Julian Schumacher, Christoph Trebesch, Henrik Enderlein, 16 July 2018

For centuries, sovereign debt was assumed to be ‘above the law’ and non-enforceable. This column shows that this is no longer the case. Building on a new dataset on sovereign debt lawsuits, it documents the erosion of sovereign immunity since the 1970s and argues that legal disputes can disrupt government access to international capital markets, as foreign courts impose a financial embargo on defaulting sovereigns. These legal developments have strengthened the hands of creditors and raised the cost of default for debtors, with far-reaching consequences for government willingness to pay and the resolution of debt crises.

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