Reputation, Compliance and International Law

Posted: 30 Mar 2002

See all articles by George W. Downs

George W. Downs

New York University (NYU)

Michael A. Jones

Mathematical Reviews


Increasingly skeptical about the efficiency and effectiveness of formal multilateral enforcement mechanisms, a growing number of international relations theorists and international lawyers have begun to argue that states' reputational concerns are actually the principal mechanism for maintaining a high level of treaty compliance. This essay argues that there are a number of empirical and theoretical reasons for believing that the actual effects of reputation are both weaker and more complicated than the standard view of reputation suggests. While states have reason to revise their estimates of a state's reputation following a defection or pattern of defections, they have reason to do so only in connection with those agreements that they believe are (1) affected by the same or similar sources of fluctuating compliance costs and (2) believed to be valued the same or less by the defecting state. This tends to localize the consequences of noncompliance on reputation to a subset of similar agreements.

Suggested Citation

Downs, George W. and Jones, Michael A., Reputation, Compliance and International Law. Available at SSRN:

George W. Downs (Contact Author)

New York University (NYU) ( email )

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New York, NY 10003-711
United States
212-998-8020 (Phone)

Michael A. Jones

Mathematical Reviews ( email )

416 Fourth Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
United States

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