Gary Born


This Article challenges the conventional view of contemporary international adjudication. It identifies a new generation of international tribunals, which has been largely ignored by commentators, and argues that these tribunals offer a highly successful, alternative model to traditional public-international-law adjudicatory bodies. The proliferation of international tribunals is widely regarded as one of the most significant developments in international law over the past century. The subject has given rise to an extensive and robust body of academic commentary. Although commentators reach widely divergent conclusions about many aspects of international law and adjudication, they all agree that international tribunals differ fundamentally from national courts. In particular, according to the commentary, international tribunals such as the International Court of Justice lack the power to render enforceable decisions or to exercise compulsory jurisdiction. This Article argues that commentators have proceeded from a flawed and incomplete understanding of contemporary international adjudication. Virtually all commentary on the subject ignores the development of a second generation of international tribunals, best represented by international commercial and investment tribunals, World Trade Organization panels, and claims-settlement mechanisms. Contrary to the conventional wisdom about international adjudication, this new generation of international tribunals has the power to exercise what is effectively compulsory jurisdiction and to render enforceable decisions that can often be coercively executed against states and their commercial assets. These second-generation tribunals have been the most frequently used and, in many respects, the most successful form of international adjudication in recent decades. The caseloads of these tribunals have grown rapidly over the past forty years and now substantially exceed those of traditional public-international-law tribunals. Moreover, an analysis of state treatymaking practice over recent decades shows that states have virtually never concluded treaties accepting the jurisdiction of traditional first-generation tribunals—concluding less than one treaty per year—whereas they have frequently accepted the jurisdiction of second-generation tribunals capable of rendering enforceable decisions—accepting some fifty treaties per year. More fundamentally, second-generation tribunals have played an essential role in facilitating international trade, finance, and investment; have contributed to the development of important fields of international law; and have provided leading contemporary examples of international law working in practice. Although largely ignored by the commentary, the success and frequent use of second-generation tribunals have important implications for conventional analysis of international adjudication. The success of these tribunals flatly contradicts the claims, advanced by a number of academic commentators, that international adjudication is unimportant in contemporary international affairs and that states do not use international tribunals—particularly tribunals that would be effective. In reality, second-generation tribunals have been frequently and successfully used in vitally important fields, in part because they issue effective and enforceable decisions. At the same time, the success of second-generation tribunals also contradicts prescriptions, offered by a number of commentators, that future international tribunals be modeled on “independent” first-generation tribunals or, alternatively, on entirely “dependent” adjudicative mechanisms. Successful second-generation tribunals exhibit a blend of structural characteristics that defy blanket prescriptions for either “independence” or “dependence” and that counsel for more tailored, nuanced institutional designs.

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