IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Precedential Power: The Role of the United States in Shaping International Law at the World Trade Organization


  • Soumyajit Mazumder


Where does precedent in international law come from? Because the efficacy of international courts depends on the efficiency with which they can deal with disputes, they must be able to deter future disputes. Deterrence rests on the availability of precedent (a public good), but because it is costly to generate precedent, powerful states must take on the cost of leadership. In this paper, I investigate the relationship between power and precedent by analyzing dispute settlement at the World Trade Organization (WTO). Borrowing insights from hegemonic stability theory, I argue that it is precisely the strategic nature of WTO dispute settlement that makes powerful states--namely, the United States (US)--willing to supply precedent. This theory accounts for three empirical insights regarding WTO dispute settlement: (1) the US, counterintuitively, tends to file low-stakes cases, (2) cases filed by the US yield a greater precedential value for the broader WTO membership than their counterparts, and (3) the US tends to shape the precedent that it does create in its favor. Statistical analysis using Bayesian estimation provides evidence in favor of the hypotheses. My results suggest that power undergirds the politics of WTO law.

Suggested Citation

  • Soumyajit Mazumder, 2015. "Precedential Power: The Role of the United States in Shaping International Law at the World Trade Organization," Working Paper 269356, Harvard University OpenScholar.
  • Handle: RePEc:qsh:wpaper:269356

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    More about this item

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:qsh:wpaper:269356. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Richard Brandon). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.