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Student Name: Student ID Number: Programme Title: Module Title: Assessment Title: Lecturer(s): Date Submitted: Pearce ODwyer 1031 7179 PPES PO2640 INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS Discuss the Circumstances Under Which States Comply With Treaty Obligations Dr. William Phelan 28/11/2011

I have read and I understand the plagiarism provisions contained in the General Regulations of the University Calendar found at: http://www.tcd.ie/calendar/assets/pdf/tcd-calendar-h-regulations.pdf I declare that the assignment being submitted represents my own work and has not been taken from the work of others save where appropriately referenced in the body of the assignment.

Signed Pearce ODwyer

Date: 28/11/2011

Discuss the Circumstances under which States Comply with Treaty Obligations

In this essay I intend to discuss the theoretical conditions under which states comply with treaties from the different perspectives of Realism, Institutionalism and the State Society Approach. In doing so I will briefly outline the assumptions of each theory and attempt to draw out, in each case, what the consequences of these are for treaty compliance in international politics. I will also introduce the problem of treaty compliance by contrasting the conditions imposed on actors within states and those that prevail in the international system.

A general assumption of political science is that actors are rational egoists. This means that they are moved only by self-interested preferences and that they pursue a strategy of obtaining the greatest possible benefit (in accordance with these preferences) at minimum cost. These assumptions create problems both for the maintenance of order and for the provision of public goods. In the case of public goods, the rational egoist has no incentive to contribute to the cost of their provision, as it is in the nature of such goods that they cannot be withheld from any individual (Olson, 1965). The egoism of individual actors is also a threat to order as such actors are not concerned with the rights of others. Individuals within a state are subject to a centralised authority. The state, as Weber puts it, claims the monopoly of legitimate use of physical force within a given territory (Gerth, Mills, 1946). This creates an environment in which individuals can be made to adhere to certain obligations that they otherwise would not adhere to. However, in the international system no such power exists. The anarchic nature of international politics raises serious questions regarding the possibility of order and cooperation in general, and in particular regarding compliance with treaty obligations.

The realist conception of the international system is one of states locked into a constant struggle for power. States exist in an anarchic, dog-eat-dog world and can only ensure their own survival by being militarily powerful relative to other states (Mearsheimer in Dunne, Kirki, Smith, 2006). There 2

are different explanations within realism for why this is the case but both classical and structural realists agree that states are unmoved by conventional morality or the needs of other states- they are rational egoists, whose preferences reflect a singular preoccupation with amassing power. According to realist theories, the balance of power is key to explaining outcomes in international relations (ibid). International treaties and institutions are merely reflections of this underlying reality. Powerful states create international institutions to formalise their positions in the international system (ibid). Thus the rules of international institutions are only effective if they replicate pre-existing inequalities of power between states. The most obvious example of this is the privileged positions enjoyed by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. These members can use their influence over the UN General Assembly to introduce sanctions against rogue states, yet it is not practically possible for the UN to pass sanctions against a P5 member because of their power of veto. Bismarck commented that, Every treaty has the significance only of a constatation of a definite position in European affairs. (Carr, 1946: 182). If we accept the realist doctrine, we should only expect states to honour treaties that they are not powerful enough to overthrow.

The Institutionalist approach to international relations is based on broadly similar assumptions to those of realism. States are assumed to be rational egoists. However, state preferences reflect a broader conception of the national interest; they are not merely concerned with maximising military power (Keohane, 1984). Institutionalist analysis focuses on what is rational for the state to do in the context of long-term repeated interactions with other states. The live and let live policy adopted by soldiers at the front lines during WWI demonstrates the theoretical implications of a Prisoners Dilemma that is not restricted to one move but rather is played continuously over many moves (Axelrod, 1984). In the long run, the behaviour of actors in such a situation towards one another is reciprocal. They have a choice between mutual benefit brought about by cooperation or mutual loss

brought about by conflict. Thus, under certain conditions, it is rational for self-interested states to cooperate.

In order to facilitate more efficient cooperation, states construct international regimes (Keohane 1984). The theory is that regimes help to prevent political market failure by helping states to reach mutually beneficial agreements. Institutions increase the willingness of states to bargain with each other by providing symmetrical information about state actors and by creating an environment in which states are incentivised to adhere to existing agreements (ibid). The explanation for why states comply with international regimes is twofold. Firstly, in order for a state to benefit from mutually beneficial agreements, it must establish and maintain a reputation for being reliable. If a state is seen to violate existing agreements, other states will not want to take the risk of making further agreements with that state. The other aspect is more complex. Within a given issue area, international regimes establish linkages between lots of different individual issues (ibid). For example, the rules and principles of the GATT bring issues relating to tariffs, dumping, quotas and intellectual property under a single umbrella. When wide-ranging issues are brought together into a single arena, there is significant social pressure on the individual state to comply with expectations or risk earning political ill will that can have far-reaching consequences (ibid).

To put it another way, the dynamics of international regimes create patterns of transactions costs that motivate self-interested actors to pursue policies that are generally compliant with regime principles (ibid). Thus the decision to comply with any specific treaty is not justified, on grounds of self-interest, simply by examining the pros and cons of that treaty in isolation. Rather, it will be justified to the state as part of a general foreign policy that is of much greater importance than any individual treaty. On the basis of this argument, we can conclude that, if a treaty occupies a position

of significance within an international regime, it is most likely that a state will comply with its obligations, even when it is not in its myopic self-interest to do so.

The State Society Approach to international relations is based on fundamentally different assumptions to those of realism and institutionalism. It rejects the black box approach to the state taken by these theories and advocates instead unit-level analysis of states. Liberalism is based on three broad assumptions that are simplified here (Moravcsik, 1997). Firstly, private groups and individuals are the primary actors in international politics. Individuals define their preferences independently of politics and then advance them into the political arena. Secondly, the state is not an actor in itself but an institution that is controlled by a certain subset of domestic society. This subset can change as the relative influence of different groups in society changes. Thirdly, configuration of interdependent state preferences affects state behaviour.

One important area of international politics to which the state society approach is usefully applied is the politics of trade. Here the limitations of employing purely systemic analysis are clearly exposed. Despite the benefits for its economy as a whole of implementing unilateral free trade, state actors are never observed to do so. This is because the resultant change in the profile of the economy would inevitably impose adjustment costs on powerful domestic groups. For example, the increased competition from imports in the German market in the late 19th century provided an opportunity for the German economy to modernise (Gourevitch, 1977). However, this would have threatened influential social and economic groups such as the Junker class and German heavy industry. As a result of their influence, the country was moved in the opposite direction, towards protectionism. From this, we can see that it doesnt always make sense to think of states as unitary rational actors because their behaviour does not always reflect the national interest.

According to State Society theory, state preferences are simply the preferences of the domestic groups that are most influential at the time. These groups can be subject to change. When this happens, international treaties and institutions may be threatened as the patterns of transactions costs that encouraged compliance beforehand may not be significant given the new set of state preferences. However, State Society theory should not be characterised as pessimistic for international cooperation and treaty compliance. It simply argues that the behaviour of states cannot be predicted simply by examining strategic considerations. What is much more important is how states preferences relate to each other; whether or not they are compatible. Considerations of state power and international regimes do come into the equation. However, the configuration of preferences is held to be analytically prior (Moravcsik, 1997). Thus, in order to predict whether or not a state will comply with a given treaty obligation, we must first determine the current configuration of state preferences and then ask whether compliance with that treaty is consistent with a viable strategy to pursue those preferences under the constraints imposed by the international system.

In this essay we have seen that different theoretical approaches can predict very different outcomes in international politics. Simplistic, rationalist assumptions of state behaviour predicted compliance only where treaties were backed up by a power imbalance. The Institutionalist approach showed how rational egoism can produce cooperative outcomes with repeated interaction. The state society approach drew our attention to the importance of unit-level analysis and the anomalies that can arise when we focus purely on systemic analysis.

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Keohane R. After Hegemony: Cooperation and Discord in the World Political Economy. (Princeton, 1984) Gerth H.H. and Mills C.W. (eds.), From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology (OUP, 1946)

Gourevitch P.A. International Trade, Domestic Coalitions, and Liberty: Comparative Responses to the Crisis of 1873-1896 Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Vol. 8, No. 2. (Autumn, 1977)

Mearsheimer J. "Structural Realism," in Tim Dunne, Milja Kurki, and Steve Smith, eds., International Relations Theories: Discipline and Diversity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006)

Moravcsik A. "Taking Preferences Seriously: A Liberal Theory of International Politics", in International Organization, vol. 51, no. 4. (1997)

Olson M. The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups, (Harvard UP, 1965)