Several international policy processes with sustainable forest management (SFM) as a common goal have emerged during the past two decades. Based on an empirical study from Norway, this paper analyses the role of subjective judgments in assessing national compliance with three international forest policy processes, and the implications for determination of the effects of these processes. The Expanded Programme of Work on Forest Biological Diversity, the Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe and the United Nations Forum on Forests, including its predecessors, collectively provide more than 600 recommendations for SFM. While it is nothing new that SFM encompasses value questions, this paper is a systematic review of where in a process of assessing national compliance the role of judgments is most profound. The paper shows that the multiple objectives of the forest recommendations, references to national circumstances and provisions for stakeholder involvement lead to differing opinions about the degree of conformity between international recommendations and national situation, i.e. compliance. These differing opinions mean different prospects for the international processes to have effects, because only implementation, or active responses to international recommendations, constitutes effects. The roles of judgments and values are recommended topics for further investigation. Factors influencing how compliance is assessed, and consequently the degree to which implementation is deemed necessary, require specific attention. Due consideration to substantive and methodological choices in determining national changes and in separation of other sources of influence will provide a better basis for informed discussion of compliance with and effects of international forest-related policy processes.