The Concept of International Delegation

Document Type



The most up-to-date version of this piece can be found in the Duke Law Scholarship


This paper defines and clarifies the concept of international delegation from both a legal and social science perspective. To capture the multilayered nature of international delegation, the paper considers not only grants of authority to bureaucracies, but also to collective bodies, sub-groups of states, and courts. The paper also considers delegation from the perspective of individual states in order to take account of differences in the degree of delegation between states across institutional arrangements. The paper first presents a definition of international delegation and identifies eight types of authority that states may grant. It then presents a framework for assessing variation in the sovereignty cost of particular delegations – that is, the reduction in state autonomy associated with ceding authority to international institutions. The paper argues that the extent of these costs, and thus the level of delegation, depends on four factors – issue area, type of authority, legal effect, and independence of the international body.

Date of Authorship for this Version

February 2007