Chicago Journal of International Law


This paper asks two questions. First, is it the case, as some have claimed, that principles of democratic sovereignty are eroding at the expense of international law principles? I argue that international law is increasingly utilized to circumvent sovereignty, even if such sovereignty is democratic in origin. However, it should be recognized that the actors most responsible for this trend are not NGOs, epistemic communities of international lawyers, or the United Nations, but the great powers of the world, namely the United States and the members of the European Union. The United States in particular has been adept at fashioning and marketing standards of international law that serve its interests, through a growing number of international governmental organizations. US sacrifices of democratic sovereignty pale in comparison to the compromises other countries have had to make. Furthermore, the United States and European Union employ diplomatic, economic, and other forms of coercion to codify their preferences in international law. The second question addresses the normative ramifications of this trend. In the long run, what are the implications of this use of international law for democratic governance and international relations more generally? Here the record is mixed. The recent wave of international law has and will generate some beneficial results. In the short run, however, this approach will prove problematic for democratic sovereignty; in the long run, the coercive origins of these laws have created a legal foundation of questionable durability.

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