Regime theory dates back to the study of international law in medieval Europe. In modern international relations scholarship, it has an early expression in a belief in international institutions for promoting peace after World War I, which became known as the idealist school. In the 1930s, the failure of the League of Nations led to a debate be tween the idealists and a new generation of realists who wanted to distance themselves from the normative character of idealism.1 The modern realism that grew out of this debate became the mainstream in international relations theory.
A key feature of realism is that sovereign states are the recognized actors and power the major analytical lens.2 Another core theme is that the international system is fundamentally different from domestic structures in that each state is seen as sovereign and that the system, as such, lacks a central authority with rights to exercise power over states. This creates a system of anarchy. Whereas some realist scholars have placed the analytical focus on the state actors others have emphasized the structure of the international society through which the states act.3 For example, based on parallels to the market, Waltz writes that "states facing global problems are like individual consumers trapped by the 'tyranny of small decisions.'"4 Up until the end of the Cold War, a focus on self-help led to an emphasis on military and strategic issues in realist analyses of international relations. Later, economic power was added to the analysis.
In the 1970s, some of the core themes of realism began to be challenged.5 Relations between the United States and the Soviet Union were thawing compared to the Cold War years, lessening the salience of military and strategic issues. A surge in oil prices, when oil-exporting countries in the Mid-East formed the OPEC cartel, made it clear that states may not be the independent entities as previously assumed. Economic cross-linkages between states became increasingly interesting to international relations scholars. The world was described as more interdependent. 6
Interdependence was also becoming increasingly apparent in environmental politics. In Scandinavia, sulfur emissions caused acidification of lakes and fish death, and it soon became clear that local measures to limit emission were not sufficient.7 At the international level, UN Secretary General U. Thant delivered a report that raised a number of environmental issues that needed the attention of the United Nations. When the United Nations organized the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment in 1972, the environment became a truly international issue.8 The theme of the conference - Only One Earth - illustrates the mood of the time and the interdependence theme in the environmental field. At the legal level, principle 21 from the Stockholm Declaration assured states the sovereign right to exploit their resources but also codified a responsibility to
1 Fred Halliday, Rethinking International Relations (Hampshire: MacMillan, 1994) 10-11; Robert O. Keohane and Joseph S. Nye, Power and Interdependence (Harper Collins, 1994) xi; Tim Dunne and Brian C. Schmidt, "Realism," in The Globalization of World Politics. An Introduction to International Relations, eds. John Baylis and Steve Smith, 141-161 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 142.
2 Hans J. Morgenthau and Kenneth W. Thompson, Politics Among Nations. The Struggle for Power and Peace (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1993), 13.
3 Dunne and Schmidt, "Realism," 143, 149.
4 Kenneth N. Waltz, Theory of International Politics (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1979), 39, 110-111.
5 Richard Little, "International Regimes," in The Globalization of World Politics, eds. John Baylis and Steve Smith, 299-316 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).
6 Stephen D. Krasner, "Preface," in International Regimes, ed. Stephen D. Krasner, vii-ix (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1983); Keohane and Nye, Power and Interdependence, 3.
7 Lars J. Lundgren, Acid Rain on the Agenda (Lund: Lund University Press, 1997).
8 Henrik Selin and Bjorn-Ola Linner, The Quest for Global Sustainability: International Efforts on Linking Environment and Development, Center for International Development at Harvard University, 2005).
ensure that such activities did not cause damage to the environment of other states or areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.9
The increasing interdependence called for new, or at least wider, theoretical approaches for international relations scholars. Power as a central concept was no longer defined only in military strategic terms but had to also include other resources.10 New issues, especially relating to the world economy, came into focus. The sharp boundary between national and international politics was questioned with calls for approaches that could bridge the theoretical gaps between the study of national and international poli-tics.11 Authors such as Rosenau raised questions about politics at the foreign-domestic frontier, including how people may redefine self-interest, favoring transnational or global standards and procedures rather than those limited by a state.12 An exclusive interest in the activities and motives of sovereign states was no longer as useful, and there were calls for including new actors in the analysis, such as transnational corporations and non-governmental organizations.13
Among scholars who maintained a focus on states as the main actors, as in liberal in-stitutionalism, there was a renewed interest in studying institutions and their role as mediators and means to achieve cooperation among states, especially in issue areas where states have mutual interests.14 International regimes and their role in the new interdependent world came into focus.15 Moreover, bureaucracies created by international institutions became new objects of interest.16 There was also a growing discussion about norms in international society.17 Accompanying all these changes, it became increasingly salient to focus on cooperation and finding common ground internationally. International governance became an issue for international relations scholars.18 Much of the scholarly debate was expressed as an interest in international regimes.
9 Stockholm Document, Principle 21 http://www.unep.org/Documents.multilingual/Default.asp?DocumentID=97&ArticleID=1503
10 Keohane and Nye, Power and Interdependence, 11.
11 Halliday, Rethinking International Relations, 13; Keohane and Nye, Power and Interdependence, 249.
12 James N. Rosenau, Along the Domestic-Foreign Frontier (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 10, 446.
13 Keohane and Nye, Power and Interdependence, 446; Steven L. Lamy, "Neo-Realism and Neo-Liberalism," in The Globalization of World Politics, eds. John Baylis and Steve Smith, 182-199 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 189.
14 Lamy, "Neo-Realism and Neo-Liberalism," 189.
15 Keohane and Nye, Power and Interdependence, 19, 38 ff.
16 Ronnie Hjort, Building International Institutions for Environmental Protection. The Case of Baltic Sea Environmental Cooperation, Diss.Department of Water and Environmental Studies, Linköping University, 1992) 61; Helmut Breitmeier, "International Organizations and the Creation of Environmental Regimes," in Global Governance. Drawing Insight from the Environmental Experience, ed. Oran R. Young, 87-114 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1993).
17 E.g. Hedley Bull, The Anarchical Society. A Study of Order in World Politics (New York: Palgrave, 1977).
18 Oran R. Young, "Rights, Rules, and Resources in World Affairs," in Global Governance, ed. Oran Young, 1-23 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1997).
Was this article helpful?