International Relations Theory and International Law: A Critical Approach

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Both Onuf and Kratochwil are considered as the pioneers of the international relations school of constructivism, as discussed in Chapter 1. This book is unique and has provided a new paradigm for looking at and understanding the relationship between international relations and international law, as both are inseparable from each other.

What she advances, with this paradigm, is that international relations theorists need to have well-ground understanding of international law in order to have a deep appreciation of the reciprocal relationship that exists between international law and international politics, but knowledge of international politics alone without a corresponding knowledge of international law will continue to remain inadequate and produce incoherent, inaccurate and untenable theorization and uncritical assumptions.

In dealing with the dynamic relationship between international law and international politics, Sinclair seems justified in resorting to the use of legal methodology in Chapter 2 and critical jurisprudence in Chapter 3.

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The need for her critical jurisprudence seems deliberate, because she does not want to limit herself to the realm of natural law theory and legal positivism like other international relations theorists. This process of mediation can sometimes be very prolonged, arduous, and complex as often more than odd states negotiate legal regimes. This leads often to a point where some powerful states get disillusioned, which you can see with President Trump.

He is not per se disillusioned with international institutions, but by his inability to change them at a very short notice. The second kind of challenge is from a different direction. As in the case of Brexit, it emerged from those to whom international institutions have not delivered.

People at the bottom are getting impatient with the present global order and that itself makes me hopeful of being able to push international institutions in a more progressive direction. And this correlation will now work to adjust the regimes themselves, the mode of functioning of these institutions. And as a final point, the third leg of the challenge is coming out of the rise of the BRIC nations, which contest these institutions, even though mildly.

We have not got our due.

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We are at a historical juncture, where different social and political forces want changes in the working of the international institutions and some adjustment will take place. But as we know from all international structures, those adjustments take time. But I do not think any of them are really challenging the very idea of institutionalization of international relations.

I do not think that fundamental challenge is out there as of yet. From an academic point of view these are exciting times. The traditional international law mode of understanding international institutions simply does not offer sufficient purchase over the changes that are taking place. Since the mainstream has not been able to persuasively explain the changes that have been taking place, people will look for alternative explanations and alternative ways of imagining institutional frameworks. My sense is that we will see class analysis returning; also gender perspectives are increasingly actively deconstructing international institutions.

Those voices will be much more heard now. You are also one of the foremost scholars of Marxist approaches to international law. In your hugely successful book International Law and World Order 2 nd edn. I would say three or four reasons why I believe Marxism offers insights into the history and working of international law which other approaches do not do as adequately. First, there is an intimate connection between the emergence of capitalism in Western Europe, the modern state and the development of international law.

It is very important to understand the nature and working of capitalism itself, because these three concepts are very intimately connected and Marxism offers insight into the workings of capitalism that other approaches do not. This takes me to my second point, that therefore it is also easier to understand the relationship between capitalism, imperialism and international law. In other words, capitalism cannot not be imperialistic. Understanding capitalism requires to understand the concept of imperialism, and only then can understand the evolution and development of international law.

Critical international relations theory

We know that there are several explanations for the phenomena of imperialism but I feel that Marxist scholars offered perhaps the most insightful of them. A third value of adopting a Marxist approach is that it sort-of subverts the basic assumption of mainstream international law scholarship, which is to treat the state as a neutral actor. In the mainstream view, the state is seen as standing above all fractions, class, gender etc. The main thesis of this book is that international law rests on national interests as perceived by states.

While the book aims to provide a more solid empirical grounding of international law, it has been criticized for its use of unfounded assumptions and its lack of empirical bases. Keohane, and Anne-Marie Slaughter, eds. Legalization and World Politics. The central questions of this volume deal with the reasons for governments to opt for legalized institutions and the consequences of legalization.


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The volume contains sophisticated discussions on legalization. Its heavy reliance on institutionalism attracted critique from constructivist scholars see also Reus-Smit DOI: This book contains an attempt to answer questions regarding the working of international law on the basis of rational choice approaches. States are portrayed as rational and selfish actors that nevertheless—via mechanisms based on reputation, reciprocity, and retaliation—manage to create a spectrum of international legal commitments.

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Koh, Harold Hongju. Koh situates questions regarding compliance and the politics-law nexus in a broad historical overview, ranging from pre-Roman times up to the late 20th century; detects four recurring approaches toward compliance; and advocates a process-based answer to the question why nations obey international law. Available online by subscription. Reus-Smit, Christian, ed. The Politics of International Law. Based on this notion, it offers an alternative reading of the relation between international law and politics, challenging inter alia the theoretical underpinnings of realism and rationalism see also Goldstein, et al.

Simmons, Beth A.


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  • Edited by Christian Reus-Smit and Duncan Snidal.
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  • Steinberg, eds. This rather lengthy volume brings together excerpted articles on international law and international politics that were previously published in the journal International Organization. As may be expected from a top journal, all articles are of high quality. The relationship among the different articles is sometimes difficult to detect.

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