The Price of Consent

Document Type


Publication Date





Yale Law School




This article exposes how inequalities in the international economy and in international financial institutions facilitate the U.S.-led Global War on Terror (GWOT). Using U.S.-Pakistan relations as a case study, it shows how the U.S. has deployed its powerful position at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to secure Pakistan’s consent for its military activities. As the American public increasingly questions the merits of continued militarism, a reformed IMF may be an underappreciated source of constrain.

In the GWOT’s the first decade, beginning in 2001, the U.S. openly engaged in forcible regime change; in its second and (now) third decades, the U.S. has waged sporadic and covert counterinsurgency campaigns. To engage in these military maneuvers, the U.S. depends on partnerships with other states, such as Pakistan. The U.S. relies on the doctrine of consent to exonerate its actions there, arguing that local Pakistani authorities have consented to them.

I show, for the first time, how the United States has manufactured the conditions for Pakistan’s consent. Using its perch at the IMF, the U.S. has helped cultivate Pakistan’s debt dependency, a domestic elite constituency that courts bailouts, and the military’s prominent role in political affairs. The U.S. has then leveraged these dynamics to secure Pakistan’s cooperation.

I show how the rules governing the IMF’s lending activities enable the U.S. to use the multilateral institution for its own geopolitical objectives and tolerate loan conditions that have enhanced Pakistan’s debt burden at the expense of its macroeconomic stability. I demonstrate how the IMF’s lending agreements embrace a statist conception of sovereignty that heeds only the state’s external relations and obligations. Whether the debts incurred by a state benefit a minority or cultivate dependence are not grounds to vitiate loan agreements. As long as there is a signature on the dotted line, the debt is owed, and the conditions are binding.

This study suggests that consent, as a safeguard against extraterritorial force, is only as strong as states’ economic independence. In turn, to meaningfully enforce the prohibition against the use of force, a pillar of our international legal order, may require transforming how international financial institutions, like the IMF, are governed.


forthcoming 2024

This document is currently not available here.

Find on SSRN