When is International Law Useful?

NYU Journal of International Law & Politics, Forthcoming

NYU Law and Economics Research Paper No. 13-23

31 Pages Posted: 7 Jun 2013 Last revised: 11 Jul 2013

See all articles by Alan Sykes

Alan Sykes

Stanford University - Law School

Date Written: June 5, 2013


This essay, forthcoming in the NYU Journal of International Law and Politics, is adapted from the inaugural Robert A. Kindler Professorship of Law lecture at NYU School of Law. It develops an economic perspective on the utility of international law, identifying the reasons why international law is sometimes successful at orchestrating international cooperation and sometimes unsuccessful. It considers two general accounts of the gains from international cooperation, including the control of trans-national externalities and domestic commitment issues. It argues that international law is more likely to be successful when the gains from cooperation are symmetrical and reciprocal, which facilitates the creation of self-enforcing agreements. Examples of successful and unsuccessful cooperation are developed from various fields of international law, including international trade, the laws of war, immigration, human rights, and international investment law.

Keywords: International law, international trade, international investment

Suggested Citation

Sykes, Alan, When is International Law Useful? (June 5, 2013). NYU Journal of International Law & Politics, Forthcoming; NYU Law and Economics Research Paper No. 13-23. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2274837 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2274837

Alan Sykes (Contact Author)

Stanford University - Law School ( email )

559 Nathan Abbott Way
Stanford, CA 94305-8610
United States

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