Contract, Treaties, and Sovereignty

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It is a common charge that treaties, perhaps especially recent treaties relating to economic activity, provide unreasonable restrictions on the sovereignty of the state parties. While this charge has been made most forcefully by smaller states, it is sometimes raised with justification by larger states or state-like bodies such as the E.U. as well. When a tribunal judging a dispute on an economic treaty tells a state that it may no longer make decisions such as to accept or reject genetically modified foods, allow internet gambling, or produce generic drugs for domestic consumption, the citizens of the state may rightfully think they have lost important aspects of sovereignty to bodies that do not have legitimate authority to govern. This, in turn, makes negotiating treaties, despite their obvious value, much harder than it otherwise would be, leading to decreased cooperation and the forgoing of potentially significant gain. In this paper, I argue that by importing certain ideas from contract theory to the interpretation of treaties, these worries may be significantly reduced. Contracts have the seemingly paradoxical ability to increase the autonomy of the signers by allowing them to bind themselves to perform certain future actions. But, the ability of contracts to perform this function would be greatly reduced if the only possible remedy for breach were specific performance. Yet, an analogous approach to treaties is common among many important theorists of international law, who demand the equivalence of specific performance in the case of treaties. I will show how importing ideas from contract law can help ensure that treaties, especially economic treaties, are sovereignty-enhancing for states in a way that is similar to the way that contracts may be autonomy-enhancing for individuals, and will show that importing these elements from contract law will strengthen, not undermine, the legitimacy and fairness of international law.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSovereignth and the New Executive Authority
EditorsClaire Finkelstein, Michael Skerker
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherOxford University Press, USA
Number of pages25
ISBN (Print)9780190922542
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes


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