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“In the name of the Holy Trinity”: Credibility under anarchy through three centuries of treaty-making

7 December @ 2:00 pm

Speaker: Professor Krzysztof Pelc (McGill University)
Chair: Dr Mona Paulsen (LSE)

Where does the binding force of international treaties come from? This lecture considers three centuries of international peace treaties to examine how signatories sought to convince one another of the viability of their commitments. I argue that one means of doing so was by invoking divine authority: treaty violations were punished by divine sanction in heaven and excommunication on earth. Anarchy, “the fundamental assumption of international politics,” is commonly defined as “the absence of a supreme power,” yet an examination of peace treaties from the 1600s onwards suggests that for much of the post-Westphalian era, sovereigns would not have envisioned themselves as operating under anarchy. Rather, they strategically invoked divine authority to add credibility to their commitments. I test these beliefs using text analyses of over two thousand peace and commercial treaties spanning three centuries. Signatories facing a high probability of war are seen relying more heavily on invocations of divine authority: a history of conflict is associated with more invocations of God in treaties; closer kinship ties between signatories are associated with fewer invocations. Strikingly, those treaties that invoke divine authority show a greater conflict-abating effect. God appears to be statistically significant.

Professor Kryzstof Pelc
Professor Kryzstof Pelc

Krzysztof Pelc is the William Dawson Professor of International Political Economy in the Department of Political Science at McGill University. His research examines the global economy, in particular the concept of credibility in political and commercial markets. He has published widely on issues relating to international rules, trade, and economic law, and writes frequent opinion articles for popular press including The Financial TimesThe Washington Post and The Atlantic. His book Beyond Self-Interest: Why the Market Rewards Those Who Reject It was published in Summer 2022 by Bloomsbury and Oxford University Press.

This seminar is organised by the Public International Law Research Hub.



7 December
2:00 pm
Event Category:


Stephen Humphreys
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