The Architecture of International Cooperation: Transgovernmental Networks and the Future of International Law

93 Pages Posted: 24 Sep 2002

See all articles by Kal Raustiala

Kal Raustiala

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law


The prevailing form of international cooperation in the 20th century, known as liberal internationalism, is increasingly under attack. Based on multilateral treaties, often coupled to formal organizations, liberal internationalism has drawn fire from many quarters. Some critics argue that international organizations threaten national sovereignty and ought to be curtailed. Others claim that globalization and the rise of NGOs are eclipsing state power. In response, transgovernmentalists argue that while that liberal internationalism is dying, the state is here to stay. Much contemporary international cooperation is not international at all: rather, it is occurring among discrete, specialized domestic agencies. These "transgovernmental networks" are expanding rapidly, particularly in regulation. Proponents believe that networks are "the blueprint for the international architecture of the 21st century". This article assesses the future of international cooperation by examining transgovernmental networks and evaluating their relationship to liberal internationalism. My central claim is that networks are a significant development in international law, but one likely to supplement and strengthen, rather than supplant, liberal internationalism.

I make four subsidiary claims. First, an empirical examination of three networks - in securities, competition, and environmental regulation - demonstrates that networks are active and growing. Second, I argue three factors are driving the evolution of networks: the expansion of domestic regulation, increased economic interdependence, and technological innovation. Third, while regulatory enforcement has been a key driver of networks, networks also promote the export of regulatory rules and practices from major powers to weaker states, which in turn promotes policy convergence. I offer a theory of this process which builds upon the insights of network economics. Fourth, and most importantly, the cooperation that networks foster and the convergence that they facilitate have important implications for liberal internationalism. Networks smooth the negotiation of new treaties. They act as gap-fillers where treaties are politically precluded. And by building bureaucratic capacity, networks can improve domestic regulation and thereby enhance treaty compliance and effectiveness. Put differently, there are good reasons to believe networks will make treaties more effective by making governments more effective.

Suggested Citation

Raustiala, Kal, The Architecture of International Cooperation: Transgovernmental Networks and the Future of International Law. Available at SSRN: or

Kal Raustiala (Contact Author)

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law ( email )

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