Strengthening International Courts

The Hidden Costs of Legalization
Leslie Johns
An investigation of the ways in which the strength of international courts affects dispute settlement, compliance, and the stability of the international economic and political system 


As all manner of commerce becomes increasingly global, states must establish laws to protect property rights, human rights, and national security. In many cases, states delegate authority to resolve disputes regarding these laws to an independent court, whose power depends upon its ability to enforce its rulings.

Examining detailed case studies of the International Court of Justice and the transition from the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade to the World Trade Organization, Leslie Johns finds that a court’s design has nuanced and mixed effects on international cooperation. A strong court is ideal when laws are precise and the court is nested within a political structure like the European Union. Strong courts encourage litigation but make states more likely to comply with agreements when compliance is easy and withdraw from agreements when it is difficult. A weak court is optimal when law is imprecise and states can easily exit agreements with minimal political or economic repercussions. Johns concludes the book with recommendations for promoting cooperation by creating more precise international laws and increasing both delegation and obligation to international courts.

Strengthening International Courts is important for students not only of international courts but of legalization or international institutions more generally. Leslie Johns points out that legalization can have hidden costs if not carefully designed, and that institutions can increase as well as decrease uncertainty.”
—Robert O. Keohane, Princeton University

“This book makes an impressive contribution to the study of international third party dispute settlements. Johns provides a rigorous and highly sophisticated formal analysis of how the design of international courts affects their ability to regulate state behavior in the international arena. She demonstrates that strengthening courts involves critical trade-offs over the efficacy of court rulings and the efficacy and stability of the system as a whole. These findings provide an important cautionary note on what international courts can and cannot accomplish. This is a must read for anyone interested in international organizations and institutional design.”
—Clifford Carrubba, Emory University

“This book is a great contribution to our understanding of how international courts can and cannot advance cooperation with international norms and obligations. It provides a valuable corrective to the conventional wisdom about the virtues of strong international courts and their critical role in ensuring international cooperation.”
—Matthew Gabel, Washington University in St. Louis

Leslie Johns is Assistant Professor of Political Science at UCLA and a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Praise / Awards

  • "This book provides a substantial contribution for scholars interested in the influence of international courts on the behavior of states and it is an
    important work for the development of our cumulative knowledge associated with institutional design and state behavior."
    --The Review of International Organizations

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Product Details

  • 240 pages.
  • 13 tables, 17 figures.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Ebook
  • 2015
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-12101-4

  • PDF: Adobe Digital Editions e-book (DRM Protected)

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  • International courts; international law; international organization; international institutions; institutional design; rational design; jurisdiction; enforcement; International Court of Justice; World Trade Organization