State Cooperation via Formal International Institutions as a Spectrum


This paper seeks to address whether state cooperation via formal international institutions may best be understood as a spectrum of compliance rather than binary states. Prevailing perspectives on state compliance to its international obligations generally presupposes binary state of compliance – in which states adhere to its commitments – and non-compliance – in which states do not adhere to its commitments. This construction proves problematic as it disregards state intention; states may act in good faith to comply with its international commitments, yet fail to meet these commitments do to exogenous variables. While largely ignored by realists, liberal institutionalist and constructivist literature has sought to address this issue and provides a limited descriptive framework to understand non-binary states of compliance. While these frameworks are useful for understanding complexities inherent in defining non-compliance, these do not fulfill the stated objective of this paper: reframing compliance as a spectrum rather than binary states.

Intro, Research Question

Chayes, Chayes and Mitchell (1998) illustrate the limitations of a binary compliance definition through a good-faith description of the environment treaty non-complier state. Environmental treaties attempt to impose regulatory requirements, not only on states, but on subsidiary private sector actors. Exogenous factors to environmental treaties may limit a state’s ability to enforce these regulatory requirements on private sector actors, resulting in a state of non-compliance. The binary definition of compliance disregards the good-faith in which a state enters an international agreement and further ignores the exogenous factors that limit state compliance. A binary definition of state compliance provides no relevant information by which one can determine whether non-compliance is a deliberate violation of state commitment or due to exogenous factors to the agreement. In order to provide a more descriptive framework to determine the nature of non-compliance, this paper posits that it is necessary to redefine compliance as a spectrum such that the level of compliance (C) can be defined: C∈[0,1], where 0 is perfectly non-compliant, and 1 is perfectly compliant. This definition of compliance may provide greater insight into the nature of a state’s non-compliance by providing information on the extent of non-compliance to treaty obligations.

While disregarded by realists, the nature of compliance has been explored in liberal institutionalist, and constructivist literature. This literature has provided some insight into the complexity inherent in defining compliance; yet, it falls short of providing a definition of compliance which allows for further understanding of the nature of state non-compliance. In fact, constructivist literature fails entirely in this endeavor as it proposes that compliance is a social construction impervious to a general analysis. While a compliance spectrum does not fully illuminate exogenous factors to international commitments, within this definitional framework they exist as lurking variables upon which further scrutiny can be given. Furthermore, while not a conclusive determinant of state intention, a spectrum of compliance allows for consideration of good-faith through a quantitative estimate of how compliant states are with their international commitments. This is preferable to the existing compliance binary which fully disregards good-faith in state action.

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Furthermore, this research aims to provide increased context and understanding of inter-state cooperation via international institutions. The creation of a compliance spectrum allows for observation of trends both in terms of a state’s tendency towards compliance or non-compliance and in terms of a state’s historical capacity to fulfill its international obligations. This contextual understanding of a state’s compliance may inform how commitments are enforced by institutions on a state-by-state level as well as inform the formulations of new inter-state agreements to take into account trends of compliance.

Literature Review

For realists, state power is the primary factor that governs interstate relations. Consequently realists find contention in the notion that formal international institutions play substantial role in determining state behavior (Boyle, 1980). Consequently, states are assumed to successfully comply only under conditions of shared interests or hegemonic coercion, and only in so far as compliance is congruent to a state’s foreign policy interests (Morgenthau, 1985). Under this formulation, a state’s international commitments and the formal institutions present to enforce them are indeterminate of state decisions to comply with their commitments (Aron, 1981). The primary grievance realists pose to compliance and enforcement literature is the lack of coercive power of formal international institutions to ensure state compliance. Furthermore since states possess jurisdiction to interpret provisions of international agreements, realists contend that states have no incentive to comply with burdensome past commitments (Morgenthau, 1985). Realist formulations of international cooperation predominantly focus on state power and interest and generally disregard ideas concerning compliance. Since it is the aim of this paper to propose a redefinition of state compliance, it can be said that realists are pursuing an altogether different project and are consequently of no interest to our current undertaking.

Liberal institutionalists formulate international agreements as a means by which states are able address common issues which cannot be addressed through unilateral action (Bilder, 1989). Within this formulation, compliance is largely due to state reputational costs. States expect higher costs in the long term if they are non-compliant with their short term commitments. Consequently, formal international institutions can be understood to amplify the reputational consequences of non-compliance by increasing transparency of state behavior (Keohane, 1984). Greater transparency and the potential for reciprocity in international agreements serve to increase compliance through iterative engagement amongst the same state actors. These conditions stabilize a state’s expectations concerning member state behavior and increase confidence that these states will comply with their international commitments. This in turn incentivizes a state to also comply with its international commitments (Garrett & Weingastt, 1993).

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Liberal institutionalist literature generally privileges the state as the sole agent of compliance. However the Downs and Rocke (1995) study of General Agreement on Tariff and Trade (GATT) rules illustrates how exogenous factors to the agreement, including domestic politics and interest group demands, play a major role in determining the degree of compliance one could expect from GATT signatories. Downs and Rocke illustrated that negotiating states agreed upon weak enforcement mechanisms due to uncertainty of future interest group demands. These uncertainties lead to the adoption short term obligations and less strict enforcement mechanisms thus reducing the cooperation demands for GATT states. In order to achieve compliance, states must address exogenous domestic factors to the agreement. This illustrates the primary failing of Liberal institutionalist literature which generally overemphasizes the roles of formal institutions and states over domestic factors.

Further literature examines domestic administrative and technical incapacities as a source for non-compliance. Jacobson & Brown Weiss (1995, 1997) illustrated that the determinant variable for successful compliance with environmental accords was administrative capacity. Domestic factors such as a skilled labor force, financial resources, and domestic legal authorization were crucial in order for a state successfully comply with environmental accords. In order to address these administrative incapacities, independent agencies may facilitate compliance by providing necessary resources to reach regulatory standards. Within this formulation state cooperation via international institutions serve not only promote compliance and enumerate state commitments, they also serve to enable states with administrative and technical incapacities to meet compliance standards (Hans et al, 1993).

While Liberal institutionalist literature considers the intentions of states engaging in international agreements as well as the exogenous factors that determine a state’s compliance success, Liberal institutionalist literature still adopts a binary definition of compliance that disregards these factors. The complexities Liberal Institutionalists perceive within state compliance do not inform and are not represented in their formulation of compliance. This paper seeks to move beyond the work of liberal institutionalists and redefine compliance such that these complexities are integrated into our understanding of state compliance.

Constructivist regime theorists formulate an understanding of state compliance in terms of international rules, norms and agreements. Rather than focusing on conditions of non-compliance constructivists posited that analysis should endeavor to understand how state behavior is interpreted by other states as well as how these behaviors are intended by the state actor. For Constructivists , the most relevant inquiry into state compliance was how states rationalized their actions and whether other states were receptive to its rationale (Kratochwil & Ruggie, 1986). By this formulation, seemingly conflicting actions of state actors could be derived from similar principles and norms. Compliance is therefore not an objective fact; rather it is a subjective social construction.

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The implications of this theory are that 1) normative concepts such as fairness determine a state’s compliance decisions and 2) formal international institutions can be undermined- states become non-compliant- if they lose legitimacy with member states (Kratochwil & Ruggie, 1986).

The relationship between legitimacy and compliance has been explored multiple constructivist authors. Legro (1997) posited that understanding the attributes of a rule its specificity and durability- is the most effective way to determine the causal effect norms have on compliance outcomes. This theory argues that the clearer, more durable and endorsed a rule or norm is, the greater effect it will have in promoting state compliance. Other constructivists like Fisher (1981) argue that rules will promote compliance when they adhere to shared values and morals. Under this formulation the more widely held the rule the more compliant state actors will be to the rule. Keck & Sikkink (1998) attempting to advance compliance in the human rights theatre assert that prohibitions that will successfully engender interstate compliance are those prohibitions that embody cross-cultural norms such as protection of innocent groups nd ensuring bodily integrity.

For constructivists formal international institutions play a significant role in legitimating particular rules and fostering a sense of obligation amongst states. Tacsan (1992) exemplifies this through his discussion of the International Court of Justice, which he argues is a location where norms and normative values converge through the ICJ’s multilateral bargaining process. The convergence of norms at the ICJ has resulted in the development of norms concerning self-determination, non-intervention, and collective self-defense were the primary normative expectation that informed Central America’s peace settlements.

Constructivist literature utilizes a normative approach in its study of compliance. Constructivists assert that norms of appropriateness, ideas, and values are the determinant factor to state compliance. Furthermore, constructivists assert that international commitments, and consequently compliance, are social construction that can only be understood through an intersubjective framework, and are imperious to a general analysis. By contextualizing compliance in a case-by-case basis, you are effectively left with no standard definition of compliance by which one can determine what constitutes non-compliance. The lack of a satisfactory definition of compliance in constructivist and liberal institutionalist literature that considers both intentions and trends is in need of formulation.

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