International regimes are often defined as principles, norms, rules, and decision-making procedures around which actor expectations converge in a given issue area.19 In contrast to the realist focus on sovereign states seeking to maximize power through narrow calculations of interest, regime theory brought renewed attention to shared norms and principles as a guide for international activities.20 Regime theory is not about a system of world government similar to national political systems. Rather, its emphasis is that independent actors can create systems of governance without creating a government.21 Regime theory is thus not necessarily a challenge to one of the basic premises of realism - that the international system is an anarchic system of sovereign states - but it allows for shifts in focus to issues of common interests, including global environmental questions.
An interest in governance and common norms rather than self-interest has parallels in studies of local governance systems, in particular the governance of common pool resources. Regime theory thus also has intellectual traditions connected to a discussion that started with Garrett Hardin's famous article "The Tragedy of the Commons," in which Hardin argues that an individual users' rational use of common resources will inevitably lead to a depletion of those resources, as each user will ignore costs to others in order to achieve maximum individual gains.22 The atmosphere could well be described as such a common resource, where each user (or state) will emit greenhouse gases in spite of long-term consequences. However, in the governance of common pool resources in small, stateless societies, it is well recognized that the tragedy of the commons is not inevitable. Rather, there are conditions under which regimes can solve this kind of collective-action problem.23 A key question is what cultural norms and institutional settings help prevent a tragedy of the commons. For international relations theory, one focus has been on the conditions that can favor regime formation in a basically anarchic international society. Another issue has been what makes international regimes effective in such a setting.
The study of international regimes is a theoretically broad field. Some regime scholars retain the core assumptions in realism: even if states cooperate, the anarchical structure of international society is not challenged and the theoretical implication is mainly in recognizing that collaboration and coordination can sometimes be an efficient way to achieve an outcome that is in the self-interest of the state.24 This approach to regime theory has generated analyses based on game theory in order to understand how regimes are negotiated. Several structural factors can affect the outcome of the game, or the negotiation of a regime, including the distribution of power among states and factors that
19 Krasner, "Structural Causes and Regime Consequences: Regimes As Intervening Variables," 1.
20 Krasner, "Structural Causes and Regime Consequences: Regimes As Intervening Variables," 3.
21 Young, "Rights, Rules, and Resources in World Affairs," 5.
22 Garrett Hardin, "The Tragedy of the Commons," Science 162, no. 3859 (1968): 1243.
23 Young, "Rights, Rules, and Resources in World Affairs," 5; Elinor Ostrom, Joanna Burger, Christopher B. Field, Richard B. Norgaard, and David Policansky, "Revisiting the Commons: Local Lessons. Global Challenges," Science 284, (1999): 278.
24 Arthur A. Stein, "Coordination and Collaboration: Regimes in an Anarchic World," in International Regimes, ed. Stephen D. Krasner, 115-141 (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1981), 117, 127; Krasner, "Structural Causes and Regime Consequences: Regimes As Intervening Variables," 7.
affect the interest of each state, such as new knowledge or domestic changes that affects the national interest.25 Another analogy used in this approach is the market, where regimes become a way to facilitate the making of specific agreements. Regimes are useful enough for coordinating decisions among actors, such that they are worth the extra transaction costs involved in creating a setting for joint decision making. Keohane emphasizes that there have to be political entrepreneurs who see a potential profit in organizing a collaboration in order to establish a regime.26
Krasner, as well as Hasenclever, Mayer, and Rittberger have placed the structural or power-based approaches of regime theory in contrast to theories that put more emphasis on shared norms.27 With shared norms as a focus, there is an emphasis on communication networks and rules that transcend national boundaries. In an increasingly globalized world, international regimes become almost inevitable - the normal state of international affairs - rather than an anomaly in an anarchical system. A definition of regimes used by Young mirrors this view: "Regimes are social institutions governing the actions of those interested in specific activities (or accepted sets of activities). Like all social institutions, they are recognized patterns of behavior or practices around which expectations converge."28 Regimes, using Young's terminology, are thus not only formally negotiated agreements but also include spontaneous and imposed orders that govern expectations and behavior. To what extent sovereign states are key actors and whether military and economic power are important become empirical questions rather than a priori assumptions. Therefore, the answers can vary depending on the regime investi-gated.29
This way of looking at regimes is similar to a movement in the social sciences known as new institutionalism. In contrast to previous studies of institutions, new institutional-ism is not as interested in formal rules and legal frameworks but institutions as stable recurring patterns of behavior.30 In the study of environmental issues, social institutions are seen as potent driving forces for the conditions of human-dominated ecosystems, globally as well as locally.31 This approach has, for example, been used in the Institutional Dimensions of Global Environmental Change (IDGEC), an international research program. IDGEC defines institutions as "sets of rules, decision-making procedures, and programs that define social practices, assign roles to participants in these practices, and
25 Stein, "Coordination and Collaboration: Regimes in an Anarchic World,", 135-137.
26 Robert O. Keohane, "The Demand for International Regimes," in International Regimes, ed. Stephen D. Krasner, 141-171 (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1983), 151-155.
27 Krasner, "Structural Causes and Regime Consequences: Regimes As Intervening Variables," 8-9; Andreas Hasenclever, Peter Mayer, and Volker Rittberger, Theories of International Regimes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), chapter 1.
28 Oran R. Young, "Regime Dynamics: the Rise and Fall of International Regimes," in International Regimes, ed. Stephen D. Krasner, 93-113 (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1983), 93.
29 For an example, see Oran R. Young, Creating Regimes: Arctic Accords and International Governance (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998).
30 Vivien Lowndes, "Institutionalism," in Theory and Methods in Political Science, eds. David Marsh and Garry Stoker, 90-108 (Houndsmills and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), 90-91.
31 Young, The Institutional Dimensions of Environmental Change. Fit, Interplay, and Scale, xi.
guide interactions among the occupants of individual roles."32 Institutions that explicitly deal with environmental issues are often called environmental regimes.33
The different ways of using the regime concept, including some diametrically opposed underlying assumptions about the nature of the international system, has raised question about whether the concept is useful at all. Criticisms also highlight the fact that regime theory has focused almost exclusively of states as actors and maintained many of the realist assumptions.34 The many definitions of regimes, where some are narrow and others much broader, have added to the criticisms, as it can be difficult to know how a certain author uses the concept. I still find the regime concept useful, especially in relation to environmental governance where international cooperation is playing an increasing role. With its focus on how shared norms and decision-making procedures can affect the choices actors make, it is more specific than the more general term governance, even if a regime can also be seen as a governance system.
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