International Organization


Is the good news about compliance good news about cooperation?

George W. Downsa1, David M. Rockea2 and Peter N. Barsooma3

a1 Professor of World Politics of Peace and War in the Department of Politics and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey.

a2 Professor in the Graduate School of Management and the Graduate Group in Statistics at the University of California, Davis.

a3 Candidate in the Department of Politics at Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey.


Recent research on compliance in international regulatory regimes has argued (1) that compliance is generally quite good; (2) that this high level of compliance has been achieved with little attention to enforcement; (3) that those compliance problems that do exist are best addressed as management rather than enforcement problems; and (4) that the management rather than the enforcement approach holds the key to the evolution of future regulatory cooperation in the international system. While the descriptive findings above are largely correct, the policy inferences are dangerously contaminated by endogeneity and selection problems. A high rate of compliance is often the result of states formulating treaties that require them to do little more than they would do in the absence of a treaty. In those cases where noncompliance does occur and where the effects of selection are attenuated, both self-interest and enforcement play significant roles.