Matthew Waxman is Professor of Law at Columbia Law School, New York.
In the latest issue of EJIL, I write about doctrinal form and jus ad bellum in ‘Regulating Resort to Force: Form and Substance of the UN Charter Regime’, 24 EJIL (2013) 151. Much of the legal debate in this area – among states, scholars, and other international actors – takes place on a substantive axis, focusing on the scope of force prohibitions and exceptions: are they too broad or narrow; too permissive or restrictive? In this article, I argue that these debates also sometimes explicitly or implicitly include preferences regarding doctrinal form, by which I mean modes of argumentation and analysis through which facts are assessed in relation to legal directives.
Adherents to one orientation, whom I term ‘Bright-Liners’, generally favour governing states’ legal authority to use force unilaterallyby clear and rigid rules that admit little case by case discretion. Adherents to another orientation, whom I term ‘Balancers’, generally believe that the legality of unilateral resort to force should be judged by objective but flexible standards that call for weighing contextual factors, thereby vesting in states some discretion to account for competing values.
The main point of my paper is that substantive preferences – narrow versus broad international legal authority to use force – often go hand in hand with doctrinal form preferences (i.e. those favouring restrictive authority to use force generally prefer bright-line rules), but that they need not. By prising apart the substantive debate from the debate about doctrinal form, and analyzing some of the reasons why one form might be better than another, I expose some conflicting but often-buried assumptions about how international law works or fails in this area, and I aim to open up some underappreciated ways to think about legal reform. Read the rest of this entry…