The New Terrain of International Law: Courts, Politics, Rights.

Author:Dutton, Yvonne
Position:Book review

The New Terrain of International Law: Courts, Politics, Rights. By Karen J. Alter. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014.

In her new book, Karen J. Alter challenges the premise that international courts (ICs) are merely "cipher[s] of state interests" (p. 19) and cannot positively influence domestic and international politics. Although ICs are not backed by a central enforcer (pp. xviii, 3), Alter argues that they now have "new-style" design features (pp. 6-8) that permit them to have a greater impact (p. 5). Specifically, new-style ICs have compulsory jurisdiction (pp. 5, 68), meaning that cases will proceed despite the reluctance of the defendant state and that ICs will have "more opportunities to shift the meaning of the law in ways the defendant government may dislike but that individuals, groups, and other governments may actually prefer" (p. 7). New-style ICs also permit nonstate actors to initiate litigation (pp. 5, 68), a feature that not only makes litigation more likely, but also enhances the IC's independence from governments (p. 7). These features increase the prospect of litigation, but how do they...

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