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s1 {font-kerning: none}Similar to most laws, international rules are seldom enforced, however are habitually complied with . Nowadays, more than 50,000 international treaties are in force that cover a wide range of international affairs and state sovereignty, however, due to it’s deficiency of having a ‘coercive enforcement’, scholars have argued that state compliance with international law is an occurrence of ‘self-interest’. This essay aims to critically asses when and why states comply with international law and whether or not states act out of self-interest, in the light of international legal scholarships and international relations.

 International law, is widely described as “rules that govern relations between states, and in some cases, between other legally recognised international actors”. All states in the present-day world, are obligated to rationalise their actions in accordance with laws and the accepted norms. In it’s essence, the extent of states complying to international obligations has evolved throughout history, where it’s described to have originated subsequent to two significant developments within European history. First, being the Treaty of Westphalia which is accepted as the origin of traditional international law as it defined the ‘principles of territory’ and ‘state autonomy’.

Second, succeeding the wars commenced within Europe, states became integrating on a global scale, thus, making the United Nations Charter to become the international framework for “which norms of sovereignty and non-intervention were manifested” Following the developments of globalisation in consideration of the areas such as technology, communication, etc. norms and legal rules has managed to reach almost all states. Although there are significant developments within international law and the appropriate norms, it has not been adequate enough of being authoritative for the states to comply consistently. It can be argued that the scope of when states comply international obligations differs.When tackling the variance of compliance, states follow the principle of pacta sunt servanda which in definition under Article 26 of The Vienna Convention is “Every treaty in force is binding upon the parties to it and must be performed by them in good faith.” , thus, it could be argued that, the consensus for the treaties and norms, has consequently plummeted sovereignty and instead strengthened international institutions, non-state actors.

However, in understanding when states comply with international rules, a study by Elise Whitaker provides insight within states that are generally considered as ‘weak’. The study considered the scope of compliance of ‘anti-terrorism rhetoric’ between East African states that had been colonised by the British in the past. Her study showed that although the countries had close correspondence, the states had revealed different measures of compliance and that the most significant element in compliance were do to national measures and factors. Moreover, the study also led way to the argument of states complying due to self-interest since, in the case of the East African countries, complying to the anti-terrorism initiative would have given the states a ground for an arrangement of further aid for their countries.In understanding ‘why’ states comply with international law, scholars assess compliance in the scope of four crucial theories; realism, institutionalism, constructivism and the rational choice theories. Realism is often referred to as ‘structural realists’ or ‘neo-realists’ and the theory argues that the international system is based on anarchy where states are sovereign and independent. Realism further argue that the ultimate key for survival is through ‘state power’ whether it is in consideration of diplomacy, economics or military power since the belief is that every state holds military power to an extent which is classified to themselves, thus they argue that where there is a possibility of a competing state holding an abundance of power in secret, survival becomes ‘dangerous and uncertain’.

In addition, realism defends the notion of states being ‘rational actors’ which in it’s essence is, with the aim of ‘surviving’ in consideration, a State will and must act in the supreme manner in accordance of ‘maximising’ their chances of ‘existence’.A similar theory to realism, could be considered to be ‘Institutionalism’ since institutionalism supports some of realisms suppositions, such as states being anarchic, self-interested and rational actors in consideration of survival. Although, similarities exist, the most significant element that differ realism and institutionalism is that institutionalism depends on game theory and micro-economics, thus providing the possibility of states acting in co-operation for mutual benefit. The basic essence of co-operation between states is due to states are rational actors and utilise self-interest, however, realism does not trust in co-operation even if the purpose is of self-interest.

Besides believing in co-operation, institutionalism further supports the notion of institutions which are a set of ‘rules, norms, practices and decisions’ may be the solution of the unpredictable nature of co-operation. Since institutions provide information guidance regarding state behaviour, the theory argues that institutionalism could offer guidance on when a state should comply, or not comply and the consequences of the compliance to a certain rule.  Lastly, within institutionalism, it is argued that institutions could hold a significant role in expanding effectiveness, as they could minimise transactional costs. Therefore, it could be said that institutionalism could hold ground to clarification regarding international co-operation between states.On the other hand, constructivism is seen as more of a concept, rather than a theory. Contrary to realism and institutionalism, constructivism does not strive on ‘objective facts’ such as military authority or international institutions, however, focuses more on having ‘social meanings’ which emerge from history, social norms and social beliefs, which concerns the matter of ‘identity’ and the matter of ‘belief’, hence argues that in order to understand state behaviour, scholars and legal bodies must understand ‘social meanings’.

  One of the approaches towards the social context regarding. Constructivism also support the notion of states acting out of self-interest and being rational actors. It has been argued that, due to constructivism theorists position and beliefs, they highlight the role of non-state actors in comparison to realism and institutionalism.Before unfolding the last theory, rational choice, it is of importance to understand what ‘Customary international law’ is.

The concept of Customary International law, is a second form of international law, which is recognised by traditional scholars. However, contrary to Treaties, Customary International Law does not emerge through positive negotiation or formal consent, alternatively, it transpires through a predominant state practice and, through opinio juris, which “refers to the reason why a nation acts in accordance with a behavioral regularity, it is often described as the “psychological” element of Customary International Law”. Rational choice theory argues that numerous Customary International Law rules, similar to international law rules or collective social norms, could be described as a “balance in repeated prisoners dilemma” which refers to the game plan where it exhibits two ‘rational’ parties not cooperating, although to cooperate would have been in the best interest of both parties.

States are faced with short-term inducement for flawed and free circulation by others while at the same time acquiring mutual benefits through cooperation, which makes it difficult to maintain the cooperative balance. The Rational choice theories, describe ‘stable cooperation’ notwithstanding the short-term inducements through three means; reciprocity, which refers to a state revoking its particular association due to another states desertion; retaliation, which refers to the operation and methods of penalising a deserting state such as the termination of diplomatic relations, imposing sanctions, or termination foreign aids etc.; and lastly a states reputation, which could get damaged due to desertion, which consequently would plummet a states capability of engaging in a beneficial cooperation with another state.For instance, if a state violates an agreement, is in violation of the obligations within a treaty,  other states may repudiate entering into contracts, or treaties, with that state because they will not have an expectation of the state fulfilling their future commitments.

The same would occur if a state is to allow another foreign state to be prosecuted in it’s own courts, as it would be in breach of Customary International Law, other states could be able to conclude that the tendency of complying with Customary International Law small, thus, would withhold from entering into contracts or treaties. Considering the three principal means of rational choice theory, the consequences of breach presents inducements for states to comply in international legal orders.One of the most significant cases, would be the case of Jones v United Kingdom. In the case of Jones, on January 14, 2014 the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) had passed it’s judgement regarding the case, where the judgment had been highly anticipated since the case had been called on “inter alia, to rule on whether State officials were entitled to immunity from jurisdiction in civil proceedings with respect to torture, and could thus escape accountability in foreign courts” The case concerned, UK nationals that were reportedly tortured in a Saudi prison  by Saudi agents and thus on their arrival to the United Kingdom, had filed a civil suit within the United Kingdom courts countering both the Saudi Agents that were involved in the torture and The Saudi Arabian State.

The claimants in the case had filed an application before the European Court of Human Rights, succeeding the dismissal of the case before the United Kingdom courts and the Supreme Court based on the grounds of “both a foreign State and its officials enjoy immunity from jurisdiction before domestic courts, even in respect of torture”. The legal debate of the case had not focused on jurisdictional issues, but, had rather focused on the question of immunity. The European Court of Human Rights had stated that “the UN Torture Convention does not contain an obligation for States to exercise universal jurisdiction in civil cases and thus that State official immunity could not be abrogated in respect of civil torture claims.” The case was decided that there was no violation and that the Saudi Arabian officials, were, in fact eligible for immunity from jurisdiction, even in the consideration of the alleged torture.

 The case of Jones, could be argued to be of significance, since although it was decided that there were no violations, some legal scholars argue that the United Kingdom has chosen not to comply with international law when calculated  staying in co-operation with Saudi Arabia would have a more beneficial outcome on the bigger picture. Thus, it could be argued that, this case would be an example for how states may act out of self-interest when complying with certain international rules and social norms.With the ongoing developments within international law and the accepted social norms throughout history, it would be appropriate to argue that the developments have affected state behaviour. Although studies show that states do in fact comply with international, it is of fact that there are instances where a state may choose to act in non-compliance. Although the key theories of, realism, institutionalism, constructivism and rational choice do provide insight on why states comply with international orders, it is clear that there is no ‘single theory’ that could demonstrate the reasoning of state compliance and why states oblige in legitimising their behaviour in regards of legal rules. It could be argued that there is a moral pull, where states act in a certain way which would provide ultimate peace and benefits by cooperating with such rules, however as stated before, there is no single theory or factor that would be an explanation for state behaviour.