The Continent of International Law

Barbara Koremenos presents an important book that opens up new frontiers in the study of international cooperation and the design of international institutions. It is characterized by theoretical and empirical richness as well as analytical rigor. All students of international cooperation will have to engage with its insights and implications. Building on the theoretical framework of the seminal legalization and rational design projects (Goldstein et al. 2000; Koremenos et al. 2001), the central idea of The Continent of International Law is that the formal design details of international agreements matter for international cooperation and that states meticulously craft the specificities of international agreements to bring them in line with the problems they seek to govern. States’ strategic design choices are driven by the cooperation problems that they face when attempting to cooperate at the international level as well as by the characteristics of the states interested in cooperating. This idea expands and revises the rational design framework and provides the basis for a broad range of empirical tests of hypotheses that have so far remained largely untested.

Contemporary global governance is characterized by an increasing level of institutionalized cooperation (Lake 2010; Abbott et al. 2016). Whether it takes the form of formal intergovernmental organizations (Pevehouse et al. 2004), international agreements (Baccini et al. 2015), informal intergovernmental organizations (Vabulas and Snidal 2013), or transnational public-private governance initiatives (Westerwinter 2017), studies agree that over the past decades, and particularly since the end of the Cold War, cooperation among nations has been on the rise in virtually all issue areas. Research on international cooperation has made substantial progress by taking seriously the formal details of international institutions, such as international organizations and treaties (Goldstein et al. 2000; Koremenos et al. 2001; Hawkins et al. 2006; Tallberg et al. 2014; Hooghe and Marks 2015). Drawing on rational institutionalism and game theoretic thinking as a broader theoretical framework, these works generated theoretical explanations of the presence and absence of important institutional design elements, such as obligation, flexibility, and precision (Goldstein et al. 2000). However, oftentimes the empirical tests of these arguments were limited to single or small-n case studies, which make the systematic empirical evaluation of hypotheses challenging and limit the generalizability of results.

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