Obligation and the Political Authority of International Law

Author/s (editor/s):

Christian Reus-Smit

Publication year:


Publication type:

Working paper

Find this publication at:
IR Working Paper 2002/2 (PDF, 4.02MB)

Christian Reus-Smit, ‘Obligation and the Political Authority of International Law’, IR Working Paper 2002/02, Canberra: Department of International Relations, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, The Australian National University, June 2002.

Why do states feel obliged to obey the rules of international law? Existing accounts of international legal obligation suffer from the problem of ‘interiority’, in that they first ground obligation in some internal feature of the international legal system—such as sanction, consent, or discourse—but when these turn out to be insufficient they fall back on arguments about the legitimacy of the system as a whole, for which they cannot account. The roots of this problem lie in the underlying conceptions of politics that inform these accounts, and to overcome this problem I advance an alternative, ‘interstitial’ understanding of politics which integrates ‘idiographic’, ‘purposive’, ‘moral’, and ‘instrumental’ forms of reason and action. This in turn allows the development of an ‘holistic’ conception of institutional rationality and an ‘anterior’ theory of international legal obligation.

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