Compliance in International Relations. Key to Effective Controlling of Pollution by Environmental Regimes?

Term Paper, 2015

15 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of content:

Topic Page:

1. Introduction

2. The key role of Compliance in international relations, especially for the effectiveness of international environmental regimes.
2.1 International regimes from a realist perspective
2.2 International regimes in an institutional approach

3. International environmental regimes to control oil pollution: OILPOL and MARPOL Which regime was successful and more effective?

4. Conclusion and Outlook

5. Sources

1.0 Introduction:

Over the last decades, the number of international institutions, regimes, organizations or regulations has increased continuously very rapidly. Many of them are very specific and regard only certain issues, while others describe a whole variety of problems, fields of interest and aspects. They sometimes include only a few, sometimes a very high number of actors. The world and its actors in the field of international relations has become and still becomes more and more complex. New developments, actions and reactions are faster, recognized to be much more dynamic and affecting more other goods, actors and their interests as the world is becoming more and more interdependent. (Abram Chayes and Antonia Handler Chayes 1993, S. 175) Among so many shapes of international agreements, the level of compliance of all participating actors is directly linked to their effectiveness and so far also to their success.

Analyzing international relations with the focus on compliance of actors with regimes or subregimes to control a common good is becoming more and more interesting, not only because over a very short period of time (compared to world history) all resources on this planet are becoming more and more rare, but also because every actor in this anarchic world system can use, pollute, destroy, save or ignore it, with basically no real control mechanism.

In this paper I will describe the importance of compliance in international relations, discuss the effectiveness of sub-regimes, their importance to enforce the control of common goods, such as pollution of the seas as a given example to analyze.

Furthermore, I am going to use two well know theories to analyze compliance and effectiveness of international regimes or regulations. The institutional approach will be discussed whether it is more likely for actors to comply or not and under which circumstances the level of compliance is high enough to turn an international regime into a useful and effective instrument to regulate and control a certain behavior. The theory of realism will be used to analyze the likelihood of compliance and effectiveness of international regimes from a realist's point of view.

I will use these two theories to compare them regarding the most coherent explanation of likelihood of compliance and its influence on the effectiveness of the sub-regimes OILPOL and MARPOL, which were created to control oil pollution of the seas. I decided to concentrate on compliance in this aspect. Which theory can best explain the effectiveness and the likelihood of compliance with these two sub-regimes?

Afterwards, compliance of actors with sub-regimes in the scope of the control and protection of common goods will give a much more detailed view on the problem of pollution of the seas, followed by a brief conclusion.

2.0 The key role of Compliance in international relations, especially for the effectiveness of international environmental regimes First of all, it is necessary to understand the concept of international regimes in order to analyze their effectiveness. International regimes are “a system of norms and rules that are specified by a multilateral agreement among the relevant states to regulate national actions on a specific issue”(Porter, Brown and Chasek 2000: 13). A slightly different but also coherent definition gives Robert Keohane (1989: 4): “Regimes are institutions with explicit rules, agreed upon by governments, that pertain to particular sets of issues in international relations.” All definitions have in common, that regimes are consistent of rules, may they be norms or certain regulations, in an agreement between states.

Furthermore, international regimes are always created through multilateral negotiations when actors, which are usually states, realize that the current status of a certain issue is no longer sustainable. They start negotiating, because they are willing to change the status and reach agreement. Nevertheless, all actors involved are trying to gain as much as possible from an agreement, while giving up as little as possible. This means that actors are in any case interest-oriented. The outcome of an agreement must be always positive for every actor, who is participating in negotiations, otherwise participation in negotiations is unlikely and/or non- compliance is sure to follow. For this reason, a win-win situation is most effective to reach consent. Of course, not all states can win equally in multilateral negotiations, but states will find a positive outcome, if the agreement is a higher value to the actors' interests than having no agreement at all (Porter et al. 2000, S13).

Actors alter their behavior when beginning to negotiate an agreement. Participation and compliance with an agreement is also dependent on the relationships of states and their expectations of one another regarding the behavior of compliance (Chayes and Chayes 1993, S. 176, 177).

No international regime or law is working as it is designed and can be regarded effective, if the actors involved don't comply. Young and Levy define an effective regime as such “that channels behavior in such a way as to eliminate […] the problem”. In the same way, an ineffective regime can be described as one “that has little behavioral impact” (Oran R. Young and Marc A. Levy 1999, p.1)

Chayes and Chayes describe a “level of overall compliance, that is “acceptable” in the light of the interests and concerns the treaty is designed” (Chayes and Chayes 1993, S. 176). They further allege, that a certain level of compliance can be compared to a speed limit on highways, where minor deviations are not prosecuted, but then distinguish between the rather simple illustrative example of speed limits and the indeed complex and controvertible structures of legal norms and treaty regulations (Chayes et al. 1993, S. 198). According to the authors “the acceptable level of compliance would vary with the significance and cost of the reliance that parties place on the other's performance” (Chayes et al. S. 198).

I agree with Chayes and Chayes regarding the comparison of the application of international law with the enforcement of speed limits. In this case, there is always room for indulgence, if a deviant behavior is detected.

But it's a little more difficult to apply this pattern on legal norms in international law. In the case of speed limits, there is law enforcement in form of the state's national police to ensure the obedience of the national law. In an anarchic structure like the states constitute in the international scope, it is very difficult, not to say naturally impossible, to establish an institution of law enforcement to control and punish deviant behavior, but there are still ways to do so as Keohane and Nye point out:

“ Arranging enforcement is not so difficult as it may seem. The major advanced industrialized countries deal with each other on a large number of issues over an indefinite period of time. Each government could “ get away with ” a particular violation. But viable regimes rely, in one form or another, on the principle of long-term reciprocity. No one trusts habitual cheaters. Over time governments develop reputations for compliance, not just to the letter of law but to the spirit as well. ” (Robert O. Keohane and Joseph S. Nye, Jr. 2012, S. 289) This shows, that the best enforcement is self enforcement in order to build up a reputation of a trusted partner with a compliance level as high as possible.

After addressing international regimes in general, let's have a focus on environmental regimes, which take up a special role among international relations. Young and Levy (1999) describe all environmental regimes as “social institutions consisting of agreed upon principles, norms, rules, procedures, and programs that govern the interactions of actors in specific issue areas” (Young and Levy 1999, p.1). This definition is almost the same like Keohane's definition of regimes in general, as quoted above, only environmental regimes seem to be more complex, as they always address a common good like water, air, ground or nature.

According to Young and Levy, every regime should have behavioral consequences. As already stated above, a regime with a high behavioral impact can be counted effective. The effectiveness of a regime is directly linked to and therefore also dependent on the level of compliance of the actors in an agreement. The more actors comply with it, the more effective will be the regime. So to say: The higher the compliance, the higher the effectiveness. Young and Levy describe the meaning of effectiveness as “a matter of contributions that institutions make to solving problems that motivate actors to invest the time and energy needed to create them”(Young 1999: 3). This is a very important character of international environmental regimes, because the actors invest time and money in effort to change a status, which will affect all actors, because it addresses the field of common goods.

Young and Levy name 5 different possible approaches to analyze effectiveness. Briefly summarized they show also different understandings of effectiveness (Young 1999: 4 f.). The problem-solving approach means to eliminate the problem, for what the regime was set up. Although an effective regime doesn't always need to be effective by itself, but may be problem-solving by other initiatives, established by the actors. This approach is relatively easy to measure, because the outcome is visible.

The legal approach evaluates the legal conformity of contractual compliance of the states with the agreement. If all, or a needed majority of rules are implied in the national law to reach at least an overall compliance, the regime can be regarded as effective (Young 1999: 4). Also here are different levels of effectiveness to observe. The legal compliance with a regime doesn't automatically imply the effectiveness of a regimes. Often are actors in compliance with the law without changing anything, the effectiveness is very low in such case.


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Compliance in International Relations. Key to Effective Controlling of Pollution by Environmental Regimes?
University of Bamberg
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ISBN (Book)
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International Regimes, Compliance, Regulations, Environment, MARPOL, International Relations, Effectiveness, Institutionalism, Realism, OILPOL
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Felix Braune (Author), 2015, Compliance in International Relations. Key to Effective Controlling of Pollution by Environmental Regimes?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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