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The New Sovereignty

The New Sovereignty

Compliance with International Regulatory Agreements

Abram Chayes, Antonia Handler Chayes

ISBN 9780674617834

Publication date: 10/01/1998

In an increasingly complex and interdependent world, states resort to a bewildering array of regulatory agreements to deal with problems as disparate as climate change, nuclear proliferation, international trade, satellite communications, species destruction, and intellectual property. In such a system, there must be some means of ensuring reasonably reliable performance of treaty obligations. The standard approach to this problem, by academics and politicians alike, is a search for treaties with "teeth"--military or economic sanctions to deter and punish violation.

The New Sovereignty argues that this approach is misconceived. Cases of coercive enforcement are rare, and sanctions are too costly and difficult to mobilize to be a reliable enforcement tool. As an alternative to this "enforcement" model, the authors propose a "managerial" model of treaty compliance. It relies on the elaboration and application of treaty norms in a continuing dialogue between the parties--international officials and nongovernmental organizations--that generates pressure to resolve problems of noncompliance. In the process, the norms and practices of the regime themselves evolve and develop.

The authors take a broad look at treaties in many different areas: arms control, human rights, labor, the environment, monetary policy, and trade. The extraordinary wealth of examples includes the Iran airbus shootdown, Libya's suit against Great Britain and the United States in the Lockerbie case, the war in Bosnia, and Iraq after the Gulf War.

The authors conclude that sovereignty--the status of a recognized actor in the international system--requires membership in good standing in the organizations and regimes through which the world manages its common affairs. This requirement turns out to be the major pressure for compliance with treaty obligations. This book will be an invaluable resource and casebook for scholars, policymakers, international public servants, lawyers, and corporate executives.


  • I have long known, from associating with some of them, that the best legal scholars can be especially unlawyerly in the way they think about agreements, negotiations, and compliance. The approach of Chayes and Chayes is in my favorite tradition: neither legalistic nor formalistic, but full of sophisticated good sense based on personal experience and historical scholarship. Theirs is an original--and actually upbeat--way of thinking about international agreements.

    —Thomas C. Schelling, author of The Strategy of Conflict


  • Abram Chayes is Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law, Emeritus, Harvard Law School.
  • Antonia Handler Chayes is Director and Senior Advisor, Conflict Management Group. She is a former undersecretary of the U.S. Air Force.

Book Details

  • 417 pages
  • 6-3/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press