The Continent of International Law: Explaining Agreement Design.

Author:Chilton, Adam S.
Position:Book review

The Continent of International Law: Explaining Agreement Design. By Barbara Koremenos. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016. Pp. xviii, 437. Index. $29.99.

In the Continent of International Law: Explaining Agreement Design, Barbara Koremenos sets out to empirically demonstrate that there is considerable variation in the way that international treaties ate designed, and that the variation reflects states making rational decisions based on the specific cooperation problems they are facing when drafting agreements. The book is the culmination of a research program that Koremenos--a political science professor at the University of Michigan--initially launched fifteen years earlier when she coauthored the seminal article "The Rational Design of International Institutions." (1) That article tried to move beyond the debate about whether international law is an exogenous constraint on state behavior by focusing on the variation in how international institutions are set up. Now a staple on seminar syllabuses in international relations classes, the article inspired a line of research that sought to answer questions like: why do some international agreements have dispute resolution provisions, while others do not specify what happens when a state fails to comply with their obligations? (2) In her new book, Koremenos goes beyond her own prior work by both clearly developing a theoretical framework to explain why states design agreements the way they do and by empirically testing the hypotheses derived from her theory on an original dataset that codes the design of a random sample of international agreements. Koremenos thus makes both an important theoretical and empirical contribution to the study of international law.

Koremenos's project begins with the observation that, although a handful of international treaties get the lion's share of attention from politicians, the press, and academics, there are a huge number of international agreements currently in force. As Koremenos notes, the United Nations Treaty Series documents nearly 200,000 agreements in force as of 2015 (p. 1). These treaties lay out international commitments on topics ranging from regulating the flow of guest workers to restricting the development of nuclear weapons. In addition to coveting a wide range of substantive topics, these is also considerable diversity in the way that these agreements are designed. For instance: some agreements continue for an indefinite period of time, others last for just a few years; some agreements create a formal process for dispute settlement, others do not lay one out; and some agreements cover a large number of topics, others focus on a single issue.

Koremenos's project sets out to explain the variation in the design, and not the substance, of international agreements. More specifically, Koremenos argues that there is variation in the way that international agreements are designed because different kinds of countries are trying to solve different kinds problems when they draft agreements. As Koremenos purs it, "the variation we see [in the design of international agreements] is a sign that states care, which is why they take the time and effort to negotiate specific treaty provisions that fit the demands of the situation" (p. 4, emphasis in original).

Koremenos builds on this basic premise by outlining a theory regarding the determinants of why states choose different designs for their agreements. This theory is based on three assumptions (pp. 28-29). First, Koremenos assumes that the central players in international politics are still states--and not other groups like NGOs, corporations...

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