Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
×
Home

International Law and Public Attitudes Toward Torture: An Experimental Study

  • Geoffrey P.R. Wallace (a1)

Abstract

Domestic approaches to compliance with international commitments often presume that international law has a distinct effect on the beliefs and preferences of national publics. Studies attempting to estimate the consequences of international law unfortunately face a wide range of empirical and methodological challenges. This article uses an experimental design embedded in two U.S. national surveys to offer direct systematic evidence of international law's effect on mass attitudes. To provide a relatively tough test for international law, the surveys examine public attitudes toward the use of torture, an issue in which national security concerns are often considered paramount. Contrary to the common contention of international law's inefficacy, I find that legal commitments have a discernible impact on public support for the use of torture. The effect of international law is also strongest in those contexts where pressures to resort to torture are at their highest. However, the effects of different dimensions in the level of international agreements' legalization are far from uniform. In contrast to the attention often devoted to binding rules, I find that the level of obligation seems to make little difference on public attitudes toward torture. Rather, the relative precision of the rules, along with the degree to which enforcement is delegated to third parties, plays a much greater role in shaping public preferences. Across both international law and legalization, an individual's political ideology also exerts a strong mediating effect, though in varying directions depending on the design of the agreement. The findings have implications for understanding the overall impact of international law on domestic actors, the importance of institutional design, and the role of political ideology on compliance with international agreements.

Copyright

References

Hide All
Abbott, Kenneth W., Keohane, Robert O., Moravcsik, Andrew, Slaughter, Anne-Marie, and Snidal, Duncan. 2000. The Concept of Legalization. International Organization 54 (3):401–19.
Abramowitz, Alan I., and Saunders, Kyle L.. 2008. Is Polarization a Myth? Journal of Politics 70 (2):542–55.
Almond, Gabriel A. 1950. The American People and Foreign Policy. New York: Harcourt, Brace.
Andenaes, Johannes. 1966. The General Preventive Effects of Punishment. University of Pennsylvania Law Review 114 (7):949–83.
Axelrod, Robert. 1984. The Evolution of Cooperation. New York: Basic Books.
Bass, Gary Jonathan. 2000. Stay the Hand of Vengeance: The Politics of War Crimes Tribunals. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Beaumont, Joan. 1996. Protecting Prisoners of War, 1939–1995. In Prisoners of War and Their Captors in World War II, edited by Moore, Bob and Fedorowich, Kent, 281–97. Oxford, UK: Berg.
Bellamy, Alex J. 2005. Responsibility to Protect or Trojan Horse? The Crisis in Darfur and Humanitarian Intervention After Iraq. Ethics and International Affairs 19 (2):3154.
Berinsky, Adam J. 2009. In Time of War: Understanding American Public Opinion from World War II to Iraq. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Bolton, John R. 2000. The Risks and Weaknesses of the International Criminal Court from America's Perspective. Virginia Journal of International Law 41 (1):186203.
Braman, Eileen, and Nelson, Thomas E.. 2007. Mechanism of Motivated Reasoning? Analogical Perception in Discrimination Disputes. American Journal of Political Science 51 (4):940–56.
Brambor, Thomas, Clark, William R., and Golder, Matt. 2006. Understanding Interaction Models: Improving Empirical Analyses. Political Analysis 14 (1):6382.
Breyer, Stephen. 2005. Active Liberty: Interpreting Our Democratic Constitution. New York: Knopf.
Browning, Christopher R. 1998. Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland. New York: Harper.
Brunnée, Jutta, and Toope, Stephen J.. 2010. Legitimacy and Legality in International Law: An Interactional Account. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Campbell, Donald T., and Stanley, Julian C.. 1966. Experimental and Quasi-Experimental Designs for Research. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Cardenas, Sonia. 2007. Conflict and Compliance: State Responses to International Human Rights Pressure. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Chayes, Abram, and Chayes, Antonia H.. 1993. On Compliance. International Organization 47 (2):175205.
Conover, Pamela J., and Feldman, Stanley. 1981. The Origins and Meaning of Liberal/Conservative Self-Identifications. American Journal of Political Science 25 (4):617–45.
Converse, Philip E. 1964. The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics. In Ideology and Discontent, edited by Apter, David, 206–61. New York: Wiley.
Dai, Xinyuan. 2006. The Conditional Nature of Democratic Compliance. Journal of Conflict Resolution 50 (5):690713.
Dai, Xinyuan. 2007. International Institutions and National Policies. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Davis, Darren W. 2007. Negative Liberty: Public Opinion and the Terrorist Attacks on America. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
Downes, Alexander B. 2008. Targeting Civilians in War. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.
Downs, George W., Rocke, David M., and Barsoom, Peter N.. 1996. Is the Good News About Compliance Good News About Cooperation? International Organization 50 (3):379406.
Drezner, Daniel W. 2008. The Realist Tradition in American Public Opinion. Perspectives on Politics 6 (1):5170.
Druckman, James N., Green, Donald P., Kuklinski, James H., and Lupia, Arthur. 2006. The Growth and Development of Experimental Research in Political Science. American Political Science Review 100 (4):19.
Eichenberg, Richard C. 2003. Gender Differences in Public Attitudes Toward the Use of Force by the United States, 1990–2003. International Security 28 (1):110–41.
Fearon, James D. 1994. Domestic Political Audiences and the Escalation of International Disputes. American Political Science Review 88 (3):577–92.
Feaver, Peter D., and Gelpi, Christopher. 2004. Choosing Your Battles: American Civil-Military Relations and the Use of Force. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Finnemore, Martha. 2000. Are Legal Norms Distinctive? New York University Journal of International Law and Politics 32 (3):699705.
Flavin, Patrick, and Nickerson, David W.. 2012. Reciprocity and Public Opinion on Torture. Unpublished manuscript.
Franck, Thomas M. 1990. The Power of Legitimacy Among Nations. New York: Oxford University Press.
Fuller, Lon L. 1969. The Morality of Law. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.
Gelpi, Christopher, Feaver, Peter D., and Reifler, Jason. 2009. Paying the Human Costs of War: American Public Opinion and Casualties in Military Conflicts. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Goldsmith, Jack L., and Posner, Eric A.. 1999. A Theory of Customary International Law. University Of Chicago Law Review 66 (4):1113–77.
Gonzales, Alberto R. 2002. Memorandum for the President. Decision Re Application of the Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War to the Conflict with Al Qaeda and the Taliban. National Security Archives, Washington, D.C.
Goodliffe, Jay, and Hawkins, Darren G.. 2006. Explaining Commitment: States and the Convention Against Torture. Journal of Politics 68 (2):358–71.
Greenberg, Karen J. 2006. The Rule of Law Finds Its Golem: Judicial Torture Then and Now. In The Torture Debate in America, edited by Greenberg, Karen J., 19. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Grieco, Joseph M., Gelpi, Christopher F., and Warren, T. Camber. 2009. When Preferences and Commitments Collide: The Effect of Relative Partisan Shifts on International Treaty Compliance. International Organization 63 (2):341–55.
Gronke, Paul, Rejali, Darius, Drenguisa, Dustin, Hicksa, James, Millera, Peter, and Nakayama, Bryan. 2010. U.S. Public Opinion on Torture, 2001–2009. PS: Political Science and Politics 43 (3):437–44.
Guzman, Andrew T. 2008. How International Law Works: A Rational Choice Theory. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Hathaway, Oona A. 2002. Do Human Rights Treaties Make a Difference? Yale Law Journal 111 (8):19352042.
Hawkins, Darren G., Lake, David A., Nielson, Daniel L., and Tierney, Michael J.. 2006. Delegation Under Anarchy: States, International Organizations, and Principal-Agent Theory. In Delegation and Agency in International Organizations, edited by Hawkins, Darren G., Lake, David A., Nielson, Daniel L., and Tierney, Michael J., 338. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Henkin, Louis. 1979. How Nations Behave. New York: Columbia University Press.
Hetherington, Marc J., and Weiler, Jonathan D.. 2009. Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Holsti, Ole R. 2004. Public Opinion and American Foreign Policy. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Huddy, Leonie, Feldman, Stanley, Taber, Charles, and Lahav, Gallya. 2005. Threat, Anxiety, and Support of Antiterrorism Policies. American Journal of Political Science 39 (3):593608.
Jentleson, Bruce W. 1992. The Pretty Prudent Public: Post Post-Vietnam American Opinion on the Use of Military Force. International Studies Quarterly 36 (1):4973.
Jentleson, Bruce W., and Britton, Rebecca L.. 1998. Still Pretty Prudent: Post-Cold War American Public Opinion on the Use of Military Force. Journal of Conflict Resolution 42 (4):395417.
Keohane, Robert O. 1984. After Hegemony: Cooperation and Discord in the World Political Economy. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Keohane, Robert O., Moravcsik, Andrew, and Slaughter, Anne-Marie. 2000. Legalized Dispute Resolution: Interstate and Transnational. International Organization 54 (3):457–88.
Koh, Harold H. 1996–97. Why Do Nations Obey International Law? Yale Law Journal 106 (8):2599–660.
Koremenos, Barbara, Lipson, Charles, and Snidal, Duncan. 2001a. The Rational Design of International Institutions. International Organization 55 (4):761800.
Koremenos, Barbara, Lipson, Charles, and Snidal, Duncan. 2001b. Rational Design: Looking Back to Move Forward. International Organization 55 (4):1051–82.
Krasner, Stephen. 1999. Sovereignty: Organized Hypocrisy. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Krislov, Samuel, Boyum, Keith O., Clark, Jerry N., Schaefer, Roger C., and White, Susan O., eds. 1972. Compliance and the Law: A Multi-Disciplinary Approach. Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage Publications.
Landman, Todd. 2004. Measuring Human Rights: Principle, Practice, and Policy. Human Rights Quarterly 26 (4):906–31.
Lasswell, Harold D. 1971. National Security and Individual Freedom. New York: Da Capo Press.
Legro, Jeffrey W. 1995. Cooperation under Fire: Anglo-German Restraint During World War II. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.
Levendusky, Matthew. 2009. The Partisan Sort: How Liberals Became Democrats and Conservatives Became Republicans. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Lipson, Charles. 1991. Why Are Some International Agreements Informal? International Organization 45 (4):495538.
Lipson, Charles. 2003. Reliable Partners: How Democracies Have Made a Separate Peace. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Lutz, Ellen L., and Sikkink, Katherine. 2000. International Human Rights Law and Practice in Latin America. International Organization 54 (3):633–59.
Maoz, Ifat, and McCauley, Clark. 2008. Threat, Dehumanization, and Support for Retaliatory Aggressive Policies in Asymmetric Conflict. Journal of Conflict Resolution 52 (1):93116.
McDermott, Rose. 2002. Experimental Methods in Political Science. Annual Review of Political Science 5:3161.
Mearsheimer, John. 1994–95. The False Promise of International Institutions. International Security 19 (3):549.
Mearsheimer, John. 2001. The Tragedy of Great Power Politics. New York: Norton.
Merolla, Jennifer L., and Zechmeister, Elizabeth J.. 2009. Democracy at Risk: How Terrorist Threats Affect the Public. Chicago: Chicago University Press.
Moravcsik, Andrew. 1995. Explaining International Human Rights Regimes: Liberal Theory and Western Europe. European Journal of International Relations 1 (2):157–89.
Moravcsik, Andrew. 2000. The Origins of Human Rights Regimes: Democratic Delegation in Postwar Europe. International Organization 54 (2):217–52.
Morgenthau, Hans J. 1985. Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Morrow, James D. 2007. When Do States Follow the Laws of War? American Political Science Review 101 (3):559–72.
Morrow, James D., and Jo, Hyeran. 2006. Compliance with the Laws of War: Dataset and Coding Rules. Conflict Management and Peace Science 23 (1):91113.
Neumayer, Eric. 2005. Do International Human Rights Treaties Improve Respect for Human Rights? Journal of Conflict Resolution 49 (6):925–53.
Neumayer, Eric. 2008. Death Penalty Abolition and the Ratification of the Second Optional Protocol. International Journal of Human Rights 12 (1):321.
Nincic, Miroslav, and Ramos, Jennifer. 2011. Torture in the Public Mind. International Studies Perspectives 12 (3):231–49.
Nowak, Manfred. 2006. What Practices Constitute Torture? U.S. and UN Standards. Human Rights Quarterly 28 (4):809–41.
Page, Benjamin I., and Bouton, Marshall M.. 2006. The Foreign Policy Disconnect: What Americans Want from Our Leaders but Don't Get. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Poe, Steven C., and Tate, C. Neal. 1994. Repression of Human Rights to Personal Integrity in the 1980s: A Global Analysis. American Political Science Review 88 (4):853–72.
Rathbun, Brian C. 2004. Partisan Interventions: European Party Politics and Peace Enforcement in the Balkans. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.
Rathbun, Brian C. 2007. Hierarchy and Community at Home and Abroad: Evidence of a Common Structure of Domestic and Foreign Policy Beliefs in American Elites. Journal of Conflict Resolution 51 (3):379407.
Ratner, Steven R. 2000. Does International Law Matter in Preventing Ethnic Conflict? New York University Journal of International Law and Politics 32 (3):591698.
Ratner, Steven R., and Abrams, Jason S.. 2001. Accountability for Human Rights Atrocities in International Law: Beyond the Nuremberg Legacy. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Raustiala, Kal, and Slaughter, Anne-Marie. 2002. International Law, International Relations and Compliance. In Handbook of International Relations, edited by Carlsnaes, Walter, Risse, Thomas, and Simmons, Beth A., 538–58. London: Sage Publications.
Rejali, Darius. 2007. Torture and Democracy. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Rodley, Nigel. 1999. The Treatment of Prisoners Under International Law. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press.
Scalia, Antonin, and Gutmann, Amy. 1998. A Matter of Interpretation: Federal Courts and the Law. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Shadish, William R., Cook, Thomas D., and Campbell, Donald T.. 2002. Experimental and Quasi-Experimental Designs for Generalized Causal Inference. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Shapiro, Robert Y., and Bloch-Elkon, Yaeli. 2007. Ideological Partisanship and American Public Opinion toward Foreign Policy. In Power and Superpower: Global Leadership and Exceptionalism in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Halperin, Morton H., Laurenti, Jeffrey, Rundlet, Peter, and Boyer, Spencer P., 4968. New York: Century Foundation Press.
Shelton, Dinah, ed. 2000. Commitment and Compliance: The Role of Non-Binding Norms in the International Legal System. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Shils, Edward A., and Janowitz, Morris. 1948. Cohesion and Disintegration in the Wehrmacht in World War II. Public Opinion Quarterly 12 (2):280315.
Simmons, Beth A. 1998. Compliance with International Agreements. Annual Review of Political Science 1 (1):7593.
Simmons, Beth A. 2009. Mobilizing for Human Rights: International Law in Domestic Politics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Simmons, Beth A. 2010. Treaty Compliance and Violation. Annual Review of Political Science 13:272–96.
Snyder, Jack, and Borghard, Erica D.. 2011. The Cost of Empty Threats: A Penny, Not a Pound. American Political Science Review 105 (3):437–56.
Taber, Charles S., and Lodge, Milton. 2006. Motivated Skepticism in the Evaluation of Political Beliefs. American Journal of Political Science 50 (3):755–69.
Tomz, Michael. 2007. Domestic Audience Costs in International Relations: An Experimental Approach. International Organization 61 (4):821–40.
Tomz, Michael. 2008. Reputation and the Effect of International Law on Preferences and Beliefs. Unpublished manuscript, Department of Political Science, Stanford University, Stanford, Calif.
Tomz, Michael, Wittenberg, Jason, and King, Gary. 2003. Clarify: Software for Interpreting and Presenting Statistical Results. Version 2.1. Journal of Statistical Software 8 (1):815.
Twining, W.L., and Twining, P.E.. 1973. Bentham on Torture. Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly 24 (3):305–56.
Tyler, Tom R. 1990. Why People Obey the Law. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.
Valentino, Benjamin A., Huth, Paul K., and Croco, Sarah. 2006. Covenants Without the Sword: International Law and the Protection of Civilians in Times of War. World Politics 58 (3):339–77.
Valentino, Benjamin, Huth, Paul, and Balch-Lindsay, Dylan. 2004. “Draining the Sea”: Mass Killing and Guerrilla Warfare. International Organization 58 (2):375407.
Voeten, Erik. 2008. The Impartiality of International Judges: Evidence from the European Court of Human Rights. American Political Science Review 102 (4):417–33.
von Stein, Jana. 2008. The International Law and Politics of Climate Change: Ratification of the United Nations Framework Convention and the Kyoto Protocol. Journal of Conflict Resolution 52 (2):243–68.
Walzer, Michael. 1973. Political Action: The Problem of Dirty Hands. Philosophy and Public Affairs 2 (2):160–80.
Zemans, Frances K. 1983. Legal Mobilization: The Neglected Role of the Law in the Political System. American Political Science Review 77 (3):690703.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

International Organization
  • ISSN: 0020-8183
  • EISSN: 1531-5088
  • URL: /core/journals/international-organization
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed