Legal compliance has gotten a bad rap in international relations research. Compliance – the state of being on the “legal” side of a legal/illegal binary – has been largely set aside as a variable of interest in empirical studies of international law in favor of more substantive measures of behavioral change. Nevertheless, efforts to frame political science inquiry in terms of law’s effects have not succeeded in sidestepping compliance. To the contrary, none of the core functions of law (guiding behavior, assessing it, attributing responsibility, or assigning remedies) is possible without an applied concept of legal compliance as an orienting point on the horizon. This paper reclaims compliance as an essential concept for the empirical study of international law—albeit in a transformed state that emphasizes its potential for contextual variability and its essentially legal-political character.
Tonya Putnam (Ph.D., Stanford, 2005; J.D., Harvard 2002) is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Columbia University. Her work exploresthe intersectionsof international relations and international law in relation tointernational and transnational regulationand jurisdiction, human rights, international humanitarian law, migration, international dispute resolution, institutional design, and judicial politics.Professor Putnamis the author ofCourts Without Borders:Law, Politics, and U.S. Extraterritoriality(Cambridge University Press 2016). Herresearch has appeared inInternational Organization, International Security,Human Rights Review, Journal of Physical Securityand in edited volumes.She was a Post-DoctoralFellow at the Niehaus Center for Globalization and Governance at Princeton University and a Pre-and Post-Doctoral Fellow at CISAC.She is currently completing a second book on why and how social scientists should factor basic properties of law, such as its semantic indeterminacy, into theories and empirical models of its impact on behavior.Professor Putnam is also a member (inactive) of the California State Bar.