Author: Jeffrey Dunoff and Mark Pollack

[Jeffrey L. Dunoff is the Laura H. Carnell Professor of Law at Temple University Beasley School of Law and Mark A. Pollack is professor of Political Science and Jean Monnet Chair ad personam at Temple University]

Many thanks to Opinio Juris – and to all of the Symposium participants – for a stimulating and informative discussion of the virtues and vices of international law and international relations (IL/IR) scholarship.

The Symposium highlights some of the ways that IL/IR research has enriched our understanding of the making, interpretation, and enforcement of international law.  Larry Helfer’s post provides a superb summary of what IL/IR scholarship teaches about the design of international legal agreements, and in particular of flexibility provisions.  In terms of interpretation, IL/IR scholarship has prompted a rediscovery of international courts by political scientists, who seek to explain patterns in international judicial behavior.  Finally, as Jana von Stein notes, IL/IR research has produced both increasingly systematic data collection on IL compliance, as well as sophisticated understandings of the diverse causal mechanisms behind law’s compliance pull on states.

However, our project seeks not only to identify “lessons learned,” but also to identify IL/IR’s weaknesses, blind-spots, and potential for further development.  The lively exchange between Richard Steinberg and Ian Hurd (see here, here, and here), as well as the thoughtful posts by Judge Joan Donoghue, Ed Swaine, Tim Meyer, and Ruti Teitel, suggest several ways that existing scholarship can be strengthened.

In this concluding post, we explore a different critique, namely that IL/IR scholarship is less interdisciplinary than its name implies, frequently consisting of a one-way application of IR as a discipline to IL as a subject.

[Jeffrey L. Dunoff is the Laura H. Carnell Professor of Law at Temple University Beasley School of Law and Mark A. Pollack is professor of Political Science and Jean Monnet Chair ad personam at Temple University] One of the most difficult choices in our book, and one of the most contentious discussions at two book workshops, was about how to approach the question of “theory.”  Our approach was to identify four research traditions in IR that had been invoked productively by IL/IR scholars – namely, realism, institutionalism, liberalism, and constructivism – and ask four leading scholars to review and identify how each tradition had been adapted and developed to explore the making, interpretation and implementation of international law. Doing so, however, posed two problems.  First, it privileged IR theory over international legal theories.  We agreed with this critique, but we felt that the centrality of IR theories in the IL/IR literature in fact reflected our view of the literature more broadly, which is that what was labeled IL/IR scholarship was not primarily interdisciplinary in nature, but represented the application of IR theory and methods to international law as a subject.  We see this imbalance between IR and legal theory as a lamentable feature of contemporary IL/IR scholarship – a point to which we will return in a subsequent post – but one that accurately reflects the current state of the field. Second, a number of our participants were concerned that, in selecting these four theories and asking our authors for canonical statements of each, we were reifying distinct, non-overlapping theories, and thus aggravating a decades-long “isms war.”  Far better, some contributors suggested, to do away with the isms altogether, in favor of a “non-paradigmatic approach.”  Despite such concerns, our own view was that realism, institutionalism, liberalism and constructivism, as distinct theoretical research programs, have been the intellectual nurseries within which scholars have developed and refined theories and testable hypotheses about factors such as power and distribution (realism), information and institutions (institutionalism), domestic and transnational society (liberalism) and norms and ideas (constructivism).  In this symposium, for example, Richard Steinberg makes a strong case for the distinctive contributions of realist theories focusing on states, state interest, and state power.

[Jeffrey L. Dunoff is the Laura H. Carnell Professor of Law at Temple University Beasley School of Law and Mark A. Pollack is professor of Political Science and Jean Monnet Chair ad personam at Temple University] We are very grateful to our friends at OJ for hosting this symposium, which we trust will continue the work begun in our recent edited volume, namely providing a critical assessment of the innovations and contributions, as well as the lacunae, biases and blind spots, of international law and international relations (IL/IR) scholarship.  In this post, we kick off the discussion by providing a brief introduction to international law/international relations literature; discussing the motivation behind, and aims of, Interdisciplinary Perspectives on International Law and International Relations: The State of the Art; and identifying one significant conceptual shortcoming found in much IL/IR scholarship.

The Fall and Rise of IL/IR

The disciplines of international law (IL) and international relations (IR) both seek, albeit in different ways, to understand the causes and consequences of international cooperation, in general, and international legalization, in particular.  Perhaps not surprisingly, then, for several decades prior to World War II, practitioners from both fields pursued common research interests. However, the cataclysm of World War II brought this era of disciplinary convergence to a crashing halt.  Influential political scientists, such as Morgenthau, Kennan and Carr, argued that state actions were driven by national interests, and that, as Kennan wrote, international law was “too abstract, too inflexible, too hard to adjust to the demands of the unpredictable and the unexpected” that mark international affairs. A dominant school of “realism” argued that “law,” as understood in the domestic sense, could not serve as a meaningful constraint on states’ pursuit of the national interest in an anarchic international system, and for many years thereafter IR scholars paid little attention to international law or international legal scholarship.  One consequence was a decades-long mutual estrangement between the two disciplines. This period of mutual neglect began to ebb only with the end of the Cold War, and the increased salience of international norms and institutions.