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The Politics of Precedent in International Law: A Social Network Application

Krzysztof Pelc

McGill University


APSA 2013 Annual Meeting Paper
American Political Science Association 2013 Annual Meeting

There is no formal binding precedent in international law. Yet, as this article demonstrates, countries nonetheless expend considerable resources in seeking to shape legal precedent. Looking at the international trade regime, I show that while some disputes are initiated to gain market access in response to domestic interests, others are filed primarily to build favorable precedent for future cases of greater commercial value. I construct an original dataset consisting of the network of all rulings spanning the WTO period, and the cases they cite. I analyze this network to provide systematic evidence for the existence of "test cases" in international law: countries initiate commercially unimportant disputes to shape legal precedent to their advantage. And wealthy countries with high legal capacity are significantly better able to do so. While the existence of binding precedent in international law remains a point of continuous debate, countries observably behave in a manner consistent with its existence.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 35

Keywords: international relations, international law, precedent, WTO, social networks, trade.

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Date posted: August 22, 2013  

Suggested Citation

Pelc, Krzysztof, The Politics of Precedent in International Law: A Social Network Application (2013). APSA 2013 Annual Meeting Paper; American Political Science Association 2013 Annual Meeting. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2299638

Contact Information

Krzysztof Pelc (Contact Author)
McGill University ( email )
1001 Sherbrooke St. W
Montreal, Quebec H3A 1G5
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