No Leverage Without Authority? Comparing the Effectiveness of International Organizations Across GLOBE Issue Areas
Do international organizations (IOs) matter? As legacy institutions appear increasingly paralysed in the face of pressing global challenges, this foundational question of global governance scholarship is as relevant as ever. There is now a vast scholarship dedicated to exploring if, when, how, and why IOs are effective. Yet, despite major advances, we still lack theoretical and empirical knowledge of trends across different issue areas and institutions. This blog post summarizes key findings from a recent GLOBE report, which sought to generate comparative insights on IO effectiveness across several issue domains, including climate change, development, finance, investment, migration, security, and trade. Findings are based on a comprehensive survey of GLOBE experts and also build on previous GLOBE research on authority patterns in global governance.
Evaluating IO effectiveness along three different dimensions
There is continued debate over how IO effectiveness can best be conceptualized and operationalized in light of major methodological challenges. Conscious of the pitfalls of fixating on any single approach, we use three distinct but complementary conceptualizations of IO effectiveness:
- Constitutive: Are IOs effective at facilitating agreement on shared norms, goals, policies, rules, or knowledge frames?
- Compliance: Are IOs effective at ensuring that states stick to their international commitments?
- Goal attainment: Are IOs contributing to the provision of global public goods?
Results from the GLOBE expert survey suggest that, when it comes to constitutive effectiveness, almost all IOs must navigate the tension between policy ambition and broad-based membership support. Across issue areas, this tension has grown in the wake of global power shifts, with emerging economies demanding a greater role in global governance institutions. Survey results also show that ambitious policy outputs do not guarantee ambitious outcomes. For example, the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine in international security reflects a normatively powerful idea – that the international community should intervene to prevent mass atrocities if national governments fail to do so – yet, in reality, its application has been highly selective and controversial.
With regard to compliance, few IOs are able use conditionality or (threat of) sanctions to ensure that states stick to the rules. While we may expect those IOs which are endowed with formal compliance powers to be consistently more effective at inducing compliance, survey results would appear to qualify such claims in light of contextual and political considerations, from the vagaries of selective application (e.g. UN Security Council) to the unintended consequence of compliance action which reinforces institutionalized power disparities (e.g. World Bank), thus inviting resistance, contestation and potential counter-institutionalization. Survey results also suggest that compliance alone provides only partial insight into the effects of IOs on state behavior. For example, the effectiveness of the Paris Agreement on climate change hinges not just on formal compliance with procedural obligations but, most consequentially, on whether these procedures galvanize higher ambition that is subsequently enshrined into concrete domestic laws and policies.
Reflections on the ability of IOs to deliver global public goods present an equally mixed picture. Perhaps unsurprisingly, survey results suggest that IOs whose policy functions are limited and/or who bring together a relatively small and like-minded group of stakeholders are more effective in terms of achieving their stated goals. Examples include expert-driven IOs such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) or the Bank for International Settlements (BIS). Survey results also corroborate the sense that IO effectiveness has decreased in recent years, at least in some issue areas. The WTO, for example, is facing backlash on several fronts, significantly reducing its ability to make and implement trade rules. Interestingly, this backlash is partly rooted in the perception that the WTO has historically been too effective at constraining state behavior, compelling powerful states (notably the United States) to comply with adverse rulings.
Julia Kreienkamp is a Research Assistant at the Global Governance Institute, University College London (UCL).