There has long been debate over the real value of international law when it comes to ebbing state-level violence. While some are cynical regarding the role of international law, others strongly support international institutions and their role in preventing armed conflict. However, there is a dearth of research available on the effects of international law on state behavior, and on the conditions that could foster compliance with the law at an international level.
A recent study has shown that international law can play an important role in shaping leader’s decisions regarding the use of force in the cases of territorial disputes. Using a data set of 165 territorial disputes from 1945 to 2000, considering 3,840 monthly observations of challenging states, and analyzing expert legal assessments from scholars, rulings from international legal bodies, and government documents for each dispute, scholars found that leaders with stronger legal claims are more likely to pursue negotiations instead of using the force.
The study concluded that when international law succeeds to provide clear focal points that facilitate agreements, cooperation, coordination, and distribution, it can have a positive effect on dispute settlement processes. This is further evidence that even though military power is an important aspect of world politic dynamics, the rule of law and its potential for preventing the use of force must not be underestimated.
Huth, P., Croco, S. and Appel, B. (2012), Law and the Use of Force in World Politics: The Varied Effects of Law on the Exercise of Military Power in Territorial Disputes. International Studies Quarterly, 56: 17–31
Kyong Mazzaro is a Project Coordinator at the Advanced Consortium on Cooperation, Conflict and Complexity (AC4) at Columbia University and the International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution (ICCCR) at Teachers College.