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The Political Economy of International Law

The Political Economy of International Law

A European Perspective

Edited by Alberta Fabbricotti

Set in the context of growing interdisciplinarity in legal research, The Political Economy of International Law: A European Perspective provides a much-needed systematic and coherent review of the interactions between Political Economy and International Law. The book reflects the need felt by international lawyers to open their traditional frontiers to insights from other disciplines - and political economy in particular. The methodological approach of the book is to take the traditional list of topics for a general treatise of international law, and to systematically incorporate insights from political economy to each.

Chapter 4: The Political Economy of Jus Cogens

Paul B. Stephan

Subjects: economics and finance, political economy, law - academic, european law, public international law, politics and public policy, european politics and policy, international relations, political economy


This Chapter uses the history and function of the jus cogens concept in international law to demonstrate that its meaning and implication have varied in respond to particular sets of interests of significant international actors. The history reveals three incarnations of the concept: A claim about limits on the ability of sovereign States to enter into treaties that negate the essence of State sovereignty; a claim about limits on the formation of international law based on the fundamental interests of the States engaged in Cold War competition; and a claim about the existence of strong protection of human interests that exists independent of State consent. The principal argument of the Chapter is that the present, human-rights oriented conception of jus cogens is itself contingent and a reflection of the interests of persons who participate in the international legal system, especially non-State actors. The Chapter speculates about changes in the configuration of State interests that might produce new adaptions of the jus cogens concept, including doctrines and applications that would be fundamentally at odds with the current conception.

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