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The Politics of International Regime Complexity

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 February 2009

Karen J. Alter
Northwestern University. E-mail:
Sophie Meunier
Princeton University. E-mail:


The increasing density of international regimes has contributed to the proliferation of overlap across agreements, conflicts among international obligations, and confusion regarding what international and bilateral obligations cover an issue. This symposium examines the consequences of this “international regime complexity” for subsequent politics. What analytical insights can be gained by thinking about any single agreement as being embedded in a larger web of international rules and regimes? Karen Alter and Sophie Meunier's introductory essay defines international regime complexity and identifies the mechanisms through which it may influence the politics of international cooperation. Short contributions analyze how international regime complexity affects politics in specific issue areas: trade (Christina Davis), linkages between human rights and trade (Emilie Hafner-Burton), intellectual property (Laurence Helfer), security politics (Stephanie Hofmann), refugee politics (Alexander Betts), and election monitoring (Judith Kelley). Daniel Drezner concludes by arguing that international regime complexity may well benefit the powerful more than others.

Copyright © American Political Science Association 2009

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