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date: 20 June 2018

Summary and Keywords

If there is no authority higher than the state, why do governments ever abide by the pacts they make with each other? For some, the answer is simple: states only respect agreements that fulfill their immediate interests. Others are more optimistic. Some view compliance as a problem of enforcement, arguing that international inducements, reciprocity, concerns about reputation, and/or domestic politics/institutions regularly help sustain adherence. Others perceive compliance as a problem of capacity, or of poor management. Seen from this angle, mechanisms that “punish” through enforcement typically make matters worse; instead, treaties need to be transparent, as well as providing technical/financial assistance and solid dispute resolution. Still others emphasize the impact of social context, identity, and/or legitimacy. Governments keep their promises because they care how others perceive them, internalize norms, or view agreements as valid and fair. This article provides an overview of these perspectives, with a strong emphasis on recent developments, including findings from recent survey experiments.

Keywords: international law, compliance, noncompliance, enforcement, international inducements, reciprocity, reputational concerns, domestic politics and institutions

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