Agents or Trustees? International Courts in Their Political Context

European Journal of International Relations 14 (1) 2008: 33-63

22 Pages Posted: 22 Nov 2004 Last revised: 2 Sep 2015

Karen J. Alter

Northwestern University - Department of Political Science; University of Copenhagen, Faculty of Law - iCourts Center of Excellence

Abstract

In international relations applications, theorists employing Principal-Agent (P-A) theory have posited that the fact of delegation defines a relationship between states (collective Principals) and international organizations (Agents) where recontracting threats are the predominate way states influence IOs. Developing a category of delegation to international Trustees, I argue that recontracting tools will be both harder to use and less effective at influencing the Trustees. Trustees are 1) selected because of their personal reputation or professional norms, 2) given independent authority to make decisions according to their best judgement or professional criteria, and 3) empowered to act on behalf of a beneficiary. These three factors account for the different politics between Principals and Trustees, a politics aimed at either keeping issues outside of the domain of the Trustee or at rhetorically engaging the Trustee's authority in an effort to persuade the common "beneficiary" whose loyalty and respect both States and the Trustee seek. In explaining why recontracting threats are not central to Principal-Trustee relations, the analysis provides a theoretical basis to question the "rational expectations" claim that ICs are tailoring their decisions to reflect the wishes of powerful states and avoid adverse recontracting.

Keywords: International Courts, Judicial Independence, Principal-Agent Theory

JEL Classification: K34, K4

Suggested Citation

Alter, Karen J., Agents or Trustees? International Courts in Their Political Context. European Journal of International Relations 14 (1) 2008: 33-63. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=622222 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.622222

Karen J. Alter (Contact Author)

Northwestern University - Department of Political Science ( email )

601 University Place
Evanston, IL 60208
United States

University of Copenhagen, Faculty of Law - iCourts Center of Excellence ( email )

Studiestraede 6
Studiestrade 6
Copenhagen, DK-1455
Denmark

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