The Review of International Organizations

, Volume 7, Issue 4, pp 399-424

First online:

Capacity, not constraints: A theory of North-South regulatory cooperation

  • Christopher MarcouxAffiliated withDepartment of Political Science, DePauw University
  • , Johannes UrpelainenAffiliated withDepartment of Political Science, Columbia University Email author 

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While neoliberal institutionalists argue that treaties facilitate collective action, many North-South regulatory treaties focus on largely national problems in developing countries. As such, these treaties present a puzzle: why a global treaty to address national regulatory problems? We argue that while activists in industrialized countries often promote regulatory treaties, these treaties garner political support among developing countries because they allow governments to enhance their national regulatory capacity. Developing countries are often not interested in banning practices such as trade in hazardous waste. Instead, developing countries want to increase their ability to control them. We test the argument against data on the global regime for hazardous waste trade. Contravening the conventional wisdom, we find that weak regulatory capacity is a powerful predictor of ratification of the Basel Convention, a treaty that does not ban hazardous waste trade but allows regulatory enhancement. By contrast, other treaties in the regime that do aim at banning hazardous waste trade receive little support among developing countries.


International cooperation Regulation Capacity building Environmental policy Environment and development Hazardous waste Treaty ratification