While international relations experts have been quick to recognize and comment on the rise of states – particularly China, India and Brazil – and the influence such states bring, they are less focused on the ‘rise of institutions’ in the pre and post cold war era.  In preparing a new volume of chapters on: Rising States; Rising Institutions:  The Challenge of Global Governance, (Brookings: forthcoming 2010) – this a follow up to, Can the World be Governed? Possibilities for Effective Multilateralism (2008) -  the less well-chronicled rise of new institutions is a major dynamic of the global order. 

Why is the influence of the rise of institutions not as well understood in contemporary global politics?  Not wishing to pick on any expert – and particularly not one that has contributed to the new volume – nevertheless it is useful to examine the analysis of institutions through the writing of the principal proponent of liberal institutionalism, Princeton’s G. John Ikenberry. Ikenberry has long been a student of the rise of institutions in international relations, particularly following the conclusion of the Second World War. Ikenberry in 1998 in International Security, provided a trenchant synopsis of what became several years later his highly- regarded book on the international political order.  In this article entitled, “Institutions, Strategic Restraint, and the Persistence of American Postwar Order” Vol. 23 No. 3, pp. 43-78, Ikenberry argued:

In effect, the United States agreed to move toward an institutionalized and agreed-upon political process and to limit its power-made credible by "sticky" institutions and open polities-in exchange for the acquiescence and compliant participation of secondary states At the heart of the Western postwar order is an ongoing trade-off: the United States agrees to operate within an institutionalized political process and, in return, its partners agree to be willing participants. More specifically, the United States had an incentive to move toward a "constitutional" settlement after the war-that is, to create basic institutions and operating principles that limit what the leading state can do with its power. (p. 54 - 55).

In assessing the creation and operation of the Bretton Woods institutions, Ikenberry declared:

In effect, the Western governments created an array of functionally organized transnational political systems. Moreover, the democratic character of the United States and the other Western countries facilitated the construction of these dense interstate connections. The permeability of domestic institutions provided congenial grounds for reciprocal and pluralistic "pulling and hauling" across the advanced industrial world (p. 69).

For Ikenberry what was, and is remarkable, is that not withstanding the changing distribution of power – rising states – and the demise of some – notably the Soviet Union – thereby ushering in the post cold war order, that the pattern of institutions and the order created after the Second World War, persists.

In summarizing the post war order, Ikenberry captured the architecture of the post war order in the following terms:

Overall, U.S. hegemony is reluctant, open, and highly institutionalized. All these characteristics have helped to facilitate a rather stable and durable political order. … Transnational and transgovernmental relations provide the channels. Multiple layers of economic, political, and security institutions bind these countries together in ways that reinforce the credibility of their mutual commitments (71).

Ikenberry hypothesized in this article and sustained in his much applauded, After Victory: Institutions, Strategic Restraint, and the Rebuilding of Order after Major Wars (2001) that institution building and change was only possible at moments of ‘monumental change’ in international relations: 


In terms of American hegemony, this means that, short of a major war or a global economic collapse, it is very difficult to envisage the type of historical breakpoint needed to replace the existing order (p.73).

But Ikenberry recognizes at least that – maybe lesser – but nevertheless network and club-like institutions have emerged in the decades since the War built on the sustainability of the formal institutions of the Post War order:

In the meantime, the G-7 process in the 1990s has generated an expanding array of ministerial and intergovernmental bodies in a wide variety of functional areas, tackling problems such as organized crime, energy, terrorism, the environment, aid to Ukraine, and global finance (p.75).

Though most analysts accept the theory of war and economic crisis as the basis of change in the political order – as articulated by Ikenberry – in fact this perspective and analysis underestimates the degree of change and the rise of new institutions.  Though many of these institutions – principally the Gx process institutions – have emerged, and are themselves informal club and network organizations – they are nonetheless the response to failing and calcified formal institutions of the Bretton Woods and UN institutions. 

What then explains the rise of institutions and what consequences follow from this Gx process dynamic? Stay tuned.

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