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What unites states and other global actors around a shared governance project? How does the group—what I will call an “international community”—coalesce and stay engaged in the enterprise? A frequent assumption is that an international community is cemented by its members’ commonalities and depleted by their intractable disagreements. This article critiques that assumption and presents, as an alternative, a theory that accounts for the combined integration and discord that actually characterize most global governance associations. I argue that conflict, especially conflict that manifests in law, is not necessarily corrosive to an international community. To the contrary, it often is a unifying force that helps constitute and fortify the community and support the governance project. As such, international legal conflict can have systemic value for the global order, even when it lacks substantive resolution. The implications for the design and practice of international law are far-reaching.


This article is reproduced with permission from the August 2017 issue of the American Journal of International Law © 2017 American Society of International Law. All rights reserved.