Treaties: Strategic Considerations

36 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2007

See all articles by Todd M. Sandler

Todd M. Sandler

University of Texas at Dallas - School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences, Department of Economics & Finance


This paper presents a rationalist approach to treaty formation and adherence, where nations are motivated by their self-interest in a strategic framework that accounts for other nations' responses. Key considerations include coordination games, dynamic cooperation, institutional design, and the aggregation technology of public supply. Dynamic aspects involve multilateral cooperation under a variety of game forms. Treaty design is essential in motivating nations to fulfill obligations without the need for enforcement. Some properties of public goods - e.g., the manner in which individual contributions determine the available consumption level (i.e., the aggregation technology) - have a crucial influence over nations' incentives to adhere to treaties once ratified. The role of morality and conformity are captured in the strategic framework presented.

The analysis of this paper extends the interesting work of Goldsmith and Posner which have rejected the standard "explanations of customary international law (CIL) based on opinio juris, legality, morality, and related concepts." They have, instead, taken a positivist, rationalist viewpoint of CIL in which unitary actors, representing countries, are driven by self-interests and strategic considerations. Goldsmith and Posner's study accounts for game-theoretical interactions among states, whereby an agent adjusts for how its counterparts will react to the agent's actions. Carrying on in this tradition, the current paper indicates that treaties can be designed to be self-enforcing depending on the incentives captured by the treaty wording. The presence of strategic players need not lead to a pessimistic result For example, the Montreal Protocol on Ozone Depleting Substances resulted in a treaty where adherence has been excellent and there has been little need for enforcement at the country level. Throughout the paper, we present a host of different games that include two and many players, single and repeated plays, and a host of game forms. In particular, we do not just focus on the Prisoner's Dilemma.

Keywords: Treaty, Nash equilibrium, Prisoner's Dilemma, assurance games, repeated games, public goods, aggregation technology of public supply

JEL Classification: K 33, H 41

Suggested Citation

Sandler, Todd M., Treaties: Strategic Considerations. U. of St. Gallen Law & Economics Working Paper No. 2007-10, University of Illinois Law Review, Vol. 1, 2008, Available at SSRN:

Todd M. Sandler (Contact Author)

University of Texas at Dallas - School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences, Department of Economics & Finance ( email )

Richardson, TX 75083
United States

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