Campus & Community

Worth more than the paper they’re written on

1 min read

‘What will the neighbors think?’ is a concern that helps lend force to international treaties

According to Beth Simmons, a professor of government at Harvard, governments care what others think of them. They want to be admired and can be publicly embarrassed, just like like people can. Such traits help explain why governments would enter international agreements on areas of mainly domestic concern, such as civil rights, women’s rights, race relations, and the use of torture, says Simmons. Her current work examines how well international agreements and treaties work. She is looking at whether nations that signed treaties regulating six areas of human rights have abided by the treaties and improved records in those areas. Though many have criticized such treaties as toothless and unenforceable, Simmons said there is evidence that the treaties that provide a focus for international and domestic pressure on particular issues, do seem to work. “I think generally there are some improvements [in a nation’s record] once they sign on,” Simmons said. “I am edging toward evidence that causes us to question that flip conclusion [that governments do whatever they want].”