The Limits of Leviathan

The Limits of Leviathan


Publication Date




Much of international law, like much of contract, is enforced not by independent sanctions but rather through cooperative interaction among the parties, with repeat dealings, reputation, and a preference for reciprocity doing most of the enforcement work. Originally published in 2006, The Limits of Leviathan identifies areas in international law where formal enforcement provides the most promising means of promoting cooperation and where it does not. In particular, it looks at the International Criminal Court, the rules for world trade, efforts to enlist domestic courts to enforce orders of the International Court of Justice, domestic judicial enforcement of the Geneva Convention, the domain of international commercial agreements, and the question of odious debt incurred by sovereigns. This book explains how international law, like contract, depends largely on the willingness of responsible parties to make commitments.

  • Was the first book to separate questions of international law enforcement from other issues of international law
  • Uses modern contract theory – a product of law and economics – to illuminate the enforcement of international law
  • Proposes model of optimal international law enforcement


Contracts | International Law | Law




Cambridge University Press


New York, NY


"Professors Scott and Stephan have produced an important and thought-provoking book on the intersection of contract theory and international law. The authors contend that there is too much enforcement of international law by private parties who file complaints before international tribunals and domestic courts armed with the power to sanction nations that fail to live up to their treaty bargains. This is a provocative claim, one that challenges the widely-held views of international lawyers and political scientists that the international legal system is weak and needs to be strengthened. The authors support their theory of optimal enforcement of international agreements with numerous examples ranging across human rights, trade, international criminal law, and intellectual property. And they include specific prescriptions for governments and policymakers. Scholars of international cooperation and treaty design would do well to give The Limits of Leviathan the careful attention that it deserves."
Laurence R. Helfer, Professor of Law, Vanderbilt University Law School

"The Limits of Leviathan is an original and an important book. It is the first use of modern contract theory to explain and to improve the relation between formal and informal enforcement of treaties and other international agreements. Much international law rests on these consensual arrangements, and contract theory is meant to explain consensual arrangements. The book's lucid explanations and critiques of existing practice thus will be very helpful to international lawyers, and they will also extend the reach of contract theory itself."
Alan Schwartz, Sterling Professor of Law, Yale Law School

"One of the most significant developments in international law in the past decades has been the rise of institutionalized international tribunals like the WTO dispute resolution mechanisms, various EU courts, and the International Criminal Court that can enforce international law against states. The Limits of Leviathan employs economic theories of contract formation and enforcement to explain the rise and operation of these institutions. Scott and Stephan show how a combination of formal institutional sanctions and more traditional informal sanctioning methods (such as retaliation and reputational loss) work together to foster cooperation among nations. They also provide a framework for explaining how institutionalized enforcement can go too far and retard cooperation among nations. The Limits of Leviathan is a realistic, hard-nosed examination of the promise and perils of international enforcement institutions, and an important contribution to the burgeoning use of social science methodologies to explain international relations."
Jack L. Goldsmith, Henry L. Shattuck Professor of Law, Harvard Law School

"The book will be rewarding to those who are committed to thinking about international law in rational choice terms. Even those who reject this methodology or who do not embrace it as whole-heartedly as Scott and Stephan do, should find much of interest in it. In the course of developing their theory, Scott and Stephan address many contemporary methodological and substantive controversies in international law, and their views on these controversies are always illuminating."
Eric A. Posner, University of Chicago Law School


Also available as an eBook through the Columbia University Libraries.

The Limits of Leviathan

Find in Library


Find in WorldCat