International Relations Theory, International Law, and the Regime Governing Atrocities in Internal Conflicts
Kenneth W. Abbott
Arizona State University
American Journal of International Law, Vol. 93, p. 361, 1999
Over the last ten years, international relations (IR) theory, a branch of political science, has animated some of the most exciting scholarship in international law. If a true joint discipline has not yet emerged, scholars in both fields have clearly established the value of interdisciplinary cross-fertilization. Yet IR -- like international law -- comprises several distinct theoretical approaches or “methods.” This complexity makes interactions between the disciplines especially rich.
This essay summarizes the four principal schools of IR theory -- conventionally identified as “realist,” “institutionalist,” “liberal” and “constructivist” -- and applies them to the norms and institutions governing serious violations of human dignity during internal conflicts (the “atrocities regime”). The essay explores how these theories might explain three central features of the atrocities regime: the distinction between international and internal armed conflicts, the emergence of norms governing certain abuses outside of armed conflict, and the increasing reliance on criminal responsibility and criminal tribunals. In addition to their analytical insights, the visions of international relations and international law presented here have significant implications for the future of the atrocities regime. This essay summarizes the engines of change identified by each school of theory, and considers the special role of legal institutions in the evolution of the regime.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 19
Keywords: international law, international relations, human rights
Date posted: September 10, 2009
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