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The blinkered discipline?: Martti Koskenniemi and interdisciplinary approaches to international law

  • David Roth-Isigkeit (a1)

This article is concerned with the debate about interdisciplinary methods in international law, in particular the turn to International Relations. It finds the historical critique of Martti Koskenniemi grounded in a more methodological issue: the turn toward a redefinition of norm properties impedes on the critical discursive quality of law. Shaping this historical critique into a research question that allows for meaningful engagement, the article discusses Koskenniemi’s charges drawing on recent constructivist scholarship. Giving an account of what it means to be ‘obliged’ to obey the law, this article defends the coherence of Koskenniemi’s position and suggests that we should take the critique of the interdisciplinary project between law and International Relations seriously. While it agrees that a significant part of the discourse fails to appreciate the particularities of the law, it suggests that understanding legal obligations requires taking the institutional autonomy of the law into account. Respecting this autonomy, in turn, points to a multi- instead of an interdisciplinary project. The reflexive formalist conception of the law that this article advocates captures the obligating nature of the law, independent of the normative content of particular rules.

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1 The landmarks of the debate are inter alia Ratner and Slaughter, ‘Appraising the Methods of International Law – A Prospectus for Readers’, 93 American Journal of International Law (1999) 291; Goldstein et al., ‘Introduction: Legalization and World Politics’, 54(3) International Organization (2000) 385; M. Byers (ed.), The Role of Law in International Politics: Essays in International Relations and International Law (2000); J. C. Barker, International Law and International Relations (2000); In 2004, the Journal of International Law and International Relations is introduced; Further publications are C. Reus-Smit (ed.), The Politics of International Law (2004); E. Benvenisti and M. Hirsch (eds), The Impact of International Law on International Cooperation (2004); H. H. Koh and O. A. Hathaway, Foundations of International Law and Politics (2004); B. H. Simmons and R. H. Steinberg, International Law and International Relations (2007); T. Biersteker et al. (eds), International Law and International Relations: Bridging Theory and Practice (2007); D. Armstrong et al., International Law and International Relations (2007); J. L. Dunoff and M. A. Pollack (eds), Interdisciplinary Perspectives on International Law and International Relations: The State of the Art (2012). For a good overview of different publications, see R. J. Beck, ‘International Law and International Relations Scholarship’, in D. Armstrong et al. (eds), Routledge Handbook on International Law (2009), 13.

2 Irish et al., ‘Bridging the International Law-International Relations Divide: Taking Stock of Progress’, 41 Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law (2013) 357, have monitored the practice. Interestingly, they find a peak of common scholarship around the year 2000, with negative tendency. See also Schaffer and Ginsburg, ‘The Empirical Turn in International Legal Scholarship’, 106 American Journal of International Law (2012) 1.

3 Dunoff, ‘From Interdisciplinarity to Counterdisciplinarity: Is There Madness in Martti’s Method?’, 27 Temple International & Comparative Law Journal (2013) 309.

4 Pollack, ‘Is International Relations Corrosive of International Law? A Reply to Martti Koskenniemi’, 27 Temple International & Comparative Law Journal (2013) 339, at 348.

5 M. Koskenniemi, The Gentle Civilizer of Nations: The Rise and Fall of International Law, 1870–1960 (2002), at 461.

6 M. Koskenniemi, ‘Carl Schmitt, Hans Morgenthau, and the Image of Law in International Relations’, in M. Byers (ed.), The Role of Law in International Politics: Essays in International Relations and International Law (2000) 17, at 17.

7 See, for example, Morgenthau, ‘Positivism, Functionalism and International Law’, 34 American Journal of International Law (1940) 260.

8 With respect to Morgenthau’s scholarship, see C. Frei, Hans J. Morgenthau: An Intellectual Biography (2001).

9 Koskenniemi, supra note 5, at 465–66.

10 Even though both, Morgenthau and Schmitt, had been thinking about a redefinition, only Schmitt delivered one. Koskenniemi, ‘Law, Teleology and International Relations: An Essay in Counterdisciplinarity’, 26 International Relations (2012) 3, at 10.

11 Koskenniemi, supra note 5, at 474.

12 Ibid., at 480.

13 Ibid., at 482, cites H. J. Morgenthau, ‘Emergent Problems of United States Foreign Policy’, in L. Gross et al. (eds), The Relevance of International Law: Essays in Honor of Leo Gross (1968) 47, at 55–56.

14 A similar discussion that contains interesting insights in the debate culture of the time, opposing formalist approaches to McDougal’s policy-oriented jurisprudence, can be found in Falk, ‘The Adequacy of Contemporary Theories of International Law’, 50 Virginia Law Review (1964) 231. Falk discusses the different legal views on the emplacement of Soviet missiles in Cuba (at 234–35). For Falk, all three approaches of formalism (Kelsen), cynicism (Morgenthau) and policy-oriented jurisprudence (McDougal) remain unsatisfying (at 233). Rather, he argues: ‘For with law, as with the social sciences, progress at this stage of development requires that traditions of undisciplined speculation be gradually supplanted by increasingly rigorous methods of analysis and observation’ (at 265). His view thus seems to point to a rather functional and ethically agnostic approach. I am grateful to an anonymous reviewer for pointing me to Falk’s article.

15 Koskenniemi, supra note 5, at 483.

16 Ibid., at 484.

17 Ibid., at 485.

18 Ibid., at 487.

19 Ibid., at 488.

20 A.-M. Slaughter, A New World Order (2004). Morgenthau suggested an individualized rule of law, a similar paradox.

21 A good example for such scholarship is D. A. Lake, Hierarchy in International Relations (2009).

22 Koskenniemi, supra note 5, at 488–89.

23 S. D. Krasner, International Regimes (1983). See a discussion in Koskenniemi, ‘Miserable Comforters: International Relations as New Natural Law’, 15 European Journal of International Relations (2009) 395, at 408.

24 R. Keohane, ‘The Analysis of International Regimes: Towards a European American Research Programme’, in V. Rittberger and P. Mayer (eds), Regime Theory and International Relations (1993) 23, at 26.

25 Abbott, ‘Modern International Relations Theory: A Prospectus’, 14 Yale Journal of International Law (1989) 335.

26 Abbott and Snidal, ‘Hard Law and Soft Law in International Governance’, 54 International Organization (2000) 421.

27 Koskenniemi, supra note 23, at 409.

28 Koskenniemi, supra note 5, at 489.

29 Ibid., at 501.

30 Ibid., at 504. Similar Jan Klabbers: ‘What lawyers should do, of course, instead of bowing to the demands of a coy and flirtatious realism, is play hard to get. Lawyers, academic lawyers at least, should refuse to give up the “simplifying vigor” that characterizes law, and should be ready to defend its values and its modesty, its purity, if you will, with a wink and a nod to Kelsen’. Klabbers, ‘The Relative Autonomy of International Law or The Forgotten Politics of Interdisciplinarity’, 1 Journal of International Law & International Relations (2005) 35, at 41–42.

31 See Goldstein et al., supra note 1.

32 Finnemore and Toope, ‘Alternatives to Legalization: Richer View of Law and Politics’ 55 International Organization (2001) 743, at 744 and 748.

33 For a summary, see Reisman, ‘The New Haven School: A Brief Introduction’, 32 Yale Journal of International Law (2007) 575, at 576.

34 J. Brunnée and S. Toope, Constructivism and International Law (2012), in Dunoff and Pollack, supra note 1, 119, at 120.

35 Ibid.

36 Koskenniemi, supra note 10, at 16.

37 Brunnée and Toope, supra note 34, at 125.

38 Koskenniemi seems to appreciate the ‘post-modern home’ of constructivist scholarship. The work of Onuf and Kratochwil being intricately connected to the philosophy of language falls in this category. See Koskenniemi, supra note 10, at 16.

39 In the reference works, however, it is mostly individuals whose identities are transformed within the (alienated) context of their normative environments. This critical dimension sometimes seems to get lost in early constructivism in IR.

40 Wiener and Puetter, ‘The Quality of Norms is What Actors Make of It: Critical Constructivist Research on Norms’, 5 Journal of International Law and International Relations (2009) 1.

41 See Onuf, ‘Do Rules Say What They Do? From Ordinary Language to International Law’, 26 Harvard International Law Journal (1985) 385. N. Onuf, World of our Making: Rules and Rule in Social Theory and International Relations (1989). F. Kratochwil, Rules, Norms, and Decisions: On the Conditions of Practical and Legal Reasoning in International Relations and Domestic Affairs (1991).

42 Kratochwil, supra note 41, at 205.

43 Onuf, supra note 41, at 311.

44 Onuf, supra note 41, at 155.

45 See, for example, N. Onuf, ‘The constitution of international society’, in N. Onuf (ed.), International Legal Theory: Essays and Engagements 1966–2006 (2008), 295, at 313.

46 See H. L. A. Hart, The Concept of Law (3rd ed., 2012), at 213–14.

47 For a critical perspective on this approach, see B. Fassbender, UN Security Council Reform and the Right to Veto: A Constitutional Perspective (1998), at 60–61.

48 This resonates with the view that international law has evolved into a legal system even in the light of Hart’s criteria. See Payandeh, ‘The Concept of International Law in the Jurisprudence of H.L.A. Hart’, 21 European Journal of International Law (2010) 967.

49 A recent restatement and discussion of these claims can be found in F. Kratochwil, The Status of Law in World Society: Meditations on the Role and Rule of Law (2014).

50 Kratochwil, supra note 41, at 70.

51 Ibid., at 11.

52 See, for example, Kratochwil’s discussion of Hart and Kelsen, ibid., at 187–93.

53 Ibid., at 192.

54 M. Koskenniemi, From Apology to Utopia: The Structure of International Legal Argument (2nd ed., 2006), at 595.

55 Ibid., at 591.

56 Hart, supra note 46, at 110.

57 See, for example, Brunnée and Toope, supra note 34, at 125. That this criticism does not hold true is elaborated upon in section 10.

58 See also, for a critical reading, Reus-Smit, ‘Obligation Through Practice’, 3 International Theory (2011) 339.

59 Brunnée and Toope, supra note 34, at 119.

60 Ibid., at 127.

61 Ibid., at 127.

62 Ibid., 130–31.

63 In a narrow sense, the interdisciplinary project with International Relations begins here. Whereas Onuf, Kratochwil, and other constructivists had merely drawn on insights of legal theory, Brunnée and Toope try to implement a renovated understanding of legal method.

64 L. Fuller, The Morality of Law (1964), at 39.

65 J. Brunnée and S. Toope, Legitimacy and Legality in International Law: An Interactional Account (2010), at 20–55.

66 For a concise summary of this argument, see ibid., at 96–97.

67 L. Murphy, What Makes Law? (2014), at 158 (with further references).

68 Ibid., at 168.

69 Kratochwil, supra note 41, at 196.

70 See Hurd, ‘Enchanted and Disenchanted International Law’, 7 Global Policy (2016) 96.

71 Ibid., at 96.

72 Ibid., at 98.

73 Hurd relies on (and misconceives of) the argument by S. Besson, ‘The Legitimate Authority of International Human Rights’, in A. Føllesdal et al. (eds), The Legitimacy of International Human Rights Regimes: Legal, Political and Philosophical Perspectives (2014) 32. See ibid., at 97.

74 See, for example, L. Murphy, ‘The Political Question of the Concept of Law’, in J. Coleman (ed.), Hart’s Postscript: Essays on the Postscript of ‘The Concept of Law’ (2001), 372, at 387–88.

75 See, for an excellent summary, Armstrong et al., supra note 1, at 106–7.

76 The policy-oriented approach of the New Haven School is probably the most prominent example. A more recent approach, for example, is S. Ratner, The Thin Justice of International Law (2015).

77 See Dworkin, ‘A New Philosophy for International Law’, 41 Philosophy & Public Affairs (2013) 2.

78 Reus-Smit, The Politics of International Law, in C. Reus-Smit, supra note 1, 14, at 37–38.

79 Reus-Smit, ‘Politics and International Legal Obligation’, 9 European Journal of International Relations (2003) 591, at 596 et seq.

80 Reus-Smit, supra note 78, at 25.

81 Reus-Smit, supra note 79, at 620.

82 Reus-Smit, ‘Introduction’, in Reus-Smit, supra note 1, 1, at 2.

83 See, for example, the indications formulated in Irish et al., supra note 2, at 380–81.

84 M. Weber, Economy and Society, vol. 1 (1978), at 311.

85 J. Habermas, Between Facts and Norms (1996), at 66.

86 Hart, supra note 46, at 89.

87 Ibid., at 56.

88 For further discussion and explanations see Shapiro, ‘What is the Internal Point of View?’, 75 Fordham Law Review (2006) 1157.

89 Hart, supra note 46, at 89–90.

90 Ibid., at 98 and 137–38.

91 Ibid., at 57.

92 See, for the ambiguities of this language, Roth-Isigkeit, ‘The Grammar(s) of Global Law’, 99 Critical Quarterly for Legislation and Law (2016) 175.

93 I. Johnstone, The Power of Deliberation: International Law, Politics, and Organizations (2011). Schachter, ‘The Invisible College of International Lawyers’, 72 Northwestern University Law Review (1977–1978) 217.

94 Fischer-Lescano and Liste, ‘Völkerrechtspolitik’, 12 Zeitschrift für Internationale Beziehungen (2005) 209, at 222.

95 Koskenniemi, ‘The Epochs of International Law’, 51 International and Comparative Law Quarterly (2002) 746.

96 C. Schmitt, ‘Völkerrechtliche Formen des modernen Imperialismus’, in C. Schmitt (ed.), Positionen und Begriffe im Kampf mit Weimar (2nd ed., 1988) 162. See also Fischer-Lescano and Liste, supra note 94, at 230.

97 This resonates with the classic account by Allott, ‘Language, Method and the Nature of International Law’, 45 British Yearbook of International Law (1971) 79, at 124–26.

98 Dunoff, supra note 3, at 331.

99 Dunoff, supra note 3, at 310.

100 Elsewhere, I have advocated this modesty in the theory of global law. See D. Roth-Isigkeit, The Plurality Trilemma – A Geometry of Global Legal Thought (forthcoming, 2018).

101 For this view, see Ratner and Slaughter, supra note 1. See also Koskenniemi, ‘Symposium on Method in International Law: Letter to the Editors of the Symposium’, 93 American Journal of International Law (1999) 351.

102 Hart, supra note 46, at 257.

103 See Knop et al., ‘From Multiculturalism to Technique – Feminism, Culture and the Conflicts Of Law Style’, 64 Stanford Law Review (2012) 589, at 642f.

104 Ibid., at 647.

105 I am grateful to one anonymous reviewer for pressing me on this.

106 N. Onuf, ‘Practicing theory’, in Onuf, supra note 45, 429, at 438.

107 Kratochwil, supra note 49, at 26–49.

108 Ibid., at 28.

109 See, for a positive example, the perspectives in K. Alter, The New Terrain of International Law: Courts, Politics, Rights (2014), at 4, who recognizes the linguistic autonomy of the law and Reus-Smit, supra note 78. An introductory text mediating between the different theoretical positions contained in this article is B. Cali (ed.), International Law for International Relations (2009).

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