Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



What is the "pull of international society" and how does it influence the willingness of States to enter into or comply with international law? Since Grotius first identified the concept that States seek esteem from the broader global community, its parameters have proven illusive. Nonetheless, the notion remains central to discussions of why States comply with international agreements.

Understanding the reputational mechanism that impels State compliance is especially important to human rights treaties. Unlike other regimes, States that ratify and abide by the terms of these instruments receive neither reciprocal nor immediate benefits.

Consequently, the desire for international esteem is the crucible by which compliance with human rights norms is determined. Professor Oona Hathaway has recently raised concerns about the efficacy of the reputational mechanism through an empirical study suggesting that ratification of human rights treaties may lead to increased human rights violations. While these findings have been challenged on both econometric and normative grounds, the need to understand whether Hathaway's findings are simply the result of faulty measurement, improper regime design, or the inability of social forces to compel compliance is crucial to the development and success of the international human rights project. Answers to these questions begin with the development of more detailed models of the way social forces work. Not only will such models enable us to determine if social forces can be harnessed to better ensure compliance with human rights treaties, they also provide a framework that can help us better design human rights instruments.