As traditionally conceived, the creation of a new rule of customary international law requires that states believe the law to already require the conduct specified in the rule. Distinguishing the process whereby a customary rule comes to exist from the process whereby that customary rule becomes law dissolves this chronological paradox. Creation of a customary rule requires only that states come to believe that there exists a normative standard to which they ought to adhere, not that this standard is law. What makes the customary rule law is adherence by officials in the international legal system to a rule of recognition that treats custom as a source of valid law. Confusion over this distinction arises because in the international legal system the same agents whose beliefs give rise to a customary rule are the legal officials whose adherence to the rule of recognition leads them to deem that rule legally valid. The proposed solution to the chronological paradox employs H.L.A. Hart’s analysis of the concepts of law and a legal system, and in particular, the idea of a rule of recognition. Yet Hart famously denies the existence of a rule of recognition for international law. Hart’s denial rests on a failure to distinguish between the ontological and authoritative resolution functions of a rule of recognition, however. Once such a distinction is drawn, it can be argued that customary international law rests on a rule of recognition that serves the ontological function of making customary norms legal, though not the authoritative resolution function of settling disputes over the alleged legality of particular norms.
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