Most international treaties are ineffective, Canadian study finds

A new study from Canadian researchers suggests international treaties have been mostly ineffective at achieving their intended effects and in some cases, can do more harm than good.

The researchers, led by a team from York University’s Global Strategy Lab, outlined their findings in a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday. They examined decades worth of evidence from 306 studies looking into several international treaties.

With the exception of trade and financial treaties, the researchers found international treaties “mostly failed to produce their intended effects.”

“Not only did many treaties have no measurable impact, but some treaties may have even led to unintended harmful impacts,” said author Mathieu J.P. Poirier, a professor at York University and co-director of the Global Strategy Lab, in a press release issued Tuesday.

The study found the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child was the treaty that produced the “most harmful effects.” Ratification of that treaty was associated with poorer human rights records, no improvements with health outcomes and even an increase in child labour, according to the study.

Other treaties identified in the study as being associated with worse outcomes, include the Fourth Geneva Convention and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

“These counterintuitive impacts could stem from repressive governments seeking diplomatic rewards for signing human rights treaties while facing few consequences for failures to comply with treaty provisions,” Poirier said in the release.

On the other hand, treaties centred on international trade and finance were found to be quite effective at accomplishing their goals. For example, NAFTA was found to have increased foreign direct investment and trade between industries, the researchers said.

Treaties with embedded enforcement mechanisms were also found to be far more effective at achieving their intended goals.

Among the treaties examined in the study, enforcement mechanisms were included in only two of five environmental treaties and none of the 28 treaties governing human rights, humanitarian crises, maritime issues and security. However, the study reports nine of the 20 trade and finance treaties had built-in enforcement mechanisms.

On the other hand, researchers found mechanisms related to transparency, complaint and oversight were not associated in increased effectiveness of the treaties.

The researchers say their findings should “raise doubt about the value” of treaties that aren’t related to trade or finance, and don’t have any enforcement mechanisms.

“Today there are at least 250,000 treaties, yet relatively few have been evaluated for impact, which means we do not know whether these instruments are effectively serving their intended purpose,” Poirier said in the release.

“And yet, leaders from government, academia, business and civil society routinely call for new treaties to address global challenges under the assumption that most treaties work as intended.”

Leave comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *.