The Politics of Precedent in International Law: A Social Network Application


Pavillon Chancellor-Day NCDH 202, 3644, rue Peel, Montréal, QC, H3A 1W9, CA

Les Ateliers de théorie du droit et la Chaire L. Yves Fortier Chairen arbitrage international et droit du commerce international accueillent Krzysztof J. Pelc, Département de science politique, Université McGill.


(En anglais seulement) There is no formal binding precedent in international law. Yet, as this article (view on SSRN) demonstrates, countries nonetheless expend considerable resources in seeking to shape legal precedent. Looking at the international trade regime, I show that while some disputes are initiated to gain market access in response to domestic interests, others are filed primarily to build favorable precedent for future cases of greater commercial value. I construct an original dataset consisting of the network of all rulings spanning the WTO period, and the cases they cite. I analyze this network to provide systematic evidence for the existence of "test cases" in international law: countries initiate commercially unimportant disputes to shape legal precedent to their advantage. And wealthy countries with high legal capacity are significantly better able to do so. While the existence of binding precedent in international law remains a point of continuous debate, countries observably behave in a manner consistent with its existence.

Le conférencier

(En anglais seulement) Krzysztof J. Pelc is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at McGill University. His research is in international political economy, with a focus on international rules.  He is interested in how the design of rules affects odds of cooperation, and how it benefits some countries over others. Much of this work looks specifically at the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO).