Beyond Compliance: Rethinking Why International Law Really Matters
Robert L. Howse
New York University School of Law
New York Law School
Global Policy (Online), Vol. 1, No. 2, 2010
NYU School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 10-08
The conceptual, and more recently empirical, study of compliance has become a central preoccupation, and perhaps the fastest growing sub-field, in international legal scholarship. The authors seek to put in question this trend. They argue that looking at the aspirations of international law through the lens of rule-compliance leads to inadequate scrutiny and understanding of the diverse complex purposes and projects that multiple actors impose and transpose on international legality, and especially a tendency to oversimplify if not distort the relation of international law to politics. Citing a range of examples from different areas of international law-ranging widely from international trade and investment to international criminal and humanitarian law-the authors seek to show how the concept of compliance (especially viewed as rule-observance) is inadequate to understanding how international law has normative effects. A fundamental flaw of compliance studies is they abstract from the problem of interpretation: Interpretation is pervasively determinative of what happens to legal rules when they are out in the world yet “compliance” studies begin with the notion that there is a stable and agreed meaning to a rule, and we need merely observe whether it is obeyed.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 30Accepted Paper Series
Date posted: February 13, 2010
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