The Diffusion of U.S. Law in Times of Crisis

Posted: 29 Mar 2010


The legislative and executive branches of the U.S. government possess many resources to influence the political development of foreign states. However, in addition to the various executive agencies that deal with foreign policy, and the congressional resources that fund those agencies, the judicial branch exercises considerable influence abroad. This aspect of U.S. foreign policy has been overlooked in international relations literature and stands as an underutilized tool to advance U.S. interests and ensure a peaceful international legal order. This paper conducts an empirical longitudinal study of citations to U.S. law in foreign jurisdictions. The preliminary findings of this paper challenge several common explanations of norm diffusion in the international system. Much of the international relations literature concerning the diffusion of norms from one state into another state rich in opposed local norms, e.g. the United States and China emphasizes the need for 'norm localization' and 'pattern maintenance' in order to overcome local resistance (Finnemore and Sikkink, 1998; Acharya, 2004). Contrary to these claims, citations to U.S. law pervade both common and civil law systems and suggest instead that the diffusion of U.S. law is enabled by nonstate actors, especially during periods of economic crisis.

Suggested Citation

Brake, Benjamin, The Diffusion of U.S. Law in Times of Crisis. Western Political Science Association 2010 Annual Meeting Paper , Available at SSRN:

Benjamin Brake (Contact Author)

Cornell University ( email )

Ithaca, NY 14853
United States
609 851-2505 (Phone)

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