Treaty Options: Towards a Behavioral Understanding of Treaty Design

Jean Galbraith, University of Pennsylvania Law School

53 Va. J. Int'l L. 309 (2013).


Rational choice theory is the dominant paradigm through which scholars of international law and international relations approach treaty design. In this Article, I suggest a different approach using a combination of empirical observations of state behavior and theoretical insights from behavioral economics. I focus on one aspect of multilateral treaty design: namely, treaty reservations and associated legal mechanisms which allow states to vary the degree of their formal commitments to treaties. I call these mechanisms “treaty options.”. I argue that the framing of treaty options matters powerfully — and does so in ways inconsistent with rational choice theory, but consistent with insights from behavioral economics. This finding has important implications for the theory, law, and practice of treaty-making and for our understandings of state behavior more generally.