What's Your Sign? - International Norms, Signals, and Compliance

47 Pages Posted: 5 Aug 2005


This Article proposes a new approach to analyzing state compliance with international obligations, positing that increased interaction among the world's regulators has reinforced norms within cross-border regulatory networks, influencing the actions of senior regulators who are network members and, in turn, affecting levels of state compliance.

Network norms help define what state actions constitute signals and the meanings of those signals. Certain actions, such as implementing a substantive network standard, may be considered a concrete expression of an abstract network norm. States that fail to implement that standard risk failing to send the right signal, potentially incurring significant network sanctions. Actual compliance, however, may reflect a balance between network norms and competing domestic interests, so that states may fail to comply fully with standards they have implemented. Lower levels of compliance, nevertheless, may be permissible so long as they are consistent with network expectations. If this theory is accurate, then traditional concepts of compliance may not apply internationally; rather, what constitutes compliance may vary across networks and over time, based on differences in networks and norms.

The Basel Accord of 1988 and Japan's experience are presented as illustrations. For Japan, implementing the Accord was important in order to signal its cooperation to other regulators, even though actual compliance was lower, reflecting competing domestic interests. Network norms may have modified members' expectations of what levels of compliance were acceptable; and so, even in the face of weak compliance, Japan's implementation may have credibly signaled its support of network cooperation.

Keywords: Norms, regulatory capital, Basel Accord, Basle Accord, compliance, network, banks, Japan

Suggested Citation

Whitehead, Charles K., What's Your Sign? - International Norms, Signals, and Compliance. Michigan Journal of International Law, Vol. 27, p. 695, 2006, Columbia Law and Economics Working Paper No. 295, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=777684

Charles K. Whitehead (Contact Author)

Cornell Law School ( email )

Myron Taylor Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853
United States

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