The demand for international regimes
Published online by Cambridge University Press: 22 May 2009
International regimes can be understood as results of rational behavior by the actors—principally states—that create them. Regimes are demanded in part because they facilitate the making of agreements, by providing information and reducing transactions costs in world politics. Increased interdependence among issues—greater ‘issue density’—will lead to increased demand for regimes. Insofar as regimes succeed in providing high quality information, through such processes as the construction of generally accepted norms or the development of transgovernmental relations, they create demand for their own continuance, even if the structural conditions (such as hegemony) under which they were first supplied, change. Analysis of the demand for international regimes thus helps us to understand lags between structural change and regime change, as well as to assess the significance of transgovernmental policy networks. Several assertions of structural theory seem problematic in light of this analysis. Hegemony may not be a necessary condition for stable international regimes; past patterns of institutionalized cooperation may be able to compensate, to some extent, for increasing fragmentation of power.
- Structural Perspectives
- Copyright © The IO Foundation 1982
1 See especially Keohane, Robert O., “The Theory of Hegemonic Stability and Changes in International Economic Regimes, 1967–1977,” in Holsti, Ole R., Siverson, Randolph, and George, Alexander, eds., Changes in the International System (Boulder: Westview, 1980)Google Scholar; and Cahn, Linda, “National Power and International Regimes: The United States and International Commodity Markets,” Ph.D. diss., Stanford University, 1980Google Scholar.
2 Current research on the nineteenth century is beginning to question the assumption that Britain was hegemonic in a meaningful sense. See McKeown, Timothy J., “Hegemony Theory and Trade in the Nineteenth Century,” paper presented to the International Studies Association convention, Philadelphia, 18–21 03 1981Google Scholar; and Stein, Arthur A., “The Hegemon's Dilemma: Great Britain, the United States, and the International Economic Order,” paper presented to the American Political Science Association annual meeting, New York, 3–6 09 1981Google Scholar.
3 The essential reason for this (discussed below) is that actors that are large relative to the whole set of actors have greater incentives both to provide collective goods themselves and to organize their provision, than do actors that are small relative to the whole set. The classic discussion of this phenomenon appears in Olson, Mancur Jr, The Logic of Collective Action: Political Goods and the Theory of Groups (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1965)Google Scholar.
4 I am indebted to Albert Fishlow for clarifying this point for me.
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8 I am indebted to Alexander J. Field for making the importance of this point clear to me. See his paper, “The Problem with Neoclassical Institutional Economics: A Critique with Special Reference to the North/Thomas Model of Pre-1500 Europe,” Explorations in Economic History 18 (04 1981)Google Scholar.
9 Davis, Lance E. and Douglass, C. North adopt this strong form of rationalistic explanation when they argue that “an institutional arrangement will be innovated if the expected net gains exceed the expected costs.” See their volume, Institutional Change and American Economic Growth (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971)Google Scholar.
11 For a discussion of “spontaneous,” “negotiated,” and “imposed” regimes, see Oran Young's contribution to this volume.
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17 Anyone who has thought about Hobbes's tendentious discussion of “voluntary” agreements in Leviathan realizes the dangers of casuistry entailed in applying voluntaristic analysis to politics, especially when obligations are inferred from choices. This article follows Hobbes's distinction between the structure of constraints in a situation, on the one hand, and actor choices, on the other; but it does not adopt his view that even severely constrained choices (“your freedom or your life”) create moral or political obligations.
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22 My use of the word “functions” here is meant to designate consequences of a certain pattern of activity, particularly in terms of the utility of the activity; it is not to be interpreted as an explanation of the behavior in question, since there is no teleological premise, or assumption that necessity is involved. Understanding the function of international regimes helps, however, to explain why actors have an incentive to create them, and may therefore help to make behavior intelligible within a rational-choice mode of analysis that emphasizes the role of incentives and constraints. For useful distinctions on functionalism, see Nagel, Ernest, The Structure of Scientific Explanation (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1961)Google Scholar, especially “Functionalism and Social Science,” pp. 520–35. I am grateful to Robert Packenham for this reference and discussions of this point.
23 Vinod Aggarwal has developed the concept of “nesting” in his work on international regimes in textiles since World War II. I am indebted to him for this idea, which has been elaborated in his “Hanging by a Thread: International Regime Change in the Textile/Apparel System, 1950–1979,” Ph.D. diss., Stanford University, 1981Google Scholar.
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25 Helen Milner suggested to me that international regimes were in this respect like credit markets, and that the history of the development of credit markets could be informative for students of international regimes. The analogy seems to hold. Richard Ehrenberg reports that the development of credit arrangements in medieval European Bourses reduced transaction costs (since money did not need to be transported in the form of specie) and provided highquality information in the form of merchants' newsletters and exchanges of information at fairs: “during the Middle Ages the best information as to the course of events in the world was regularly to be obtained in the fairs and the Bourses” (p. 317). The Bourses also provided credit ratings, which provided information but also served as a crude substitute for effective systems of legal liability. Although the descriptions of credit market development in works such as that by Ehrenberg are fascinating, I have not been able to find a historically-grounded theory of these events. See Ehrenberg, Richard, Capital and Finance in the Age of the Renaissance: A Study of the Fuggers and Their Connections, translated from the German by Lucas, H. M. (New York: Harcourt, Brace, no date), especially chap. 3 (pp. 307–333)Google Scholar.
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27 If we were to drop the assumption that actors are strictly self-interested utility-maximizers, regimes could be important in another way: they would help to develop norms that are internalized by actors as part of their own utility functions. This is important in real-world politicaleconomic systems, as works by Schumpeter, Polanyi, and Hirsch on the moral underpinnings of a market system indicate. It is likely to be important in many international systems as well. But it is outside the scope of the analytical approach taken in this article-which is designed to illuminate some issues, but not to provide a comprehensive account of international regime change. See Schumpeter, Joseph, Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy (New York: Harper & Row, 1942)Google Scholar, especially Part II, ”Can Capitalism Survive?”; Polanyi, Karl, The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time (1944; Boston: Beacon Press, 1957)Google Scholar; and Hirsch, Fred, Social Limits to Growth (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1976)Google Scholar.
28 Information costs could be considered under the category of transaction costs, but they are so important that I categorize them separately in order to give them special attention.
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31 The concept of issue density bears some relationship to Simon's, Herbert notion of “decomposability, in The Sciences of the Artificial (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1969)Google Scholar. In both cases, problems that can be conceived of as separate are closely linked to one another functionally, so that it is difficult to affect one without also affecting others. Issue density is difficult to operationalize, since the universe (the “issue-area” or “policy space”) whose area forms the denominator of the term cannot easily be specified precisely. But given a certain definition of the issue-area, it is possible to trace the increasing density of issues within it over time. See, for example, Keohane, Robert O. and Nye, Joseph S., Power and Interdependence: World Politics in Transition (Boston: Little, Brown, 1977), chap. 4Google Scholar.
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33 GATT negotiations and deliberations on the international monetary system have been characterized by extensive bargaining over side-payments and complex politics of issuelinkage. For a discussion see Hutton, Nicholas, “The Salience of Linkage in International Economic Negotiations,” Journal of Common Market Studies 13, 1–2 (1975): 136–60Google Scholar.
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36 Increases in issue density could make it more difficult to supply regimes; the costs of providing regimes could grow, for instance, as a result of multiple linkages across issues. The 1970s Law of the Sea negotiations illustrate this problem. As a result, it will not necessarily be the case that increases in interdependence will lead to increases in the number, extensiveness, and strength of international regimes.
37 Stephen D. Krasner, article in this volume, p. 186.
38 Robert Jervis, article in this volume, p. 364.
40 For an interesting discussion of regimes in these terms, see the paper in this volume by Oran R. Young. On conventions, see Lewis, David K., Convention: A Philosophical Study (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969)Google Scholar.
41 Arthur A. Stein, article in this volume, p. 312.
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51 Notice that here, through a functional logic, a systemic analysis has implications for the performance of different governmental structures at the level of the actor. The value of highquality information in making agreements does not force governments to become more open, but it gives advantages to those that do.
53 Power and Interdependence, especially pp. 54–58 and 146–53. Cahn, LindaGoogle Scholar also found lags, particularly in the wheat regime; see “National Power and International Regimes.”
54 Power and Interdependence, p. 55.
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57 These first three inferences focus only on the demand side. To understand the degree to which norms, for example, will develop, one needs also to look at supply considerations. Problems of organization, such as those discussed in the public goods literature and the theory of hegemonic stability, may prevent even strongly desired regimes from materializing.
58 Kindleberger, has asserted that “for the world economy to be stabilized, there has to be a stabilizer, one stabilizer.” The World in Depression, p. 305Google Scholar.
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61 In personal correspondence, Robert Jervis has suggested an interesting qualification to this argument. He writes: “If we look at relations that involve at least the potential for high conflict, then schemes that tie the fates of all the actors together may have utility even if the actors are concerned about catastrophic events which will affect them all. They can worry that if some states are not affected, the latter will be much stronger than the ones who have been injured. So it would make sense for them to work out a scheme which would insure that a disaster would not affect their relative positions, even though this would not mean that they would all not be worse off in absolute terms.” The point is certainly well taken, although one may wonder whether such an agreement would in fact be implemented by the states that would make large relative gains in the absence of insurance payments.
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65 The optimal condition under which such a coalition may emerge could be called the “paper tiger condition”: a potential external threat to the coalition exists but is too weak to frighten or persuade coalition members to defect or to desist from effective action. OPEC has been viewed by western policy makers since 1973 as a real rather than paper tiger, although some observers keep insisting that there is less to the organization than meets the eye.