Global Emergency Power in the Age of Ebola

48 Pages Posted: 1 Apr 2015 Last revised: 20 Apr 2016

See all articles by J. Benton Heath

J. Benton Heath

Temple University Beasley School of Law

Date Written: July 6, 2015


The gradual transfer of emergency power to the international level, as seen in the control of infectious disease outbreaks, creates new challenges for the legitimacy for global institutions. In particular, this Article contends, the expert nature of international bureaucracies fits awkwardly with the political decision-making required of crisis managers, often producing decisions that appear neither scientifically nor politically justifiable. Worse, the ordinary deliberative mechanisms for smoothing the interaction between expert knowledge and political decision often appear unavailable in the midst of a disaster.

The task for law and institutional design, then, is to develop tools for easing this interaction between expertise and decision-making, in ways that function even under the strain of crisis. This Article undertakes this challenge through an in-depth case study of the World Health Organization’s responses to Ebola and swine flu. After diagnosing the key problems facing the WHO and other global emergency governors, the Article elaborates three novel design principles for improving emergency decision-making: managed decentralization, epistemic openness, and forced dissent. This inquiry constitutes an initial step in what must be an ongoing project to redesign the institutions of global governance to capably and legitimately meet the challenges of crisis management beyond the state.

Keywords: International law, international organizations, World Health Organization, emergency powers, swine flu, Ebola, International Health Regulations

Suggested Citation

Heath, J. Benton, Global Emergency Power in the Age of Ebola (July 6, 2015). Harvard International Law Journal, Vol. 57, No. 1, Available at SSRN:

J. Benton Heath (Contact Author)

Temple University Beasley School of Law ( email )

1719 N. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122
United States

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