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Multilateral Treaties (Hoffman)

Multilateral Treaties (Hoffman)

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Cooperation and Conflict
DOI: 10.1177/00108367080890822008; 43; 185
Cooperation and Conflict 
Robert A. Denemark and Matthew J. Hoffmann
Just Scraps of Paper?: The Dynamics of Multilateral Treaty-Making
http://cac.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/43/2/185
 
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 at Stockholms Universitet on April 7, 2010http://cac.sagepub.comDownloaded from 
 
Cooperation and Conflict:Journal of the Nordic International Studies AssociationVol.43(2):185–219.© NISA 2008 www.nisanet.orgSAGEPublications,Los Angeles,London,New Delhi and Singaporewww.sagepublications.com0010-8367.DOI:10.1177/0010836708089082
Just Scraps of Paper?
The Dynamics of MultilateralTreaty-MakingROBERT A.DENEMARK ANDMATTHEW J.HOFFMANN
ABSTRACT
Despite its importance in the global system,the literature provides lit-tle guidance on how treaty-making emerged as a well-accepted prac-tice.In either assuming the appropriateness of treaty-making (and thenanalysing design) or treating treaties as strategic choices in the pursuitof gains (without analysing how treaties came to be a way to pursuegains),the current literature discounts the emergence and evolutionoftreaty-making.This lacuna contributes to a biased view of treaty-making as the epiphenomenal result of specific,ahistorical factors,rather than as a patterned,historical practice.We contend that the evo-lution of the practice of treaty-making is significant for questions of design/compliance,the future of multilateral interaction and globalorder.In addressing this concern,we pursue two linked goals.The firstis self-consciously descriptive.We introduce a dataset of multilateraltreaties that provides a novel picture of treaty-making across time,space and issue-areas.The second goal is explanatory.We develop andtest a social constructivist and path-dependent explanation for thepatterns of treaty-making evident in the data,especially 150 years of exponential growth,the spread of treaty-making across multiple issuesand the diffusion of the practice across the world.
Keywords:
increasing returns;multilateral treaties and treaty-making;path dependence;social constructivism
Introduction
Early in the twentieth century,treaties were famously described as mere‘scraps of paper’,and in the ensuing years treaties have been criticized aslittle more than traps set for naïve liberals by unscrupulous dictators(Beilenson,1969).Even if treaties on the allegedly unimportant matters aresometimes adhered to,it is suggested that important matters cannot be leftto the unreliable confines of pen and ink.Some have gone so far as to sug-gest that the entire idea of cooperative multilateral interaction is a chimera
 at Stockholms Universitet on April 7, 2010http://cac.sagepub.comDownloaded from 
 
(Mearsheimer,1994/5).These criticisms are popular,but unsupportable.Indeed,it is odd that the ‘scrap of paper’ critique survived,given the con-text in which it was made.Its author was German Chancellor Theobald vonBethmann-Hollweg,who believed he had managed relations with GreatBritain sufficiently well to allow Germany’s 1914 invasion of Belgium toproceed despite the UK pledge to uphold Belgian neutrality.The Britishambassador reported that upon hearing that the UK would live up to itsagreement,the German Chancellor asked if war was to be waged:‘… justfor a word — “neutrality,a word which in war time had so often been dis-regarded — just for a scrap of paper …’ (Horne,1923:vol.1,p.406).TheBritish honoured their agreement,and went to war against Germany.TheChancellor’s career entered a steep decline as a result.He was chased fromoffice and Germany went on to suffer a costly and humiliating defeat.The British did not support Belgium because of a scrap of paper.Theymade an agreement to do so because that is what appeared to best serveBritish interests,and they wished this to be well and publicly understood.We contend that decisions to negotiate individual treaties are neither sep-arate from other actor strategies in the global system,nor do they beginwith a blank slate.Reus-Smit (1997:558) asserts that ‘… contractual inter-national law and multilateralism have become the dominant institutionalpractices governing modern international society’ and we argue that,overtime,states have come to accept and internalize treaty-making as theappropriate foundation for both.Despite its important role in the globalsystem,the literature provides little guidance on how treaty-makingemerged as a well-accepted practice.From early interest in internationallaw and formal organizations through the debates between realism andidealism,then neo-realism and neo-liberalism,onto the current discussionsof institutional design and compliance,extant analyses of multilateraltreaties tend to examine either the specific architecture of agreements toassess the factors that influence the probability of compliance and effective-ness,or the strategic use of treaties to attain relative or absolute gains(Grieco,1990;Martin,1993;Goldstein et al.,2000;Leeds et al.,2000;Pahre,2001;Koremenos et al.,2001;Leeds,2003;Mitchell,2003).These foci are use-ful and have facilitated significant advances in our knowledge.They areincomplete,however.In either assuming the appropriateness of treaty-mak-ing (and then getting on with analysing design) or treating treaties as strate-gic choices in the pursuit of gains (without analysing how treaties came to beunderstood as a way to pursue gains),the current literature ignores theemergence
and
evolution of this practice.These studies contribute to abiased view of treaty-making as the epiphenomenal result of specific,ahis-torical factors rather than as a patterned,historical behavioural practice.This leaves us unable to appreciate how this practice has evolved,how itsevolution influences questions of design/compliance,how it might change inthe future,and how it connects with larger questions of global order.To address this concern we pursue two linked goals.The first is self-consciously descriptive.We introduce a dataset of multilateral treaties withwhich to consider the role that treaty-making has played in the global system.
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COOPERATIONANDCONFLICT
43(2)
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