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Political Science 145 Alexander Magno
International Organizations: Global Governance, Global Democracy, NormConstruction and the problem of Global Accountability The global spread of democracy and the changing nature of the international system in the post-Cold War era have been attributed to many factors. Among these, and probably one of the most important, is the emergence of international organizations in a global system that has become increasingly interconnected because of the process of globalization. Although the term was originally coined to refer to economic processes, “globalization” now encompasses a broader scope. It permeates the social, cultural, and political spheres. Of course, globalization in itself is not an active entity. The manner in which it surpasses national boundaries to seep through practically all spheres of life is naturally done through active agents. One principal agent (and as I’ve said, probably one of the most important) in which “interconnection” happens are international organizations (IOs), basically referring to organizations that are not state-based, and whose goals are, similarly, not confined to any particular nation-state. International organizations are sub-grouped into international non-governmental organizations (INGOs), and intergovernmental organizations (IGOs). The basic difference between the two is that the former is independent of any government, while the latter, though still not based on any single government, is composed of governments. From the materials I have studied, the literature on International Organizations is largely concentrated, forgive the pun, on basically four main issues, which this paper intends to assess and synthesize. Three of these issues are concerned with the impact of IOs in general: global governance, global democracy, and norm-construction. The last issue is concerned with the problem of global accountability. I. The role of IOs in global governance
Global governance is defined by the 1995 Commission on Global Governance as “the sum of the many ways in which individuals and institutions, private and public, manage their common affairs. It is a continuing process through which conflicting or diverse interests may be accommodated and cooperative action may be taken.” Scholars such as Barkin (2006) have studied the development of theory to aid in understanding the emergence and persistence of IOs and other global institutions. Karns and Mingst (2010), and Diehl (2005) argue the need for new forms of governance in the international system, largely because of the emergence of problems with a global and multilevel scope such as global warming, transnational terrorism, pandemics, and the meltdown of financial markets in 2008. These problems transcend territorial
borders, and states do not have a monopoly of jurisdiction in areas such as these. In this context, the emergence of international organizations seems logical once it is seen as a response to address problems of global scope which no single state can (or would have the incentive to) manage on their own. The role of international organizations in global governance is simple, and can be summed up to two things: norm-/custom- creation, and international monitoring. The former is done through both formal and informal mechanisms. When it comes to formal mechanisms, it is primarily the role of IGOs, and is done basically through the creation of international conventions and protocols that states are encouraged to sign. The purpose of these conventions is to coordinate state behavior in conformity with things that are generally perceived to be right. These norms and customs, once accepted by the states, are expected to be the “rules” in state behavior in the international arena. Although the drafting of conventions/protocols are primarily the role of IGOs such as the UN, INGOs are often consulted beforehand. Of course, because of state sovereignty, states always have the option not to become signatories to them, or even to defy them even after signing. Defiance, however, does not come cheap. Other states may have no control in sovereign decisions, but they do have the option to impose “indirect penalties”, such as economic embargos. In this case, global governance via conventions does work, somehow. Some “Asian Values” scholars may argue that the established norms and customs, especially the peremptory norms (i.e. norms that all states are mandated to follow because these are perceived to be basic and unquestionable, e.g. human rights) are based on Western standards, and do not take into consideration the cultural quirks that exist elsewhere. Despite this debate on cultural values, it may be argued that the actual determining factor of a country signing a convention is (more than its stand on moral issues) its political interest. One good example is the Kyoto Protocol, which sets a cap on greenhouse gas emissions. The United States, despite great risk in international popularity, refused to sign the protocol because it has one of the greatest carbon emissions among states. Whether or not their decision-makes sincerely believed that it in the anti-global warming cause may be another issue altogether. Another example is the “Responsibility to Protect”, often categorized in International Relations literature as an “emerging norm”, because of the reactions to it are highly polarized. This “emerging norm” proposes the need to qualify state sovereignty with “responsibility”. It is, simply, a justification of humanitarian intervention in international law. The main proposition is that, once it is evident that a state is incapable of protecting its own people from human rights violations, other states have the responsibility to intervene and protect the people. Of course, though the goal is essentially good, this was not, and still is not, well-received by weak states having a difficult time managing the problems in their territory. Again, self-interest inevitably plays a role.
The informal mechanism in which norm-construction takes place involves the media, and shaping the public opinion of citizens. This will be discussed more extensively in the third part of this paper. When it comes to international monitoring, IOs take a “watchdog” role to the states. Blitt (2004) points out four ways in which IOs, particularly those advocating human rights, fulfill this role: (1) information gathering, evaluation and dissemination (documentation and education), (2) monitoring and advocacy (enforcement), (3) development of human rights norms (empowerment), and (4) legal and humanitarian assistance (democratization and development). Concretely, Blitt points out that these are usually done by carefully documenting alleged abuses, clearly demonstrating state accountability for those abuses under international law, and developing a mechanism for effectively exposing documented abuse nationally and internationally. Amnesty International, for example, is an IO advocating the release of all “prisoners of conscience”, that is, “people imprisoned because of their race, ethnicity, sex, economic status, religion, or national origin, or for peacefully expressing their political belief” (Microsoft Encarta 2009). The group achieves its goals through interviews with the victims of human rights abuses, letter-writing campaigns, news conferences, and fundraising events. These means, though seemingly trivial compared with state capacity, serve to rally public support in pressuring government officials to recognize their cause. Another organization, Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontiéres) forwards its cause through more concrete means, by providing medical aid to more than 80 countries. The organization recruits health professionals to volunteer for a few months or a year, and it is through these volunteers’ testimonies that the organization speaks to the public against human rights violations. II. The global spread of democracy
Few can deny the global spread of democracy in the twentieth century. Russett and Oneal (2003) argue that this, along with the emergence of international organizations, and the economic interdependence that exists among states, have contributed to the absence of inter-state wars in recent times. To further this established relationship between “peace” and “democracy, economic interdependence and international organizations” there are also scholars who argue that the proliferation of the democratic ideal, in the first place, is also the result of the emergence of international organizations. There are two main ways in which IOs influence democratization. One way is through structural incentives. Pevehouse (2002) argues that the rise of democracy as a global phenomenon cannot be a solely domestic process (i.e. “inside-out”), but rather, was made possible because of the structural setup in international organizations that usually encourages the practice of democratic principles among countries. Pevehouse refers to this as democracy from the “outside-in”. The author, in this case, is referring
specifically to membership of states to intergovernmental institutions. However, the author also concedes that a definite causal link between IOs and democracy is yet to be established. Pevehouse also points out that membership of a non-democratic country to an IGO composed of democratic countries (such as the United Nations) puts political pressure on that particular country to democratize. IGOs can do this by applying diplomatic pressure or by “de-legitimizing” a non-democratic regime. Also, membership in an IGO entails conforming to agreed conventions. An example of this is the United Nations (UN). Many of its conventions are conducive to, if not promoting, democracy. However, given the anarchic nature of the international system, a nondemocratic member of UN always has the option not to sign to these conventions, or to sign and not implement them in domestic law. The other way in which IOs have helped in the “globalization of democracy” is by lobbying mass support for democratic principles through information dissemination. This is usually associated more with INGOs than IGOs. Though incapable of using concrete political or economic pressure to nation-states, they engage in direct appeal. INGOs are capable of shaping norms and building ideas, specifically through the utilization of media, even to the extent of establishing “a hegemony of ideas” and shaping a specific “global public opinion” on particular issues, if one would use the Constructivist approach towards analyzing this. Amnesty International, for example, promotes human rights by conducting and publishing newsletters on researches and reports of human rights violations. Another example is Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontiéres), which seeks to promote press freedom and condemn the political harassment of journalists by reporting the treatment of the media in states all over the world. III. The construction of international norms Another important issue discussed in the literature on IOs is their role in creating international norms. Since the formal mechanisms in which norms are created were already discussed in the first section, this part of the paper seeks to explain the informal mechanisms used by IOs in creating norms. This is usually associated with INGOs, particularly with “international advocacy networks” defined by Keck and Sikkink (1998) as organizations built on shared values and principles and who engage in voluntary, reciprocal, and horizontal exchange of information and services. In the same way, Khagram (2002) argues that the primary goal of transnational advocacy is to create, strengthen, implement, and monitor international norms. Pubantz (2005) argues the role of international organizations, particularly the UN, in constructing reason. He demonstrates this by pointing out that prior to 1945, human rights was not something recognized and protected. It was only when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights came out that human rights became “embedded” as an unquestionable norm in international law.
Through a process called “socialization”, these scholars argue that international advocacy networks are able to influence a state’s perception of its “national interest”. One may easily recognize this assertion as the core of Constructivism in International Relations theory. This line of thought, while conceding to the traditional perception of states as self-interested entities, actually advances it by saying that state self-interest can be “constructed”. However, the informal construction of norms banks on states only indirectly. It bases itself largely on influencing public opinion and the perceptions of normal citizens through symbols that appeal to human sentiments, and by framing issues at a more personal level. It is by constructing society, and citizens’ notions of “right” and “wrong”, that these informal norms actually “trickle up”, please pardon the term, to the level of the state. Everett Rogers (2003), though not referring specifically to international organizations alone, analyzes the emergence of advocacy groups, and the diffusion of ideas. According to him, innovations are usually perceived as uncertain, and even risky. This pushes a person who adheres to a particular innovation to seek others like himself, and group together to spread their ideas. Rogers also explains how this process has become faster and more advanced because of the advent of the Internet in the nineties. An opposing perspective comes from scholars such as Sidney Tarrow (2005), who does not give quite as much credit to IOs in norm-creation. Unlike the previously mentioned authors, Tarrow argues that these organizations are actually only means for states to forward their interest, and to extend the scope of their influence. In this perspective, IOs are not independent actors trying to influence independent states through norm-construction. They are acting based on the values that were already embedded to them, because of the context in which they belong. In this sense, the author argues that there can be no sharp delineation between the international and the local. The “international” cannot possibly exist, free of nation-states. The logic in this argument is that the values these IOs advocate did not originate in the international arena itself. These are already existing values that originate from a particular nation-state. In fact, INGOs themselves are already a product of the norms created within a particular state or society. To demonstrate the friction that exists between these two perspectives, one interesting norm to look at is environmental protection. In the first perspective (hereby dubbed “the socialization perspective”), its emergence as a global concern can be attributed to a handful of organizations who value the environment, and who have utilized media and public opinion to the extent that environmental protection has been established “in the hearts and minds” of most people (please pardon the drama) as something good. The other perspective, however, would argue that these values already exist within a particular state, and that the influence exercised by IOs in advocating the values that they do, is actually just the extension of the influence exercised by the state from which they originate. In Left lingo, one would call this “modern imperialism”.
Of course, these scholars may be both right and wrong. Though it is true that INGOs themselves are products of the values shaped in the society they originated from, one cannot deny the implicit effects of their utilization of symbols and public opinion in shaping social norms. Second, it is very important to take into account the fact that members of INGOs actually come from different states. The fact that they share the same values despite the difference in context is enough to discredit the “modern imperialism” argument. Moreover, this debate assumes that values are necessarily man-made, as though there were no universal and inherent sense of “right” and “wrong” in important issues such as life, for example. Both theories ignore the possibility that INGOs, far from having a hidden, norm-shaping agenda, are merely agents advocating universal values that truly have a global consensus. But of course, the non-/universality of values is another debate altogether. IV. IOs and the problem of accountability Another issue when it comes to IOs is their accountability. In principle, they act in the international arena independent from other states. The main problem is the lack of a higher authority to demand from them. This is even more problematic recently because the number of IOs has escalated considerably, and they are being given consultative status in the UN. International tribunals are also becoming more dependent on IOs for information. An example is the role of IOs in providing information for the prosecution of Slobodan Milosevic. One may argue that IOs are even more effective than states in carrying out their agenda, since their non-state status frees them from diplomatic constraints. Moreover, their activities (research, data gathering, monitoring and advocacy, health aid) do not usually require prior certification, and there is no mechanism of delineating them from other third parties pursuing the same activities. What is problematic, however, is that their methodology is often haphazard, and their conclusions, hasty. These organizations often rely on unauthorized statements by victims, whose identities are not even usually revealed. One example of a “haphazard methodology” is the 2002 report by a Palestinian NGO (which was immediately reported by international media and other international NGOs) on a “massacre” that happened in the Jenin refugee camp, which turned out to be a confrontation of armed combatants. Other problematic cases involve INGOs not following the standards they have set for themselves. One example is when Amnesty International sent two West German members to investigate West Germany, despite its core principle that members should not investigate in their home country. There are also cases when the behavior of an INGO is inconsistent with its original purpose. For example, B’Tselem, an Israeli organization, is often involved in
negotiations with terrorist groups, even though its main thrust is in educating the public and policy-makers on human rights. If these IOs are all for the promotion of “the good”, all is well. On the other hand, what happens when these IOs cause damages? Can states, or even individuals, sue them? This is problematic, because the only actors International Law recognizes are states. This issue is being tackled in more recent literature by several scholars, such as Michael Szporluk (2009), Kerstin Martens (2003), and Blitt (2004). There is a consensus among scholars that there is a problem when it comes to the accountability of INGOs. Some, like Martens, point out that this problem arises from their non-status in International Law, in the first place. After all, how can you hold accountable an entity that is not even recognized fully as an actor in international law? Others scholars, however, such as Szporluk and Blitt, propose alternative solutions to this problem. None of the scholars I have encountered in my study argue for tight constraints on INGOs, since checking mechanisms that bind them to the state in any way might render their purpose (and their very nature as non-governmental organizations, in fact) fruitless. This dilemma has pushed scholars to prefer mechanisms that allow for selfgovernment. Szporluk argues for a self-checking mechanism among INGOs; that they must be accountable to the community in which they are serving. According to him, they must adhere to, and respect, local processes, instead of imposing their own. Blitt, on the other hand, while still arguing within a self-government perspective, proposes the creation of an independent body of IOs, composed of representatives from different IOs. This body is expected to come up with a mechanism that ensures transparency among IOs through incentives. The author suggests annual reports on the performance of IOs, and even awards for whatever good they might have done. These authors make a good point in suggesting self-checking mechanisms. Indeed, once these IOs become “beholden” to any government, they would probably become ineffective. However, I do not think it would hurt either if external checks are imposed, as long as the standards are clear (and therefore not prone to abuse) and minimal (such as transparency in research methodology, for example). It is possible, for example, to create an external international body that ensures these standards are followed. The relationship between INGOs and states is extremely similar to that of the media and the state. The media also fulfills a similar role; that is, it proves information to the public, and serves as a watchdog to the state. In the case of the media, however, we know that there are existing minimal constraints (such as laws against libel) that allow for accountability on their part. Without these constraints, there is, indeed, a great possibility for media to abuse its freedom. The minimal constraints that exist make it possible for media to act more responsibly (relative to the previous scenario) while still maintaining their role as a watchdog. In a similar way, having external checks on
INGOs may actually work better, rather than allowing them to put internal checks on themselves. Conclusion: The important role played by International Organizations in shaping politics and society at present cannot be denied. IOs have been acting as effective agents of globalization. This paper has discussed extensively the impact of IOs in three areas: global governance, the globalization of democracy and norm construction. In the area of global governance, IOs act mainly through formal and informal mechanisms of norm-creation, and by fulfilling their role as “watchdogs” of the state. Formal mechanisms of norm-creation often refer to the establishment of protocols and conventions. IOs have also been identified as important players in the global spread of democracy in the post-Cold War international system. Scholars have claimed that states’ membership to an IO increases its likelihood to democratize. This may be attributed to the fact that the dominant states in IOs, particularly in IGOs, are democratic. Because of this, structures and rules in IOs are more “democratic-friendly”; thus, there becomes a greater incentive for non-democratic members to democratize. In INGOs, on the other hand, their influence often lies in pressuring government officials to adhere to democratic values by utilizing public opinion. When it comes to the informal process of norm-creation, IOs, and INGOs in particular, go through a process termed “socialization”, in which domestic culture is penetrated in order to shape state self-interest. In constructing norms, other scholars argue that IOs, in fact, are only means for powerful states to extend their influence. Aside from discussing the impact of IOs in these areas, this paper has also tackled the issue of IO accountability, and has even gone further by suggesting ways in which a balance between freedom and constraint may be established.
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