Take the Long Way Home: Sub-Federal Integration of Unratified and Non-Self-Executing Treaty Law

48 Pages Posted: 9 Apr 2007 Last revised: 22 Oct 2007

See all articles by Lesley Wexler

Lesley Wexler

University of Illinois College of Law


Sub-federal integration is the practice of cities and states promoting and implementing unratified and non-self-executing treaties. This article examines several instances of sub-federal integration in order to demonstrate the importance of treaties to even non-member countries. The existence of sub-federal integration suggests that the existing focus on federal ratification and congressional implementation overlooks an important mechanism through which domestic integration of treaties can occur. Sub-federal integration provides a concrete example of how unratified and non-self-executing treaties can have real, albeit limited, impact on domestic practices. No consensus exists within international law scholarship about whether and how treaties influence domestic practices and preferences. Norm-based theorists suggest that treaties can slowly change preferences over time through treaty management which includes repeated persuasive interactions as well as technical and financial assistance. This article uses sub-federal integration to propose an addition to norm-based theories by suggesting the mechanisms of treaty management may be extended to non-treaty members like cities and states. This article also challenges the prediction that sub-federal integration will trigger norm cascades strong enough to change national preferences for federal ratification. While this article suggests sub-federal integration raises the possibility of modest social change, it acknowledges numerous procedural and political barriers to ratification. Instead, it suggests that ratification is just one of many ways to bring international law home.

Keywords: international law, norm theory, treaties

JEL Classification: K33

Suggested Citation

Wexler, Lesley M., Take the Long Way Home: Sub-Federal Integration of Unratified and Non-Self-Executing Treaty Law. Michigan Journal of International Law, Vol. 28, No. 1, 2006, FSU College of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 281, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=978805

Lesley M. Wexler (Contact Author)

University of Illinois College of Law ( email )

504 E. Pennsylvania Avenue
Champaign, IL 61820
United States

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