Epistemic Communities and State Compliance

Epistemic Communities and State Compliance

By: Gerald F. Witherspoon, Sr. 20160114

In an article entitled Do Regimes Matter,  Peter Haas argued how regimes become strong enough to influence state compliance when “…a group with a common perspective is able to acquire and sustain control over a substantive policy domain” (1989, 380).

Haas’ statement rings true regarding the legal regime of outer space where there were five principle UN treaties originallygrouped between “…UN-sponsored multilateral treaties, UN General Assembly Resolutions, a wide range of national legislation, decisions by national courts, bi-lateral arrangements, and determinations by Intergovernmental Organizations” (Silverburg 2011, 302). These treaties include:

  • Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies
  • Agreement of the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts, and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space
  • The Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects
  • The Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space
  • The Agreement Governing Activities of States on the Moon

As a common point of discussion, and arguably the case regarding the five agreements mentioned above, multilateral treaties designed by epistemic communities are an effective means of fostering cooperation amongst states. In 1962, however, space commerce began paving the way toward private interest and investment. There are now several sectors of space commerce including telecommunications, transportation, remote sensing, and space tourism demanding attention toward non-government responsibility. Still further are evolved concerns regarding the militarization of outer space (direct/indirect use or threat of force) and environmental concerns such as forward and back pollution (Silverburg 2011).

The group perspectives codified in the five principle UN treaties offer hope that both states and private enterprises will be able to cooperate toward peaceful outer space relations. The prospect for conflicts of interest to arise are strong. In fact, they already exist. Nevertheless, there is room for responsibility and accountability as states retain liability for damage caused by objects they launch…be it to persons, property, or environment (Silverburg 2011).

Currently, the outer space regime – far from perfect, appears to have provided a framework for states to cooperate while attempting to explore and maximize the benefits of outer space. Space technology such as remote sensing offers hope that natural disasters and environmental degradation can be mitigated more effectively. Whereas, the commercialization and militarization of outer space may prove the most threatening to the environment and international peace. Therefore, it is of upmost importance for the outer space regime to build upon its initial framework to achieve more encompassing and concretely binding commitments toward international compliance.

Reflections: In a paper entitled Epistemic Communities, Norms, and Knowledge, Elizabeth Bloodgood argued, “Haas’ argument that epistemic communities are recognized by four central elements—shared causal ideas, shared principled beliefs, shared notions of validity, and a common policy enterprise—is widely accepted (Haas1992: 3). But there is little sense of the order in which these develop” (2008, 4).

She further clarified how examining the internal dynamics of an epistemic community provides a framework for understanding how norms, ideas, and expert advice shape foreign policy (Bloodgood 2008). The interconnectedness of norms, ideas, and expert advice may not always be clear or documented in international relations, but epistemic communities are hardwired toward publishing their thought processes. This usually includes questioning the relevance of scientific expertise and applied principles in regard to foreign policy. She then pointed out how debates occur about whether foreign policy is mostly influenced by information provided by experts or the questions that epistemic communities address. That is, are policy makers asking their own questions and applying knowledge from scientific experts to arrive at a solution, or applying the answers from the epistemic communities’ questions as foreign policy solutions? She attributed “paradigmatic incommensurability” as the reason certain policy issues such as abortion and genocide are difficult to debate. Moreover, rival epistemic communities cannot engage in productive intellectual exchange or empirical analysis because they each have their own norms, ideas, and information. So then, the most promising means for epistemic communities to survive, is the “central norm” that scientific and policy experts deliberately network around (Bloodgood 2008, 23).



Bloodgood, Elizabeth. “Epistemic Communities, Norms, and Knowledge.” Research Gate. March 26-29, 2008. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228597686_Epistemic_Communities_Norms_and_Knowledge (accessed January 17, 2016).

Haas, Peter M., “Do Regimes Matter? Epistemic Communities and Mediterranean Pollution Control,” International Organizations, 43, Summer 1989

Silverburg, Sanford R. 2011. International Law: Contemporary Issues and Future Developments. Boulder [Colo.]: Westview Press, 2011. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed January 12, 2016).


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