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Law and Contemporary Problems




Over the last two decades, scholarly enthusiasm about transnational regulatory networks has seen something of a boom-and-bust cycle. Such networks – informal groupings of mid-level national officials, convened to develop nonbinding “soft law” norms of behavior in specialized fields of regulation – were identified as an important new phenomenon, were studied widely, and came to be seen as central pillars of the international legal order, especially in financial regulation. Yet today, regulatory networks go largely unmentioned in polite academic conversation: a kind of “he-who-must-not-be-named” of international law.

Among the many critiques of transnational networks that have contributed to this decline in interest in and engagement with them, this article seeks to respond to one in particular: the notion that the efficacy of regulatory networks is limited to those situations in which conflict is absent. To the contrary, once we understand the game theoretic dynamic that underlies the operation of networks – including Thomas Schelling’s seminal work on coordination games, focal points, and salience – regulatory networks may be quite effective in the face of conflict. At a minimum, a role for networks should not be categorically denied, absent some particularized indicia of their lack of utility in the given setting. As a matter of comparative institutional analysis, they may continue to represent the best means available to us – both in international financial regulation and in other regulatory arena.

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Duke University School of Law

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