How to write about, or whether to even use, the concept of compliance is something I’ve struggled with in my own work. I was therefore thrilled to read Lisa Martin’s convincing piece on what she deems is a misguided use of compliance in IR (go here for an earlier version free to download).
Essentially, Martin argues that IR scholars have devoted time and resources to studying states’ compliance with international institutions, despite the fact that compliance is not what they are interested in. A central question for IR scholars is determining causal effects – answering the counterfactual of how real state behaviour would differ in the absence of the institution of interest. These interesting indicators are observed changes in behaviour, and the substantive content of state policies. A focus on compliance, she argues, could lead us to miss these entirely.
To illustrate this, Martin gives the example of a state with low levels of environmental regulation, ratifying an environmental treaty. Upon joining,
“The institution provides knowledge and capacity, and in response State B modestly improves its performance on emission indicators. However, it still falls short of institutional requirements. If compliance were measured dichotomously, State B would be found out of compliance.”
Continue reading What we talk about when we talk about compliance