Why Do Nations Obey International Law?

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Written By AndrewPerry

Founded in 2015 by a group of passionate legal professionals and enthusiasts, FlowingLaw started as a small blog. Today, it's a thriving community where ideas, expertise, and legal advice flow freely.





Neither interest nor identity theory fully account for the normative transnational legal process. Participation in the transnational legal process helps constitute the identity of the state is one that obeys the law, but what is critical is the interaction, not the label that purports to identify a state as liberal or not. In part, act as obey international law as a result of repeated interaction with other governmental and non-governmental actors in the international system. Estates violation of law creates inevitable frictions and contradictions that hinder its ongoing participation within a transnational legal process. When a developing nation defaults on the sovereign debt, connectivity impairs its ability to secure new lending. The nation’s leaders may shift over time for a policy violation of international law to one of compliance to avoid such frictions in its continuing relations.

As transnational actors interact, they create patterns of behaviour and generate norms of external conduct which they in turn internalise. Law-abiding states internalise international law by incorporating it into their domestic legal and political structures, executive action, legislation, and judicial decisions which take account of any corporate international norms. Nations also reacts to other states reputations as law-abiding or not. Legal ideologies prevail among domestic decision-makers such that they are affected by perceptions that their actions are unlawful, or that domestic opponents or other nations in the global regime also categorise them. Moreover, domestic decision-making becomes enmeshed with international legal norms, as institutional arrangements with the making and maintenance of an international commitment become entrenched in domestic legal and political processes.


It is through this repeated process of interaction and internalisation of international law requires its stickiness as it is known, that nation states acquire their identity, and that nations to find promoting the rule of international law as part of a national self-interest. It is important to understand that although at times international law seems a weak, the reality is that nations use the rhetoric of international law for their own purposes at any particular time to justify their political position.

In seeking to enforce international law, the intervening state(s) are trying to make another state, and now those who lead them, accountable for their actions. The intervening state insists, rightly, that the walls around sovereign states should not prevent the leaders of the target state being accountable for their actions. But insisting on lowering the barriers around other states requires accepting the lowering of the barriers around the states that are seeking to justify intervention, at least for the purposes of that intervention (and for the matters for which intervention is sought). In seeking to make the subject state accountable to the international community and its norms, or the national community and its norms, intervening states must be accountable for their own actions.