Odette Lienau

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Sovereign debt has been a focus of discussion in international law and international relations since capital markets first opened to sovereigns in the credit fairs of Italy. The interest paid to this topic has scarcely died down in the intervening three centuries, and financial pages today heatedly discuss the fate of the Argentine, Russian, or Iraqi debt. Conflicts surrounding sovereign debt have been proffered as the explanation for wars launched, and the recent push for developing country debt cancellation has illuminated the potentially devastating economic effects of debt payment on states recovering from poverty and political upheaval. Even more contentious arguments have centered on the potential illegitimacy of debt contracted by dictatorial or corrupt regimes. Notwithstanding this considerable discussion and conflict, surprisingly little attention has been paid to the conceptual question at its center: who, really, is the "sovereign" in sovereign debt?

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