International Law as a Unitary System

Authored by: Anthony D’Amato

Routledge Handbook of International Law

Print publication date:  December  2008
Online publication date:  January  2009

Print ISBN: 9780415418768
eBook ISBN: 9780203884621
Adobe ISBN: 9781134113095


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The thesis of this chapter is that rethinking international law as a unitary system will yield important insights into the still controversial questions of how international law works and what role it plays in international relations. It begins by clarifying some of the key terms used in international law, especially the distinction between consensual and nonconsensual law. It then argues the case for using a systems analysis perspective in order to build in the international legal system (ILS) as an actual player in the international relations game. The presence of the ILS transforms what was previously analyzable as a two-person zero-sum game (between A and B) into a three-person non-zero-sum game (A, B, and the ILS). Under game theory, two-person zero-sum games can reach a maximin result solely through conflict (acts of war). By taking active part in the game, the ILS necessitates some resort to cooperation in order to bring the game to the equilibrium point. ILS is a purposive self-regulating system hardwired in favor of cooperation.

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