The Political Economy of Weak Treaties

In recent decades, democratic countries have signed hundreds of international environmental agreements (IEAs). This paper analyzes the equilibrium design of treaties negotiated by political incumbents seeking reelections. We show that incumbents are prone to negotiate treaties that are "weak" in that they may or may not be complied to: this makes it possible to differentiate the alternative candidates in a way that favors the incumbent. We also show that political economy considerations lead to overambitious treaties that rely too much on technology instead of sanctions to motivate compliance. Our theory can rationalize several puzzles associated with treaties.

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