The Limits of Reputation on Compliance

12 Pages Posted: 11 Jul 2009 Last revised: 22 Dec 2014

Date Written: July 1, 2009


This short paper is a response to Andrew Guzman's book, How International Law Works. Guzman presents a novel synthesis of the IR approaches to IL by arguing that a state's concern with its reputation is one most important source of compliance with international law. But the book's approach to reputation is not up to the task of explaining compliance. In discussion the book's shortcomings, I ask to whom the relevant reputation belongs. Guzman relies on notions of the state's reputation, but this assignment is a problem for a causation analysis because governments (who make the compliance decisions) will not fully internalize the state's reputation. In addition, I discuss the methodological problems in Guzman's approach. The book provides for only a very loose means of assessing reputational costs, even as a conceptual matter. Without such means of assessment, any claim about the power of reputation remains non-falsifiable and therefore has less theoretical force.

Keywords: International Law, Compliance, Climate Change, Reputation

Suggested Citation

Brewster, Rachel, The Limits of Reputation on Compliance (July 1, 2009). Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 09-37, Available at SSRN: or

Rachel Brewster (Contact Author)

Duke University School of Law ( email )

210 Science Drive
Box 90362
Durham, NC 27708
United States

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