We shouldn’t necessarily be concerned when international lawmaking is a victim of its own success. A trend in a given domain of international governance in which multilateral treaty-making gives way to bilateral and non-binding alternatives does not itself signal a decline in the influence or efficacy of international law. It may in fact be a normal symptom of a properly functioning international legal framework—as much a cause for celebration among international lawyers as for concern.
I wish to offer some brief reflections on this Agora theme, The End of Treaties?, from the perspective of a lawyer responsible for engineering international cooperation. I say “engineering” because international lawyers in this role must carefully weigh design tradeoffs in selecting among potential cooperative mechanisms, not unlike an engineer weighing the tradeoffs between materials in designing to a performance and cost specification. Like architects, international lawyers must also be attuned to the social dimensions of the arrangements they craft, but should ultimately privilege function above the aesthetics of legal form. Ugly international cooperative arrangements may nevertheless perform beautifully.