Theories of Compliance with International Law and the Challenge of Cultural Difference
Journal of International Law and International Relations, Vol. 4, No. 1, pp. 151-198, 2008
51 Pages Posted: 31 Mar 2008 Last revised: 19 Jun 2009
This Article reviews the literature on international legal compliance in international law (IL) and international relations (IR) literatures, and examines the extent to which the competing theories contemplate the impact of culture on state behaviour. When compared to the alternatives, the constructivist approach to compliance holds greater potential for a direct engagement with the challenge of diversity, but this potential is yet to be fully realized. The constructivist reliance on acculturation, as a method of inducing conformity with legal norms assumes a relatively cohesive social environment. Authors who consider this mechanism favourably assume that this condition is met. But this assumption is not defended at the normative level, and empirically it infers the existence of a global culture from structural similarities between states whilst ignoring the agency involved.
The alternative compliance tool explicated in constructivist studies is persuasion. But the mechanisms through which persuasion works remain underspecified in existing literature. Furthermore, constructivists have shown how persuasion may work in diplomatic settings, where state representatives are sometimes persuaded to comply with international norms in a process of social learning. But their attempts at examining the domestic internalization of norms present us with a proposition that puts the coherency of this approach in question: that norms may have a constitutive effect at the international level but an instrumental role domestically. The Article concludes that constructivists in both disciplines ought to consider the directions in which the empirical study of deliberative politics may proceed at both the global and the local levels of governance, toward the development of a coherent compliance theory. They must also accept that a reflection on the normative aspects of such a theory cannot be avoided.
Keywords: international law, international relations, compliance, culture, constructivism, critical theory, discourse
JEL Classification: K33
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