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What if? Counterfactual (Hi)Stories of International Law

  • Ingo VENZKE (a1)

This paper proposes to think counterfactually about international law: How could it have been otherwise? Asking that question has the benefit of, first, exposing contingencies in international law’s development that are otherwise glossed over in the rush towards making sense of what happened. Second, counterfactual thinking supports the understanding of what actually happened in a context-sensitive fashion. Third, it forms part of comparative moral assessments and exposes blind spots. Counterfactual thinking may thus contribute to the freedom from necessity, from grand theory, and from reality. The paper draws the contours of what writing counterfactual (hi)stories of international law is about, discusses its merits as well as drawbacks, offers guidance on how to do it, and then focuses on two probing examples: What if the International Trade Organization had been established around 1949? What if garment workers were seals and the European Commission prohibited the importation of certain textiles?

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For their valuable comments on earlier versions of this paper I thank Jochen von Bernstorff, Andreas Hasenclever, and the participants of the colloquium in Tübingen (December 2014); Bas Schotel and the participants of the colloquium at the Paul Scholten Center, Amsterdam (December 2014); Hélène Ruiz-Fabri, the convenors Dino Kritsiotis, Anne Orford, and Joseph H.H. Weiler, and the participants of the Fourth Annual Junior Faculty Forum in Florence, Italy (June 2015); Michael Giudice and the participants of the Nathanson Centre Legal Philosophy Seminar, York University (September 2016); the Journal’s two anonymous reviewers; and my colleagues at the Amsterdam Center for International Law. I am indebted to Fay Valinaki for her research assistance.

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1. South West Africa (Ethiopia v. South Africa; Liberia v. South Africa), Second Phase, Judgment of 18 July 1966, [1966] I.C.J. Rep. 6; Obligations Concerning Negotiations Relating to Cessation of the Nuclear Arms Race and to Nuclear Disarmament (Marshall Islands v. United Kingdom), Preliminary Objections, Judgment of 5 October 2016.

2. On the difference between contingency and chance, also see VOGT, P., Kontingenz und Zufall: Eine Ideen- und Begriffsgeschichte (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2011), especially at 64–6.

3. LUHMANN, N., Kontingenz und Recht (Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2013) at 32–45.

4. On the recognized significance of the decision, see ABI-SAAB, G., “The International Court as a World Court” in V. LOWE and M. FITZMAURICE, eds., Fifty Years of the International Court of Justice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 3 ; FRIEDMANN, W.G., “The Jurisprudential Implications of the South West Africa Case” (1969) 1 Columbia Journal of Transnational Law 1 . On the circumstances of the decision’s making, see the insightful study by KATTAN, V., “Decolonizing the International Court of Justice: The Experience of Judge Sir Muhammad Zafrulla Khan in the South West Africa Cases” (2015) 5 Asian Journal of International Law 310 .

5. On the unlikely election of Sir Percy Spender, see CRAWFORD, J., “The General Assembly, the International Court and Self-determination” in V. LOWE and M. FITZMAURICE, eds., Fifty Years of the International Court of Justice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 585 at 588.

6. Abi-Saab, supra note 4 at 5 (calling the Judgment a “disaster”). For a critical overview of the reactions to the Judgment, see VENZKE, I., “The International Court of Justice During the Battle for International Law (1955-1975)—Colonial Imprints and Possibilities for Change” in J. VON BERNSTORFF and P. DANN, eds., The Battle for International Law in the Decolonization Era (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017 , forthcoming). For a further assessment of what would have happened in the alternative, see infra notes 121–4 and accompanying text.

7. Even the 1966 Judgment in South West Africa, for example, introduced the doctrinal argument that there are “matter[s] that appertain[] to the merits of a case but which are of an antecedent character”—an argument that is now part of the doctrinal discourse in spite of its unlikely origins. South West Africa, supra note 1 at para. 4; SHANY, Y., “Jurisdiction and Admissibility” in C.P.R. ROMANO, K.J. ALTER, and Y. SHANY, Oxford Handbook of International Adjudication (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 779 at 788-–9.

8. Seminally, FISCHHOFF, B., “Hindsight ≠ Foresight: The Effect of Outcome Knowledge on Judgment under Uncertainty” (1975) 1 Journal of Experimental Psychology 288 . There is only one study that includes an investigation into the phenomenon of hindsight in thinking about law (here the likelihood of appellate court decisions), rather than thinking about judicial decisions, for instance in findings of liability in tort cases or guilt in criminal cases. That single study is GUTHRIE, Chris, RACHLINSKI, Jeffrey J., and WISTRICH, Andrew J., “Inside the Judicial Mind” (2000) 86 Cornell Law Review 777 at 799–805. For an overview, see TEICHMAN, Doron, “The Hindsight Bias and the Law in Hindsight” in Eyal ZAMIR and Doron TEICHMAN, Behavioural Economics and the Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 354373 . For studies of hindsight in liability judgments, see RACHLINSKI, Jeffrey J., “A Positive Psychological Theory of Judging in Hindsight” (1998) 65 University of Chicago Law Review 571625 . Also see BIBAS, Stephanos, “The Psychology of Hindsight and After-the-Fact Review of Ineffective Assistance of Counsel” (2004) 1 Utah Law Review 1 ; SMITH, Alison C. and GREENE, Edith, “Conduct and Its Consequences: Attempts at Debiasing Jury Judgments” (2005) 29 Law and Human Behaviour 505 .

9. Fischhoff, supra note 8 at 288.

10. ROTH, P., The Plot Against America (New York: Vintage, 2004) at 114.

11. See UNGER, R.M., False Necessity (London: Verso, 2001); KENNEDY, D., A Critique of Adjudication (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997) at 18 (speaking of “false determinacy”). Neither Unger or Kennedy consider the phenomenon of hindsight bias. But the remedies they consider against false necessities are close to counterfactual thinking—institutional imagination, in Unger’s case, and deconstruction, in Kennedy’s.

12. My conception of contingency follows Luhmann, supra note 3. For Luhmann, contingency notably excludes the impossible and presumes an already structured context in which actors are embedded (at 47–61). Susan Marks also wishes to “revoke the idea that things can be, and quite frequently are, contingent without being random, accidental, or arbitrary”. See MARKS, Susan, “False Contingency” (2009) 62 Current Legal Problems 1 at 2.

13. WEBER, M., “Objective Possibility and Adequate Causation in Historical Explanation” in Weard A. SHILS and Henry A. FINCH, eds., The Methodology of the Social Sciences (Glencoe: Free Press, 1949), 164 at 185–6 (italics in original).

14. See in particular, FEARON, J., “Counterfactuals and Hypothesis Testing in Political Science” (1991) 43 World Politics 169 .

15. POGGE, T., “The Role of International Law in Reproducing Mass Poverty” in S. BESSON and J. TASIOULAS, eds., The Philosophy of International Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 417 .

16. HOWSE, R. and TEITEL, R., “Global Justice, Poverty, and the International Economic Order” in S. BESSON and J. TASIOULAS, eds., The Philosophy of International Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 437 at 438–9.

17. WEBER, H., “The ‘But For’ Test and Other Devices—The Role of Hypothetical Events in the Law” (2009) 34 Historical Social Research 118 .

18. Chorzów Factory (Germany v. Poland), Merits, [1928] P.C.I.J. Series A., No. 17 at 47.

19. PLAKOKEFALOS, I., “Causation in the Law of State Responsibility and the Problem of Overdetermination: In Search of Clarity” (2015) 26 European Journal of International Law 471 .

20. See e.g. Maffezini v. Spain, Decision on Jurisdiction, 25 Jan. 2000, [2000] ICSID Case No. ARB/97/7 at para. 53.

21. “Le nez de Cléopatre: s’il eût été plus court, toute la face de la terre aurait changé.” See D. CLARKE, “Blaise Pascal” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (18 March 2014), online: The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy <>.

22. HUGO, V., Les Misérables, trans. Dorman DENNY (London: Penguin, 1988 [1862]) at 279–324.

23. While there is not an established distinction between counterfactual, alternative, or virtual history, I see them on a scale on which histories take increasing distance from what actually happened.

25. EVANS, R., Altered Pasts: Counterfactuals in History (New York: Little, Brown, 2014) at 12.

26. RENOUVIER, C., Uchronie (l’utopie dans l’histoire) (Paris: Félix Alcan, 1904 [1857]) as quoted and translated in Evans, supra note 25.

27. Online: <>.

28. ROSENFELD, G.D., The World Hitler Never Made: Alternate History and the Memory of Nazism (2011) 518 , cited in Evans, supra note 25 at 96.

29. CARR, E.H., What Is History? (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1987) at 97. See also TALYOR, A.J.P., The Struggle for Mastery in Europe 1848–1918 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1954) at 513 (“a historian should never deal in speculations about what did not happen”).

30. See e.g. DEMANDT, Alexander, Ungeschehene Geschichte (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1986); MEGILL, Allan, “The New Counterfactualists” (2004) 5 Historically Speaking 17 ; WENZLHUEMER, Roland, “Unpredictability, Contingency and Counterfactuals” (2009) 34 Historical Social Research 9 .

31. COWLEY, R., ed., More What If? Eminent Historians Imagine What Might Have Been (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2003); BENZONI, E., La storia con i se (Venice: Marsilio, 2013).

32. HUIZINGA, J., “The Idea of History” in F. STERN. ed., The Varieties of History (New York: Vintage, 1973), 292 .

33. BOUCHERON, Patrick, “Was Geschichte vermag” (2016) 804 Merkur 5 at 24 (“Die Geschichte vermag es, den nie verwirklichten Zukünften, den nie erreichten Potenzialen zu ihrem Recht zu verhelfen.”) (my translation in text).

34. In support of this proposition, WEINRYB, Elazar, “Historiographic Counterfactuals” in Aviezer TUCKER, ed., A Companion to the Philosophy of History and Historiography (Chicheser: Blackwell, 2009), 109 at 109–19.

35. TUCKER, A., Our Knowledge of the Past (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004) at 226; Fearon, supra note 14 at 173.

36. Fearon, supra note 14; Weber, supra note 13.

37. LEBOW, R.N., Forbidden Fruit (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010). See also TETLOCK, P.H. and BELKIN, A., “Counterfactual Thought Experiments in World Politics: Logical, Methodological, and Psychological Perspectives” in P. H. TETLOCK and A. BELKIN, eds., Counterfactual Thought Experiments (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996), 16 .

38. See infra notes 80–83 and accompanying text.

39. KNOP, Compare Karen, “Form and Imagination in the Work of Ronald St. John Macdonald” (2002) 40 Canadian Yearbook of International Law 287 at 287–307 (drawing on Thomas Moore’s concept of utopia as a combination of both “good place” (eu topos) as well as “no place” (ou topos), with reference to MOORE, Thomas, Utopia: Latin Text and English Translation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995)).

40. GILMAN, Charlotte Perkins, “If I Were a Man” (1914), in Yellow Wall-paper and Other Stories (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 262 .

41. B. CHRIST, , “‘If I Were a Man’: Functions of Counterfactuals in Feminist Writing” in D. BIRKE, M. BUTTER, and T. KÈOPPE, eds., Counterfactual Thinking—Counterfactual Writing (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2011), 190 .

42. KNOP, Karen, “The Tokyo Women’s Tribunal and the Turn to Fiction” in Fleur JOHNS, Richard JOYCE, and Sundhya PAHUJA, eds., Events: The Force of International Law (Abingdon: Routledge, 2011), 145 .

43. Ibid., at 160.

44. Ibid., at 158.

45. GREENMAN, K., “Re-Reading Vitoria: Re-Conceptualising the Responsibility of Rebel Movements” (2014) 83 Nordic Journal of International Law 357 ; ORFORD, A., Reading Humanitarian Intervention: Human Rights and the Use of Force in International Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), especially at 38.

46. On facts and their interpretation in the context of (legal) historiography, see STOLLEIS, M., Rechtsgeschichte schreiben: Rekonstruktion, Erzählung, Fiktion? (Basel: Schwabe, 2008); SKINNER, Q., “The Practice of History and the Cult of the Fact” in Visions of Politics, vol. I, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 8 .

47. See also PAHUJA, S., Decolonizing International Law: Development, Economic Growth and the Politics of Universality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011) at 43 (demanding “an appreciation of the contingency of law’s founding categories [and of] the structures that hold those contingencies in place”).

48. Unger, supra note 11; also see Kennedy, supra note 11.

49. Evans, supra note 25 at 82.

50. See Lebow, supra note 37 at 69–102.

51. In spite of his scepticism of counterfactual history, Evans engages at length with such arguments and testifies to the possibility of such debates, see Evans, supra note 25 at 173–4.

52. FERGUSON, N., “Virtual History: Towards a ‘Chaotic’ Theory of the Past” in N. FERGUSON, ed., Virtual History: Alternatives and Counterfactuals (New York: Basic Books, 1999), 1 at 89.

53. HEGEL, G.W.F., “Second Draft: Philosophical History of the World” in Lectures on the Philosophy of World History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), at 26–30, as quoted in Ferguson, supra note 52 at 29.

54. Ibid.

55. On the thinking on contingency in historiography, including the political dimensions of doing so, see BEN-MENAHEM, Yemima, “Historical Necessity and Contingency” in Aviezer TUCKER, ed., A Companion to the Philosophy of History and Historiography (Chichester: Blackwell, 2009), 120 .

56. WEHLER, H.U., Deutsche Gesellschaftsgeschichte, vol. 2 (Munich: C.H. Beck, 1987) 660 . Also see NIJHUIS, Ton, “Geschiedenis, toeval en contingentie” in S. HAAKMA and E. LEMMENS, eds., Toeval (Utrecht: Studium Generale, 2003), 49 at 59.

57. NIPPERDEY, Thomas, “Kann Geschichte objektiv sein?” in Nachdenken über die deutsche Geschichte (Munich: C.H. Beck, 1986), 232 .

58. MARX, K., The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1934) at 10; also quoted in support of her balanced account in Marks, supra note 12 at 1.

59. For a lasting critique of this position, see POPPER, Karl R., The Poverty of Historicism (Boston, MA: Beacon, 1958). This is the point of Fischhoff’s “creeping determinism—in contrast with philosophical determinism, which is the conscious belief that whatever happens has to happen”; Fischhoff, supra note 8 at 288.

60. UNGER, R.M., What Should Legal Analysis Become? (New York: Verso, 1996) at 36.

61. Ibid.

62. ORFORD, A., “The Past as Law or History? The Relevance of Imperialism for Modern International Law” in E. JOUANNET, H. RUIZ-FABRI, and M. TOUFAYAN, eds., Tiers Monde: Bilan et Perspectives (Paris: Société de Législation Comparée, 2013), 97 ; LESAFFER, R., “International Law and its History: The Story of an Unrequited Love” in M.C.R. CRAVEN, M. FITZMAURICE, and M. VOGIATZI, eds., Time, History and International Law (Leiden: M. Nijhoff, 2007), 27 at 34. Perhaps that is just the lawyer’s perspective, FASSBENDER, Bardo and PETERS, Anne, “Introduction: Towards A Global History Of International Law” in Oxford Handbook of the History of International Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 1 at 15. Also see DUNOFF, J.L., WIENER, A., KUMM, M., LANG, A.F., and TULLY, J., “Hard Times: Progress Narratives, Historical Contingency and the Fate of Global Constitutionalism” (2015) 4 Global Constitutionalism 1 at 13.

63. For a general overview, see ROESE, N.J. and VOHS, K.D., “Hindsight Bias” (2012) 7 Perspectives on Psychological Science 411 ; for an overview of how the phenomenon relates to legal practice, see Teichman, supra note 8.

64. FLOROVSKY, Georges, “The Study of the Past” in Ronald H. NASH, ed., Ideas of History, vol. 2 (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1969), 351 at 369; quoted in Fischhoff, supra note 8 at 288.

65. Fischhoff, supra note 8 at 288.

66. Ibid.

67. Ibid.

68. Teichman, supra note 8 at 354. Also see the accessible account of the phenomenon and its reasons in KAHNEMAN, Daniel, Thinking Fast and Slow (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2011) at 202–4.

69. Fischhoff, supra note 8; SYNODINOS, Nicolaos E., “Hindsight Distortion: ‘I Knew-It-All Along and I Was Sure About It’” (1986) 16 Journal of Applied Social Psychology 107 .

70. Jurisdictional Immunities of the State (Germany v. Italy: Greece intervening), Judgment of 3 February 2012, [2012] I.C.J. Rep. 99. The relationship between assessments of probability and normative assessments would be a further fascinating field of study—to what extend do we deem developments more likely because we agree with them or less likely because we don’t want them to happen or to have happened?

71. See SANNA, Lawrence J. and SCHWARZ, Norbert, “Metacognitive Experiences and Human Judgment: The Case of Hindsight Bias and Its Debiasing” (2006) 15 Current Directions in Psychological Science 172 ; Roese and Vohs, supra note 64 at 417–18; Teichman, supra note 8 at 364–6.

72. This argument is made with great insight by Fearon, supra note 13.

73. Lebow, supra note 37 at 33.

74. See Hannah ARENDT, interviewed by Roger Errera in October 1973, excerpts published in The New York Review of Books, 26 October 1973, at 18, noting that “[p]eople find such theories in order to get rid of contingency and unexpectedness”. On the questionable dimensions of the longing for certainty in the social sciences, see HORKHEIMER, Max, “Traditional and Critical Theory” in Critical Theory: Selected Essays (New York: Continuum, 2002), 188 , originally published as “Philosophie und kritische Theorie” (1937) 6 Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung 627.

75. Weber, supra note 13 at 185–6.

76. Ibid., at 173–7. It is certainly a crucial question how we arrive at “empirical rules” and what distinguishes them from (grand) theories. On that matter, see the sharp paper by Fearon, supra note 14.

77. SCHROEDER, Paul W., “Embedded Counterfactuals and WWI as an Unavoidable War” in D. WETZEL, R. JERVIS, and J. LEVY, eds., Systems, Stability, and Statecraft (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), at 186. On the weighing of factors leading to the end of the Cold War, see R. Ned LEBOW and George W. BRESLAUER, “Leadership and the End of the Cold War: Did it Have to End this Way?” in Lebow supra note 37 at 103. Also see TETLOCK, P. and PARKER, G., “Counterfactual Thought Experiments” in P. TETLOCK, R. LEBOW, and G. PARKER, eds., Unmaking the West (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2006), 14 .

78. JERVIS, R., “Do Leaders Matter and How Would We Know?” (2013) 22 Security Studies 153 . I am deliberately leaving aside the study of conditional counterfactuals, including their treatment in David Lewis’ theory of causation. See LEWIS, David, counterfactuals (Malden: Blackwell, 1973); for a pointed introduction and critique, see TUCKER, Aviezer, “Causation in Historiography” in Aviezer TUCKER, A Companion to the Philosophy of History and Historiography (Chichester: Blackwell, 2009), 98 ; REISS, Julian, “Counterfactuals” in Harold KINCAID, ed., Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Social Science (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 154 .

79. Weber, supra note 13 at 164, 175.

80. Seminally, COLLIER, Berins Ruth and COLLIER, David, Shaping the Political Arena: Critical Junctures, the Labor Movement, and Regime Dynamics in Latin America (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991). Also see CAPOCCIA, G. and KELEMEN, R.D., “The Study of Critical Junctures: Theory, Narrative, and Counterfactuals in Historical Institutionalism” (2007) 59 World Politics 341 at 348; MAHONEY, James, The Legacies of Liberalism (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Press, 2002), especially at 7. For a conceptualization of such moments of ruptures in international law as events, see JOHNS, Fleur, JOYCE, Richard, and PAHUJA, Sundhya, “Introduction” in Fleur JOHNS, Richard JOYCE, and Sundhya PAHUJA, eds., Events: The Force of International Law (Abingdon: Routledge, 2011), 1 .

81. BOURDIEU, P. and WACQUANT, L.J.D., An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1992) at 9, 127128 ; VENZKE, I., How Interpretation Makes International Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012) at 14, 4546 .

82. This point has already been made strongly by ALLOTT, P., “International Law and the Idea of History” (1999) 1 Journal of the History of International Law 1 .

83. The difficulty is, in other words, to avoid the pitfalls that come with explanations of law and legal developments in the image of the natural sciences or, as Pierre Bourdieu put it, that come with ideas of “social physics”; see Bourdieu and Wacquant, supra note 81 at 7–8.

84. Military and Paramilitary Activities in and Against Nicaragua (Nicaragua v. United States of America), Merits, Judgment of 27 June 1986, [1986] I.C.J. Rep. 15.

85. The statement that “man’s autonomy turned into a tyranny of possibilities” is commonly attributed to Hannah Arendt, though no source is ever offered, nor could I trace any. See e.g. U. BECK and E. BECK-GERNSHEIM, “Individualisierung in modernen Gesellschaften Perspektiven und Konrroversen einer subjektorientierten Soziologie” in BECK, U. and BECK-GERNSHEIM, E., eds., Riskante Freiheiten (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1994), 10 at 18; BAUMAN, Z., Postmodernity and its Discontents (New York: New York University Press, 1997) at 73.

86. GROSS, P., Die Multioptionsgesellschaft (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1994).

87. Ibid., at 27–30.

88. This is something that Roberto Unger is also after with his call for “institutional imagination”, or David Kennedy with his invitation to think the world afresh. See Unger, supra note 60 and David Kennedy, A World of Struggle: How Power, Law and Expertise Shape Global Political Economy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016).

89. “Die Unwörter ab 2010” Unwort des Jahres (2010), online: Unwort des Jahres <>; “Unwort des Jahres ist ‘alternativlos’” Zeit Online (18 January 2011), online: Zeit Online <>.

90. CARSON, R., Silent Spring (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1962).

91. Lebow, supra note 37 at 42, slightly adapting a similar counterfactual in Tetlock and Belkin, supra note 37 at 14.

92. KOSKENNIEMI, M., The Gentle Civilizer of Nations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001) at 492; see further VON BERNSTORFF, J. and VENZKE, I., “Ethos, Ethics and Morality in International Relations” in R. WOLFRUM, ed., Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).

93. Koskenniemi, supra note 92 at 500–3.

94. MUSIL, Robert, The Man Without Qualities, vol. I, trans. Sophie WILKINS and Burton PIKE (New York: Vintage, 1995) at 11.

95. Ibid. (“Well, it could probably just as well be otherwise. So the sense of possibility could be defined outright as the ability to conceive of everything there might be just as well, and to attach no more importance to what is than to what is not.”). Also see MENKE, Christoph, “Die Möglichkeit eines anderen Rechts” (2014) 62 Deutsche Zeitschrift fur Philosophie 136 .

96. Tetlock and Belkin, supra note 37 (distinguishing between plausible and miracle counterfactuals); WEBER, Steven, “Counterfactuals, Past and Future” in P.E. TETLOCK and A. BELKIN, eds., Counterfactual Thought Experiments in World Politics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996), 268 (adding “folk counterfactuals” as a third category).

97. ELSTER, J., Logic and Society: Contradictions and Possible Worlds (New York: Wiley, 1978); HAWTHORN, G., Plausible Worlds: Possibility and Understanding in History and the Social Sciences (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991) 3160 .

98. 1945 Charter of the United Nations, 26 June 1945, 1 U.N.T.S. 993 (entered into force 24 October 1945) [UN Charter].

99. An Agenda for Peace, United Nations Security Council, A/47/277.

100. FURET, M.F., “Article 43” in J.P. COT, A. PELLET, and M. FORTEAU, eds., La Charte des Nations Unies (Paris: Economica, 2005), 1261 ; RUSSELL, R.B., United Nations Experience with Military Forces (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 1964) at 12–18.

101. Ferguson raises this demand in his “Introduction”, though not every contribution that follows in the volume meets it. Ferguson, supra note 52 at 86.

102. Lebow, supra note 37 at 48–9; Evans, supra note 25 at 131, 151–3.

103. Lebow, supra note 37 at 48, 54.

104. Ibid.

105. Weber, supra note 13.

106. Tetlock and Belkin, supra note 37 at 19–23.

107. Elster, supra note 97 at 85.

108. South West Africa, supra note 1.

109. For a sobering critique of how theory projects assumptions onto the past and its alternatives, see TETLOCK, P.E., “Theory-Driven Reasoning About Plausible Pasts and Probable Futures in World Politics: Are We Prisoners of Our Preconceptions?” (1999) 43 American Journal of Political Science 335 .

110. Wenzlhuemer, supra note 30.

111. See, on the distinction between fact and fiction, Stolleis, supra note 46; Skinner, supra note 46.

112. Megill, supra note 30.

113. Havana Charter for an International Trade Organization, UN Doc E/CONF.2/78.

114. The possible outcome at each juncture is either the effect as I suggest, or a different one. There are thus two options of which I propose a fifty percent probability. To find the overall probability of five consecutive events, the probability of each must be multiplied: (0.5)5=0.03125. See also Lebow, supra note 36 at 50.

115. VAN CAENEGEM, Raoul Charles, European Law in the Past and the Future: Unity and Diversity Over Two Millennia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).

116. VENZKE, Ingo, “Investor-State Dispute Settlement in TTIP from the Perspective of a Public Law Theory of International Adjudication” (2016) 17 Journal of World Investment & Trade 374 .

117. MARTIN, Colin and PARKER, Geoffrey, The Spanish Armada (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999).

118. Ibid. See also PARKER, G., The Grand Strategy of Philip II (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998) at 281–96. On second-order counterfactuals, see Lebow, R.N., “Counterfactual Thought Experiments: A Necessary Teaching Tool” (2007) 40 The History Teacher 153 at 165.

119. This has been a compelling critique of Ferguson’s volume, supra note 52; see Evans, supra note 25 at 61.

120. Lebow, supra note 37 at 48.

121. Comment made at the symposium, “A Court for the World? Trust in the ICJ 50 years after South West Africa”, The Hague, 30 November 2016. On the applicants’ strategies, see D’AMATO, Anthony, “Legal and Political Strategies of the South West Africa Litigation” (1967) 4 Law in Transition Quarterly 8 at 33–5; GROSS, Ernest A., “The South West Africa Case: What Happened?” (1966) 45 Foreign Affairs 36 at 41.

122. This is when the Security Council actually took meaningful action, including economic sanctions—a whole forty years after the onset of apartheid and twenty years after the Court’s South West Africa Judgment. See The Question of South Africa, UN SC Res. 591, 28 November 1986.

123. South West Africa (Ethiopia v. South Africa; Liberia v. South Africa), Second Phase, Judgment of 18 July 1966, Dissenting Opinion of Judge Jessup, [1966] I.C.J. Rep. 6, 325, at paras. 432–3.

124. Lebow, supra note 37 at 54.

125. Ibid., with reference to Hawthorn, supra note 97 at 31–60.

126. FOGEL, R.W., Railroads and American Economic Growth (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Press, 1964).

127. Lebow, supra note 37 at 55.

128. Supra note 114.

129. “Special Message to the Congress Transmitting the Charter for the International Trade Organization” Truman Library (28 April 1949), online: Truman Library <>.

130. This would have been in line with art. 103(2)(1) of the Havana Charter, which provides that “[t]his Charter shall enter into force: (i) on the sixtieth day following the day on which a majority of the governments signing the Final Act of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Employment have deposited instruments of acceptance …”.

131. WILCOX, C., “The Promise of the World Trade Charter” (1949) 27 Foreign Affairs 486 at 496.

132. In 1925 Hull used the term “International Trade Organization”. TOYE, R., “The International Trade Organization” in M. DAUNTON, A. NARLIKAR, and R. STERN, eds., Oxford Handbook on the World Trade Organization (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 85 at 87.

133. Supra note 114.

134. Statement by the Honourable William L. Clayton at final plenary session, on 23 March 1948, NA RG 43 ITF Box 145, quoted in Toye, supra note 132 at 95.

135. “Resolution Establishing an Interim Commission for the International Trade Organization”, UN Conference on Trade and Employment. Those states in fact included the US.

136. To enter into force, ratification of the majority of signatory governments was needed. According to art. 2(a) annex to the Resolution Establishing ICITO, the first Conference of the Organization shall be held at a time between four and six months after the last acceptance needed to bring the Charter into force. On the actual continued role of ICITO, see KUJPER, Pieter Jan, “WTO Institutional Aspects” in Daniel L. BETHLEHEM, Donald MCRAE, Rodney NEUFELD, and Isabelle Van NEUFELD, eds., The Oxford Handbook of International Trade Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 79 at 82–3.

137. Toye, supra note 132 at 96.

138. DIEBOLD, W., “The End of the ITO” in K. ANDERSON and B.M. HOEKMAN, eds., The Global Trading System (New York: I.B. Tauris, 2002), 81 at 84–5.

139. See LANG, Andrew, World Trade Law after Neoliberalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011) at 28.

140. Diebold, supra note 138 at 94.

141. Ibid.

142. BEDJAOUI, Mohammed, Towards a New International Economic Order (Paris: UNESCO, 1979); VON BERNSTORFF, Jochen, “International Law and Global Justice: On Recent Inquiries into the Dark Side of Economic Globalization” (2015) 26 European Journal of International Law 279 at 279–93; STARK, Barbara, ed., International Law and its Discontents: Confronting Crises (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015).

143. On the specific example of shrimp fishing, see, for instance, “Shrimp Sold by Global Supermarkets is Peeled by Slave Labourers in Thailand” The Guardian (14 December 2015), online: The Guardian <>.

144. For such a suggestion, in passing, see GRAZ, J.-C., Aux sources de l’OMC: La Charte de La Havane (Geneva: Libraire Droz, 1999) at xi–xii.

145. GILMAN, Nils, “The New International Economic Order” (2015) Humanity: An International Journal of Human Rights, Humanitarianism, and Development 1 at 3–4.

146. For early commodity agreements in the context of the League of Nations, see K.R. KHAN, , The Law and Organisation of International Commodity Agreements (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1982) at 55–66. For the specific case of sugar, see FAKHRI, Michael, Sugar and the Making of International Trade Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014). For the prominent later experiment with the International Tin Council [ITC], which was established in 1956 and failed with furore in the 1980s, see HARTWIG, Matthias, “The International Tin Council (ITC)” in Rüdiger WOLFRUM, ed., Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011, available at <>).

147. Bedjaoui, supra note 142 at 35.

148. Of course, there were earlier instances in which private parties had standing, such as in claims commissions, especially in Latin America. While such claims commissions are now occasionally seen as a predecessor to investor-state dispute settlement, they were of a quite different nature and did not lead the way. NEWCOMBE, Andrew and PARADELL, Lluís, Law and Practice of Investment Treaties: Standards of Treatment (Alphen aan den Rijn: Kluwer, 2009) at 7–8.

149. See SORNARAJAH, Muthucumaraswamy, “Power and Justice in Foreign Investment Arbitration” (1997) 14 Journal of International Arbitration 104 ; SHALAKANY, Amr, “Arbitration and the Third World: A Plea for Reassessing Bias Under the Specter of Neoliberalism” (2000) 41 Harvard International Law Journal 419 ; PAUWELYN, Joost, “At the Edge of Chaos? Foreign Investment Law as a Complex Adaptive System, How It Emerged and How It Can Be Reformed” (2014) ICSID Review 1 .

150. It was this meagre outcome of which US businesses representatives, who had pushed the issue of investment protection onto the agenda in the first place, were particularly critical. Also see KURTZ, Jürgen, The WTO and International Investment Law: Converging Systems (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016) at 35.

151. WEILER, Joseph H.H., “The Rule of Lawyers and the Ethos of Diplomats: Reflections on the Internal and External Legitimacy of WTO Dispute Settlement” (2001) 35 Journal of World Trade 191 at 191–207; VENZKE, Ingo, “Making General Exceptions: The Spell of Precedents in Developing Art. XX GATT into Standards for Domestic Regulatory Policy” (2011) 12 German Law Journal 1111 .

152. Even if those trajectories nowadays again partially converge, see Kurtz, supra note 150; WAGNER, Markus, “Regulatory Space in International Trade Law and International Investment Law” (2015) 36 University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Law 1 .

153. EC—Seals, Appellate Body Report, 22 May 2014, WTO/DS401/ABR.

154. EC—Seals, ibid. See further HOWSE, Robert and LANGILLE, Joanna, “Permitting Pluralism: The Seal Products Dispute and Why the WTO Should Accept Trade Restrictions Justified by Noninstrumental Moral Values” (2012) 37 Yale Journal of International Law 367 .

155. That is one of the main takeaways from the Appellate Body’s report, even if the EU’s measure was found to be illegal on a relatively minor point. See EC—Seals, supra note 153.

156. Animal welfare concerns are mixed with concerns about food safety here; see Wayne PACELLE, “Europeans Suspend Horsemeat Imports from Mexico—Deal Huge Blow to North American Slaughter Operations” A Humane Nation (8 December 2014), online: A Humane Nation <>.

157. On the rather egregious, though far from unique, Dutch policy here, see Natalie RIGHTON, “Kabinet presenteert lijst met eerlijke kledingmerken” de Volkskrant (4 July 2016). online: de Volkskrant <>. An import prohibition would of course fall under EU competence and would thus need to be taken on the European, not Dutch, level.

158. More than 1,130 people died when the Rana Plaza building collapsed near Dhaka, Bangladesh, on 24 April 2013. For a documentary overview, see L. POULTON, F. PANETTA, J. BURKE, and D. LEVENE, “The Shirt on Your Back: The Human Cost of the Bangladeshi Garment Industry” The Guardian (16 April 2014), online: The Guardian <>.

159. While the (international) legal definitions of slavery may not easily map onto present conditions, it is well established that the practical situations on the ground leave many people in a variety of slave-like situations. See the classic account by BALE, Kevin, Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2012). On the legal debates and their shortcomings, see CULLEN, H., “Contemporary International Legal Norms on Slavery: Problems of Judicial Interpretation and Application” in J. ALLAIN, ed., The Legal Understanding of Slavery (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), at 304–21; McGeehan, N.L., “Misunderstood and Neglected: The Marginalisation of Slavery in International Law” (2012) 16 International Journal of Human Rights 436 .

160. For a critical overview, see TREBILCOCK, Michael, HOWSE, Robert, and ELIASON, Antonia, The Regulation of International Trade (Abingdon: Routledge, 2013) at 716–54.

161. Marks, supra note 12.

162. See ROSENFELD, Gavriel, “Why Do We Ask ‘What If?’ Reflections on the Function of Alternate History” (2002) 41 History and Theory 72 at 72–89, arguing that counterfactual histories are deeply imbued by presentist motives. I submit, however, that such motives are not per se suspect. For a balanced argument on how history may well be read through concerns for the present or future (how it could not be read otherwise, in fact), and on how it should not be understood as a mere precursor to the present, see KOSKENNIEMI, Martti, “Histories of International Law: Significance and Problems for a Critical View” (2013) 27 Temple International and Comparative Law Journal 215 at 230–1.

163. Musil, supra note 94 at 11.

* For their valuable comments on earlier versions of this paper I thank Jochen von Bernstorff, Andreas Hasenclever, and the participants of the colloquium in Tübingen (December 2014); Bas Schotel and the participants of the colloquium at the Paul Scholten Center, Amsterdam (December 2014); Hélène Ruiz-Fabri, the convenors Dino Kritsiotis, Anne Orford, and Joseph H.H. Weiler, and the participants of the Fourth Annual Junior Faculty Forum in Florence, Italy (June 2015); Michael Giudice and the participants of the Nathanson Centre Legal Philosophy Seminar, York University (September 2016); the Journal’s two anonymous reviewers; and my colleagues at the Amsterdam Center for International Law. I am indebted to Fay Valinaki for her research assistance.

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