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The fourth face of legitimacy: Constituent power and the constitutional legitimacy of international institutions

  • John G. Oates (a1)

Scholars of international organisation commonly differentiate among three dimensions when studying the legitimacy of international institutions: input, throughput, and output legitimacy. I argue that the study of global governance needs to consider a fourth ‘face’ of legitimacy: constitutional legitimacy. This dimension addresses the normative and practical questions related to the constitutive justification for an institutional order – such as in whose name it is founded, whose interests it should serve, and how authority should be distributed within that institutional order. These questions are distinct from the procedural features of institutions emphasised by other dimensions and concern the constituent power that should ground the authority of governance institutions. In this article, I develop this fourth dimension of legitimacy, explore its varied expressions in world politics, and show how it has implications for the constitutional structure of global governance arrangements. I argue that different representations of constituent power shape the legitimacy of different authority relations within international institutions and illustrate these claims with an analysis of the politics of legitimacy in three cases: the ongoing effort to reform the UN Security Council, the negotiations over the founding of the International Criminal Court, and the debates over the Responsibility to Protect at the UN.

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*Correspondence to: John G. Oates, Assistant Professor, Department of Politics and International Relations, Florida International University, 11200 SW 8th Street, SIPA 404, Miami, FL, 33199, US. Author’s email:
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1 Scharpf, Fritz Wilhelm, Governing in Europe: Effective and Democratic? (Oxford: Oxford University Press Premium, 1999), p. 6 .

2 Schmidt, Vivien A., ‘Democracy and legitimacy in the European Union revisited: Input, output and “throughput”’, Political Studies, 61:1 (2013), p. 2 .

3 Claude, Inis L. Jr, ‘Peace and security: Prospective roles for the two United Nations’, Global Governance, 2 (1996), p. 289 .

4 Hurd, Ian, ‘Myths of membership: the politics of legitimation in UN Security Council Reform’, Global Governance: A Review of Multilateralism and International Organizations, 14:2 (2008), pp. 199217 .

5 Weiler, J. H. H., ‘In the face of crisis: Input legitimacy, output legitimacy and the political messianism of European integration’, Journal of European Integration, 34:7 (2012), pp. 826827 . Weiler refers to the second concept of legitimacy as ‘social legitimacy’; see also Buchanan, Allen and Keohane, Robert O., ‘The legitimacy of global governance institutions’, Ethics & International Affairs, 20:4 (2006), p. 405 ; Steffek, Jens, ‘The legitimation of international governance: a discourse approach’, European Journal of International Relations, 9:2 (2003), p. 253 .

6 Hurd, Ian, ‘Legitimacy and authority in international politics’, International Organization, 53:2 (1999), pp. 379408 .

7 Goddard, Stacie E., Indivisible Territory and the Politics of Legitimacy: Jerusalem and Northern Ireland (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009); Hurd, Ian, ‘The strategic use of liberal internationalism: Libya and the UN sanctions, 1992–2003’, International Organization, 59:3 (2005), pp. 495526 ; Jackson, Patrick Thaddeus, Civilizing the Enemy: German Reconstruction and the Invention of the West (University of Michigan Press, 2006) offer similar approaches to legitimacy.

8 Jackson, Civilizing the Enemy, pp. 15–24.

9 Clark, Ian, Legitimacy in International Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005); Hurrell, Andrew, On Global Order: Power, Values, and the Constitution of International Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007); Reus-Smit, Christian, The Moral Purpose of the State: Culture, Social Identity, and Institutional Rationality in International Relations (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999); Wheeler, Nicholas J., Saving Strangers: Humanitarian Intervention in International Society: Humanitarian Intervention in International Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).

10 Clark, Legitimacy in International Society.

11 Reus-Smit, The Moral Purpose of the State.

12 Ibid., pp. 30–6.

13 See Binder, Martin and Heupel, Monika, ‘The legitimacy of the UN Security Council: Evidence from recent General Assembly Debates’, International Studies Quarterly, 59:2 (2015), pp. 238250 ; Dellmuth, Lisa Maria and Tallberg, Jonas, ‘The social legitimacy of international organisations: Interest representation, institutional performance, and confidence extrapolation in the United Nations’, Review of International Studies, 41:3 (2015), pp. 451475 for good examples of this approach.

14 Franck, Thomas, The Power of Legitimacy among Nations (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990); also Clark, Legitimacy in International Society.

15 Scharpf, Governing in Europe: Effective and Democratic? His original argument appeared in 1970.

16 See, for example, Archibugi, Daniele, The Global Commonwealth of Citizens: Towards Cosmopolitan Democracy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008); Held, David, Democracy and the Global Order: From the Modern State to Cosmopolitan Governance (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 1995).

17 Kohler-Koch, Beate and Rittberger, Berthold, Debating the Democratic Legitimacy of the European Union (Lanham, ML: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007).

18 Barnett, Michael N. and Finnemore, Martha, Rules For The World: International Organizations In Global Politics (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2004); Gutner, Tamar and Thompson, Alexander, ‘The politics of IO performance: a framework’, The Review of International Organizations, 5:3 (2010), pp. 227248 ; though see Steffek, Jens, ‘The output legitimacy of international organizations and the global public interest’, International Theory, 7:2 (2015), pp. 263293 for a critique of this assumption.

19 Steffek, ‘The output legitimacy of international organizations and the global public interest’, p. 266.

20 Schmidt, ‘Democracy and legitimacy in the European Union revisited’, p. 7.

21 See, for example, Suchman, Mark C., ‘Managing legitimacy: Strategic and institutional approaches’, Academy of Management Review, 20:3 (1995), pp. 571610 ; also Bellamy, Richard and Castiglione, Dario, ‘Legitimizing the Euro-“polity” and its “regime”: the normative turn in EU studies’, European Journal of Political Theory, 2:1 (2003), pp. 734 ; Weiler, ‘In the face of crisis’.

22 Digeser, Peter, ‘The fourth face of power’, Journal of Politics, 54:4 (1992), pp. 9771007 .

23 See, for example, Dahl, Robert A, ‘Can international organizations be democratic? A skeptic’s view’, in Ian Shapiro and Hacker-Cordón (eds), Democracy’s Edges (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999); Held, Democracy and the Global Order; Archibugi, The Global Commonwealth of Citizens: Towards Cosmopolitan Democracy.

24 Quoted in Nasström, Sofia, ‘The legitimacy of the people’, Political Theory, 35:5 (2007), p. 625 .

25 Ibid.

26 Ibid. See also Canovan, Margaret, Nationhood and Political Theory (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 1998); Doucet, Marc G., ‘The democratic paradox and cosmopolitan democracy’, Millennium – Journal of International Studies, 34:1 (2005), pp. 137155 ; Nasström, Sofia, ‘What globalization overshadows’, Political Theory, 31:6 (2003), pp. 808834 ; Yack, Bernard, ‘Popular sovereignty and nationalism’, Political Theory, 29:4 (2001), pp. 517536 .

27 See, for example, Agné, Hans, ‘Why democracy must be global: Self-founding and democratic intervention’, International Theory, 2:3 (2010), pp. 381409 ; Doucet, ‘The democratic paradox and cosmopolitan democracy’; Honig, Bonnie, ‘Between decision and deliberation: Political paradox in democratic theory’, American Political Science Review, 101:1 (2007); Nasström, ‘The legitimacy of the people’.

28 The implications of constituent power for political authority are first developed by Sieyès, Emmanuel and Sonenscher, Michael, Sieyès: Political Writings: Including the Debate Between Sieyès and Tom Paine in 1791 (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2004); see also Kalyvas, Andreas, ‘Popular sovereignty, democracy, and the constituent power’, Constellations, 12:2 (2005), pp. 223244 ; Loughlin, Martin, ‘The concept of constituent power’, European Journal of Political Theory, 13:2 (2014), pp. 218237 ; Negri, Antonio, Insurgencies: Constituent Power And The Modern State (University of Minnesota Press, 1999); Loughlin, Martin and Walker, Neil, The Paradox of Constitutionalism: Constituent Power and Constitutional Form (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).

29 Yack, ‘Popular sovereignty and nationalism’.

30 For a useful review of the literature in IR, see Patberg, Markus, ‘Constituent power beyond the state: an emerging debate in International Political Theory’, Millennium – Journal of International Studies, 42:1 (2013), pp. 224238 ; For IL approaches, see Loughlin and Walker, The Paradox of Constitutionalism.

31 Loughlin, ‘The concept of constituent power’, pp. 219–21.

32 Hont, Istvan, ‘The permanent crisis of a divided mankind: “Contemporary crisis of the nation state” in historical perspective’, Political Studies, 42 (1994), pp. 166231 .

33 Lindahl, ‘Sovereignty and symbolization’, in Neil Walker (ed.), Relocating Sovereignty (Farnham: Ashgate Publishing, 2006), pp. 53–78.

34 Lindahl, Hans, ‘Constituent power and reflexive identity: Towards an ontology of collective selfhood’, in Martin Loughlin and Neil Walker (eds), The Paradox of Constitutionalism: Constituent Power and Constitutional Form (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003).

35 It thus shares similarities with the idea of a collective intention as developed Mitzen, Jennifer, Power in Concert (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013) though she eschews the term identity in her study.

36 Adler, Emanuel and Barnett, Michael, Security Communities (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998); Wendt, Alexander, ‘Collective identity formation and the international state’, The American Political Science Review, 88:2 (1994), pp. 384396 .

37 Lindahl, ‘Constituent power and reflexive identity’, p. 108.

38 March, James G. and Olsen, Johan P., ‘The institutional dynamics of international political orders’, International Organization, 52:4 (1998), pp. 943969 .

39 On rhetorical coercion, see Krebs, Ronald R. and Jackson, Patrick Thaddeus, ‘Twisting tongues and twisting arms: the power of political rhetoric’, European Journal of International Relations, 13:1 (2007), pp. 3566 .

40 See Eriksen, Stein Sundstøl and Sending, Ole Jacob, ‘There is no global public: the idea of the public and the legitimation of governance’, International Theory, 5:2 (2013), pp. 213237 for an excellent discussion of the difficulties associated with the idea of a global public.

41 Habermas, Jürgen, The Crisis of the European Union: A Response (Cambridge: Polity, 2012); Weiler, ‘In the face of crisis’.

42 Iriye, Akira, Global Community: The Role of International Organizations in the Making of the Contemporary World (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002) offers one historical exploration of these developments though not in the terms given above.

43 Peters, Anne, ‘Humanity as the A and Ω of Sovereignty’, European Journal of International Law, 20:3 (2009), pp. 513544 ; Teitel, Ruti G., Humanity’s Law (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).

44 Such as the emergence of the environment as a postnational constituent power, see Litfin, Karen, ‘Towards an integral perspective on world politics: Secularism, sovereignty and the challenge of global ecology’, Millennium – Journal of International Studies, 32:1 (2003), pp. 2956 .

45 Steffek, ‘The output legitimacy of international organizations and the global public interest’; also Mitzen, Power in Concert.

46 Binder and Heupel, ‘The legitimacy of the UN Security Council’; Also Bosco, David, ‘Assessing the UN Security Council: a concert perspective’, Global Governance, 20 (2014), pp. 545561 .

47 Reus-Smit in The Moral Purpose of the State also uses the term constitutional structures, but he does so in a way that departs from my usage here. Whereas he is concerned with the generative constitutional structure of international society, I am concerned with the constitutional structure of specific international regimes and organisations.

48 Jillson, Calvin C. and Eubanks, Cecil L., ‘The political structure of constitution making: the federal convention of 1787’, American Journal of Political Science, 28:3 (1984), pp. 435458 .

49 Rittberger, Berthold, ‘Which institutions for post-war Europe? Explaining the institutional design of Europe’s first community’, Journal of European Public Policy, 8:5 (2001), pp. 673708 .

50 As Habermas, The Crisis of the European Union suggests.

51 Indeed, this was the reasoning behind Monnet’s proposal for supranationalism in early post-war Europe; see Monnet, Jean, Memoirs (New York: Doubleday, 1978), p. 274 .

52 For useful overviews of the UNSC reform process, see Luck, Edward C., UN Security Council: Practice and Promise (London: Routledge, 2006), 117ff ; Bourantonis, Dimitris, The History and Politics of UN Security Council Reform (Routledge, 2004).

53 United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) A/59/L.64, New York (6 July 2005).

54 UNGA A/59/L.68, New York (21 July 2005).

55 UNGA A/59/PV.112, New York (12 July 2005), p. 2.

56 Ibid., p. 15.

57 UNGA A/59/PV.111, New York (11 July 2005), p. 9.

58 Hurd, ‘Myths of membership’, p. 206.

59 Ibid., p. 4.

60 UNGA A/59/PV.112, New York (12 July 2005), p. 4.

61 UNGA A/59/PV.111, New York (11 July 2005), p. 15.

62 Ibid., p. 11.

63 UNGA A/60/PV.49, New York (11 November 2005), p. 26.

64 Hurd, ‘Myths of membership’, p. 212; Russett, Bruce, ‘Ten balances for weighing UN reform proposals’, Political Science Quarterly, 111:2 (1996), pp. 264265 .

65 Luck, UN Security Council, pp. 111–13.

66 Benedetti, Fanny and Washburn, John L., ‘Drafting the International Criminal Court Treaty: Two years to Rome and an afterword on the Rome Diplomatic Conference’, Global Governance, 5:1 (1999), pp. 23 .

67 Hall, Christopher Keith, ‘The first two sessions of the UN Preparatory Committee on the establishment of an International Criminal Court’, The American Journal of International Law, 91:1 (1997), p. 178 .

68 Bassiouni, M. Cherif, The Legislative History of the International Criminal Court, Volume III (Ardsley, NY: Transnational Publishers, 2005), p. 172 .

69 Struett, Michael J., The Politics of Constructing the International Criminal Court: NGOs, Discourse, and Agency (1st edn, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).

70 Wippman, David, ‘The International Criminal Court’, in Christian Reus-Smit (ed.), The Politics of International Law (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 151188 .

71 Quoted in Meißner, Phillip, The International Criminal Court Controversy (Piscataway, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2005), p. 35 .

72 Scheffer, David J., ‘The United States and the International Criminal Court’, The American Journal of International Law, 93:1 (1999), pp. 1920 .

73 Bassiouni, The Legislative History of the International Criminal Court III, p. 146.

74 Quoted in Scheipers, Sibylle, Negotiating Sovereignty and Human Rights: International Society and the International Criminal Court (New York: Manchester University Press, 2009), p. 50 .

75 UNGA A/50/22, ‘Report of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court’ (1995), pp. 20–1.

76 Ibid., pp. 25–6.

77 Scheipers, Negotiating Sovereignty and Human Rights: International Society and the International Criminal Court, p. 50.

78 See, for example, China’s remarks as found in Bosco, David, Rough Justice: The International Criminal Court in a World of Power Politics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), p. 47 .

79 UNGA A/50/22, ‘Report of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court’, p. 25.

80 United Nations A/CONF.183/13, ‘United Nations Diplomatic Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court, Vol. II’ (United Nations, 1998), p. 115.

81 See Schiff, Benjamin N., Building the International Criminal Court (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), pp. 6885 .

82 Bosco, Rough Justice; Branch, Adam, ‘Uganda’s civil war and the politics of ICC intervention’, Ethics & International Affairs, 21:2 (2007), pp. 179198 .

83 Bellamy, Alex J., Global Politics and the Responsibility to Protect: From Words to Deeds (London: Routledge, 2010).

84 Slaughter, Anne-Marie, ‘A new UN for a new century’, Fordham Law Review, 74:6 (2006), p. 2964 .

85 On the legal status of R2P and its prospects for development, see Brunnée, Jutta and Toope, Stephen J., ‘The Responsibility to Protect and the use of force: Building legality?’, Global Responsibility to Protect, 2:3 (2010), pp. 191212 .

86 See Hurrell, Andrew, ‘Legitimacy and the use of force: Can the circle be squared?’, Review of International Studies, 31:S1 (2005), pp. 1532 for a good discussion of legitimacy and the regime governing the use of force.

87 UNGA A/60/L.1, ‘2005 World Summit Outcome’ (2005).

88 UNGA A/RES/63/308, New York (7 October 2009).

89 UNGA A/59/PV.89, New York (8 April 2005), p. 4.

90 UNGA A/63/PV.97, New York (23 July 2009), p. 18.

91 UNGA A/59/2005, The UN Secretary General’s report of 21 March 2005, ‘In Larger Freedom’.

92 UNGA A/59/PV.86, New York (6 April 2005), p. 13.

93 UNGA A/59/PV.89, New York (8 April 2005), p. 24.

94 Newman, Edward, ‘The Responsibility to Protect, Multilateralism and international legitimacy’, in Ramesh Thakur and William Maley (eds), Theorising the Responsibility to Protect (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), pp. 132133 .

95 UNGA A/59/PV.85, New York (6 April 2005), p. 22, statement by Malawi speaking on behalf of the Group of African States.

96 Newman, ‘The Responsibility to Protect, multilateralism and international legitimacy’, p. 135; see also Morris, Justin, ‘Libya and Syria: R2P and the spectre of the swinging pendulum’, International Affairs, 89:5 (2013), pp. 12651283 .

97 See Mattern, Janice Bially and Zarakol, Ayse, ‘Hierarchies in world politics’, International Organization, 70:3 (2016), pp. 623654 for a good overview.

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