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Sacrificing sovereignty by chance: investment treaties, developing countries, and bounded rationality

Poulsen, Lauge N. Skovgaard (2011) Sacrificing sovereignty by chance: investment treaties, developing countries, and bounded rationality. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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One of the striking features of modern globalization is the rising prominence of international law as governing institution for state-market relations. Nowhere has this been as pronounced as in the international investment regime. Although hardly known to anyone but specialized international lawyers merely 15 years ago, bilateral investment treaties (BITs) have today become some of the most potent legal tools underwriting economic globalization. This thesis seeks to explain why developing countries adopted investment treaties as part of their governing apparatus. The study combines econometric analysis with archival work as well as insights from more than one hundred interviews with decision-makers in the international investment regime. On this basis, it finds ‘traditional’ explanatory models of international policy diffusion insufficient to account for the BIT-movement. Instead, both qualitative and econometric evidence strongly indicates that a bounded rationality framework is best suited to explain the popularity of BITs in the developing world. Although careful cost-benefit considerations drove some developing countries to adopt investment treaties, this was rare. By overestimating the benefits of BITs and ignoring the risks, developing country governments often saw the treaties as merely ‘tokens of goodwill’. Many thereby sacrificed their sovereignty more by chance than by design, and it was typically not until they were hit by their first claim, officials realised that the treaties were enforceable in both principle and fact. The thesis is relevant to a wide range of literature. Apart from being the first comprehensive international relations study on investment treaties, its multimethod approach provides a robust and nuanced view of the drivers of international policy diffusion. Moreover, the study is the first major work in international political economy literature applying insights on systematic – and thus predictable – cognitive heuristics found in the behavioural economics discipline.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2011 Lauge N. Skovgaard Poulsen
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
K Law > K Law (General)
Sets: Departments > International Relations
Supervisor: Woolcock, Stephen and Walter, Andrew

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