The Limits of International Law / Edition 1

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In this book, Jack L. Goldsmith and Eric A. Posner argue that international law does matter but that it is less powerful and less significant than public officials, legal experts, and the media believe. International law, they contend, is simply a product of states pursuing their interests on the international stage. It does not pull states toward compliance contrary to their interests, and the possibilities for what it can achieve are limited. It follows that many global problems are simply unsolvable.
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Editorial Reviews

Foreign Affairs
Scholars have long debated why and when states comply with international law; one widely held view is that states do so out of a sense of moral obligation or a desire for legitimacy. This elegantly argued book by two noted law professors offers a simpler and more instrumental explanation: states agree to and follow international law only when it is in their national self-interest. Using elementary game theory, they build a framework that sees international law primarily as a tool for states seeking to solve "games" of cooperation. In their view, much of international law thus reflects a coincidence of interests rather than the embodiment of obligatory universal norms. The book has the virtues and liabilities of all simple rationalist theories. It neatly organizes a wide array of international rules and institutions and traces it all back to self-interested states. It also joins the effort to build bridges between the traditionally separate worlds of international law and international relations. But it leaves unexamined the deeper questions of how and why states—particularly modern democracies—define their interests the way they do.
From the Publisher

"...a valuable contribution to international relations and a useful book for lawmakers and laymen alike."--The Weekly Standard

"Scholars have long debated why and when states comply with international law; one widely held view is that states do so out of a sense of moral obligation or a desire for legitimacy. This elegantly argued book... offers a simpler and more instrumental explanation: states agree to and follow international law only when it is in their national self-interest."--Foreign Affairs

"Jack L. Goldsmith and Eric A. Posner boldly and ambitiously set out to answer a host of traditional questions posed by critics and advocates of international law.... As the central theme, the single most distinctive character of the book is the employment of rational choice theory as it relates to international law.... The creativity displayed here should now whet the appetite of other legal scholars to approach the international law and politics relationship from the perpsective of prospect theory, or pursuing policy on the fear of losing an objective."--The Law and Politics Book Review

"How much effect does international law actually have on how nations behave? Goldsmith and Posner ask trenchant questions and offer thought-provoking answers in a pioneering effort to address that question through the prism of rational choice theory. There will be a long and vigorous debate about the utility of their approach. Agree with them or not, their boldness and innovation provide a welcome effort at injecting greater analytic rigor into international law scholarship."--Michael J. Glennon, Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy, Tufts University

"At a time of rising interest in the intersection of international law and international relations scholarship, Goldsmith and Posner throw down a gauntlet likely to infuriate many traditional international lawyers. Their insistence that international legal obligations are equal part coincidence and rational state self-interest, nothing more, demands and will certainly get an answer. Equally important is their claim to be the heirs of Kennan and Morgenthau in cautioning against the perils of what they perceive to be a new round of legalism-moralism. They have thus raised the political as much as the methodological stakes in what is likely to be a heated and timely debate."--Anne-Marie Slaughter, Dean, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University

"Jack Goldsmith and Eric Posner have written a compelling study which provides an elegant analytic framework for understanding when international law matters and when it does not. Goldsmith and Posner show that some kinds of international law are very consequential while others are not. After this study it will be difficult for any serious observer to treat customary international law as if it were a constraint on rather than an manifestation of changing state power and preferences."--Stephen D. Krasner, Department of Political Science, Stanford University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195314175
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 11/28/2006
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 1,491,744
  • Product dimensions: 9.20 (w) x 6.10 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Jack L. Goldsmith is Professor of Law, Harvard University. He is author of casebooks on Foreign Relations Law and Conflicts of Laws.

Eric A. Posner is Kirkland & Ellis Professor of Law, University of Chicago. He is the author of Law and Social Norms and the editor of the Journal of Legal Studies.

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Table of Contents

Pt. 1 Customary international law
1 A theory of customary international law 23
2 Case studies 45
Pt. 2 Treaties
3 A theory of international agreements 83
4 Human rights 107
5 International trade 135
Pt. 3 Rhetoric, morality, and international law
6 A theory of international rhetoric 167
7 International law and moral obligation 185
8 Liberal democracy and cosmopolitan duty 205
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