Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home
  • Get access
    Check if you have access via personal or institutional login
  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: January 2013

8 - Hard and Soft Law

Summary

Political scientists and legal scholars have increasingly explored the concepts of hard and soft law in international governance. Although the concept of soft law remains to some extent controversial in the legal academy, the burgeoning literature of the past decade has generated valuable insights regarding the adoption of hard and soft law as a design choice, the advantages and disadvantages of each form under different conditions, the ways in which hard and soft legal instruments interact over time, and the impact and effectiveness of hard and soft legal provisions in various issue areas.

In this chapter, we review and assess this literature, with a focus on the insights generated by interdisciplinary international law/international relations (IL/IR) scholarship. The first four parts cover the four core areas of IL/IR theorizing about hard and soft law: definition, design, interaction, and impact. That is, we first address a key definitional question, noting the substantial disagreements among positivist, rational institutionalist, and constructivist scholars about the definitions and the key features of hard and soft law, respectively. Next, we examine the question of hard and soft law as a design choice, asking under what conditions states (or other actors) might opt for hard- or soft-law commitments in international relations. Here, we distinguish between a nearly ubiquitous functionalist approach and a nascent but promising distributive approach distinctive to contemporary IL/IR scholarship. Third, we examine the question of how hard and soft law interact in an increasingly complex and fragmented international legal landscape, arguing that hard and soft law can interact not only as alternatives or complements, but also, under certain conditions, as antagonists. Fourth, we examine the sparse but suggestive scholarship on the impact of hard and soft law beyond the law-making stage (i.e., in terms of legal interpretation, as well as compliance and effectiveness). A brief final section concludes with a discussion of the value-added contributions, as well as the lacunae and blind spots, of the IL/IR literature in this area.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO
References
Abbott, Kenneth W., and Snidal, Duncan (2000). “Hard and Soft Law in International Governance,” International Organization, Vol. 54, No. 3, pp. 421–56.
Abbott, Kenneth W., and Snidal, Duncan (2004). “Pathways to Cooperation,” in Benvenisti, Eyal and Hirsch, Moshe (eds.), The Impact of International Law on International Cooperation: Theoretical Perspectives (New York: Cambridge University Press), pp. 50–84.
Abbott, Kenneth W., and Duncan, Snidal (2009). “The Governance Triangle: Regulatory Standards Institutions and the Shadow of the State,” in Mattli, Walter and Woods, Ngaire (eds.), The Politics of Global Regulation (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press), pp. 44--88.
Alter, Karen J., and Meunier, Sophie (2009). “The Politics of International Regime Complexity,” Perspectives on Politics, Vol. 7, No. 1, pp. 13–24.
Andonova, Liliana B., Betsill, Michele M, and Bulkeley, Harriet (2009). “Transnational Climate Governance,” Global Environmental Politics, Vol. 9, No. 2, pp. 52–73.
Andonova, Liliana, and Elsig, Manfred (2012). “Informal International Lawmaking – a Conceptual View from International Relations,” in Pauwelyn, Joost, Wessel, Ramses, and Wouters, Jan (eds.), Informal International Lawmaking (Oxford: Oxford University Press).
Boyle, Alan E. (1999). “Some Reflections on the Relationship of Treaties and Soft Law,” International Law Quarterly, Vol. 48, No. 4, pp. 901–13.
Boyle, Elizabeth Heger, and Meyer, John W. (1998). “Modern Law as a Secularized and Global Model,” Sociale Welt, Vol. 49, No. 3, pp. 213–32.
Brewster, , , Rachel (2013). “Reputation in International Relations and International Law Theory,” in Dunoff, Jeffrey L. and Pollack, Mark A. (eds.), Interdisciplinary Perspectives on International Law and International Relations: The State of the Art (New York: Cambridge University Press), pp. 524–43.
Brown Weiss, Edith (1997). International Compliance with Nonbinding Accords (Washington, DC: The American Society of International Law).
Brown Weiss, Edith (2000). “Conclusions: Understanding Compliance with Soft Law,” in Shelton, Dinah (ed.), Commitment and Compliance: The Role of Non-binding Norms in the International Legal System (New York: Oxford University Press), pp. 535–53.
Brunnée, Jutta, and Toope, Stephen J. (2013). “Constructivism and International Law,” in Dunoff, Jeffrey L. and Pollack, Mark A. (eds.), Interdisciplinary Perspectives on International Law and International Relations: The State of the Art (New York: Cambridge University Press), pp. 119–45.
Büthe, Tim, and Mattli, Walter (2011). New Global Rulers: The Privatization of Regulation in the World Economy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press).
Chayes, Abram, and Chayes, Antonia Handler (1995). The New Sovereignty: Compliance with International Regulatory Agreements (Cambridge, MA:Harvard University Press).
Chinkin, Christine (1989). “The Challenge of Soft Law: Development and Change in International Law,” International and Comparative Law Quarterly, Vol. 38, No. 4, pp. 850–66.
Chinkin, Christine (2000). “Normative Development in the International Legal System,” in Shelton, Dinah (ed.), Commitment and Compliance: The Role of Non-binding Norms in the International Legal System (New York: Oxford University Press), pp. 21–42.
Drezner, Daniel W. (2007). All Politics Is Global: Explaining International Regulatory Regimes (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press).
Dunoff, Jeffrey, Ratner, Steven, and Wippman, David (2010). International Law: Norms, Actors, Process: A Problem-Oriented Approach, 3rd ed. (New York: Aspen Law and Business Publishers).
Fearon, James (1998). “Bargaining, Enforcement, and International Cooperation,” International Organization, Vol. 52, No. 2, pp. 269–305.
Finnemore, Martha, and Toope, Stephen J. (2001). “Alternatives to ‘Legalization’: Richer Views of Law and Politics,” International Organization, Vol. 55, No. 3, pp. 743–58.
Goodman, Ryan, and Jinks, Derek (2004). “How to Influence States: Socialization and International Human Rights Law,” Duke Law Journal, Vol. 54, No. 3, pp. 621–703.
Graber, Cristoph Beat (2006). “The New UNESCO Convention on Cultural Diversity: A Counterbalance to the WTO?,Journal of International Economic Law, Vol. 9, No. 3, pp. 553–74.
Guzman, Andrew T. (2005). “The Design of International Agreements,” The European Journal of International Law, Vol. 16, No. 4, pp. 579–612.
Guzman, Andrew T. (2008). How International Law Works: A Rational Choice Theory (New York: Oxford University Press).
Guzman, Andrew T., and Meyer, Timothy L. (2009). “International Common Law: The Soft Law of International Tribunals,” Chicago Journal of International Law, Vol. 9, No. 2, pp. 515–35.
Guzman, Andrew T., and Meyer, Timothy L. (2010). “International Soft Law,” Journal of Legal Analysis, Vol. 2. No. 1, pp. 171–225.
Helfer, Lawrence R. (2004). “Regime Shifting: The TRIPS Agreement and New Dynamics of Intellectual Property Lawmaking,” Yale Journal of International Law, Vol. 29, pp. 1–83.
Helfer, Lawrence R. (2013). “Flexibility in International Agreements,” in Dunoff, Jeffrey L. and Pollack, Mark A. (eds.), Interdisciplinary Perspectives on International Law and International Relations: The State of the Art (New York: Cambridge University Press), pp. 175–96.
Ho, Daniel E. (2002). “Compliance and International Soft Law: Why Do Countries Implement the Basle Accord?,Journal of International Economic Law, Vol. 5, No. 3, pp. 647–88.
Hollis, Duncan B., and Newcomer, Joshua J. (2009). “‘Political” Commitments and the Constitution,” Virginia Journal of International Law, Vol. 49, No. 3, pp. 507–84.
Jupille, Joseph, and Snidal, Duncan (2006). “The Choice of International Institutions: Cooperation, Alternatives and Strategies,” available at , accessed March 25, 2012.
Keohane, Robert O. (1984). After Hegemony: Cooperation and Discord in the World Political Economy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press).
Keohane, Robert O., Moravcsik, Andrew, and Slaughter, Anne-Marie (2000). “Legalized Dispute Resolution: Interstate and Transnational,” International Organization, Vol. 54, No. 3, pp. 457–88.
Kirton, John J., and Trebilcock, Michael J. (2004). “Introduction: Hard Choices and Soft Law in Sustainable Global Governance,” in Kirton, John J. and Trebilcock, Michael J. (eds.), Hard Choices, Soft Law: Voluntary Standards in Global Trade, Environment, and Social Governance (London: Ashgate), pp. 3–32.
Klabbers, Jan (1996). “The Redundancy of Soft Law,” Nordic Journal of International Law, Vol. 65, No. 2, pp. 167–82.
Klabbers, Jan (1998). “The Undesirability of Soft Law,” Nordic Journal of International Law, Vol. 67, No. 4, pp. 381–91.
Koremenos, Barbara (2013). “Institutionalism and International Law,” in Dunoff, Jeffrey L. and Pollack, Mark A. (eds.), Interdisciplinary Perspectives on International Law and International Relations: The State of the Art (New York: Cambridge University Press), pp. 59–82.
Koremenos, Barbara, Lipson, Charles, and Snidal, Duncan (2001). “The Rational Design of International Institutions.” International Organization Vol. 55, No. 4, pp. 761–800.
Krasner, Stephen D. (1991). “Global Communications and National Power: Life on the Pareto Frontier,” World Politics, Vol. 43, No. 3, pp. 336–56.
Levit, Janet Koven (2004). “The Dynamics of International Trade Finance Regulation: The Arrangement on Officially Supported Export Credits,”Harvard International Law Journal, Vol. 45, No. 1, pp. 65–182.
Lipson, Charles (1991). “Why Are Some Agreements Informal?International Organization, Vol. 45, No. 4, pp. 495–538.
Martin, , , Lisa L. (2013). “Against Compliance,” in Dunoff, Jeffrey L. and Pollack, Mark A. (eds.), Interdisciplinary Perspectives on International Law and International Relations: The State of the Art (New York: Cambridge University Press), pp. 591–610.
Mattli, Walter, and Büthe, Tim (2003). “Setting International Standards,” World Politics, Vol. 56, No. 1, pp. 1–42.
McAdams, Richard (2009). “Beyond the Prisoners’ Dilemma: Game Theory, Coordination, and Law,” Southern California Law Review, Vol. 82, No. 2, pp. 209–58.
Meyer, Timothy L. (2012). “Codifying Custom,” University of Pennsylvania Law Review, Vol. 160, No. 4, pp. 995–1069.
Moravcsik, , , Andrew (2013). “Liberal Theories of International Law,” in Dunoff, Jeffrey L. and Pollack, Mark A. (eds.), Interdisciplinary Perspectives on International Law and International Relations: The State of the Art (New York: Cambridge University Press), pp. 83–118.
Pauwelyn, Joost, Wessel, Ramses, and Wouters, Jan (2012) (eds.). Informal International Lawmaking (Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming).
Pollack, Mark A., and Shaffer, Gregory C. (2009). The International Law and Politics of Genetically Modified Foods (Oxford: Oxford University Press).
Pollack, Mark A., and Shaffer, Gregory C. (2012). “The Interaction of Formal and Informal Lawmaking,” in Pauwelyn, Joost, Wessel, Ramses and Wouters, Jan (eds.), Informal International Lawmaking (Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming).
Raustiala, Kal (2000). “Compliance and Effectiveness in International Regulatory Cooperation,” Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law, Vol. 32, No. 3, pp. 387–440.
Raustiala, Kal (2005). “Form and Substance in International Agreements,” American Journal of International Law, Vol. 99, No. 3, pp. 581–610.
Raustiala, Kal, and Victor, David G. (1998). “Conclusions,” in Victor, David G., Raustiala, Kal, and Skolnikoff, Eugene B. (eds.), The Implementation and Effectiveness of International Environmental Commitments: Theory and Practice (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press), pp. 659–707.
Raustiala, Kal, and Victor, David G. (2004). “The Regime Complex for Plant Genetic Resources,” International Organization, Vol. 58, No. 2, pp. 277–309.
Reinicke, Wolfgang, and Witte, Jan Martin (2000). “Interdependence, Globalization and Sovereignty: The Role of Non-binding International Legal Accords,” in Shelton, Dinah (ed.), Commitment and Compliance: The Role of Non-binding Norms in the International Legal System (New York: Oxford University Press), pp. 75–100.
Reisman, W. Michael (1992). “The Concept and Functions of Soft Law in International Politics,” in Bello, Emmanuel G. and Ajibola, Bola A. (eds.), Essays in Honour of Judge Taslim Olawale Elias, Volume I: Contemporary International Law and Human Rights (Heidelberg: Springer), pp. 135–45.
Rhodes, , , Martin, and Citi, Manuele (2007). “New Modes of Governance in the European Union: A Critical Survey and Analysis,” in Jørgensen, Knud Erik, Pollack, Mark A., and Rosamond, Ben (eds.), The Handbook of European Union Politics (New York: Sage Publications), pp. 463–82.
Ruggie, John Gerard (1998). “What Makes the World Hang Together? Neo-utilitarianism and the Social Constructivist Challenge,” International Organization, Vol. 52, No. 4, pp. 855–885.
Sabel, Charles F., and Simon, William H. (2006). “Epilogue: Accountability without Sovereignty,” in de Búrca, Gráinne and Scott, Joanne (eds.), Law and New Governance in the EU and the US (Oxford: Hart Publishing), pp. 395–412.
Shaffer, Gregory C., and Pollack, Mark A. (2010). “Hard Law vs. Soft Law: Alternatives, Complements and Antagonists in International Governance,” Minnesota Law Review, Vol. 94, No. 3, pp. 706–99.
Shaffer, Gregory C., and Pollack, Mark A. (2011). “Hard Law, Soft Law, and International Security: The Cases of Nuclear Weapons and the Responsibility to Protect,” Boston College Law Review, Vol. 52, No. 4, pp. 1147–1241.
Shelton, Dinah (ed.) (2000a). Commitment and Compliance: The Role of Non-binding Norms in the International Legal System (New York: Oxford University Press).
Shelton, Dinah (2000b). “Law, Non-law, and the Problem of ‘Soft Law,’” in Shelton, Dinah (ed.), Commitment and Compliance: The Role of Non-Binding Norms in the International Legal System (New York: Oxford University Press), pp. 1–18.
Sindico, Francesco (2006). “Soft Law and the Elusive Quest for Sustainable Global Governance,” Leiden Journal of International Law, Vol. 19, No. 3, pp. 829–46.
Steinberg, Richard (2002). “In the Shadow of Law or Power? Consensus-Based Bargaining and Outcomes in the GATT/WTO,” International Organization, Vol. 56, No. 2, pp. 339–74.
Stone Sweet, Alec, and , Thomas L. Brunell, (1998). “Constructing a Supranational Constitution: Dispute Resolution and Governance in the European Community,” American Political Science Review, Vol. 92, No. 1, pp. 63–81.
Thomas, Daniel (2001). The Helsinki Effect: International Norms, Human Rights, and the Demise of Communism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press).
Trubek, David, Cottrell, Patrick, and Nance, Mark (2006). “‘Soft Law,’ ‘Hard Law,’ and European Integration: Toward a Theory of Hybridity,” in de Búrca, Gráinne and Scott, Joanne (eds.), Law and New Governance in the EU and the US (Oxford: Hart), pp. 65–94.
van Asselt, Harro, Sindico, Francesco, and Mehling, Michael A. (2008). “Global Climate Change and the Fragmentation of International Law,” Law and Policy, Vol. 30, No. 4, pp. 423–49.
Veggeland, Frode, and Borgen, Svein Ole (2005). “Negotiating International Food Standards: The World Trade Organization's Impact on the Codex Alimentarius Commission,” Governance, Vol. 18, No. 4, pp. 675–708.
Vihma, Antto (2009). “Friendly Neighbor or Trojan Horse? Assessing the Interaction of Soft Law Initiatives and the UN Climate Regime,” International Environmental Agreements, Vol. 9, No. 3, pp. 239–62.
Voeten, Erik (2013). “International Judicial Independence,” in Dunoff, Jeffrey L. and Pollack, Mark A. (eds.), Interdisciplinary Perspectives on International Law and International Relations: The State of the Art (New York: Cambridge University Press), pp. 421–44.
Voon, , , Tania (2006). “UNESCO and WTO: A Clash of Cultures?International and Comparative Law Quarterly, Vol. 55, No. 3, pp. 635–52.
Walter, Andrew (2007). “Do Voluntary Standards Work among Governments? The Experience of International Financial Standards in East Asia,” in Woods, Ngaire and Brown, Dana (eds.), Making Global Self-Regulation Effective in Developing Countries (Oxford: Oxford University Press), pp. 32–61.
Weil, Prosper (1983). “Towards Relative Normativity in International Law?,” American Journal of International Law, Vol. 77, No. 3, pp. 413–42.