FOUNDATION: Unit VI. International Implementation, Monitoring, and Enforcement 10 of 11

Success Depends on Voluntary Cooperation

Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan,
Nigerian President Olusegun Obsanjo,
and President George W. Bush in Oval Office, May 2001

Like all law, international law depends mostly on voluntary cooperation for its effectiveness. A treaty on human rights remains only the law on the books until states and other actors take it seriously. Then it also becomes the law in action.

If everyone chose to ignore the traffic laws, there would not be enough police and courts to make the laws work. International law functions the same way, relying on enlightened and long-term self-interest in voluntary compliance. For example, in the controversy about US treatment of enemy prisoners, the outcome will depend on US decisions based on its own views of its long-term self-interest.

Why do people obey laws? Can these reasons also apply to states?

What options does the world community have in dealing with rogue states?

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