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When Do States Follow the Laws of War?

  • JAMES D. MORROW (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 August 2007

The laws of war seek to regulate conduct during wartime. The record of compliance with these treaties is mixed. I explain compliance as the result of publicly accepted and so legally binding agreements that create incentives for the parties to enforce those agreements through reciprocity. Ratification by a democracy is a signal that it intends to abide by the treaty standard; those that ratify are more likely to comply. Ratification does not effect the behavior of nondemocracies, however. Ratification of the relevant treaty by both warring parties strengthens reciprocity. There is a hierarchy of average compliance across issues which matches the scope for violations by individuals on each issue, with greater scope for such violations corresponding to lower levels of compliance.

Corresponding author
James D. Morrow is Professor of Political Science and Research Professor, Center for Political Studies; and Visiting Professor, Graduate Institute of International Studies, Department of Political Science, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48103 (
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American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
  • URL: /core/journals/american-political-science-review
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