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The World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute settlement system is its judicial arm and enforcement mechanism, designed to assist members in resolving trade disputes that arise between them. Its design reflects a move toward greater legalization in trade governance under the multilateral trade regime. Compared with the dispute settlement system of its predecessor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the WTO’s dispute settlement provided a more structured and formal process with clearly defined stages and more discipline in the timetable of the dispute so as to resolve trade disputes as efficiently as possible. Most important, the WTO’s dispute settlement provides for virtually automatic adoption of panel rulings: a respondent losing a case can block the adoption only if it can persuade all members of the WTO not to do so. The legal basis for the WTO’s dispute settlement system is the Dispute Settlement Understanding (DSU), which provides the principles and procedures by which members may bring their trade disputes to the multilateral trade regime for resolution. Overseeing the dispute settlement process is the Dispute Settlement Body (DSB), which consists of all WTO members and meets regularly to receive and to adopt reports of disputes at their various stages of progress. How effective is the WTO’s dispute settlement mechanism? Effectiveness can be conceptualized as success in attaining the objectives of the dispute settlement under the WTO in three areas: the efficiency of dispute settlement; inclusiveness of the dispute settlement process, especially as it concerns developing country participation; and compliance with legal obligations resulting from arbitration. The existing scholarship on this topic features key debates and frontiers for future research on firms and global production networks/value chains that have the potential to advance our state of knowledge concerning this “crown jewel” of the multilateral trade regime.

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Despite the decline in interstate wars, there remain dozens of interstate disputes that could erupt into diplomatic crises and evolve into military escalation. By far the most difficult interstate dispute that exists are territorial disputes, followed by maritime and river boundary disputes. These disputes are not only costly for the states involved, but also potentially dangerous for states in the region and allies of disputant states who could become entrapped in armed conflicts. Fortunately, though many disputes remain unresolved and some disputes endure for decades or more than a century, many other disputes are peacefully resolved through conflict management tools. Understanding the factors that influence conflict management—the means by which governments decide their foreign policy strategies relating to interstate disputes and civil conflicts—is critical to policy makers and scholars interested in the peaceful resolution of such disputes. Though conflict management of territorial and maritime disputes can include a spectrum of management tools, including use of force, most conflict management tools are peaceful, involving direct bilateral negotiations between the disputant states, non-binding third party mediation, or binding legal dispute resolution. Governments most often attempt the most direct dispute resolution method, which is bilateral negotiations, but often, such negotiations break down due to uncompromising positions of the disputing states, leading governments to turn to other resolution methods. There are pros and cons of each of the dispute resolution methods and certain factors will influence the decisions that governments make about the management of their territorial and maritime disputes. Overall, the peaceful resolution of territorial and maritime disputes is an important but complicated issue for states both directly involved and indirectly affected by the persistence of such disputes.