Treaty Options: Towards a Behavioral Understanding of Treaty Design

57 Pages Posted: 9 Oct 2012 Last revised: 22 May 2013

See all articles by Jean Galbraith

Jean Galbraith

University of Pennsylvania Law School

Date Written: October 9, 2012


Rational choice theory is the dominant paradigm through which scholars of international law and international relations approach treaty design. In this Article, I challenge this paradigm using a combination of empirical observations of state behavior and theoretical insights from behavioral economics. I focus on one aspect of multilateral treaty design: namely, treaty reservations and associated legal mechanisms which allow states to vary the degree of their formal commitments to treaties. I call these mechanisms “treaty options”. I argue that framing matters powerfully for treaty options – and does so in ways inconsistent with rational choice theory but consistent with insights from behavioral economics. This finding has important implications for the theory, law, and practice of treaty-making and for our understandings of state behavior more generally.

Keywords: international law, treaties, reservations

Suggested Citation

Galbraith, Jean, Treaty Options: Towards a Behavioral Understanding of Treaty Design (October 9, 2012). Virginia Journal of International Law, Vol. 53, p. 309 (2013), Available at SSRN:

Jean Galbraith (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania Law School ( email )

3501 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

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