Constitutions, Global Governance and International Relations Theory

The Hague Institute’s latest Working Paper hones in on the codification of principles of global governance in constitutional documents. During this year’s “Speech from the Throne” (Troonrede), King Willem-Alexander advocated an “active foreign policy, geared to promoting peace and security” and stressed that it “is no accident that promoting the international legal order is enshrined in our Constitution.” However, the Grondwet is by far not the only constitution that has something to say about global governance and justice.

The King was referring to Article 90 of the Dutch constitution, according to which “[t]he Government shall promote the development of the international legal order.” But the Grondwet, which celebrates its 200th anniversary this year, is only one of many contemporary examples for constitutions making normative statements on the area of foreign policy and global governance. From Germany, Portugal, Switzerland and Lithuania, to India, Japan, Brazil and the world’s youngest nation, South Sudan, and including regional organizations such as the European Unionand ASEAN, supreme laws and constitutional charters around the world have come to make pronouncements on the kind of principles and norms that should govern international relations.

Based on the observation that norms which sketch out certain visions of global governance have become a popular feature in constitutional design, Dr. Joris Larik, Senior Researcher in the Global Governance Program, authored the latest Hague Institute for Global Justice Working Paper. The paper addresses the implications of the constitutional entrenchment of such foreign policy preferences, or “world views”, for International Relations theory. The paper expounds both their potential, as well as pitfalls to avoid, for research on global norms, with a particular focus on Constructivist scholarship.

In terms of their merits, Dr. Larik argues that such constitutional provisions can serve as evidence of a “normative basis” for foreign policy and as parameters for legitimacy. Furthermore, they represent both evidence of, and fuel for, processes of socialization in foreign policy. However, Constructivists tempted to draw on such constitutional worldviews should heed three main caveats. Firstly, while the constitution is supreme in the legal realm, it is only one of many possible expressions of normative preferences from a political science perspective. Secondly, they should avoid confusion between domestic constitutional standards and universal ones. Thirdly, they should be aware of the problematic of the “dead hand of the past”, i.e., while constitutional entrenchment may lend norms particular gravitas, it also makes them prone to become out-dated. By staying clear of these pitfalls, Constructivist theorists can embrace contemporary constitutions in their quest to elucidate which principles and ideas shape the international order and its maturing legal framework.

A draft version of the paper was featured earlier this year at the 10th Anniversary Conference of the European Society of International Law (ESIL), hosted by the University of Vienna on the theme “International Law and…”—Boundaries of International Law and Bridges to Other Fields and Disciplines. The paper proposal had been selected from among approximately 200 submitted abstracts for 45 slots for panel presentations, organized in 15 thematic agoras. Dr. Larik presented the draft paper at the agora on “International Law and Political Science: The Need to Learn from Each Other” on 5 September 2014.

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