Lecture: From Drivers to Bystanders

Last Friday I gave a virtual lecture at the Lauterpacht Centre for International Law in Cambridge in which I presented a draft paper, co-authored with Ezgi Yildiz, on “From Drivers to Bystanders: The Varying Roles of States in International Legal Change”. A fruit of our PATHS project, the paper tries to understand the dynamics of international law better by focusing on different forms of influence states exercise over processes and outcomes of change. This leads us to a more nuanced – and less statist – account as well as a rough heuristic of such roles which we hope will help to structure the further explorations of change processes. A longer abstract is below; the full lecture is recorded and freely available here. Comments welcome!

Abstract: International law is in constant movement, and any proper account of the international legal order needs to place this movement at the centre. “The course of international law needs to be understood if international law is to be understood,” says James Crawford in the opening of his general course at the Hague Academy in 2013. Yet rarely do we find focused and systematic attention to this ‘course of international law,’ to the ways in which international legal rules change, get reaffirmed or disappear. In this paper, we take a step towards a broader account of these dynamics, and we interrogate in particular the varying roles states play in them – largely from an empirical, not a doctrinal starting point. We pay particular attention to contexts in which states take secondary roles in change processes – roles of bystanders, catalysts, or spoilers – and we outline two core factors which, we believe, can help us understand much of the variation we observe. With this, we hope to dispel some of the shadows cast by doctrinal representations and make progress on the way to on the way to developing a richer, more empirically-oriented and more ‘social’ account of the paths of international law.

The PATHS project is made possible through funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 740634).