Do International Courts Enhance Compliance with International Law?

Asian and Pacific Studies, Vol. 25, 2003

28 Pages Posted: 17 Aug 2006

See all articles by Karen J. Alter

Karen J. Alter

Northwestern University - Department of Political Science; University of Copenhagen, Faculty of Law - iCourts Center of Excellence

Abstract

One of the main hopes of proponents of international courts is that international courts will in some way encourage greater respect for international law. In truth, we know surprisingly little about the relationship between international courts and compliance with international law. The academic literature yields few direct hypotheses, because it has focused on broader questions of why states follow international law, or contextual factors shaping state compliance with international obligations. Indeed a read of this literature could well lead to the conclusion that courts will contribute very little to enhancing state respect for international law. On the other side of the debate is a literature that asserts that courts will enhance the likelihood that states comply with international law, with little development of when, how, or why courts will enhance compliance with international law. This paper reviews a broad variety of American literature on international law and state behavior, pulling from this literature insights about the potential relationship between international courts and compliance with international law. The goal is to both make American literature more accessible to international audiences, and to move beyond broad claims about whether or not enforcement works as an approach to facilitate compliance. Parts I and II summarize the academic debates regarding enforcement versus management approaches to increasing compliance with international law, and why states turn to international courts. The analysis aims to pull out how international courts in particular may be contributing to compliance with international law. Part III takes from the preceding analysis insights that might explain variation in where international courts do or do not facilitate compliance with international law. I generate a list of fourteen propositions, not all of which are compatible with each other. This list offers a beginning way to think about explaining variation in the influence of international courts on state behavior, and to think how specific examples may or may not generalize to larger claims about the relationship between international courts and compliance with international law. Enhancing compliance is not the only influence international courts may have in international politics. Part IV considers unintended consequences of using international courts to enhance compliance, and urges us to think more holistically about how international courts may be influencing international relations.

Keywords: International Law, International Courts, Compliance

JEL Classification: K34, K42

Suggested Citation

Alter, Karen J., Do International Courts Enhance Compliance with International Law?. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=924591

Karen J. Alter (Contact Author)

Northwestern University - Department of Political Science ( email )

601 University Place
Evanston, IL 60208
United States

University of Copenhagen, Faculty of Law - iCourts Center of Excellence ( email )

Karen Blixens Plads 16
Copenhagen, DK-2300
Denmark

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