As one component of its mission to reduce trade barriers and encourage the liberalization of international commerce, the World Trade Organization provides states with a forum in which they can raise and resolve complaints about partners’ unfair trading practices. This mechanism streamlines the process of identifying non-compliant behavior, and provides real incentives for the removal of such policies. By furnishing a form of dispute resolution, the institution should be both trade-inducing and peace-enhancing for member states. However, this very mechanism also has the potential to aggravate existing dispute for two reasons. First, it removes the opportunity for states to use economic policies as instruments of structural linkage in resolving disputes. Second, it deprives its members of powerful economic tools that could be used in lieu of militarized responses. Using the implementation of the WTO Dispute Settlement mechanism, as well as the subsequent expiration of Article 13 of the WTO Agreement on Agriculture (the so-called ‘peace clause’), we examine whether the opportunity to resolve trade disputes through the organization affects the likelihood that member states engage in militarized conflict with one another. We find that membership in a trade institution facilitates peaceful interaction, but that judicialization erases these benefits. We conclude that institution building requires caution and attention to the possibility of unintended consequences.
This was originally published on SAGE Publications Ltd: Journal of Peace Research: Table of Contents.