The Review of International Organizations

, Volume 8, Issue 2, pp 163-191

First online:

Non-compliance by design: Moribund hard law in international institutions

  • Christopher MarcouxAffiliated withPolitical Science, DePauw University
  • , Johannes UrpelainenAffiliated withPolitical Science, Columbia University Email author 

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


States often create international institutions that impose legally binding rules on member states, and then do not even attempt to enforce these rules. Why? In this article, we present a game-theoretic model of moribund hard law in international institutions. We show that if some states face domestic pressure to negotiate a hard law treaty, their incentive to insist on hard law in the negotiations is maximized when less enthusiastic states expect that the hard law will probably not be enforced. Domestic proponents of hard law reward states for negotiating a hard law treaty, while states that oppose hard law can accept it because they expect no enforcement. As a form of informal governance, moribund hard law allows non-compliance by design.


Informal governance Hard law Soft law Treaty design International bargaining Game theory Environmental agreements

JEL Classification

F53 F55