Three models of the international rule of law

Ian Hurd*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


While it is common to refer to the international rule of law, it is less common to define it or to explore what it means. In this essay I examine the international rule of law both in practice and as a concept. This is important because many controversies about the direction of world politics in fact rest on different accounts of the international rule of law. Understanding the various ways the idea is used, and their implications for policy-choices, can help clarify what it and what it is not being argued over in global controversies. I set out three distinct approaches to the concept of the international rule of law and compare them to contemporary state practice. The first is anchored on the obligation of states to comply with their international legal obligations. The second draws on an analogy with the domestic rule of law. The third begins from the observation that states invoke international law to explain and justify their policies - from this it expands into a model of law as integral to political legitimation. I find that the third provides the most conceptually coherent understanding of the international rule of law, and has interesting implications for the study of international law and politics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)37-48
Number of pages12
Issue number23
StatePublished - Jul 1 2015


  • Elección de políticas
  • Imperio internacional de la ley
  • Política internacional
  • Práctica estatal contemporánea

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy


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