Differing Conceptions of Development and the Content of International Development Law

Daniel Bradlow, American University Washington College of Law


International development law is the branch of international law that deals with the rights and duties of states and other actors in the development process. Its original content was premised on a particular generally accepted understanding of development. Under the pressure of the problems of development that arose during the 1970s and 1980s, this general agreement on the key issues in development disintegrated. As a consequence, the consensus on the content of international development law also began to break down. Today, there are competing idealized views of development that shape the current debate about both development, and the content of international development law. The first view, which can be termed the traditional view, maintains that development is about economic growth. It argues that the challenges of economic development can be distinguished from other social, cultural, environmental and political issues in society, including human rights. The second view, which can be termed the modern view has a holistic understanding of development. It argues that development should be viewed as an integrated process of change that involves economic, social, cultural, political and environmental dimensions. Each of these views leads to a different understanding of the contents of international development law. The traditional and modern views of international development law differ in their understanding of the substantive content of development law, the importance they attach to the principle of sovereignty and in their view of the relationship between national and international law in the law applicable to the development process.