On Coercion in International Law

83 Pages Posted: 21 Mar 2019

See all articles by Mohamed Helal

Mohamed Helal

Ohio State University (OSU) - Michael E. Moritz College of Law

Date Written: March 21, 2019


Coercion is ubiquitous in international relations. Yet international law has neither defined coercion nor has it developed an understanding of the nature, processes, or legality of coercion. This Article addresses this gap in international law scholarship. Because coercion is best understood when examined in the context of concrete cases, this Article discusses three recent crises in which states exercised significant pressure against their adversaries. These crises are the Russian intervention in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election, the 2017 North Korean nuclear weapons crisis, and the 2018 murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. These cases provide examples of the infinite variety of instruments of statecraft. The principal question that this Article considers is when does the use of tools of diplomacy such as those employed in these cases constitute unlawful coercion. To answer this question, this Article develops a concept of coercion for international law. It discusses the origins and content of the prohibition on intervention in the affairs of states, which is the principal rule of international law governing coercion, and proposes a novel understanding of the structure and elements of this rule. It defines violations of the prohibition on intervention as the pursuit of unlawful ends and unlawful means. The ends, or purposes, of intervention are unlawful if it interferes with the domaine réservé of a state, while the means of intervention are unlawful if a state uses coercion to achieve its unlawful ends. To identify the instruments of statecraft that are unlawfully coercive, this Article constructs a Coercion Continuum, which includes four categories of coercion: Military Coercion, Economic Coercion, Cyber Coercion, and Political Coercion. Under each of these categories this Article identifies the practices, policies, and instruments of statecraft the use of which constitutes unlawful coercion.

Suggested Citation

Helal, Mohamed, On Coercion in International Law (March 21, 2019). New York University Journal of International Law and Politics (JILP), Forthcoming, Ohio State Public Law Working Paper No. 475 (2019), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3357513 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3357513

Mohamed Helal (Contact Author)

Ohio State University (OSU) - Michael E. Moritz College of Law ( email )

55 West 12th Avenue
Columbus, OH 43210
United States

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