The case against international cooperation

Ian Hurd*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The idea that international law and institutions represent cooperative means for resolving inter-state disputes is so common as to be almost taken for granted in International Relations scholarship. Global-governance scholars often use the terms international law and cooperation interchangeably and treat legalization as a subset of the broader category of inter-governmental cooperation. This paper highlights the methodological and substantive problems that follow from equating 'global governance' with 'international cooperation' and suggests an alternative. The traditional model applies liberal political theory to the study of international institutions and interprets global governance as the realization of shared interests. It deflects research away from questions about trade-offs and winners or losers. In place of cooperation theory, I outline an overtly political methodology that assumes that governance - global or otherwise - necessarily favors some interests over others. In scholarship, the difference is evident in research methods, normative interpretation, and policy recommendations, as research is reoriented toward understanding how international institutions redistribute inequalities of wealth and power.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)263-284
Number of pages22
JournalInternational Theory
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 16 2022


  • international cooperation
  • international institutions
  • international theory
  • liberal world order
  • liberalism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Law


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