Demystifying the Art of Interpretation

European Journal of International Law, Vol. 22, No. 2, pp. 571-588, 2011

18 Pages Posted: 1 Dec 2011

See all articles by Michael Waibel

Michael Waibel

University of Cambridge - Faculty of Law; Lauterpacht Centre for International Law; University of Cambridge - Jesus College

Date Written: May 28, 2011


Despite its codification by the Vienna Convention more than 40 years ago, treaty interpretation in international law continues to evolve as its function of providing predictability in international relations remains as important as ever. The voluminous recent literature testifies to the continuing scholarly interest in interpretation, even if sometimes at the cost of over-theorizing. This essay reviews six books that seek to demystify the art of treaty interpretation.

Written by European scholars, the books take a fresh look at interpretation but differ in their approaches and scope of analyses. While all six authors study the interpretive practice of international courts and tribunals, Gardiner, Linderfalk and Van Damme focus on treaty interpretation; Fernández de Casadevante Romani, Kolb and Orakhelashvili also examine the interpretation of decisions by international organizations, unilateral acts and customary international law. Kolb and Orakhelashvili opt for a comprehensive, theoretically-grounded approach, whereas Van Damme focuses on the interpretative practice of the WTO Appellate Body. On the strength of her perceptive and nuanced analysis of WTO jurisprudence, the book is the best guide among the six to interpretation in international law generally. In addition to Van Damme’s work, the practitioner will also find Gardiner’s book particularly useful.

Keywords: interpretation, legal methods, international courts and tribunals, WTO, contextual and effective interpretation

JEL Classification: K33

Suggested Citation

Waibel, Michael, Demystifying the Art of Interpretation (May 28, 2011). European Journal of International Law, Vol. 22, No. 2, pp. 571-588, 2011. Available at SSRN:

Michael Waibel (Contact Author)

University of Cambridge - Faculty of Law ( email )

10 West Road
Cambridge, CB3 9DZ
United Kingdom

Lauterpacht Centre for International Law ( email )

5 Cranmer Road
Cambridge, CB3 9BL
United Kingdom

University of Cambridge - Jesus College ( email )

Jesus Lane
Cambridge, CB5 8BL
United Kingdom

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