International Bureaucracies in a Political Science Perspective - Agency, Authority and International Institutional Law
German Law Journal, Vol. 9, pp. 1401-1428, 2008
28 Pages Posted: 1 Jun 2009
Date Written: 2008
International bureaucracies are autonomous actors in a broader process of international governance. Their action is oftentimes removed from the intentions and control of their creators; they affect actors and engage in subject matters not formerly within their reach. Their factual impact remains underestimated. Little consolation can be found in the contention that international bureaucracies merely seek effective implementation of global goals. A yawning gap unfolds between the mechanisms of control, means and ways for contesting the actions of bureaucracies - their decisions and interpretations - both in legal and political fora, on the one hand, and bureaucracies' actual exercise of public authority, on the other. This is the primary contention motivating research on the development and conceptualization of international institutional law. This contribution sets out to corroborate this underlying contention from a political science perspective. It subscribes to the approach that the exercise of public authority be framed in a rule-of-law context and sets out to highlight its implications. It rejects an exclusively instrumental view on international institutions portraying them as tools in the hands of their masters or as mere instruments in pursuit of global or at least shared goals. In conclusion, it emphasises law's function in providing a space for legal and political contestation as an indispensable prerequisite for the normative desirability of autonomous international institutions.
The argument proceeds in three sections. The first explains the autonomy of international bureaucracies with regard to two interrelated sources: self-interested delegation by principals and bureaucracies’ authority based on their characteristic traits, in particular, their strong repository of knowledge as well as expertise and their civil service. This section zooms in on the actor itself and indicates strategies and mechanisms in the exercise of public authority by which bureaucracies are likely to gain in autonomy (B.). The second section then critically revisits the argument on bureaucracies’ autonomy and relates it to the possibilities and limitations of control by constituent members. It also explores whether a lack in control might be compensated by the problem solving capacity of IOs and finds that such argument faces severe factual and normative difficulties. Rather, bureaucracies’ autonomy only becomes bearable in an institutional context providing ways and means for legally and politically contesting means and ends of bureaucracies’ action (C.). The last section then argues that the exercise of public authority by international bureaucracies demands a development and a conceptualization of international institutional law to this effect. It will also locate pitfalls of such a development in the differences of the international to the national institutional context (D.).
Keywords: Global Governance, Global Administrative Law, Institutional Law, International Bureaucracies
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