About this Issue

A globally interconnected world is a smaller world. People, goods, and information all move faster and more cheaply than ever. The unique dynamics of globalization raise questions about the proper role of the traditional nation state versus formal structures of global governance, such as the World Trade Organization, proliferating non-governmental organizations, and wired transnational social networks. How much has globalization in fact limited the autonomous policy-setting powers of states? Should states cede some powers to forms of global governance? Do they have a choice? Will states wither in the face of increasing global interconnectedness? Should we want that?

Leading off the discussion this month is Daniel W. Drezner, associate professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and author of All Politics is Global: Explaining International Regulatory Regimes. Leaping into the fray, we will have Jeremy Rabkin, professor of government at Cornell University and author of Law without Nations? Why Constitutional Government Requires Sovereign States; Ann Florini director of the Centre on Asia and Globalisation at the National University of Singapore and senior fellow and the Brookings Institution; and Kal Raustiala, UCLA professor of law and director of the UCLA Ronald W. Burkle Center for International Relations.

Lead Essay

The Persistent Power of the State in the Global Economy

The 20th century witnessed the inexorable rise of the state as the pre-eminent player in economic life. By standard metrics — state spending as a percentage of GDP, regulation of economic activity — governments exercised increasing influence over their national markets as the century progressed. To be clear, states often did this in response to popular demands, and as Edward Glaeser observed last month’s Cato Unbound, “The coercive power of the state is useful when it protects our lives and property from outside harm.” The point is, this was a secular trend observed across all governments.

For many scholars and commentators, the 21st century was supposed to be different, because of the myriad actors and factors unleashed by globalization (because this word means very different things to different people, here’s my definition: the cluster of political, economic, technological changes that reduce barriers to exchange of goods, services, and ideas across borders). For good or ill, the globalization of markets was expected to constrain state power in a variety of ways. Indeed, the dominant strands of globalization research share a common assumption – the decline of state autonomy relative to other factors and actors. Structuralists of many stripes agree that globalization undercuts state sovereignty, weakens the ability of governments to effectively regulate its domestic affairs, and ultimately deprives states of their autonomy and agency.

A particular fear — or hope, depending on one’s ideological proclivities — was that globalization would encourage a “race to the bottom.” According to this model, capital has become increasingly footloose, to the point where states could not halt capital mobility even if they tried. In such a world, capital will seek the location where it can earn the highest rate of return. High rates of corporate taxation, strict labor laws, or rigorous environmental protection lower profit rates by raising the costs of production. Capital will therefore engage in regulatory arbitrage, moving to (or importing from) countries with the fewest and lowest regulatory standards. Nation-states eager to attract capital – and fearful of losing their tax base – lower their regulatory standards so as to raise the rate of return for corporate investment. The end result is a world where regulatory standards are at the lowest common denominator. For anti-globalization activists, this vision was Gotterdammerung, the crystallization of Karl Polanyi’s market-run-amok. For many libertarians, the hope was that “jurisdictional competition” would act as the ultimate constraint on the state. Also fitting into this category is Thomas Friedman’s magnificent oeuvre of hyperkinetic Electronic-Herd/Golden Straightjacket/Flat World metaphors.

For others, the rising power of voluntary associations is even more important in constraining the state’s role in the global economy. Enthusiasts and scholars who study global civil society posit that globalization empowers a new set of nonstate actors — particularly nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The growth of NGOs, epistemic communities, public policy networks, transnational social movements, and even private orders amounts to the creation of a global civic society that is too ideationally powerful for states to ignore. In an Internet age, these groups have agenda-setting powers that compel states to take (or cease) action in areas like intellectual property rights or agricultural subsidies. As the dynamic density of global civic society actors increases, so does their effect on outcomes. Some writers go further, arguing that these groups are now powerful enough to bypass the state entirely, leading to a “world civic politics.”

These are not the only arguments put forward about how globalization affects the state. Lawyers and sociologists look at the ever-increasing web of laws, rules, treaties, and international institutions, and see the state cosseted by global norms. Some theorists go so far as to assert that globalization requires a wholesale rejection of existing theoretical paradigms in international relations. Indeed, if there is a recurring theme that runs through the literature on globalization and global governance, it is that economic globalization attenuates state power.

It was this kind of ideational environment that prompted me to write All Politics Is Global: Explaining International Regulatory Regimes. In the book, I conclude that globalization has been responsible for a lot of bad predictions about international relations. This is not because globalization is an unimportant phenomenon. The reduction of tariffs, quotas, and capital controls has introduced a bevy of new conflicts over the residual impediments to global economic integration — the differences among domestic rules and regulatory standards. Regulatory regimes strike a political chord because they symbolize a shift in the locus of politics. For many issues that comprise the daily substance of our lives — what can be accessed on the Internet, how much medicine will cost, how to treat workers, how much to pollute, what can go into our food, — the politics have gone global. They strike an economic chord because the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates that these standards and regulations affect approximately $4 trillion in traded goods.

The theoretical response to the globalization phenomenon, however, has been all out of proportion to how globalization actually affects world politics. The trouble with many of the arguments put forward by globalization theorists is the lack of variation in the independent variable and the presence of variation in the dependent variable. According to these narratives, globalization inexorably promotes policy convergence by stripping states of their ability to act autonomously from either market forces or civic society pressures. The problem with this scenario is that there are a number of regulatory issue areas – data privacy, stem cell research, global warming, genetically modified foods — where regulatory convergence has been limited at best. These approaches lack the capacity to explain variation in outcomes.

For the past century, the standard approaches to international relations — realism and liberalism — have focused on the role that state power and national interest play in determining outcomes in world politics. All Politics Is Global argues that globalization does little to reduce the salience of these factors. One of the basic measures of aggregate power has been relative market size. The current era of globalization, if anything, reinforces that metric of power. Governments that regulate large markets — at present, the United States and European Union — will establish the rules that other actors will follow. A great power concert is a necessary and sufficient condition for effective global governance over any transnational issue. Without such a concert, international efforts at regulatory coordination will be incomplete.

While the distribution of power determines who has a seat at the regulating table, the distribution of interests within and among the great powers determines whether there will be effective global governance. In large-market economies, globalization increases the rewards for policy coordination but has a negligible impact on the attendant adjustment costs that come with altering pre-existing rules and regulations. When the adjustment costs are sufficiently high, not even globalization’s powerful dynamics can push states into cooperation.

The more that domestic interests within the great powers have invested in the status quo, the greater the adjustment costs of change. As Hirschman pointed out in Exit, Voice, and Loyalty, when interest groups face barriers to exiting their chosen profession, they will choose to invest more in political voice. This implies that coordination will be least likely when the regulatory issue in question affects relatively immobile or mature sectors or markets — the regulation of land, labor, or consumer products. Ironically, the least globalized elements of great power polities will exert the strongest effect on the likelihood of global regulatory coordination.

In All Politics Is Global, I examined four issue areas in depth — Internet governance, financial codes and standards, the treatment of genetically modified organisms, and the regulation of life-saving pharmaceuticals. The first two cases were chosen as arenas where the forces of globalization were assumed to be at their strongest; in the latter two cases, global civil society has claimed notable victories. However, contrary to assumptions that globalization weakens state power, the pattern of global regulatory coordination was consistent with my “revisionist” model.

In the case of the Internet, when the United States and the European Union saw significant benefits and low adjustment costs from coordination, the effective global governance of Internet-related issues was achieved — even if the great powers voluntarily delegated the management of these regulatory regimes to private actors. When Internet issues intersected with larger public policy questions — such as privacy or speech rights — the adjustment costs for governments dramatically increased. In the absence of a great power concert, governments used all of the tools of statecraft at their disposal to protect their preferred set of regulatory standards — even if such a decision heavily restricted Internet use.

The case of financial codes and standards also supported the revisionist model. In the aftermath of the financial crises of the 1990s, both the United States and European Union preferred to see a ratcheting up of financial regulation. The great powers, as developed economies, anticipated significant public goods benefits from coordination at a stringent level of regulation. In contrast, the domestic financial sectors in developing countries faced high adjustment costs at the prospect of stringent standards. Because of this distribution of interests, great powers chose to use club IGOs like the Financial Stability Forum as the primary fora to establish global financial regulations. Even with their weighted voting schemes, the U.S. and EU encountered difficulties managing the international financial institutions, because of their strong norms of consensus decision-making. These standards were created despite the fact that financial sectors in the developed world were hardly overjoyed at the prospect of stringent, transparent regulatory standards.

The United States and the European Union promulgated different regulatory standards to govern the production and consumption of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). These regulations governing GMOs affect groups with extremely high barriers to exit — agricultural producers, biotechnology firms and consumer groups. The initial divergence of preferences between Americans and Europeans on this issue, combined with the high adjustment costs of regulatory harmonization, ensured the absence of a bargaining core between the two governments and led to a rival standards outcome. Both great powers pushed to legitimize their preferred standards in friendly international fora. Because of the large market size of both of these countries, the result has been an uneasy stalemate. Despite America’s hegemonic position in the production of GM products, and despite Europe’s constant ratcheting up of its standards, neither great power has had a demonstrable effect on the other government’s preference ordering. The rest of the world split between the American and European set of rules regarding GM products.

The public health exemption to the intellectual property rights regime represents a potentially deviant case for my model. Global civil society groups like OxFam International and Médecins Sans Frontières waged a sustained campaign to force the great powers to allow public health “flexibilities” in the enforcement of the TRIPS regime for intellectual property — and appeared to succeed with the 2001 Doha Declaration. Over time, however, this case suggests that such campaigns have only an ephemeral effect. After the Doha Declaration, the United States and European Union acted to ensure that the carve-out for public health was narrowed in accordance with their preferences — as opposed to the more generous exception that activists wanted. The U.S. in particular shifted the status quo by signing a series of bilateral free-trade agreements that contained “TRIPS-plus” provisions. As time passed, great power governments appropriated the normative frame of improving public health to advance their own policy aims.

Like any theory, mine leaves a large cast of characters at the margins of the stage. For example, smaller states and nonstate actors in the international system do not affect governance outcomes – but they do affect the processes through which governance is attempted. Weaker actors can block action at “universal” organizations like the United Nations, International Labor Organization or International Telecommunications Union (ITU). This process effect, however, is marginal because at the global level, governance structures are substitutable. Powerful states engage in forum-shopping within a complex of international regimes. If the ITU poses a problem for Internet governance, the U.S. and EU simply create the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers to handle the problem. If the developing countries get the WTO to agree to a public health exception to intellectual property rights, the United States responds by signing a web of bilateral trade deals with even more stringent protections. To get what they want, the great powers can and will delegate regime management to non-state actors; create international regimes with strong enforcement capabilities; generate rival regimes to protect their interests; and exercise unilateral, extraterritorial measures to establish regional spheres of influence.

The biggest implication of All Politics Is Global is that the global political economy of this century will look only slightly different from that of the 20th century. The state will not intervene in the same crude fashion it did in the past (tariffs, quotas, capital controls) but it will intervene. Governments that regulate large domestic markets will continue to be the primary actors writing the global rules of the game. NGOs and other activists will capture media headlines and occasional moral victories, but have little long-term influence on outcomes. The proliferation of international rules, laws, and organizational forms will not limit state sovereignty — if anything, it will enhance the ability of the great powers to go forum-shopping at will. Even if more issues are negotiated on the global stage, the sources of government power and preferences remain local — giving renewed meaning to Tip O’Neill’s aphorism

What is taking place today in the theoretical debates about globalization and global governance echoes similar debates from three decades ago. During the early seventies the global economy seemed to be buffeted by one shock after another — the first oil crisis, the end of the Bretton Woods era, etc. This triggered a surge of research into the ways in which complex transnational interdependence could alter the behavior of states. This research emphasized the ways in which non-state actors and the global economy constrained states. A few years later, another wave of scholarship arose asking how the political externalities of interdependence would be regulated in an anarchic world. The result was the literature on international regimes, which pointed out the ways in which states remained the primary actors in establishing the rules of the game, while other actors and factors were “intervening variables.”

A similar yin and yang is taking place in the current theoretical debates about how economic globalization affects world politics. The first wave of this literature arrived in the nineties, highlighting the ways in which the globalization phenomenon placed added constraints on the state. All Politics Is Global belongs to a small but growing literature that looks at globalization and global governance from a state-centric perspective. By giving states pride of place, it is easier to discern the precise effects of new actors and factors. Much like the prior wave of scholarship, All Politics Is Global concludes that they matter as an intervening variable. Globalization is not irrelevant to global governance, but it is not transformative either.

Daniel W. Drezner is associate professor of international politics at the Fletcher School at Tufts University. Princeton University Press published his book, All Politics Is Global: Explaining International Regulatory Regimes, this March.

Response Essays

Globalization Is Transformative

Daniel Drezner is out to correct a misguided set of scholars and commentators who have, he says, lost track of the continuing centrality of states as the actors who determine the fate of the world. He badly overstates his case — but he makes a useful point nonetheless.

In the world according to Drezner, all that matters is what the great powers (implicitly, Europe and America) want in the way of rules to run the global economy. What they want, they get. If they don’t agree about what rules are desirable for the world in a specific policy arena, the world won’t get rules. Other scholars who think other actors (corporations, civil society groups, even other states) matter are wrong, because only states have any real effect on regulatory policy. Specifically, scholars who think that the forces of globalization are driving us toward a world where regulatory policies across countries will converge are wrong. Globalization is not transformative, says Drezner, and “the global political economy of this century will look only slightly different from that of the 20th century.”

No. The global political economy is looking more and more different all the time. Yes, of course Europe and America still matter to the setting of global rules. But even within a state-centric approach, the idea that 21st-century political economy can look like that of the post-WWII era, dominated by U.S.-European views, is nonsense. From my current seat in Singapore, the economic rise of Asia is rather obviously the dominant reality. At an absolute minimum, global regulatory policy is going to have to incorporate China and India, and probably other emerging markets, as decision-makers, not just rule-takers. That means we’re heading for a multi-polar system where very different kinds of states, at very different levels of development, will matter. That’s not a minor change from the 20th century.

But the state-centric approach itself is out of date. Obviously, the autonomy of non-great-power states has already been fundamentally constrained. But even great powers are being affected. And “regulation” is no longer done only by governments.

To see this, let’s take one of Drezner’s cases: the rules on intellectual property rights (IPR) that emerged from the Uruguay Round trade negotiations that led to the creation of the World Trade Organization in the 1990s.

The U.S. and Europe didn’t wake up one morning to find themselves saying, “Hey, our national interest is to promote protection of intellectual property rights for our major corporations, and we can use the Uruguay Round trade negotiations to advance that interest.” As Susan Sell’s work has made clear, it was a handful of very large U.S.-based corporations who got the ball rolling in a desperate effort to make profits from their intellectual property in countries where those property rights were not respected. There’s no real connection between IPR and trade – but trade is where the global rules have real bite, so connecting IPR to trade would create powerful tools for enforcing IPR protections. They got U.S. trade negotiators on board, then went off to Europe to talk their peers into pushing European governments to adopt the same strategy. America, with European acquiescence, then forced the TRIPS (“trade-related intellectual property”) accord onto the Uruguay agenda, and got the rules the corporations wanted.

If the story ended there, Drezner would have a strong case about great powers setting the rules for everyone else (although he would still be missing the point about why the great powers wanted those particular rules, which is a domestic politics story – and domestic politics are increasingly influenced by transnational non-state connections). But the story decidedly did not end there. When U.S. and European pharmaceutical corporations went to exercise their new protections under TRIPS, they ran into a firestorm of opposition. The niceties of protecting intellectual property, particularly for medicines, didn’t prove convincing in the global court of public opinion as AIDS ravaged one poor country after another.

The civil society campaign that Drezner dismisses as “ephemeral” in fact had a huge impact on corporate conduct. After several contentious years, Big Pharma caved. They dropped their legal effort to stop South Africa from breaking their patents on HVI/AIDS drugs. Glaxo turned the rights to its AIDS medicines over to a South African generics manufacturer. Merck offered such deep discounts in many developing countries that the Brazilians found themselves saving millions of dollars over what it would have cost them to manufacture the drugs themselves. Corporate behavior in this area is “regulated” by pressures from civil society as much as by the formal rules set by governments.

And even when it comes to those formal rules — yes, it’s true that the U.S. has bypassed the Doha process in favor of bilateral agreements. But it’s also true that in India and other countries, generics manufacturers are now playing a key role — something that would not have happened if the U.S. had had its way.

This case illustrates two flaws in Drezner’s argument. The first is a common one in the international political economy literature — the assumption that there is some fixed and clear concept of a state’s self-interest in any given issue area. But there isn’t. State interests are hugely contested, with all sorts of players jockeying to influence what ends states will pursue in their negotiations with other states. That’s nothing new, but now globalization is opening up that once-internal process to a host of new players. How states define what their interests are is one of the most important ways globalization is affecting outcomes in global rule-making. So starting the study at the point where states have already defined their interests misses much of what matters — and doesn’t give any scope for understanding how and why state interests change over time in response to globalization.

The second flaw is the implicit assumption that you can explain outcomes — the behavior of the regulated entities — solely by examining the formal rules set by governments. But in the era of codes of conduct and business “self-regulation,” that assumption no longer holds water.

So Drezner is not providing the overall rebuttal of globalization’s effects on governance that he claims. He’d be a lot more convincing without the sweeping statements that smaller states and nonstate actors don’t matter, or that great power concerts determine all. And he should tone down the language about being a “revisionist” correcting the overblown claims of the globalizationalists. In fact, as any graduate student who has studied international political economy in the past two decades can attest, there’s nothing revisionist about the state-centric approach — it has remained the dominant school of thought throughout.

What Drezner does provide is less than he claims, but it’s still a valuable contribution. He helps to define the limits of globalization’s impact on the autonomy of the U.S. and Europe in certain political economy arenas. As Drezner frames the argument, what are the conditions under which globalization has only limited, if any, impact on the autonomy of the most powerful states? He points to one factor: the costs of adjustment. If the costs of adjustment are too high, the great powers will refuse to pay them and there will be no agreed global rules.

His hypothesis faces an interesting test. On climate change, the U.S. (or at least the current administration) clearly believes the adjustment costs are too high, and is refusing to enter into serious negotiations on global rules. But a vast range of sub-state and non-state actors, even within the U.S., are committing themselves to pay all sorts of adjustment costs and are more or less negotiating across borders — witness California and the roles that leading businesses are playing in setting climate change goals, not to mention the recent global meeting of mayors. Dr. Drezner, would you care to make any predictions as to what will happen over the next decade, or two, on global climate change regulations?

Ann Florini is Visiting Professor and Director, Centre on Asia and Globalisation, National University of Singapore, and Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.

While “Great States” Sleep

Having seen some of Daniel Drezner’s earlier work, I start with a lot of respect for his abilities. He is a sharp-eyed observer of international trends. He is not intimidated by academic fashions. Nor is he the sort of crank who becomes obsessed with his own pet theories. I haven’t had the chance to read his new book but the overview of the arguments which he offers here has certainly whetted my appetite to get to the book very soon.

Apart from admiring the intellectual qualities of the author, moreover, I’m in sympathy with the overall thrust of the argument. State authority is not withering away any time soon. Neither market forces nor the countering efforts of international organizations or “global civil society” will prevent states from asserting their own priorities — and often imposing their priorities on others.

One of Drezner’s main points — that regulatory competition does not always force a “race to the bottom” — was demonstrated with much force, I think, by David Vogel’s Trading Up, published more than a decade ago. Within the United Sttaes, as Vogel showed, a large state like California can impose higher environmental and safety standards without driving business out of the state, because producers are not willing to give up on such a large market. Instead, California standards often become de facto national standards.

On the other hand, Clifford Bob’s recent study of international non-governmental organizations, Marketing Rebellion, documents the extent to which, even when it comes to protests over the most extreme human rights abuses, advocacy groups tailor their presentations to what, from past experience, they find can work: they have the most influence when pushing on open doors. The very fact that NGO’s keep having to say they are “non-governmental” tells us something important about their need for some sort of state sponsorship or at least engagement in the background with their projects.

To the extent that talk of “globalization” has encouraged exaggerated ideas about how much the world has changed, Drezner is offering very apt cautions. What I want to offer, then, is not criticism, let alone rebuttal, in relation the basic argument. But Drezner devotes so much of his essay to puncturing inflated expectations, that it may be useful to remind readers that important changes have occurred — even if the scale of change is not quite so dramatic as some may fear and others may hope.

I don’t think Drezner will disagree with my own cautions here. I certainly don’t see that his argument requires him to disagree. But I want to remind readers, in any case, that one can accept almost everything he says in his essay and still think the challenges we face now are different, in important ways, from the patterns we had become accustomed to in the past.

Start with the collapse of communism as an international force and the discrediting of socialism as a viable domestic policy. Almost everyone now sees that a centrally planned economy won’t create wealth. Yet even the most power-oriented governments see that wealth is essential to sustaining state power. True, states that earn sufficient wealth by selling oil and natural gas, like Russia or Saudi Arabia, can constrain internal markets to a considerable extent. But even they depend on market economies to generate the purchasing power that brings such high prices for their exports. So almost all countries now have a stake in a world where goods and services — and capital — flow relatively freely across boundaries. And that is a very big background fact about our world.

It doesn’t follow that all nations share the same aims or the same priorities. But it does seem to follow that there are more intractable constraints on state policies — at least regarding peace time activities — than was once believed. Governments can’t simply ignore market forces. States may still seek competitive advantage. But they are competing, among other things, for trade and investment — which means they have to reassure traders and investors that their currencies will remain sound, their tax policies moderated and so on. Anything we say about any particular regulatory regime assumes — or should assume — a background of larger constraints in which regulatory policy operates. One indication of this change is that the World Trade Organization, which started (as GATT in 1947) with only 22 western states, now embraces almost all countries in the world.

Drezner’s point is that a lot of maneuvering room remains. Within this zone of policy discretion, states will try to insist on policies they favor — and more powerful states won’t be easily constrained by international regulatory regimes. I agree with the general point. But one can put it a bit differently. States now are so entangled in international regimes — because so entangled in international exchange — that the accepted rules of international economic conduct are now recognized to be very important.

I agree that recognizing the importance of international rules does not make states into altruists — any more than it makes lawyers into disinterested good citizens in the domestic legal system. But lawyers have (or are supposed to have) only one client at a time in a particular dispute. Governments serve lots of constituencies, which often pull in different directions. The “state” is often distracted. And a world of rules makes it easier to get distracted — or to give way to pleas to “go along” with a deal that, on many grounds, looks like a bad one for the home country.

To put it concretely, I agree with the thrust of Drezner’s argument: the World Trade Organization, for example, won’t be able to override a specific American policy if the United States is insistent on it. The judges of the WTO’s Appellate Body are well aware of that fact and imposes limits on their initiative (or, to use the domestic analogy, their “judicial activism”). But, in fact, every time the United States has been judged in violation of WTO standards, it has meekly amended its supposedly offending policies. It turns out that we are rarely so committed to our pre-existing policies — and domestic interests often jump at the chance to force adaptations in line with their own priorities.

James Q. Wilson’s book, Bureaucracy, emphasized this point in relation to domestic regulation. Every now and then, public opinion is aroused by some bureaucratic excess — as it was in the late 1970s, for example, against the ignition-interlock regulation, a mandated safety device preventing drivers from starting their cars if they did not have their seat belts fastened. In such cases, Congress will insist on giving the public what it demands (as it did in this case by suspending the interlock system). But bureaucratic disputes don’t often rise to this level of public attention. It is silly to pretend that, because the Congress retains the ultimate capacity to say no, what all those domestic regulatory bureaucracies do serve up must be more or less what the public wants, or would want, if it knew about them.

At the international level, we are starting to let standards negotiated in international forums become guides to domestic policy even when there is no direct cross-border spillover problem. The Bush administration, for example, is now negotiating trade agreements which pledge conformity to standards of the International Labor Organization — including some standards the United States itself has not directly ratified. Labor unions and other advocates for greater regulation of domestic labor markets will argue that we must conform more fully to international standards lest we risk compromising new trade ventures. Perhaps there is a limit to how far this can go, but a lot can happen before we reach that limit. Most change is on the margin but marginal changes can add up to sizable effects in the aggregate.

Meanwhile, to speak of “great powers,” as Drezner does, is to abstract from a big change in the configuration of “power.” The world’s largest trading “power” is the European Union. It is not a “power” in the way that Britain and Germany were in the first part of the Twentieth Century or in the way the United States and China are today. The EU has no army or navy. It does not even have a police force of its own. When bargaining with the United States or Japan, say, over international regulatory standards, it has enormous bargaining power because it has regulatory reach over the markets of Europe. But when it comes to facing down military challenges, it cannot even speak, reliably, for the limited forces available to the EU’s member states — some of which, as we’ve seen, are more disposed to act with the United States and some much less so.

The incentives for the EU, therefore, are to submerge as many issues as possible into regulatory or at least economic issues — where the EU can have a direct say. Want to constrain China? Try to entangle it in more international regulatory ventures. Then reassure China — and European states — that the United States will also be constrained. Drezner’s point is that this can’t go very far before China — and the United States — begin to push back from their own self-interest. True enough — at the end of the day. But the day can be long and full of distracting episodes, particularly when it is warm and those who should be watching get drowsy or distracted.

What happens in the meantime is worth noticing. A lot that happens is not well explained by Drezner’s version of the big picture. Why is it, for example, that the Bush administration has now endorsed a law of the sea treaty under which China claims access to American ocean exploration technology and the U.S. agrees to subject its naval seizures on the high seas to an international tribunal based in Hamburg?

Jeremy A. Rabkin is professor of law at George Mason University and author of Law without Nations? Why Constitutional Government Requires Sovereign States.

Globalization and Global Governance

Popular writing on globalization suffers from at least two flaws. The first is wooliness about the underlying phenomenon. Definitions of globalization abound, but they are often unsatisfying, in part because they are so imprecise. Is globalization chiefly about trade and finance? Is it about “the death of distance?” Or is it really about cultural homogenization and “Starbucks-ization”?

The second flaw is an overabundance of hype. Claims of novelty are ubiquitous, and the tenor in the more popular writing on globalization is that it is profoundly new, different, and unsettling. The champion of this view is the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, but there are many others.

In the academy, by contrast, writers tend to throw cold water on these claims. Globalization is not really all that new, say historians. Consider the period before the First World War, a veritable golden age of globalization, in which, as John Maynard Keynes famously wrote,

a man could order by telephone, sipping his morning tea in bed, the various products of the whole earth, in such quantity as he might see fit…he could at the same moment and by the same means adventure his wealth in the natural resources and new enterprises of any quarter of the world, and share, without exertion or even trouble, in their prospective fruits and advantages.

For many historians this early wave of globalization differs not that greatly in magnitude from the current wave; some even think we have just begun to surpass the achievements of the late 19th century.

Globalization is not all that deep, say economists. Trade within countries dwarfs trade among them. One widely-noted study found that businesses in British Columbia were twenty times as likely to buy goods from (fairly distant) Ontario than from just across the border in Washington State. The United States and Canada are certainly not highly protected economies; the irresistible implication of this is that the world is actually not flat, but instead fairly bumpy.

Globalization is not really all that revolutionary, say political scientists. Rather than one giant market in which governments race to the bottom, helpless before behemoth multinational corporations, or are subject to the “golden straitjacket,” to use another Friedmanism, governments remain quite in control. This line of contrarianism is where Daniel Drezner’s argument, built on his fine new book, All Politics is Global: Explaining International Regulatory Regimes, comes in.

Drezner is not the first to say that states still hold the reins of the global economy. But he does present one of the most comprehensive treatments of the balance between state power and global forces, and he fairly successfully demonstrates that the “straitjacket” is more like a supple tracksuit.

Drezner’s primary focus is the web of regulatory regimes that now govern — or seem to govern — so many policy arenas, many of which were previously purely local in nature. This web of international regimes represents a true change in world politics — there were not nearly so many fifty years ago — but there is often less to them than meets the eye. As he argues, many contain “sham standards” that appear to provide a set of rules, but in actuality are so loose and ambiguous that they have no real effect.

His key claim, however, is that international regulatory rules are the creation of the great powers. The big markets, primarily the United States and the European Union, dominate the process of rulemaking at the global level. What this means is that rather than footloose capital driving policy choices, governments remain behind the wheel.

In the main this argument is persuasive. Too often globalization is described as a force that effectively strips states of their governing power, sidelining them in favor of a welter of private actors ranging from firms to non-governmental organizations. In fact, governments are pretty nimble. And when political pressures are high, they (at least, the great powers) manage to deflect globalization’s pressures without much difficulty.

So Drezner’s chief claim is that nothing has really changed — at least, nothing that would require a new paradigm of world politics. The substantive topics may be new, but in a globalized world cooperation and conflict among nations remains the same as ever, he says. But is this really the case?

I think the answer yes, but it is a bit more ambiguous and complex than he suggests. Take the role of non-governmental actors, or NGOs (sometimes called “global civil society”). Some NGOs make a lot of noise, and are very involved in United Nations conclaves and activities of that sort. And NGOs are now fixtures in many of the global regulatory regimes that govern the global economy. To some this clearly signals the waning of state power; as Dan notes, a common assumption in globalization writing is the decline of state autonomy in the face of non-state actors of various stripes.

But despite talk about an emergent “world civic politics,” NGO influence on policy outcomes is pretty limited. States have proven very capable of keeping NGOs out of the policy process when they choose to. When governments are eager for the sort of policy advice, or media heat, that an NGO can bring they can open up the policy process. Yet states can also close it down fairly easily.

This shouldn’t obscure the fact that the nature of politics does change when non-state actors become a major presence in policymaking, and this can have long term implications. For example, Drezner discusses the worldwide access to medicines campaign that revolves around patent protection and life-saving AIDS-related drugs. This campaign was driven by a combination of new international rules on intellectual property (enshrined in the World Trade Organization, and backed by its sanctioning power) and the frightening growth of the global AIDS crisis.

Although he acknowledges it is “a semi-deviant case” for his argument about state power, Drezner claims that the policy changes that took place with regard to access to medicines were really driven by changing definitions of security within the American government, not the pressures of the activist community. While I don’t find the details of his explanation fully persuasive, the more important point is that there clearly was significant back-and-forth between activist NGOs and governments, and this back-and-forth is indeed a feature in other global policy arenas Drezner looks at as well.

Why is this story about NGOs and policymaking important? It is not that NGOs determine, or greatly influence, discrete international policy decisions. Rather, it is that once the international policy process starts to look like the domestic one — both because traditionally domestic topics have gone global, and because many interest groups are now chiming in and jockeying for position — expectations about the nature of the policy process shift. Critics expect more openness, more transparency, more accountability; in other words, a process more like domestic governance. The lack of these features is often decried as a “democratic deficit.”

The rhetoric of transparency and democracy-deficits can be powerful. In the EU it has become a major point of debate, and while its strength shouldn’t be overstated, concerns about process have, rightly or wrongly, helped slow the pace of integration in the EU. Perhaps the same will be true at the international level. More concern with openness and accountability could lead to less global governance, or at least a slower rate of increase in global governance, than we see now. It is equally likely that we will simply see more of the features of domestic governance replicated at the international level. What do these features portend?

A useful analogy when thinking about the politics of global governance is that of the federal government. When Washington was a small town, and the federal government much smaller than it is today, we didn’t have legions of lobbyists working K Street and national organizational headquarters crammed into every office building in Washington, DC. As the power of the federal government to regulate the national economy grew in the 20th century, however, lobbyists and various interest groups rapidly set up shop in Washington. These non-state actors became omnipresent and at times quite influential.

Yet one could hardly argue that the federal government began to wither away in the 20th century. Quite the contrary — the presence of all these non-state actors was a testament to greatly enhanced government power. The power of the central government to regulate and control was, in fact, never stronger.

Who lost power in all this? It was not the federal government whose autonomy was diminished by the arrival of a host of non-state actors. Rather, to some degree it was the individual states, and to a large degree it was the individual, who was now subject to a panoply of regulatory rules that never existed before. In many cases these constraints on autonomy were necessary, because society was far more dense and because technology created new externalities that demanded regulation. The underlying lesson, however, is an important one for libertarians to ponder. The rise of interdependence and NGOs in American society didn’t signal the end of the state; it signaled the growth of the state.

Kal Raustiala is a professor at the UCLA School of Law and the UCLA International Institute, and serves as director of the UCLA Ronald W. Burkle Center for International Relations

The Conversation

Transnational Activists, Democracy Deficits, and the Tragedy of the Institutional Commons

Ann Florini, Jeremy Rabkin, and Kal Raustiala have all provided interesting and challenging counterpoints to the arguments I’ve made in All Politics Is Global. One of the problems with distilling a book into a 2,500 word essay is that a few things get left out — which is why, of course, everyone reading these words should buy All Politics Is Global. My distillation was incomplete, so some responses will be easier than others.

Let me start with Florini, who offers the most direct set of critiques. She argues that I fail to account for the rise of Asia, which will certainly alter the distribution of power in new ways. A quick rejoinder – I have thought about this, though those thoughts were not in my original essay. Obviously, the rise of Asia is going to make the world more multipolar, which expands the concert of great powers, which will make “getting to yes” on coordination all the more difficult. I would also point out that the rise of Asia actually problematizes her other point, which is about the power of global civil society. Simply put, global civil society has it easy in America and Europe compared with many of the Pacific Rim economies, including Ann’s home base. A question to Florini: will global civil society become more or less empowered by the rise of China?

Pressing the influence of global civil society, Florini proposes two flaws to my argument:

The first is a common one in the international political economy literature — the assumption that there is some fixed and clear concept of a state’s self-interest in any given issue area. But there isn’t. State interests are hugely contested, with all sorts of players jockeying to influence what ends states will pursue in their negotiations with other states. That’s nothing new, but now globalization is opening up that once-internal process to a host of new players. How states define what their interests are is one of the most important ways globalization is affecting outcomes in global rule-making. So starting the study at the point where states have already defined their interests misses much of what matters — and doesn’t give any scope for understanding how and why state interests change over time in response to globalization.

The second flaw is the implicit assumption that you can explain outcomes — the behavior of the regulated entities — solely by examining the formal rules set by governments. But in the era of codes of conduct and business “self-regulation,” that assumption no longer holds water.

If transnational activists can influence national-level decision-making, and if world civic politics supplants conventional regulation, Florini would have me dead to rights. I think she might be overstating both cases, however.

The ability of transnational activists to influence great power governments is uncertain at best. In most cases, activists have been able to push governments only when they were predisposed to move in the first place. In the case of genetically modified organisms, for example, much has been made of how NGOs were able to push the European Union into stringent regulatory arrangements. This is only half of the story, however. Those same activists failed to mobilize a similar shift in preferences in the United States. This was not been due to a lack of effort. By 1999, the Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue, Greenpeace USA, Sierra Club, and Friends of the Earth had launched active campaigns against GMOs. Since 2000 there have been at least two significant food safety scares in the United States — the StarLink episode and the limited outbreak of mad cow disease. These crises gave global civil society a policy window through which they could ratchet up regulatory stringency. However, there was no significant change in the American regulatory system with regard to GM use, and only a modest shift in American public opinion.

It will be a rare event when global civil society can influence all of the great powers at the same time – and as the number of great powers increases, it will be rarer still. Furthermore, to use a point raised elliptically by Jeremy Rabkin, and less elliptically by Kal Raustiala, sustained influence will be even trickier. As the post-Doha behavior of the United States on TRIPS suggests, great powers can and will innovate in response to political challenges.

The possibility that global civil society will simply bypass the state all together is more intriguing. Certainly this has taken place in some issue areas, such as access to life-saving drugs. My question, however, is whether this will be as prevalent and as effective as Florini suggests. As Aaron Chatterji and Siona Listokin pointed out earlier this year in Democracy, corporations are learning to game the system:

Unfortunately, one feature of voluntary codes of conduct is that companies can pick and choose the standards to which they adhere, particularly if consumers are confused about the basic differences. As long as the company can claim that it is complying with some pleasantly named code of conduct, most consumers are likely to be pacified, even if the code lacks any real teeth. [1]

I agree with Florini that global civil society will attempt to provide a substitute for the great powers when it comes to important questions of global regulation. In terms of altering corporate behavior, however, my hunch is that almost all of these efforts will be a poor substitute for a great power concert.

Florini challenges me to make predictions, based on my argument, about the future of climate change negotiations. I’ve blogged a bit about this, but to repeat the point here: regardless of who is in the White House, I am pessimistic about forward progress on global warming unless China and India are willing to agree to reduce emissions. And the adjustment costs for those countries are even higher than in the United States. Until the costs of inaction are more visible, my policy prognosis will be pessimistic.

Jeremy Rabkin and Kal Raustiala ask different variants of the same question — whether globalization, by thickening global governance, constrains states more than I allow.

Rabkin frets that the state will become ensnared in an increasing web of global governance structures:

States now are so entangled in international regimes — because so entangled in international exchange — that the accepted rules of international economic conduct are now recognized to be very important.

I agree that recognizing the importance of international rules does not make states into altruists — any more than it makes lawyers into disinterested good citizens in the domestic legal system. But lawyers have (or are supposed to have) only one client at a time in a particular dispute. Governments serve lots of constituencies, which often pull in different directions. The “state” is often distracted. And a world of rules makes it easier to get distracted — or to give way to pleas to “go along” with a deal that, on many grounds, looks like a bad one for the home country.

At the international level, we are starting to let standards negotiated in international forums become guides to domestic policy even when there is no direct cross-border spillover problem.

Rabkin raises an interesting question – whether even great powers become prisoners of the global governance structures that they create. My prior work on this topic, however, suggests that the executive branch is more Janus-faced than Rabkin allows. Governments have become more adroit at using international agreements as a mechanism for bypassing domestic institutional roadblocks (consider the “regulatory taking” provision in NAFTA, for example). Because national governments can play in both the domestic and global games, they possess an advantage that other political actors lack. Global governance structures can provide national governments with some political cover, permitting them to advance preferred policies.

This exploitation of global governance structures will lead to cries of a “democratic deficit,” which segues nicely into Raustiala’s argument. He posits a worrying effect from NGO demands for greater governance:

Why is this story about NGOs and policymaking important? It is not that NGOs determine, or greatly influence, discrete international policy decisions. Rather, it is that once the international policy process starts to look like the domestic one — both because traditionally domestic topics have gone global, and because many interest groups are now chiming in and jockeying for position — expectations about the nature of the policy process shift. Critics expect more openness, more transparency, more accountability; in other words, a process more like domestic governance. The lack of these features is often decried as a “democratic deficit.”….

More concern with openness and accountability could lead to less global governance, or at least a slower rate of increase in global governance, than we see now. It is equally likely that we will simply see more of the features of domestic governance replicated at the international level.

Raustiala identifies a way in which the 21st century will be different from the 20th — both the supply and demand for global governance structures will be higher. My concern is whether the supply will meet the demand.

There’s a third possibility in Raustiala’s future, which I believe to the likely outcome. Complaints about the democratic deficit will lead to more global governance, but not all the features of domestic governance will be replicated. Established international organizations — like the WTO or ILO — are likely to feel the pressure to democratize themselves. In response, great power governments will likely create a whole new layer of “club” organizations, as a way of keeping the green room as small as possible. The United States did this in the wake of the Asian financial crisis – I see no reason why China, India or the European Union would not adopt this tactic as well.

The long term effects of this are uncertain. It is possible that the proliferation of global governance structures will lead to some healthy competition among different sources of authority. It is more likely, however, that this proliferation will lead to a tragedy of the institutional commons. As Montesquieu put it, useless laws weaken necessary laws. As more and more fora are created, each of them will find their legitimacy devalued when forum-shopping is created. My fear is that Gresham’s Law will kick in — bad institutions will drive away good ones. And without clear and common rules, governments will be more empowered — at the expense of the individual.


[1] Aaron Chatterji and Siona Listokin, “Corporate Social Irresponsibility,” Democracy: A Journal of Ideas 3 (Winter 2007): 52-63.

Why Should We Care?

There are two threads running through these essays. The first is about who is actually running the world, which probably is of concern mostly to scholars and pundits. The second is, who should be running the world, and toward what ends.

On the first, Dan, I think you don’t really mean your original assertion that “small states and nonstate actors do not affect governance outcomes.” Frequently they do. Certainly businesses have a big impact on regulatory decisions at national and particularly international levels. In areas from Internet governance to the insurance industry phytosanitary standards, there’s a lot of “self-regulation” going on, with private actors negotiating and setting the rules themselves. With regard to civil society, the 1990s saw an explosion of books documenting the impact of transnational civil society networks on one issue after another, from landmines to nuclear arms control to most environmental issues. No, of course civil society groups do not independently make and enforce policy. But they do matter, a lot and often.

Dan, your more interesting point is that, as Kal noted, the world remains “bumpy,” not flat. Even the powerful forces behind economic integration aren’t driving the world to a uniform stage of policy convergence. That means the real question is: what explains the bumpiness? Or, in your terms, under what conditions do states retain substantial autonomy to set regulatory policy in the era of globalization? That’s the question you really seem to be addressing. Your answer seems to be: “great powers with clearly defined interests can resist pressures for policy convegence.” I completely agree. State power still matters. But it is not all that matters, because most states aren’t great powers, and most great powers frequently have pretty cloudy and changeable ideas of what constitutes their own interests.

That is both good news and bad, because it means there are multiple options for running the world. Sometimes it will be great power agreement, sometimes not. Usually it’s an unholy mess with many contending actors. But what is lacking in almost all of these options are well-developed procedures for ensuring that people affected by the rules have some input into making them, and some way of holding rule-makers accountable. How should global rules be set?

Kal’s right that we are moving, without much thought, into a world where matters that used to be handled at the domestic level are being addressed internationally. But people have spent centuries developing procedures to provide for at least a modicum of public participation in and accountability of national-level decision making systems. Those administrative law procedures, with all their flaws, are crucial. They fill in the gap between the blunt instrument of elections and the day-to-day rulemaking that has such an enormous impact on people’s lives. They allow people affected by rules and proposed rules to comment on those rules, pursue judicial remedies to bureaucracy run amok, etc.

Global administrative law, by contrast, is woefully underdeveloped. That’s why, as Kal notes, we hear so much now about demands for transparency and accountability at the WTO, the IMF, and the World Bank. That’s why humanitarian relief groups have banded together in the “Humanitarian Accountability Project” to develop rules so that the intended beneficiaries – refugees and internally displaced persons needing humanitarian relief – have some voice in how the relief groups treat them.

So we’re in a messy stage of global governance. The big question now is, what do we do about it?

What China Portends

One of the interesting points raised in this forum concerns the rise of new great powers, in particular China. Everyone recognizes that China is increasingly significant in global political terms; the harder task is predicting what kind of power China will be and what kind of world China will seek to create as it resumes its traditional place at the center of world affairs.

Dan queried whether China’s rise will empower or disempower the NGO community that is now so active and engaged in global governance. Given China’s ongoing suppression of dissenting voices at home, and well-known intolerance for dissenting views abroad (e.g., regarding Taiwan or Tibet), it is hard to see how a more powerful China would not seek a retrenchment of NGO power and access in many global forums. Alternatively, however, we might see the proliferation of new international organizations (with quite different rules and procedures) that aim to supplant existing institutions. Indeed, we already see such steps with the emergence of groups like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which rejected a U.S. bid for observer status. A third possibility is simply a lot less governance of the institutionalized sort prevalent since 1945. One thing we know about Asia today is that it is one of the least institutionalized regions on earth.

Any one of these paths — changing rules and norms in existing institutions, creating new global institutions that gradually displace the old, or moving toward fewer global governance structures altogether — seem likely to lead to less, not more, NGO influence. Except that institutional rules and norms are often sticky, and so it may prove difficult in practice for China to push global civil society to the margins, let alone to disband or discard existing international organizations. That is one reason the newfound activities and influence of NGOs at the international level — sometimes derided by critics as “two bites at the apple,” since many of these groups presumably had a first bite at the domestic policy level — may prove significant for the West in coming years.

The two bites metaphor is a favorite of some conservative critics of global civil society in the U.S., who see global governance as an end-run around domestic opposition to liberal policies. (This view is of course in some tension with Dan’s main argument). But the two bites metaphor might be better applied in the context of Western values and political preferences. To many in the developing world, the international NGO community largely reflects the values of the West, and the inclusion of NGOs in international policy processes simply strengthens the hands of the U.S. and Europe. In short, it gives the West two bites at the apple.

Resistance to NGO “amicus briefs” at the World Trade Organization Appellate Body is a good example. Some WTO member states are hostile to the notion of amicus briefs because they believe that the amici are likely to support increased deference to international environmental and labor standards, standards which, in practice, can be used as cover for economic protectionism, and at a minimum can serve to erase some of the comparative advantage — perhaps unfairly acquired — of the poorer nations. There is some truth to this fear, and hence locking in NGO access and participation now may prove beneficial for the traditional great powers as they inevitably face intensified competition with rising powers such as China. This is not to say that China cannot sidestep NGO influence. As I argued in my initial essay, states have long proven adept at this. But over time such side-stepping tends to get harder and the costs rise, and the result may well be that China acquiesces more than it would like.

These are speculations. Yet it does not seem overly fanciful to posit that global civil society will, in the future, function to give the West’s eroding political power some extra oomph. The interesting question is whether China, and other Asian powers, will be able to successfully govern the world via a new set of institutions with radically different rules and practices, or perhaps govern without any real institutions at all. A good answer to that question would of course go a long way toward addressing a whole host of important issues, issues that go well beyond the topic of the future of state power in a globalized world.

Best of the Blogs: Milton Mueller on Internet Governance

Drezner Muffs Internet Governance

by Milton L. Mueller
Internet Governance Project Blog

Syracuse University information studies professor Milton L. Mueller, author of Ruling the Root: Internet Governance and the Taming of Cyberspace takes issue with Daniel Drezner’s views on Internet governance in a detailed post on the Internet Governance Project blog.

June 19, 2007

Tufts political scientist Daniel Drezner has produced an appealingly simple model to explain the typology of global economic governance. You can get a quick summary of his position at Cato Unbound. His basic thesis is that global governance is still driven by the power of states — well, not states exactly, but “Great Powers.” There are at the moment only two Great Powers, the US and the EU. From this, he derives a useful typology. When the US and EU interests are congruent, and the rest of the world isn’t adamantly opposed, we will get harmonized and effective global governance. When the EU and US agree, but the rest of the world won’t go along, the Great Powers will avoid universal institutions and forum shop, and we will get “club” standards. When the EU and US disagree, and there is wide divergence of interest among the rest of the world, we will get “sham” standards, putative global governance principles that don’t mean anything and can’t be enforced. Drezner puts our beloved Article 19 in this category. Ouch. But he’s right about its effectiveness, isn’t he? And when the EU and US disagree and have clusters of allies around the world we will get rival governance standards, like in the case of genetically modified foods.

The book is a notable intellectual achievment. It is worth reading for anyone seriously engaged in global governance debates. The model works about 75-80% of the time. But the chapter on Internet governance disappoints. Unfortunately for him, the model breaks down in that case. Partly it’s because Drezner doesn’t understand the subject matter that well. But mainly it’s because there are flaws in the model that come out most clearly in the case of IG.

Drezner argues that the exercise of voice matters greatly in domestic politics, but matters not at all in global governance arenas. In Drezner’s view, domestic actors can raise the “adjustment costs” of Great Powers by resorting to the use of political voice; by which he means lobbying, political contributions, protest, voting and participation in electoral campaigns. Transnational civil society (TNCS), he seems to believe, has no such capability. But this is illogical. Yes, TNCS as such cannot vote in any and all jurisdictions. But just as economic power is concentrated on the EU and US, so is the power of TNCS. Civil society actors from the US and EU can and do send money to, attend protests of, supply information to, and otherwise support the exercise of voice by other members of TNCS who are in the targeted jurisdiction. They can generate support and publicity for electoral candidates in external jurisdictions as well.

The important insight here is that in the exercise of political voice, what matters is the institutional framework within which actors can express and actuate their preferences. Drezner is right that in the vast majority of instances of economic regulation, preferences can only be systematically aggregated and expressed through national governments. Ergo, governments still have the most influence. But this is a historically contingent fact, one that can change and to some extent is changing.

To take the most obvious example, one of Drezner’s two “great powers” is not a state at all – it is the European Union, a form of supranational economic integration among traditional nation-states. The EU is a radical and deliberate departure from the Westphalian model.

That brings us to Internet governance. Here again, in ICANN we have a radical and deliberate departure from national and inter-national governance. ICANN is a truly global and private sector-based institutional framework for economic regulation. Within it, political voice can be exercised independently of nation-states. Ergo, ICANN is dominated non-national forms of political voice: private business and global civil society. By providing an outlet for political voice that is non-national, the ICANN regime provides a magnet for transnational politics (as did WSIS).

The fact that ICANN was created by the USG and is still subject to its oversight does not alter the fact that political voice now has a global, as opposed to a national outlet. Moreover, US authority over it is highly constrained for two reasons. First, to retain the credibility and legitimacy of ICANN and to maintain requisite levels of support and participation, the USG cannot indulge in arbitrary and unilateral modification of its outcomes. If private sector actors invested large sunk costs in ICANN policy development processes only to discover that the outcome was summarily overruled by a unilateral USG decision, ICANN’s processes would collapse via exit very rapidly. Second, Drezner rightly emphasizes the substitutability of governance processes and the ways in which Great Powers garner control through forum-shopping. The very fact that ICANN and its governance model are creatures of the US, however, means that the USG’s ability to forum-shop in the Internet governance arena is limited more than it would be otherwise.

Incidentally, Drezner does not have a good grasp of the type of economic regulation that the ICANN regime represents. He repeatedly lumps it together with governance of standards. In fact, the resource allocation and assignment functions of ICANN and the standard-setting activities of IETF and W3C are completely separate things. ICANN doesn’t do technical standards; IETF and W3C don’t do resource assignment and allocation.

In his haste to grasp at any available evidence of the pre-eminence of state power, Drezner badly distorts the early history of TCP/IP’s adoption. He wants to argue that the victory of TCP/IP was a state-driven and (I can practically hear the jeers and laughter from the technical people who lived this history) a product of US-EU agreement! But the global economy’s convergence on TCP/IP had almost nothing to do with the exercise of deliberate state power or policy. In fact, the victory of the TCP/IP standard was a product, first, of a transnational group of dedicated non-state actors in research and educational institutions and the private sector; and second, a function of the technical superiority of this community’s standards and software implementations, which led to their adoption by private actors and created critical mass and network externalities. Although many of the developers in IETF benefited from government and military research funding, just as often TCP/IP progressed in spite of official US policy. Drezner overlooks the fact that the historical victory of TCP/IP was adamantly opposed by one Great Power (the Europeans and the Europe-dominated ITU) and only partially supported by the other (the U.S.). Drezner seems to be unaware of the contradiction within the US government that led one branch of the USG (Commerce) to forsake TCP/IP and promote OSI.

Even assuming that the US government could be classified as a 100% backer of TCP/IP (which it wasn’t), in Drezner’s typology the conflict between US and European visions of data communications should have produced rival standards, because there was a major divergence of interest between the Great Powers, and may have also been such a divergence between the powers and other international actors.

Drezner’s account of the origins of the ICANN regime is strangely off key. He presents it as an example of Great Power agreement but in fact ICANN was a unilateral US initiative. The Europeans went along after getting some minor concessions, but they really had no choice and the regime only marginally reflected their preferences. The fact that they later became open critics of unilateral US control of ICANN during the World Summit on the Information Society proves the point.

Drezner has no satisfactory explanation for the important role of the Internet Society in the formative stages of the ICANN regime. ISOC is a nonstate actor that incorporated the interests of (mostly American) business and the independent, nonstate technical community. It is clear from history that ISOC’s lobbying of the US government after the Green Paper played a major role in changing the preferences of the US policy makers, shifting the USG away from making specific policy decisions and towards a private sector solution that left all key policy decisions to the new private corporation, which ISOC and others fully expected to be dominated by Jon Postel and ISOC’s socio-technical network. Concessions were made to the EU interests, too, but the influence of the EU was relegated to a status that was, at best, about the same as key private sector actors.

The fundamental problem here is that the real story behind internet governance contradicts Drezner’s basic model of great power influence. The specific historical circumstances of the Internet’s rise empowered certain nonstate actors and gave the US unilateral global power. The USG’s contractual control over the administrators of the DNS and IP address roots allowed it to pursue its policy preferences relatively independently of the preferences of other nation-states. As a result, it was able to create a truly global regime dominated by non-state actors and reserve all political oversight to itself. This is indeed a new world order, at least in the realm of information and communications. This is all laid out in my book Ruling the Root, which Drezner cites but does not seem to have understood fully.

Since Drezner misses the true nature and political origins of the ICANN regime, it is not surprising that he has absolutely no explanation for the US-EU split over ICANN during WSIS. Based on his theory, the split between US and Europe should have led to rival standards, i.e., EU should have erected an alternative to ICANN’s global governance regime and supported an alternate root. It did not.

In sum, there is a dynamic, path-dependent element to the global Internet governance regime that Drezner’s model does not capture. Only this can explain the rise of the IETF, W3C and ICANN. Even if states acceded to their authority through some kind of after-the-fact “delegation” or decided that those nonstate actors in some ways served their interests, it does not fully fit within the thesis that governments are driving everything and the influence of civil society and the private sector are peripheral. And the fact that no state, not even the Bush administration, would threaten the massive economic benefits of e-commerce and Internet-based communication by fragmenting the Internet shows that states really are constrained by the genies they may have once agreed to let out of the bottle.

[Leave a comment at the original post.]

Is the EU Special? Are NGOs Agenda-Setters?

I have progressed in my career by adhering to a few basic maxims: be as parsimonious as possible in developing a theory, be as detailed as possible in the presentation of evidence, and don’t get into a debate on Internet governance with Milton Mueller.

I will largely adhere to the third rule here, but to respond briefly to a few points in his post. First, he raises a fair question about my obsession with state power:

[O]ne of Drezner’s two ‘great powers’ is not a state at all – it is the European Union, a form of supranational economic integration among traditional nation-states. The EU is a radical and deliberate departure from the Westphalian model.

How can I argue that states are what really count when the EU is one of my primary actors? Couldn’t other states decide to form a similar grouping?

My answer is that the EU is such a whopping supranational exception that I’m not worried about copycats emerging anytime soon. It took the EU thirty years of struggle – backed by the U.S. security umbrella and the historical weight of centuries of continental wars – to get to the position of being a supranational entity that matters. No other regional grouping even comes close to the EU’s degree of integration right now, and I don’t think any of them will come close in the decades to come, either. Raustiala believes that EU is a harbinger of eroding norms of Westphalian sovereignty. For me, the EU is a sui generis case; there are no copycats at the moment, and for the decades to come, it will remain an exception rather than a trend.

Mueller raises another big theoretical question akin to those raised by Florini. They all argue that I’m underselling the power and influence of transnational civil society at the global level. For Florini, these groups have greater agenda-setting power. For Mueller, they can exercise voice at the global level.

On agenda-setting, I concede that occasionally, NGOs can influence agendas. The question is what happens next. As the TRIPS case suggests, initial declarations infused with activist agendas can fall victim to opportunistic implementation. Because it is so difficult for activists to keep the spotlight on, there might be a global parallel to Daniel Kono’s recent argument about “optimal obfuscation” at the domestic level. Governments are getting better at making public gestures towards NGO demands and then undercutting those gestures by either shifting fora to more arcane and remote settings, or using “all deliberate speed” in implementing concrete action.

I am more skeptical than Mueller about the global “voice” power of activists because their voice imposes fewer political costs on great powers. NGOs can try to exercise political voice as a means to lobby national governments. However, governments respond in a concerted fashion when the use of political voice signals economic as well as political costs from pursuing a particular course of action. Unless global civil society is capable of highlighting the material costs from changing a global governance setting, their use of political voice does not pack the same punch as actors with large asset-specific investments in the status quo (i.e., pharmaceutical companies or agribusiness).

Here endeth the positive analysis (i.e., the way the world is). In my next post, I hope to tackle the normative questions raised by Kal Raustiala and others.

Notes on China

With regard to China — having spent the past year in Singapore, where people spend a LOT of time thinking about China’s future roles, I think Kal has laid out just a few of the many possible futures. No one, including the Chinese, really has any idea what kind of great power China will be in a decade or two, either internally or externally.

At the moment, it’s more or less playing by existing rules, while amassing the wherewithal to set up new international systems, and it is actively hostile to citizen power in any form we would recognize. But China is changing with unbelievable rapidity, and those changes are likely to alter how China behaves internationally too.

Chinese lawyers are using Chinese courts to successfully sue Chinese government bodies on behalf of citizens whose rights have been violated. China last month promulgated sweeping new “right to know” regulations that give citizens access to an enormous array of formerly secret government information. Implementation isn’t going to be smooth. But China will be building on years of experience with municipal-level open government regulations with some surprisingly successful cases — such as Shanghai. Chinese authorities remain hostile to NGOs — but on some issues, particularly environmental, some high-level authorities are beginning to recognize the utility of channeling public pressures through such mechanisms.

There’s only one area where Chinese foreign policy is likely to come into direct conflict with the interests of the existing great powers: energy. But the U.S. is hardly in a position to berate China on the energy front. If we want to help guarantee a peaceful multi-polar world a decade or two out, we need to get our energy house in order, and fast. And that’s an area where transnational connections between environmental, human rights, and development NGOs could prove useful — with a bit of real leadership from the US.

The Consequences of Institutional Proliferation

Let me respond to two points made in recent posts. First, Ann’s argument that no one knows what China will become, and that China is undergoing dramatic political and social as well economic change, is surely correct. I have no great knowledge of China and am the first to admit it. My only point was that when it comes to the role and significance of global civil society, China’s current practices suggest a markedly different approach than that of the West. In assessing the future of global governance, therefore, we need to take that difference into account, even if China may shift its preferences over the long term.

Point two concerns international institutions. Earlier Dan wrote about a possible “Gresham’s law” of institutions. Gresham originally wrote about money, and posited that bad money — i.e., inflated or debased money — would drive out good money. Analogizing from this prediction, Dan suggests that the proliferation of global institutions leads to more “choice” for states and possibly to the debasing of the currency, as it were, of cooperation.

He is absolutely right to point to the proliferation of international institutions as an important and relatively understudied factor in world politics. In earlier work with David Victor of Stanford I noted this phenomenon, and we hypothesized about what such agglomerations of international treaty regimes (in our jargon, “regime complexes”) might mean for global cooperation.

One of our key arguments was that forum shopping would become much more important. States who did not like the rules promulgated in a particular forum — say, the WTO — could now more easily look to other venues to raise analogous issues. For instance, rules about trade in genetically-modified organisms exist in a host of UN and non-UN organizations. As a result the legal framework is uncertain, or at least inconsistent. In fact, we suggested that this inconsistency was often deliberate, and that some states used “strategic inconsistency” as a political maneuver. By creating conflicting legal rules these states could argue that they too were following international law and acting in a multilateral fashion. And they could take advantage of the propensity of international tribunals to look at international law holistically, in order to push tribunals toward compromise solutions in particular disputes.

The rising density of international institutions is certain to prove significant. The harder question, as Dan notes, is whether this trend will lead to a Gresham effect — in which global institutions increasingly weaken as a welter of rules drives out the good institutions and creates a legal morass — or whether we will see competition among international institutions leading to stronger and better rules: what economists might call a Tiebout effect.

The “Thickening” of Global Government

I agree with Kal that the combination of a shift to multipolarity, combined with the “thickening” of global governance structures, leads us to a very uncertain future. Simply put, an increase in the number of great powers will increase the likelihood of forum creation and forum shopping. The normative effects of this shift could cut in one of two ways.

The first possibility is that the thickening will actually lead to a market for global governance. Because substitutable structures exist, there will be an incentive for each organization to perform better, in order to attract more adherents. Even if some parts of the globe did not sign on, the effect could be something like “efficient subsidiarity.” This competition for governance leads to a world in which each organization improves itself because of the fear of great power exit. No one organization could claim a monopoly on any particular issue, but like-minded states would be able to cooperate.

The second possibility, which I talked about in my last post, is a tragedy of the institutional commons. This is more likely to take place in two situations. Either there are cases where cooperation among like-minded actors is insufficient to solve the governance problem, or there are cases where the adjustment costs are so high that noncooperation is the best outcome for all concerned.

In the end, I suspect that there will be as many problems that fall into the latter category as the former. We face a number of big public goods issues, such as global warming or the prevention of pandemics, where there is no great power concert.

As for adjustment costs, they will rise in our globalized future. The expansion of tradable activities has begun to impinge on longstanding service sectors, such as accounting, medicine, education, and the law. Many of the services that are rapidly becoming tradable—airlines, education, telecommunications, utilities—have been traditionally run by state-owned enterprises. This means that the forces behind globalization will affect professions, workers, and state-run institutions that have been set in their ways of doing business for centuries.