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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Soft governance : why states create informal intergovernmental organizations, and why it matters Roger, Charles Barclay


Informal intergovernmental organizations have become a prominent feature of the global landscape. Yet it remains unclear why states create informal organizations in some instances and formal organizations in others. Thus far, scholars have argued that states choose to create informal organizations when they offer an “efficient” solution to certain kinds of cross-border cooperation problems. However, such functionalist arguments are underspecified and rest on weak evidence at present. Existing research suggests that functionalist theories can indeed explain certain cases, but numerous anomalies arise when we look at others. This dissertation argues that this is because functionalists do not take into account how domestic politics, distributional conflict and state power can decisively influence the kinds of organizations that are likely to appear. It offers an alternative account of the emergence of informal organizations that incorporates these variables. The theory advanced emphasizes how domestic politics and institutions structure state preferences over organizational form, and how the distribution of preferences and state power then shape the organizations that subsequently emerge. Specifically, it argues that informal organizations arise when either a) policymakers in powerful states face significant domestic constraints, or b) autonomous bureaucrats are given responsibility for “leading” cooperation on the behalf of powerful states. In order to test this theory, a variety of methods are used. First, the theory is evaluated quantitatively through a statistical analysis of an original dataset of formal and informal organizations. Second, the theory is evaluated qualitatively through process tracing of the “emergence” of the International Monetary Fund, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and the International Competition Network. Overall, the analysis provides powerful support for the central thesis of this dissertation: while certain aspects of the cooperation problems states face do play a role, domestic politics and state power are the most important determinants of organizational form. The dissertation’s findings are argued to have implications for theories of rational design in the field of International Relations, for our understanding of the overall rise of informal organizations in the global system, as well as for policy debates about the desirability of this new breed of international institution.

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