Trade, foreign policy, diplomacy and health

7. International Law

David P Fidler

2. State-centric, consent-based nature of international law

  • International law is state-centric
  • Guarding of sovereignty causes problems for international law and co-operation
  • 'Sovereignty problem' creates a general dynamic in international law that undermines production of GPGH - the ‘inverse triangle effect’

While non-state actors play important roles, international law remains largely state-centric - the dominant actors are states and the bulk of the duties generated by international legal activity target states. This reality means that the jealous guarding of sovereignty by states, which has long complicated and weakened international law, continues to cause problems for international cooperation. In the context of GPGH, the need to rely almost exclusively on the treaty as a source of international legal rules heightens the role sovereignty plays because treaty rules only bind when a state consents to be bound.

The 'sovereignty problem' creates a general dynamic in international law on GPGH - the 'inverse triangle effect' - that undermines the production of such goods. The dynamic works like this: the more superficial the international legal obligations, the greater the number of states joining the international legal regime. As the international legal obligations in the regime become more onerous, participation by states decreases. The diagram (next slide) illustrates the inverse triangle effect using the four levels of international law discussed previously.