Experimental International Law : EJIL: Debate!

Experimenting with International Law


A growing body of experimental research has begun to explore the causal mechanisms through which international law impacts behaviour. International legal scholars, however, are still in the early stages of adopting experimental methods. Indeed, Yahli Shereshevsky and Tom Noah’s article is one of the first experimental studies to appear in the European Journal of International Law. Its publication thus provides an opportunity to reflect not only on this pioneering work but also on the broader ‘experimental turn’ in the study of international law. To do so, we begin by motivating the experimental turn, which we argue reflects both a methodological shift from observational studies towards the increasing use of experiments and a theoretical shift from rational choice towards cognitive psychology and behavioural economics. Second, we engage in a critical reading of Shereshevsky and Noah’s study of the impact of preparatory materials on treaty interpretation. Applying the dual criteria of internal and external validity, we assess the strengths and weaknesses of Shereshevsky and Noah’s study. We conclude that experiments promise to extend our knowledge of international law and are likely to become increasingly influential in scholarly and policy debates. Hence, all international lawyers have an urgent interest in becoming knowledgeable and critical consumers of experimental research.

 Full text available in PDF format
The free viewer (Acrobat Reader) for PDF file is available at the Adobe Systems