Jurisdiction and Compliance in Recent Decisions of the International Court of Justice

Aloysius P. Llamzon, Yale Law School


International institutions are plagued by too many expectations and too little power. One striking example is the International Court of Justice. Its malcontents criticize the Court as an ineffective player in achieving international peace and security, largely because of its perceived inability to control State behavior. Scholars have long blamed this on the ICJ’s “flawed” jurisdictional architecture, which is based entirely on consent. Anything less than a clear indication of consent by the defendant State in a given case is thought to run serious non-compliance risks. This essay takes issue with that assessment. By analyzing the ICJ’s final decisions since the landmark case of Nicaragua v. U.S., one finds that the manner by which the ICJ was seised of jurisdiction is actually a poor predictor of subsequent compliance. Rather, through complex mechanisms of authority signal and the political inertia induced by those decisions, almost all of the Court’s decisions have achieved substantial, albeit imperfect, compliance. Thus, despite the likelihood that States will continue to reduce the scope of the ICJ’s compulsory jurisdiction, the World Court will remain a vital, if limited, tool in resolving inter-State disputes and a force for world public order.