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Home Archive for category "EJIL Article Discussion" (Page 5)

Is International Institutional Law Transforming?

Published on August 19, 2015        Author: 

José Alvarez has written that ‘the majority of international lawyers and fellow travelers in international relations rarely see an IO, proposed or existing, that they do not like.’ (2006) 100 AJIL 324, 339-40. International lawyers like international organisations because they promise (or at the very least, propose) international solutions to global problems, whether those problems concern international peace and security or preventing the spread of disease (and these may sometimes be viewed as one and the same – think of the Security Council’s response to the Ebola crisis). International institutional law is designed to enable us to see the similarities in the structure and functioning of different international organisations – whatever their role and wherever they are geographically located.  The idea that all organisations fulfil a specific function or functions as set out in the constituent instrument, and that these functions determine the limits of the actions that an organisation can (or should) take, is well accepted.  However, in ‘The Transformation of International Organizations Law’ Jan Klabbers develops a point he has made previously:  that functionalism as a theory to explain how international organisations should behave has a ‘blindspot’ – this blindspot is its bias in favour of the organisation which means that it can be used to justify any of the organisation’s activities (p 10).  The question remains whether this blindspot is inherent in functionalism or rather a product of our innate desire to see international organisations as a solution rather than a problem.

In this article Klabbers tells us a story – a story not so much about the transformation of international institutional law, but about the origins and rise of functionalism and ultimately its inability to account for the relationship between an international organisation and third parties.  It is one of two articles written by Klabbers and published in EJIL in the last year examining the origins of functionalism as the dominant theory in international institutional law.  In his 2014 article Klabbers attributes ‘colonial inspirations’ to the beginnings of functionalism by concentrating principally on the work of Paul Reinsch.  In this second article, Klabbers revisits Reinsch’s work, but also examines the writings of another American scholar/practitioner, Francis Bowes Sayre, whose major work in the field, Experiments in International Administration, was published in 1919.

Leaving aside some of the very interesting steps in Klabbers’ reasoning, not least the examination of the WHO and Egypt Advisory Opinion, the essential pillars of this article are threefold.  First, that functionalism as a theory in international institutional law (as distinct from a political theory) can be traced to the work of scholars such as Reinsch and Sayre who wrote at a time when the major international unions were technical or specialised organisations, established to perform a specific function.  Secondly, that functionalism remained the dominant theory despite the fact that international organisations were no longer being ‘built around a function in any meaningful way’ (p 31).  Finally, functionalism as a legal theory revolves around a principal-agent relationship and while this is useful in explaining aspects of the relationship between an organisation and its member states (for example, membership and powers), it fails to deal with the effects of international organisations on third parties, starkly illustrated by the cholera outbreak in Haiti. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Transformation of International Organizations Law

Published on August 18, 2015        Author: 

The law of international organizations, governing such topics as their powers, their membership rules, and their privileges and immunities, is dominated by a single theoretical perspective: the theory of functionalism. Yet for all its importance, functionalism as a theory has always remained under-explored and, so to speak, under-theorized. Relatively little is known about how functionalism is structured and how, in turn, it structures the law; relatively little is known about how it came about or how it developed over the years, and little attention has been paid to its strengths and weaknesses, both as normative theory and as explanatory theory.

My article, the first EJIL Foreword, aims to take stock of functionalism by delving precisely into the above-mentioned questions, and in doing so reflects the culmination of almost two decades of study and perhaps, some might say, obsession. The article’s three main parts discuss the nature of functionalism, its genesis, and its relative fall from grace, and while there is no main conclusion to be drawn (in that the piece describes and analyzes an ongoing process of transformation), some of its main points can be summarized as follows.

First, I contend that functionalism is a special kind of principal-agent theory, special in the sense that the principal is by definition collective, and special in the sense that the principal is invariably part of the agent: all organizations have a plenary organ in which the member states (the principal) are represented. One important ramification hereof is that functionalism is ill-equipped to address issues that do not emerge from the relationship between principal and agent or, or more colloquial terms, between organization and members. I identify two broad groups of relationships that fall outside functionalism’s purview: functionalism has little to say about the internal dynamics within an organization (e.g. relations between various organs, or between organization and staff), and functionalism has little to say about the relations of organizations with the outside world. And the latter in particular is of interest to the general international lawyer: it suggests that the responsibility of international organizations under international law cannot fruitfully be approached from a functionalist perspective, and further suggests that our available frameworks of thinking about organizations are inadequate to address such questions as whether organizations are bound by general international law. Functionalism, as devised and developed, never thought about such issues and, more importantly, never could have done so coherently at any rate: a theory focusing on the principal-agent relationships cannot accommodate other concerns, at least not without diluting its original focus. To put it strongly and in different terms, functionalism has a blind spot: the issue of control. Actors other than the member states have no means of controlling organizations. Read the rest of this entry…

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This Week: Discussion of Jan Klabbers’s ‘The Transformation of International Organizations Law’

Published on August 18, 2015        Author: 

Over the next few days, we will be hosting a discussion of the first annual EJIL Foreword, Jan Klabbers’s article “The Transformation of International Organizations Law,” which was published in volume 26, no. 1 of the European Journal of International Law (2015). The commentaries on his article will be by Alison Duxbury (Melbourne) and Ian Johnstone (The Fletcher School). We are grateful to all of them for participating in the discussion.

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Response

Published on March 27, 2015        Author: 

First off, I’d like to express my sincere gratitude for the care and thoughtfulness with which Professors Tom Dannenbaum, Jan Klabbers, and Paul Stephan have engaged my article. Before turning to their individual commentaries, I want to briefly address one common theme in their remarks: that the link between IO legitimacy and IO reputation for compliance with international law can be quite complicated.

That’s absolutely right; after all, compliance with international law is only one facet of IOs’ legitimacy. Other facets include the morality of IOs’ actions (or omissions), IOs’ effectiveness in achieving the purposes for which they were created, and—especially in the context of technocratic organizations—their scientific and technical expertise.

In this article, I focused on compliance with international law because I was seeking to explain why the IO Responsibility Articles will have important practical consequences. That required explaining why IOs and their member states would pay attention to claims made in transnational discourse about IOs’ international obligations and possible violations. I argued that IOs would heed such discourse because it could threaten their reputations for complying with international law, and IOs have even more reasons than states do to cultivate those reputations. IOs that flout international law risk being perceived as illegitimate, and IOs that are perceived to be illegitimate will be less effective—and will face more obstacles to securing both financial support and cooperation from their member states.

I completely agree, however, that a fuller account of when and why IOs and their member states will be motivated to comply with international law would have to wrestle with the other facets of IO legitimacy—and especially the way they might be in tension with one another. Read the rest of this entry…

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Reputation and Responsibility: Moving the Goalposts

Published on March 26, 2015        Author: 

Kristina Daugirdas renders an excellent exposition of a particular kind of argument about the development (us economics-oriented folk might say production) of international law. She focuses on the ILC’s Draft Articles on the Responsibility of International Organizations, a measure that some have criticized as premature. The degree of discomfort with the project that IOs have shown, however, might suggest (somewhat paradoxically) that its time has come, if only as a focus of debate. She illustrates the salience of the Draft Articles through the lens of the cholera crisis in Haiti, a matter that the United Nations has handled with all the finesse of a Fortune 500 CEO confronted horrific product liabilities.

Within the terms of her argument, Daugirdas succeeds in establishing her conclusion. The Draft Articles provide a defined and ostensibly neutral set of claims about responsibility and compensation. The absence of clarity in the international legal system about the content of the international law that IOs might violate, thus incurring responsibility, is not an impediment to talking about this. Debates about responsibility can contribute to the definition of primary obligations. Acts of reparation can reinforce the legal, rather than political and moral, nature of the obligation. An important means of inducing potentially responsible actors ‒ IOs ‒ to confront these claims is the impact of their actions on their reputation.

I do not want to push back against any part of Daugirdas’s argument. Rather, I want to use this opportunity to reflect a bit on the value ‒ and limits ‒ of two concepts on which her argument rests. Both transnational discourse and reputation present interesting problems that Daugirdas acknowledges, but understandably does not fully explore. My ultimate goal is to move the goalposts for talking about the processes involved in producing international law.

Transnational discourse. Let me posit that law making and law applying is largely a discursive process involving the manipulation of symbols to achieve verbal communication. In other words, talk matters a lot. This brute fact may frustrate the economically oriented, who usually prefer to look at preferences revealed by actions and may regard discussion as potential disinformation. No competent lawyer, however, can fail to attend carefully to the arguments made in the process of moving towards a legal outcome. Read the rest of this entry…

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Kristina Daugirdas, ‘Reputation and the Responsibility of International Organizations’

Published on March 25, 2015        Author: 

It has long been recognized by international lawyers of a more or less critical bent that one of the ways international law can be considered useful – regardless of the question whose idea of usefulness it serves – is that is provides a vocabulary for discussing things. Rules on use of force and self-defense may not solve conflicts, but provide a language (and often enough the most relevant language) for discussing the use of force. Rules on international trade may not solve trade conflicts, but help provide the relevant actors with a language in which to discuss whether tuna caught by means of driftnet fishing should be banned from markets or not. And even the rules on state succession, limited and few as they are, help facilitate discussions on what to do once a succession of states occurs.

In this light, Kristina Daugirdas’ main argument is hardly surprising. The point that the ILC’s articles on the responsibility of international organizations will play a role in what she refers to as ‘transnational discourse’ is both well-taken and well-crafted. Indeed, the evidence in support of that proposition is perhaps even stronger than she realizes: both before and after their adoption by the ILC, the articles have been referred to by international and domestic courts, including the European Court of Human Rights. That said, it is perhaps also useful to note that the International Court of Justice managed to avoid making any reference to the ILC articles in two recent decisions where a fleeting reference could have been expected: the 2011 judgment between Fyrom and Greece, and the 2012 advisory opinion on the International Fund for Agricultural Development. Still, on the topic at hand, the ILC’s articles are the main authoritative instrument available, so it stands to reason that participants in transnational discourse make reference to it, and look at the articles for inspiration and guidance, regardless of whether the articles are formally binding or can be said to reflect customary international law.

If her general point is not all that surprising, the more interesting part of Daugirdas’ article resides in the combination she makes of two distinct approaches to the study of international organizations. She draws inspiration both from constructivism (highlighting the relevance of norms) and rational choice theory (assuming actors to be inspired by rationalist motives in the pursuit of their self-interest), and does so to good effect. In itself, this combination too is not entirely novel: Ian Hurd and Ian Johnstone have done something similar in recent years (to name just two examples), and one of the Ur-texts of constructivism, Fritz Kratochwil’s Rules, Norms and Decisions (1989) was to a remarkable (and oft-forgotten) degree also inspired by rationalist insights. That said, in his later work Kratochwil seems to have lost some confidence in that kind of reasoning – or maybe he just lost confidence in some of its practitioners. Read the rest of this entry…

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Legality, Legitimacy, and Member State Cooperation in International Organisations

Published on March 24, 2015        Author: 

Is an international organisation’s (IO’s) compliance with international law essential to its legitimacy? And, even when a link between compliance and legitimacy obtains, is member state cooperation with the organisation contingent on its legitimacy? Might the answer to either of these questions vary systematically by organisational type?

In a rich and important contribution to understanding the dynamics of a relatively young area of international law, Professor Kristina Daugirdas offers a transnational legal discourse framework to understand why IOs comply with international law and the vital role that the Draft Articles on the Responsibility of International Organizations (DARIO) can play in that process. She supplements this with a granular, compelling account of the theory in action in the transnational struggle to hold the UN to account for the cholera epidemic in Haiti.

As I understand it, Kristina’s account of the IO accountability process (exemplified by the Haiti case) goes something like this:

  •  The legitimacy of an IO depends on its compliance with its international legal obligations.
  • By bringing clarity and specificity, the DARIO expand the quality and quantity of transnational legal discourse on IO responsibility, catalyze clarity on the primary obligations of IOs, and therefore tighten the link between IO compliance and legitimacy.
  • The legitimacy of an IO is essential to the IO’s success in generating the cooperation and support of its member states.
  • IOs will act so as to ensure that cooperation and support.
  • In light of (1)-(4), the DARIO can sharpen and enhance IOs’ incentives to comply with and uphold both the primary and secondary rules of international law.

My comments focus on step (1) – the tie between legality and legitimacy, and step (3) – the claim that from IO legitimacy, member state cooperation follows. Both are crucial to Kristina’s theory and to her assertion that IOs are likely “even more sensitive” to transnational discourse than are states. However, I suspect that IOs may vary considerably in the degree to which they conform to either step. Understanding that variance and what explains these relationships when they do obtain is essential to grasping the scope of the theory and its implications for the role of the DARIO. Read the rest of this entry…

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IO Reputation and the Draft Articles on IO Responsibility

Published on March 24, 2015        Author: 

In 2011, the International Law Commission adopted a set of draft articles on the responsibility of international organizations. Like the ILC’s draft articles on state responsibility, the IO Responsibility Articles seek to clarify both the circumstances that establish a breach of an international obligation and the consequences of responsibility, including the obligation to make full reparation for injuries caused by such violations.

The IO Responsibility Articles have come in for a lot of criticism from legal scholars. José Alvarez, for one, has described the ILC’s effort as ‘at best premature and at worst misguided’. In his view, the IO Responsibility Articles are premature, partly because there is not nearly enough practice to warrant their codification, and partly because the primary norms of international law that bind IOs remain unsettled. In particular, there’s considerable disagreement on how and when IOs are bound by customary international law and by treaties to which they are not parties.

Scholars—including Jan Klabbers, who is participating in this online symposium—have also questioned whether the IO Responsibility Articles would have any practical effect. They rightly note that the IO Responsibility Articles have elicited no substantial support from states and IOs. Although the ILC’s draft articles have often formed the basis for treaty negotiations, there’s no chance that the IO Responsibility Articles will be transformed into a treaty anytime soon. Furthermore, except in rare cases, neither international nor national courts can assess whether IOs have violated international law. Under these circumstances, one might be forgiven for thinking that the IO Responsibility Articles can safely be ignored.

I am more optimistic about the IO responsibility articles; I argue that they are neither premature nor feckless. In fact, the IO Responsibility Articles can help to clarify the primary international law norms that bind IOs. The IO Responsibility Articles may also spur IOs and their member states to prevent violations and to address violations promptly if they occur. And that’s so even if the IO Responsibility Articles never become a treaty and even if no new dispute-settlement mechanisms are developed. Read the rest of this entry…

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This Week: Discussion of Kristina Daugirdas’s “Reputation and the Responsibility of International Organizations”

Published on March 23, 2015        Author: 

Over the next few days, we will be hosting a discussion of Kristina Daugirdas’s article “Reputation and the Responsibility of International Organizations,” which was published in volume 25, no. 4 of the European Journal of International Law (2014). Kristina is an Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School.  The commentaries on her article will be by Tom Dannenbaum (University College London), Jan Klabbers (University of Helsinki), and Paul B. Stephan (University of Virginia). We are grateful to all of them for participating in the discussion.

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