignty and the transfer of state authority to global institutions. Sovereigns continue to be key venues for policy-making and for reviewing decisions made by global bodies. Precisely because sovereigns remain crucial global actors, their global role should be reflected in law: they must take on a “trusteeship” role that entails obligations towards all those potentially affected (negatively or positively) by their policies.

The first aim of my article is to provide a normative foundation for the claim that sovereigns should be regarded also as trustees of humanity rather than the trustees only of their own people. I present three distinct normative approaches for grounding the obligation of sovereigns to weigh other-regarding considerations: the right to self-determination whose exercise exclusively within national communities can actually undermine peoples’ ability to have their lives in their own hands; the obligation of national governments to recognize the equal moral worth of all individuals, and hence to justify why they treat non-nationals differently; and the obligation of the same governments to explain to others their exclusive use of portions of the earth, which inherently belongs to all. Each of these three interrelated grounds leads to the conclusion that sovereignty must be regarded as embedded in an encompassing global order that delineates not only states’ powers but also their obligations. These obligations essentially require sovereigns to exercise their authority in ways that take account of the interests of all individuals potentially affected by them either negatively or positively. While sovereigns may have good reasons to give priority to the interests of their citizens, they must nonetheless keep in mind the interests of those beyond their borders and, to some non-negligible degree, be accountable to them.

The article then identifies the minimal normative and procedural other-regarding obligations that arise from the trusteeship concept. My choice here is to focus on the minimal obligations is based on the pragmatic concern with the imposition of global burdens on states without safeguards that ensure appropriate space for preferential treatment of one’s own citizens and adequate mechanisms for burden-sharing among states. Obviously, the trustee sovereignty concept suggests that sovereigns have an obligation to mutually explore and develop the current system of sovereign states. But this exploration requires a separate discussion which is beyond the scope of the article.

The idea is therefore to explore the minimal obligations that apply to all branches of the sovereign state (legislatures, executives, and courts), regardless of whether other sovereigns reciprocate (although reciprocity or the lack thereof could be a relevant consideration when making the decision). These minimal obligations include the obligation to take the interests of foreigners into account when formulating and implementing policies; to provide voice in their decision-making processes to all those affected by their policies; and to accommodate foreign interests if doing so is costless to the state (or even to incur costs in cases of catastrophes). The article further suggests that these minimal obligations are already embedded in several doctrines of international law that delimit the rights of sovereigns, such as the general doctrine on abuse of rights or specific rights of passage through straits or through another state’s land.

This emphasis on minimal obligations that are primarily procedural is informed by the administrative law-based tradition, which takes decision-making processes seriously. This tradition puts faith in the power of voice of affected stakeholders and in the discipline of accountability of decision-makers. The assessment is that public participation and accountability are not only valuable intrinsically, but they also contribute to better informed, more efficient and also more egalitarian outcomes.

The invocation of “humanity” by sovereigns has too often served as mask to colonial and other types of illegitimate foreign intervention. The trusteeship concept as developed here is not susceptible to similar concerns. It is invoked not to justify intervention by one or several states in another state’s affairs (as, for example, the concept of responsibility to protect envisions), but just the opposite – it invites the foreigner to have voice in the sovereign’s decision-making processes. The minimal trusteeship obligations sets-forth a limiting set of obligations rather than an enabling one. Indeed, the main promise of the trusteeship concept lies in its limiting impact on powerful countries that shape the opportunities of individuals everywhere: global leadership generates global accountability obligations.

The article was written as a framing paper for the GlobalTrust research project that I direct at Tel Aviv University Faculty of Law. Initially funded by the Israeli Science Foundation (2010-2013), the project is now funded by a European Research Council Advanced Grant (2013-2018). The project will explore the historical and moral background of the state trusteeship concept, assess the specific obligations that states owe to foreigners stakeholders in different areas of international and constitutional law (investments and trade law, environment law, human rights law, international humanitarian law, etc.), and evaluate the possible institutional mechanisms (such as international and national courts) that could legitimize the external monitoring and review of states’ compliance with such other-regarding obligations.

Emerging Voices: A View from Early Modern Cultural Studies on Fragmentation and the Law of Nations

by Christopher Warren

[Christopher Warren is an Assistant Professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University]

Disciplinarily, as my title suggests, I come from elsewhere.  But having travelled here to the shores of international law from my home in early modern cultural studies, I come in part to praise the fragmented landscape.

“Fragmentation” in recent legal discussions usually refers to “traditional international law [being] pushed aside by a mosaic of particular rules and institutions, each following its embedded preferences.” “An everyday international occurrence such as the transport of hazardous chemicals at sea,” as Martti Koskenniemi explains, can now be “narrate[d] as part of a different set of human pursuits, values, and priorities,” including trade law, transport law, environmental law, law of the sea, or human rights.

Koskenniemi’s account of jurisdictional and normative fragmentation usefully captures two main insights, first, that narrative—story—plays a critical and maybe increasing role on what is notably called the “international stage”; and secondly, that the stories we tell and the ways that we tell them have legal, social, economic, and political consequences. Robert Cover’s foundational essay Nomos and Narrative” (pdf) powerfully articulates such insights as well.

Disciplinary Fragmentation

My first interest here, however, is not normative fragmentation but a different though related kind of fragmentation, namely disciplinary fragmentation, specifically the present disconnect between international law and humanistic disciplines like literature and history. Fortunately, disciplinary fragmentation has left rough, jagged edges, and while I’m visiting here I want to take the opportunity to celebrate the craggy coastlines where we can still find evidence of international law’s connections with the humanities.

The present distance between international law and literary and cultural studies might make my participation in this forum surprising, but it’s also, I’d suggest, a fruitful way to think historically and methodologically about international law. (more…)

Linos Book Symposium: Comments by Roger Alford

by Roger Alford

I commend Katerina Linos’ book to our readers and echo the many positive comments that others in this book symposium have shared. Her theory of bottom-up democratic diffusion of norms addresses many of the concerns that have been voiced regarding the democracy deficit that occurs when policy elites borrow from abroad.

I want to push Katerina a bit on the question of actors involved in the diffusion process. She notes that “many academics, judges and commentators emphasize how references to foreign law reflect elite predilections antithetical to the views of ordinary voters, especially ordinary Americans.” (p.26). The context of that criticism, of course, is constitutional comparativism by the Supreme Court in cases such as Roper v Simmons and Lawrence v. Texas.

Almost ten years ago I too expressed concern about the countermajoritarian difficulty of the Court adopting international and foreign norms that run counter to American majoritarian values. As I put it in this article, “the international countermajoriatian difficulty would suggest that international norms cannot be internalized within our Constitution unless such norms are first internalized by our people as our community standards…. To conclude otherwise would grant countermajoritarian international norms constitutional relevance as a community standard.” (p. 59).

Katerina does not address constitutional comparativism per se, but she clearly voices her support for the democratic diffusion of norms. Her book presumes that “international norms and democracy are mutually reinforcing” and that “democratic processes are an engine, not an obstacle, for the spread of policies across countries.” (p.2). The book also presumes political rather than judicial avenues for the diffusion of norms, with elected politicians constrained to borrow from and reference large, rich, and proximate countries and prominent international organizations to advance their own policy preferences.

So my question for Katerina Linos is whether her theory of democratic diffusion supports or undermines arguments for constitutional comparativism. She explains at length how democratic diffusion occurs, but does not clearly indicate her preference for this type of diffusion over alternatives. Does her convincing case for democratic diffusion undermine undemocratic diffusion by policy elites in the judiciary who are unresponsive to and unconstrained by majoritarian preferences?

In short, does her theory posit that policy diffusion is better when it occurs through democratic processes than when it is imposed by judicial elites? To take concrete examples, is it better with controversial questions such as juvenile death penalty (Roper v. Simmons) or gay marriage (United States v. Windsor) for policy preferences to be advanced through democratic diffusion or judicial diffusion?

My own sense is that the Supreme Court experimented with policy diffusion of global norms through constitutional adjudication ten years ago, but has since retreated from that approach, and that democratic diffusion of global norms is the new normal. Indeed, just yesterday in Windsor the Court expressed its sensitivity to the democratic diffusion of norms with respect to gay marriage:

In acting first to recognize and then to allow same-sex marriages, New York was responding ‘to the initiative of those who [sought] a voice in shaping the destiny of their own times’…. The dynamics of state government in the federal system are to allow the formation of consensus respecting the way the members of a discrete community treat each other in their daily contact and constant interaction with each other…. For same-sex couples who wished to be married, the State acted to give their lawful conduct a lawful status. This status is a far-reaching legal acknowledgement of the intimate relationship between two people, a relationship deemed by the State worthy of dignity in the community equal with all other marriages. It reflects both the community’s considered perspective on the historical roots of the institution of marriage and its evolving understanding of the meaning of equality. (pp. 19-20).

A Conference on the Role of Opinio Juris in Customary International Law

by Duncan Hollis

I usually defer to An and Jessica’s (excellent!) work in flagging international law-related conferences and events.  But, I wanted to call particular attention to a conference I just learned about that Duke Law School is co-hosting with the University of Geneva next month at the Duke-Geneva Institute of Transnational Law on the Role of Opinio Juris in Customary International Law.  The event is well located (and timed) given the International Law Commission’s current project on customary international law.  But unlike many conferences, where all those not in attendance can see is a schedule of attendees and/or paper topics, the Duke-Geneva schedule generously includes links to the papers themselves.  I’m working my way through them for my own research on the functions interpretation serves in international law.  And although I’d note they seem to be mostly of the short, discussion paper variety, if the first one by Curt Bradley is anything to go by (he identifies and critiques existing paradoxes in definitions of opinio juris and offers a new descriptive and normative thesis for identifying CIL based on state preferences), these papers will be well worth reading.  I’m also interested to here from anyone who attends the conference itself what reception these papers receive, and in particular, what the various ILC members who will be commenting on several of them have to say about customary international law itself.

Book Symposium on “Economic Foundations of International Law” by Eric Posner and Alan Sykes

by An Hertogen

This week we’re hosting a symposium on Economic Foundations of International Law, the new book by Eric Posner and Alan Sykes. Here is the abstract:

The ever-increasing exchange of goods and ideas among nations, as well as cross-border pollution, global warming, and international crime, pose urgent questions for international law. Here, two respected scholars provide an intellectual framework for assessing these pressing legal problems from a rational choice perspective.

The approach assumes that states are rational, forward-looking agents which use international law to address the actions of other states that may have consequences for their own citizens, and to obtain the benefits of international cooperation. It further assumes that in the absence of a central enforcement agency—that is, a world government—international law must be self-enforcing. States must believe that if they violate international agreements, other states will retaliate.

Consequently, Eric A. Posner and Alan O. Sykes devote considerable attention to the challenges of enforcing international law, which begin with the difficulties of determining what it is. In the absence of an international constitution, the sources for international law are vague. Lawyers must rely on statements contained in all manner of official documents and on simple observation of states’ behavior. This looseness leads international institutions such as the United Nations to deliver conflicting interpretations of the law’s most basic principles. The authors describe the conditions under which international law succeeds or fails, across a wide range of issues, including war crimes, human rights, international criminal law, principles of state responsibility, law of the sea, international trade regulation, and international investment law.

Andrew Guzman (Berkeley), Rachel Brewster (Duke), Steve Charnovitz (GW Law), Emilie Hafner-Burton (UC San Diego) and David Victor (UC San Diego) have kindly agreed to comment. As always, we welcome reader comments too.

Google Rankings of the Most-Cited International Law Journals

by Roger Alford

For those of you who are trying to decide where to publish your article during this submission cycle, my friend and former colleague Rob Anderson has identified an interesting Google metric for measuring the most-cited international law journals. As he notes:

“The rankings are based on Jorge Hirsch’s “h-index,” which is an alternative to impact factor as a measure of a journal’s importance. The new Google rankings will be yet another entrant for ranking law reviews alongside Washington and Lee’s rankings.”

Here’s the Google Scholar h-index ranking of international law journals:

1. American Journal of International Law
2. Human Rights Quarterly
3. European Journal of International Law
4. American Journal of Comparative Law
5. Virginia Journal of International Law
6. European Law Journal
7. Chicago Journal of International Law
8. Journal of International Economic Law
9. Global Governance: A Review of Multilateralism and International Organizations
10. Common market law review
11. Journal of International Criminal Justice
12. International Journal of Constitutional Law
13. Fordham International Law Journal
14. International Journal of Transitional Justice
15. German Law Journal
16. Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law
17. Human Rights Law Review
18. Cornell International Law Journal
19. Michigan Journal of International Law
20. New York University Journal of International Law & Policy

You can also see how international law journals rank relative to other journals here.

It is worth emphasizing that not every international journal is in the Google Scholar database, so one should take these rankings with a grain of salt. For example, neither the Harvard International Law Journal nor the Yale Journal of International Law is in the Google Scholar database. But at least for those journals that are in the database, it gives one a good sense of the relative influence of each journal.

If you are trying to compare the rankings of each journal where your article has been accepted, you can type the name of the journal into the Google Scholar search engine to get the h-index for that journal. The higher the h-index score, the more cited the journal.

A Broken Windows Theory of International Corruption

by Roger Alford

I have just posted on SSRN my latest article published in the Ohio State Law Journal. Through the lens of the broken windows theory of community policing, the Article examines the connection between corruption and other social goods in society, as well as the relationship between U.S. enforcement efforts and those of other OECD countries.

It is incredible how much empirical research has been done on international corruption in other disciplines, and yet the legal community largely ignores this data. It’s also incredible how rare it is for social science empiricists to make policy arguments that flow from their research. The Article tries to bring these two worlds together by digesting the mountain of empirical evidence regarding international corruption, and then making specific policy recommendations. Here’s the abstract:

The Article re-conceptualizes corruption through the lens of the broken windows theory of community policing, focusing on the root consequences of corruption as well as its secondary effects.

Part II of the Article posits that corruption is a broken window that signals the breakdown of community controls necessary for the maintenance of social order. A government that abuses its power for private gain is a government that cannot be trusted to pursue the general welfare. Empirical evidence finds ample support for this claim, confirming that corruption negatively alters the public’s perception of government and society.

Part III of the Article illuminates how corruption is associated with other matters of grave public concern, such that the struggle against corruption is the struggle to promote a variety of public benefits. Corruption is inextricably linked to many other public concerns. Empirical evidence finds a positive relationship between a country’s corruption ranking and its ranking on other major indices measuring public welfare. Communities that are perceived to take corruption seriously score well on their commitment to other social goods, such as global competitiveness and productivity, increased standards of living, enhanced children’s health, protection of civil liberties, and the safeguarding of political freedom. These corruption correlations provide an evocative snapshot of the connection between corruption and social order.

Part IV of the Article analyzes the legal efforts to combat corruption, with particular focus on the utility of cooperative efforts to regulate and prosecute corruption. Empirical studies show that coordination strategies between OECD enforcement authorities alter the behavior of corporations, foreign officials requesting bribes, and government officials prosecuting the payment of bribes.

Part V of the Article discusses how these findings have important implications when considered from the perspective of a “broken windows” theory of international corruption. How would a broken windows theory of corruption alter the legal landscape of anti-bribery laws? I offer three suggestions. First, a broken windows approach would redefine and reframe corruption as distrust and disorder. Conceptualizing corruption as a matter of public trust heightens its importance. Public trust is essential to the rule of law. Second, a broken windows approach would augment the battle against corruption with a greater emphasis on petty bribery. Thus far the legal enforcement strategies have focused on high-profile, large-scale corruption. A broken windows strategy would not ignore those cases, but would also focus on low-profile, petty corruption that alters quality of life and undermines public trust. Third, a broken windows theory would place greater emphasis on a partnership between the public and private sectors to combat corruption. This approach would mean that corruption should be considered in the local context, with a focus on its destabilizing effects in specific countries and communities.

Why is Academic Writing So Bad?

by Roger Alford


There is an interesting discussion by Stephen Walt over at Foreign Policy on why academic writing is so bad. It is a subject academics are reluctant to discuss, yet there is no doubt that much of what passes as legal scholarship is dull, disagreeable, undigestable. Here’s Walt’s take:

The first problem is that many academics (and especially younger ones) tend to confuse incomprehensibility with profundity. If they write long and ponderous sentences and throw in lots of jargon, they assume that readers will be dazzled by their erudition and more likely to accept whatever it is they are saying uncritically. Moreover, jargon is a way for professional academics to remind ordinary people that they are part of a guild with specialized knowledge that outsiders lack, and younger scholars often fear that if they don’t sound like a professional scholar, then readers won’t believe what they are saying no matter how solid their arguments and evidence are.

The second problem is the fear of being wrong. If your prose is clear and your arguments are easy to follow, then readers can figure out what you are saying and they can hold you to account. If you are making forecasts (or if the theory you are advancing has implications for the future), then you will look bad if your predictions are clearly stated and then fail. If your argument has obvious testable implications, others can run the tests and see how well your claims stand up.

But if your prose is muddy and obscure or your arguments are hedged in every conceivable direction, then readers may not be able to figure out what you’re really saying and you can always dodge criticism by claiming to have been misunderstood. (Of course, sometimes critics do deliberately misrepresent a scholarly argument, but that’s another matter). Bad writing thus becomes a form of academic camouflage designed to shield the author from criticism.

My own sense is that legal scholarship is better than most academic writing because we are trained at law school and in law firms to be convincing and comprehensible. Once in the academy, we are further trained to reach two audiences: our academic peers and our student gatekeepers who hold the keys to the kingdom. Obscurity may be appropriate for one audience, but not the other. Our law student underlords save us from the trap of most other academics.

So why does legal scholarship still miss the mark?

First, legal scholarship is formulaic. There is an order and predictability to legal writing that stifles creativity. You know the recipe: (1) Introduction with obligatory road map; (2) Background section for the neophyte; (3) Excruciating description of the problem; (4) Unrealistic normative solution; (5) Standard conclusion. This formula rules the day. Add ingredients, mix hastily, half-bake to 25,000 words, and then publish.

Second, legal scholarship is prosaic. Many legal scholars are more interested in arguments than words. We love the research, but not the writing. We are “ideasmiths” rather than wordsmiths. I recently read a draft article on financial regulation that had profoundly good ideas expressed in profoundly bad ways. At some point in the writing process, an entire draft should be devoted to simple wordsmithing. Every word, sentence, and paragraph should matter. When the manuscript is nearing completion we should be spending days wordsmithing, polishing rough edges, adding color and texture, altering the draft so that it is elegant and interesting.

Third, legal scholarship has a footnote fetish. Years of experience responding to law review editors has made original thought suspect. Today articles often have 500, even 600 footnotes. Student editors routinely demand supporting citations for original thought to the point of farce. The fruit of creativity struggles to survive with such aggressive pruning.

Fourth, legal scholarship is technical. Let’s face it, many of the subjects we write about are arid and lifeless. The devil is in the details, and those details are devilishly difficult to disseminate. It is not easy to make Rule 26(b) sound snappy. Maritime delimitation is not exactly the pearl of great worth. Okay, maybe it is, but writing about it is not. The trick is to make a technical subject sound as interesting as possible. Great legal writing often is about taking dry and tedious ingredients and transforming them into agreeable fare. It will not keep your teenager from rolling her eyes when you explain what you did at work today, but it should keep your colleagues and students from giving up in frustration.