Vol. 16 No.1 (January 2006), pp.50-52


THE IMPACT OF INTERNATIONAL LAW ON INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION: THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVES, by Eyal Benvenisti and Moshe Hirsch (eds). NY: Cambridge University Press, 2005. 330pp. Cloth. £55.00/$95.00. ISBN: 0521835542.


Reviewed by Sanford R. Silverburg, Department of Political Science, Catawba College.

Email: ssilver [at] catawba.edu.


International law, traditionally (which means historically) has had to deal with instruments that would aid in the creation of various forms of global order and structure.  This noble goal has most often been directed towards its political obverse—armed and violent conflict.  In the contemporary political world, the most visible shift in importance from inter-state relations to global trading patterns has led observers and scholars to develop perspectives on how international law can generally affect cooperative behavior among political entities.


The book under review is a compilation of papers, edited by Eyal Benvenisti and Moshe Hirsch, that were presented at a conference held at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Faculty of Law in June 2001.  The ultimate aim of the diverse collection is to examine the influence of international legal norms and institutions on state behavior in the conduct of policies that control trade and the environment.  The analysis generally proceeds along two dimensions: 1) the incentive of states to abide by customary international law, soft law, and mutually agreed multilateral conventions; and  2) various authors look at specific case studies with unique issues in international trade and international environmental protection.  There is an overall theoretical starting point that the two disciplines, international relations and international law, are related in the ways scholars from both fields approach problems on the globe; in fact, the disciplines are shown to be interrelated.  In this regard, the literature is burgeoning with contributions from Scott (2004), Boyle (1985), and Reus-Smit (2004) pointing to a nexus between hard law and soft law, and legalization versus judicialization against realism, institutionalism, and liberalism.  There are also, it should be noted, signs of interest among political scientists to deal with treaty compliance (von Stein, 2005), despite differences in methodological approaches (Simmons and Hopkins, 2005).


The understanding here is that international norms and institutions in some important way determine the orientation of states, which ultimately leads them to international cooperation, all of which is better understood through theories of international relations.  Hence the book begins with an overview of three of the more prominent and contemporary theories of international relations: realism, institutionalism, and liberalism.  With realism, the international legal counterpart is the territorial state.  Institutionalism is projected onto the UN Charter.  The third paradigmatic approach, liberalism, is made emblematic by individuals and [*51] interest groups, both of which operate under the aegis of states.  Central to making the connection between international relations and international law is the role of “power” which is highlighted throughout the various contributions.


Kenneth Abbott and Duncan Snidal examine the pathways states take to reach varying levels of cooperation through conventions, multilateral agreements, and legalizing cooperative regimes.  Eyal Benvenisti reviews the relationship of efficient remedies to the use of custom as a rule to determine judgment.  He studies the role of international judges and arbitrators in establishing guiding norms for cooperative behavior.   An essay by George Downs and Michael Jones reflects upon what rational choice theorists have long argued, that agreements – in this case treaties – are sustained best when the parties can expect the terms will be respected  to the extent that “respect” is an acceptable characteristic of a signatory’s goals.  There is a strong relationship between levels of political development and the ascription of respect to the state.  Evidence is also presented that defection from agreements is frequently related to the importance of the agreement to a party that defects.  In an essay that seems to present the obvious, to wit: “[t]he international system is changing” (p.136), substantial evidence is presented to ponder its credulity since states remain generally in tact. Reviewing agreements on human rights and arms control, the environment, and trade, however, do allow us to speculate on potential permutations.


Moshe Hirsch advances a theoretical perspective regarding why states comply with international norms when the global trend toward globalization would expect something different.  The approach to the study of norm compliance matches, in some manner, the approach to globalization in terms of supporters and detractors.  He notes that, although globalization is a unique phenomenon, it is in reality truly a subject that confers benefits upon the global North.  Compliance to international norms, banally speaking, is in the theoros’ eyes, a paradigmatic approach.  Hirsch makes a relational comparison and, perhaps surprising to none, suggests that such analyses “do not lead to a single conclusion” (p.192).


What is the record of norm compliance in Latin America?  Here Arie Kacowicz reviews the process of arbitration as it is employed in territorial disputes in the southern hemisphere.  Two case studies are reviewed: a border question between Ecuador and Peru, the Oriente/Marañon question and, perhaps, more widely known, the Beagle Channel question between Argentina and Chile.  Kacowicz observes that Latin American countries, in general, are predisposed more to political or diplomatic protocol than formal legalistic processes.  It is empirically concluded that while states might comply with international norms, pacta sunt servanda in this case, they simultaneously do not necessarily abide by international obligations, admittedly a nuanced version of inter-state compliance.


In an essay directed toward international trade, the authors timidly admit that [*52] “[i]nternational trade agreements often stem from the economic gains that leaders expect to derive from cooperation” (p.217), but contends that domestic political gains also serve as a basis for acceding to international agreements.


As the global mood changes its emphasis away from raw power politics and territorial expansion to universal human rights, Petros Mavroides draws a connection between the WTO and developing countries.  His approach is to apply nondiscriminatory trade practices to states whose human rights policies might be derelict since it is in the purview of WTO members states to abide by the rule of jus cogens.  The author notes that the two dimensions of interest, increased trade with institutionalized framework of WTO-created trade relationships and a commensurate demand for human rights compliance, but finds no necessary connection.


The intent of the editors is certainly laudable: show the relationship between theories of two related academic disciplines and employ a context to introduce the nexus.  The problem is one that is embedded in any edited work, allowing some authors to explore their individual interests, rather than focusing on a central thesis. Nevertheless, the substance of the effort can only enhance the body of testable hypotheses for both quantitative and qualitative analysis in either discipline, and bring them closer together for further future study.



Boyle, Francis Anthony. 1985. WORLD POLITICS AND INTERNATIONAL LAW. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.


Reus-Smit, Christian (ed.). 2004. THE POLITICS OF INTERNATIONAL LAW.      NY: Cambridge University Press.


Scott, Shirley V. 2004. INTERNATIONAL LAW IN WORLD POLITICS. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner.


Simmons, Beth A.. and Daniel J. Hopkins. (2005). “The Constraining Powers of International Treaties.” AMERICAN POLITICAL SCIENCE REVIEW. 99

     (November): 623-631.


Stein Jana von. (2005). “Do Treaties Constrain or Screen?” AMERICAN POLITICAL SCIENCE REVIEW. 99 (November): 611-622.


© Copyright 2006 by the author, Sanford R. Silverburg.