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Liberal International Law Theory and the United Nations Mission in Kosovo: Ideas and Practice (draft paper)

72 Pages Posted: 27 Apr 2005  

David Schleicher

Yale University - Law School


It has become commonplace to say that ideas have real-world consequences. Understanding which ideas have what consequences, though, is a difficult endeavor. Determining which ideas dominated international discourse on an important but theoretically complex topic and how they impacted policy-making can be a virtually impossible task. However, sometimes history is kind to researchers. When the international community is forced by events to make collective decisions, the results can be analyzed to see what ideas were most influential and the role they played in the actual decision-making of people in positions of power. The creation by the international community of a state-like governing apparatus in Kosovo was one of these rare occasions, and the way the United Nations, the North American Treaty Organization, the European Union, important individual states and number of other organizations went about creating a new government from thin air gives important insight into both what ideas dominated international law thinking at the time and, perhaps more importantly, how ideas impact decision-making at the international level.

More specifically, this draft paper will argue that the theory of disaggregated sovereignty, and the general corpus of Liberalism in international relations and international law, provided the dominant understanding of state behavior in fin de siecle legal scholarship and that the principles of this legal and international relations literature underlay the design of the U.N. Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). The administrative and legal framework of UNMIK looks exactly like the idea of a modern Liberal State inherent in the disaggregated sovereignty literature. Though this does not prove that the literature directly caused or informed those responsible for designing UNMIK, this correlation provides evidence that the ideas that were dominant in world society - of which the scholarship is both part and representative of - animated international policy-making.

The paper also argues that it was the internal structure of the disaggregated sovereignty idea that enabled it to influence the creation of UNMIK. In particular, the claim that non-liberal states could be transformed into liberal ones through links between sub-state institutions, like regulatory agencies and courts, served as the crucial intellectual bridge for the theory to be used as the model for UNMIK. This creates a challenge for those scholars who seek to explain the transfer of legal and political ideas solely through sociological means (i.e., the pressures and lures created by other states and international organizations and interactions of individuals and non-state actors with global culture). The structure of the ideas and whether they are considered by their holders to be universally applicable turns out to be crucial for determinations of whether they will be spread through international institutions and make their way into state practice.

Keywords: UNMIK, Kosovo, disaggregated sovereignty, liberalism, international relations and international law, world society, global polity

Suggested Citation

Schleicher, David, Liberal International Law Theory and the United Nations Mission in Kosovo: Ideas and Practice (draft paper). Tulane Journal of International & Comparative Law, Vol. 14, No. 2, 2006. Available at SSRN:

David Schleicher (Contact Author)

Yale University - Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States


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