The Hole in the Whole: Sovereignty, Shared Sovereignty, and International Law

Ideally, a body of law comprises a set of coherent and consistent rules. These rules contribute to the creation of an environment that is predictable, efficacious, and just. Most international lawyers hope, expect, or believe that such a body of a law can exist for international system. This is a fool's errand.

Clear bodies of international law may develop in specific issue areas, but only if they create self-enforcing equilibria; that is, if the relevant parties, those with the ability to violate the rule, believe that they would be worse off if they did. Even when self-enforcing equilibria do exist, they last only so long as the interests and capabilities of actors, which may always change, generate a structure of payoffs that induces continued rule adherence. Many issues, including core questions related to sovereignty, will never be able to generate self-enforcing equilibria in the first place.