• International Law as Hedging: Perspectives from Secondary Authoritarian States

      Nguyen, Trang (Mae) (2020-08-17)
      Tom Ginsburg's important article comes at a critical time. The COVID-19 crisis has spurred heated debates about political regimes vis-à-vis countries’ bureaucratic capacity. Political regime type is the core independent variable in Ginsburg's conceptualization of authoritarian international law—a global projection of authoritarian states’ domestic politics. This essay echoes Ginsburg's insightful observation but complicates it by shifting the focus to the less-known perspectives of secondary authoritarian countries. I use a matrix case study of two smaller states, Vietnam and Cambodia, on two prominent issues, the South China Sea (SCS) and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), to demonstrate small states’ effort to use international law to “hedge” big powers. As the case studies show, small authoritarian states, not unlike other small states, prefer a pluralist vision of international law, even if they may at times embrace the alternative model offered by big authoritarian powers. These states thus have an important, perhaps unexpected, role to play in preserving the pluralist international legal order and mitigating the hegemonic tendencies of authoritarian international law.