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Reasons Why States Did Not Always Comply
With Their International Legal Obligations During World War I



       There may be many reasons why states follow their national interest rather than their legal obligations.  First and foremost, states naturally pursue policies that they deem to be in their best interest, and there will always be the temptation to shirk oneís legal duties.  That temptation can only be minimized where the rule of law plays a strong role in international relations, imposing penalties (both actual sanctions as well as effects on the reputation and credibility) on those who breach their duties.  Without such penalties, there is no reason to forgo oneís temporal interests to comply with larger and more long-term objectives of restraint, when other states are not likely to reciprocate oneís commendable behavior.  At the time of World War I, the penalties imposed on breaching states were not well-defined, because international law was much less developed than it is today.  There were few enforcement regimes in force then (query whether there are a substantial number today), and as the major powers had allies to support their actions and prevent the enemy powers from taking serious responsive measures, one can assume that there was little to counterbalance the temptation to renege on international obligations. 

       Add to this decisional process the fact that World War I was an absolute war of nationalistic honor:  to lose was simply out of the question.  Thus, each side would stop at nothing in order to win, and in that context, it is not hard to understand why legal obligations during World War I were not always followed.  International obligations could simply not constrain states in their efforts to preserve their very existence, and the German doctrine of kriegsraison was the clearest attempt to explain the necessity of ignoring those obligations.  Consequently, immediately following the conclusion of the war in 1918, there was great concern about the efficacy of international law.  In particular, kriegsraison was a severe threat to the viability of international law, because though the legal norms had been created to forbid certain actions even in the ultimate struggles of war, the German doctrine would have permitted Germany to ignore a legal obligation if it clashed with any military interest.  Clearly this situation had to be dealt with if the law was to be resurrected as an effective constraint. 

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