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The International Court of Justice: Crisis and Reformation

33 Pages Posted: 21 Oct 2008  

J. Patrick Kelly

Widener University Delaware Law School

Date Written: January 1, 1987


The "optional clause" of the Statute of the International Court of Justice permits a state to declare, at its option, its acceptance of the compulsory jurisdiction of the Court. The optional clause system was created in the political euphoria following each of the world wars in the hope of developing a world governed by the rule of law. This attractive vision was flawed from the outset. Acceptance of compulsory jurisdiction requires the surrender of important decisions that may affect national security to a court whose judges are drawn from many different cultural traditons. Only a few nations have submitted such a declaration and their number has been declining.

The article argues that nations are unwilling to accept international adjudication by a court of general jurisdiction for two primary reasons. First, the inflexible, zero-sum nature of adjudication makes it a politically unattractive method of settling disputes among states. Second, there are fundamental disagreements among nations about the governing rules and principles of international law and their appropriate application. Nations are reluctant to commit themselves to judgement based on principles that they regard as incorrect.

Keywords: International Court of Justice, World Court, Optional Clause, compulsory jurisdiction, international jurisdiction, international adjudication

JEL Classification: K33

Suggested Citation

Kelly, J. Patrick, The International Court of Justice: Crisis and Reformation (January 1, 1987). Yale Journal of International Law, Vol. 12, No. 2, 1987. Available at SSRN:

J. Patrick Kelly (Contact Author)

Widener University Delaware Law School ( email )

4601 Concord Pike
Wilmington, DE 19803-0406
United States

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