Coase-Sandor Working Paper Series in Law and Economics

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Law & Economics Working Papers


Human rights law does not appear to enjoy as high a level of compliance as the laws of war, yet is institutionalized to a greater degree. This paper argues that the reason for this difference is related to the strategic structure of international law. The laws of war are governed by a regime of reciprocity, which can produce self-enforcing patterns of behavior, whereas the human rights regime attempts to produce public goods and is thus subject to collective action problems. The more elaborate human rights institutions are designed to overcome these problems but fall prey to second-order collective action problems. The simple laws of war institutions have been successful because they can exploit the logic of reciprocity. The paper also suggests that limits on military reprisals are in tension with self-enforcement of the laws of war. The U.S. conflict with Al Qaeda is discussed.



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