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Regime Design Matters: Intentional Oil Pollution and Treaty Compliance

Too many people assume, generally without having given any serious thought to its character or its history, that international law is and always has been a sham. Others seem to think that it is a force with inherent strength of its own. . . . Whether the cynic or sciolist is the less helpful is hard to say, but both of them make the same mistake.

They both assume that international law is a subject on which anyone can form his opinions intuitively, without taking the trouble, as one has to do with other subjects, to inquire into the relevant facts. The goal of the treaties underlying this regime has been to reduce intentional discharges of waste oil by tankers after they deliver their cargoes.

Since the late 1970s, these treaties have established two quite different compliance systems, or ‘‘subregimes,’’ to accomplish this goal. One has prohibited tanker operators from discharging oil in excess of specified limits. The other has required tanker owners to install expensive pollution-reduction equipment by specified dates

In contrast, international lawyers and institutionalists contend that the anarchic international order need not lead *** to nations violating agreements whenever doing so suits them. Other forces – such as transparency, reciprocity, accountability, and regime-mindedness – allow regimes to impose significant constraints on international behavior under the right conditions

Conclusion

The debate between these theories highlights the demands placed on research that seeks to identify those design characteristics of a regime, if any, that are responsible for observed levels of compliance. I define compliance, the dependent variable, as an actor’s behavior that conforms with an explicit treaty provision. Speaking of compliance with treaty provisions rather than with a treaty captures the fact that parties may well comply with some provisions while violating others

 

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