Treat the Cause, Not the Symptom: The Legal-Rational Authority of International Investment Arbitration

Bocconi Legal Papers no. 8 (2016), pp. 107-130.

23 Pages Posted: 11 Apr 2017

See all articles by Marcin Menkes

Marcin Menkes

Warsaw School of Economics (SGH) - Department of Finance and Management

Date Written: April 10, 2016


Even though international investment law (IIL) has developed at an unprecedented pace, its newly acquired popularity has come at a high cost. In a time of crisis of Western liberal-democracy and questioning of the economic model even by its fierce advocates, it has become easy prey for those disappointed with the distribution of wealth and prestige and for the political class, which has tried to “outsource” responsibility for problems unresolved domestically. Deficiencies in the construction of IIL has aggravated a legitimacy crisis. Unfortunately, current reform initiatives do not address the roots of the problem.

In this paper, I suggest ways of solving the legitimacy problem and for restructuring the normative framework. I start by asking whether the legitimacy crisis is an actual problem worth analysis or if it is a theoretical exercise void of practical relevance (Part 2). On the assumption that addressing this issue is necessary for the subsistence of IIL, three possible sources of legitimacy are indicated. Having opted for so-called social legitimacy, I refer to the Weberian legal-rational model (Part 3). In order to decide which stakeholders should be allowed to influence investment law directly, I recall Leon Petrażycki’s notion of the law’s superiority over morality (Part 4), which leads me to the conclusion that IIL reform should focus on home states, rather than on the investor-host state balance. With the backdrop of the subjective scope of investment law, I highlight major substantive shortages of IIL (Part 5). In accordance with the theory of legal impulsions, I subsequently argue that the current restrictive definition of IIL not only does not reflect the reality of arbitral decision-making but also hinders meaningful reform debate. From this rift between formal definition and actual understanding of IIL stem misconceptions about domestic problems that are transferred to an international plane. I argue that without reaching domestic compromise in terms of wealth distribution, current international initiatives constitute an anaesthetic, at best (Part 6).

The solution advocated in this paper is to fully embrace the principle of rule of law as the substantive contents and formal requirements with respect to IIL. It is argued that an investment consensus based on this principle simultaneously resolves the legitimacy concerns and contributes towards the development of law (Part 7). Because investment law both constitutes and is created by the international investment community, a separate passage is dedicated to the relationship between the rule of law and the rule of arbitrators, and its possible impact on legitimacy (Part 8).

Having thus prepared the ground for internalisation of the rule of law, I argue that IIL can embrace a broader standard (thick rule of law) than what would be reasonable in other branches of public international law (Part 9), which is adapted for investment purposes (Part 10). I conclude with general remarks (Part 11).

Keywords: International Investment Law, Foreign Direct Investments, BIT, Legitimacy crisis

JEL Classification: K33, F02

Suggested Citation

Menkes, Marcin J., Treat the Cause, Not the Symptom: The Legal-Rational Authority of International Investment Arbitration (April 10, 2016). Bocconi Legal Papers no. 8 (2016), pp. 107-130., Available at SSRN:

Marcin J. Menkes (Contact Author)

Warsaw School of Economics (SGH) - Department of Finance and Management ( email )


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