IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

The Customary International Law Supergame: Order and Law


  • George Norman
  • Joel P. Trachtman


Customary international law is an enigma. It is produced by the decentralized actions of states, and it generally lacks centralized enforcement mechanisms. Political science realists and some rationalist legal scholars argue that customary international law cannot affect state behavior: that it is “epiphenomenal.” This article develops a model of an n-player prisoner’s dilemma in the customary international law context that shows that it is plausible that states would comply with customary international law under certain circumstances. These circumstances relate to: (i) the relative value of cooperation versus defection, (ii) the number of states effectively involved, (iii) the extent to which increasing the number of states involved increases the value of cooperation or the detriments of defection, including whether the particular issue has characteristics of a commons problem, a public good, or a network, (iv) the information available to the states involved regarding compliance and defection, (v) the relative patience of states in valuing the benefits of long-term cooperation compared to short-term defection, (vi) the expected duration of interaction, (vii) the frequency of interaction, and (viii) whether there are also bilateral relationships or other multilateral relationships between the involved states. One implication of this model is to lend credence to customary international law. From a research standpoint, this model identifies a number of parameters for which data may be developed in order to test the model. From a policy standpoint, this model shows what types of contexts, including malleable institutional features, may affect the ability of states to reach stable and efficient equilibria in their customary international law relations.

Suggested Citation

  • George Norman & Joel P. Trachtman, 2004. "The Customary International Law Supergame: Order and Law," Discussion Papers Series, Department of Economics, Tufts University 0415, Department of Economics, Tufts University.
  • Handle: RePEc:tuf:tuftec:0415

    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:tuf:tuftec:0415. 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: (Marcus Weir). 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.