Accounting and international relations: Britain, Spain and the Asiento treaty
The boundaries between accounting and law are contingent on time-space intersections. Here, these margins are explored in the realm of international relations by focusing on the Asiento, an 18th century treaty granting Britain the monopoly to trade slaves with the Spanish American colonies. Although a relatively minor concern of treaty-makers, noncompliance with provisions of the Asiento by the South Sea Company placed accounting centre stage in conflicts between Britain and Spain. In combination with geo-strategic and domestic political circumstances, reporting failures exacerbated the commercial dispute between the two nations which culminated in war in 1739. The accounting provisions of the Asiento are examined by drawing on managerialist and realist theories of treaty compliance. It is shown that British noncompliance with accounting obligations under the treaty was driven by realist self-interest and the maximisation of material gain. Given that such motivations dominated behaviour attempts to manage noncompliance through the routine processes and structures of international politics proved unsuccessful. Managerial devices such as diplomatic exchanges over treaty ambiguity and securing greater informational transparency merely provided further opportunities for the pursuit of self-interest. It is suggested that divergent perceptions of the role of accounting in international relations stem from the unique political, legal, social and cultural configurations of nation states. The study highlights the limitations of accounting as an instrument of treaty verification. Its effectiveness in that capacity is diminished where there is no shared understanding of the significance, purpose, content and interpretation of accounting information.
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