//The Effectiveness of International Treaties
Effectiveness of International Treaties

The Effectiveness of International Treaties

The growth in international treaties and conventions were not, however, a panacea, and Khaghaghordyan (2014, p. 149) states that, through ratification, although states make an explicit and legally binding commitment, “there is no guarantee that states will institute the legal protections necessary to secure their international obligations, especially because the institutional characteristics, monitoring mechanisms and substantive content of these treaties vary greatly”. Indeed, the limitations of effectiveness of conventions and treaties in achieving their aims can be understood through what Finnemore and Sikkink (1998) refer to as the three stages of the life-cycle of an international norm: norm emergence, norm cascade, and norm internalization. Through this, we examine the development of an international anti-corruption norm and more specifically analyse the varying motivations for states to ratify international conventions and treaties, specifically what early ratification may mean and what this may signal with regards to the effectiveness of these instruments.

This post is part of a masters thesis titled: Corrupting Perceptions – An Analysis of The Impact Of The United Nations Convention Against Corruption On Corruption Perception Index Scores. You can find the full thesis available at this link.

Norm emergence is frequently understood as the process whereby norm entrepreneurs attempt to convince a large number of states to adopt a particular norm, followed by a norm cascade in which a critical mass of states, international advocacy networks, and international organisations seek to socialise the norm, and aim to have the norm “institutionalised in specific sets of international rules and organisations” (Finnemore and Sikkink, 1998, pp. 895-900). Indeed, Finnemore and Sikkink (1998, pp. 895- 900) go as far as to outline the potential rationales for a state to engage with the norm at this particular stage; namely, that “a combination of pressure for conformity, desire to enhance international legitimation and the desire for state leaders to enhance their legitimation” spurs adherence to the norm at this stage. However, for a norm to become accepted, it must reach a tipping point, which leads to the final stage of internalisation, whereby a norm is taken for granted as a part of the institutional system.


In the early work of McCoy (2001), we can see an analysis of this development of an international anti-corruption norm, and more specifically an insight into what factors led to the development of this international anti-corruption norm in the 1990s, as opposed to in the 1970s. Through contextualising the development of an international norm, we can more thoroughly examine its progress and, indeed more relevantly, the effectiveness of international norms, as epitomised through international treaties and conventions.

However, in this context we can examine the work of Khaghaghordyan (2014) who mentions that ratification of international treaties and conventions exist in the context of states existing within “fairly stable equilibriums”, namely that ratification of treaties and conventions do not often alter the underlying paradigm in which states exist, and that many states instead ratify such conventions in the context of “following a ‘‘logic of appropriateness,[1]’’ rather than a ‘‘logic of consequences’’” (Khaghaghordyan, 2014, p. 13; Goodin et al., 2011). Through this prism, it is possible to develop an understanding of the effectiveness of ratification of international treaties and conventions as being partly motivated by the ethical universalist norm in which they existed. Whilst there is considerable literature focused on the effectiveness of international treaties and conventions with regards to human rights and environmental instruments, literature which examines the effectiveness of anti-corruption treaties and conventions is considerably lighter, due in part to the difficulty of effectively measuring the effectiveness of such instruments in reducing the preponderance of corruption, as compared to more tangible reductions in pollution or human rights abuses, for example.


However, an analysis which examines the effectiveness of international treaties and conventions must in part consider the varying motivations and indeed incentives in which states will ratify such international instruments early as a way in which to evaluate their effectiveness. In this case, we can examine the empirical work undertaken by Nielsen and Simmons (2012), which sought to test the motivation behind ratification decisions of international human rights treaties. Nielsen and Simmons (2012, p. 4) argue that it is likely “that most countries ratify treaties not for what they expect to gain from outsiders, but for domestic political purposes”. There may thus exist differing motivations for ratifying anti-corruption conventions and treaties, due in part to the more explicit economic component of corruption, compared to human rights, for example. However, one would assume that early ratification would be motivated by an attempt to expedite the benefits, as laid out in Nielsen and Simmons (2012), That ratification is typically considered to be driven by either tangible benefits, such as increased trade inflows or greater development aid, or motivated by intangible benefits such as praise, acceptance or legitimacy. This, however, does not seem to stack up to empirical analysis. Instead, the authors cite domestic concerns as the primary rationale for ratification of international treaties and conventions, an aspect which is likely behind the early ratification of international treaties and conventions more generally.

However, one factor, which is shared between a number of different international treaties and conventions, are the challenges inherent within ratification of global instruments. It is mentioned often within the review mechanism of the UNCAC, alongside several scholars who look at the ratification of human rights treaties and conventions, that whilst there may be an appetite on the part of developing countries, technical and compliance challenges may serve to inhibit early ratification of international treaties and conventions. Indeed, Baird (2011) highlights the challenges of small developing countries within the Pacific Islands in ratifying and implementing human rights treaties and conventions. In this context, we could view ratification as being for domestic political audiences, in line with the findings of Nielsen and Simmons (2012), whereas limited resources may not be used to transpose a treaty or conventions provisions into domestic policy fully, specifically if the instruments lack robust monitoring and enforcement provisions. This factor could have particular relevance for the UNCAC, as it was not until 2009 (four years after it entered into force) that a review mechanism was included.

Thus, it is through this theoretical lens that we will examine the differing motivations behind early ratification of the UNCAC, namely that, whilst transposition of the provisions and articles of international treaties and conventions may be inhibited due to technical or resource limitations, motivation behind early ratification is likely due to domestic political pressures, as opposed to an understanding that such early ratification is to accrue any particular economic or reputational international benefits.

[1] The logic of appropriateness defines a basis for decision making biased toward what social norms deem right rather than what cost-benefit calculations consider best

All references are available at this link.

Jason Deegan is a PhD Candidate (Stipendiat) and research fellow at the University of Stavanger. His work primarily focuses on; Innovation, Regional Studies, Smart Specialisation and Policy.