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Why over-comply with international law? Exceeding international minimum standards in social, labor, and environmental policy

Ratner, McKenzie (2022) Why over-comply with international law? Exceeding international minimum standards in social, labor, and environmental policy. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004479


Studies on compliance have thus far largely focused on a binary assessment of state behavior, seeking to understand why states comply or fail to comply with international law. This thesis expands on this literature by further investigating the phenomenon of over-compliance. Over-compliance occurs when states do not merely meet their commitments to international institutions but exceed these requirements. This thesis delineates the concept of over-compliance to answer the question of why states choose not merely to meet but to exceed international minimum requirements in the face of potentially higher than necessary costs? It first examines the extent of over-compliance across environmental, human rights, and labor regimes to establish the empirical relevance of the concept. Then, drawing on literature from environmental economics, international political economy (IPE), and international relations (IR) theory, this thesis provides the first comprehensive theoretical framework in IR aimed at identifying the precise causal mechanisms through which states might be incentivized to exceed international minimum standards. This framework differentiates between explanations that suggest a causal link to International Organizations (IOs) and non-IO centric mechanisms. IO specific explanations for over-compliance include two-level games, signaling, uncertainty/sanctions in the face of involuntary non-compliance, policy leadership, and over-commitment. Non-IO centric mechanisms, which assume that institutions have little if any causal impact on state over-compliance, include policy diffusion and domestic political preferences. The thesis also explores the impact of three mediating factors on the probability and possible extent of over-compliance: costs, capacity, and the degree of normative fit between international standards and values at the domestic level. This framework is then applied to three case studies across different international institutions and policy areas drawing on interviews and two novel datasets: Parental Leave in the European Union (EU), the 1st Commitment Period of the Kyoto Protocol of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Minimum Age Convention. This analysis has two key findings: i) while most over-compliant behavior on behalf of states can be accounted for by factors unrelated to international institutions, membership in and/or association with an IO can shape states’ cost/benefit calculations to such an extent that over-compliance is the logical outcome, and ii) the extent and likelihood of over-compliance is largely a by-product of the costs associated with doing so. These findings point to a need for a more fine-grained understanding of compliance predicated on a robust empirical assessment of the dynamics shaping state behavior within and outside of international institutions.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2022 McKenzie Ratner
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
J Political Science > JZ International relations
Sets: Departments > International Relations
Supervisor: Sedelmeier, Ulrich

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