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21 Duke Journal of Comparative & International Law 157 (2010)


Withdrawing from International Custom, a recent article by Curtis Bradley and Mitu Gulati, has sparked interest and debate. Bradley and Gulati’s article, develops with significant nuance and detail that, naturally, can be best understood by a careful reading of their work. In essence, it proposes a modification in customary international law (CIL) doctrine – a change that would permit states to unilaterally exit from existing customary international law. This Essay will act as a brief reflection on that article. In Part I, it will explore the analogies Withdrawing makes between CIL and contract and will argue, first that CIL and contract are not analogous and, second, that even to the extent that contract demonstrates how other doctrinal areas order exits from legal relationships, contract illustrates the point that unilateral exit is a recognized abdication of the exiting party’s obligations and that exit gives rise to legal liability. In Part II, it explores the analogies Withdrawing makes between governments and agents in order to unpack some of the theoretical political theory constructs on which Withdrawing relies, and to explore the limitations Withdrawing sets on the proposal for unilateral exit. Part III of this Essay will make an affirmative argument for symmetry between CIL formation doctrine and CIL disintegration doctrine. The current proposal anticipates that CIL formation would remain unchanged, but exit for any given state would be far more expeditious than is contemplated by current CIL exit formulations. This Part will illustrate that this proposal violates a strong presumption in favor of symmetrical entrenchment.