International Law as a Unitary System

23 Pages Posted: 18 Mar 2008


When two states have a dispute, the other 188 states in the world are more than passive observers. They do not want the dispute to spread. They want the dispute to be resolved in a way that does not stimulate further related disputes. In brief, the uninvolved nations have an interest in peaceful conflict-resolution. That interest coincides with existing international law which is itself peace-seeking (international law shuns anarchy). International law is a coherent, complex, self-adapting, and purposive system; it makes its presence felt in all international disputes and controversies because it represents the aggregate interest of all the states not directly involved in a given dispute. There are many payoffs in conceptualizing international law as a system suggested in this paper, but by far the most important is to transfer zero-sum international wars and conflicts into n-person non-zero-sum games. These games involve maximin strategies of both conflict and cooperation. Indeed, they account for the vast amount of cooperation in the world - cooperation that accumulates over time even as disputes or wars cancel themselves out.

Keywords: international law, international cooperation, zero-sum conflicts, war, customary law

JEL Classification: K33

Suggested Citation

D'Amato, Anthony, International Law as a Unitary System. Northwestern Public Law Research Paper No. 08-02, Available at SSRN: or

Anthony D'Amato (Contact Author)

Northwestern University - Pritzker School of Law ( email )

375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
United States

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