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Norms-creation in Cyberspace: What International Law Can Learn From Behavioural Economics

  • Arun Sukumar
Wednesday 21 November 2018
Turfmarkt 99
2511 DP The Hague


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About the lecture

The constructivist project in international relations casts norms as entities in perpetual forward motion, progressing from their creation to widespread acceptance to eventual “internalization” by states. That view is closely aligned with the dominant thinking among international lawyers, who perceive the act of treaty-making to be essentially a normative enterprise, driven by persuasion, interpretation and argumentation. This is not to ignore arguments that many IR constructivists and international lawyers have advanced of the role that structural and interest-based considerations play in norm-creation. But at its core, both epistemic communities believe in the edifying impact of norms on the international system.

Unfortunately, this line of enquiry is a methodological dead end. Constructivist accounts are yet to offer a robust or empirically rigorous model of how micro-processes of norm creation and acceptance work. More importantly, they seldom attend to the important question of why some norms don’t stick. With the 2016/17 UN GGE’s failure to agree to a consensus document, this question becomes all the more relevant in the context of cyber norms. Principles and lessons from behavioural and experimental economics may offer some insights into tracing endogenous “causal pathways”  to international law creation in cyberspace.

This lecture will cover three aspects:

  1. Current discussions and scholarship in international law that draw on behavioural economics.
  2. Principles of behavioural economics and behavioural science that may help to understand acceptance and rejection of cyber norms by states and non-state actors.
  3. A draft proposal — using these principles — to determine markers of legality that are crucial for the universal acceptance and elevation of cyber norms into binding instruments.

About the speaker

Arun Sukumar will be joining the The Hague Program for Cyber Norms this November for a month as a Visiting Fellow. Arun is a doctoral candidate at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University. He is currently on leave from the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi, where he headed its Cyber Initiative (2015 – 2017).

More information about Visiting Fellow Arun Sukumar

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