The Review of International Organizations

, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp 315–344 | Cite as

International regulation without international government: Improving IO performance through orchestration

  • Kenneth W. Abbott
  • Duncan SnidalEmail author


International organizations (IOs) have been widely criticized as ineffective. Yet scholars and practitioners assessing IO performance frequently focus on traditional modes of governance such as treaties and inter-state dispute-resolution mechanisms. When they observe poor performance, moreover, they often prescribe a strengthening of those same activities. We call this reliance on traditional state-based mechanisms “International Old Governance” (IOG). A better way to understand and improve IO performance is to consider the full range of ways in which IOs can and do operate—including, increasingly, by reaching out to private actors and institutions, collaborating with them, and supporting and shaping their activities. Such actions are helping to develop an intricate global network of public, private and mixed institutions and norms, partially orchestrated by IOs, that we call “Transnational New Governance” (TNG). With proper orchestration by IOs, TNG can ameliorate both “state failure”—the inadequacies of IOG—and “market failure”—the problems that result when the creation and evolution of norm-setting institutions is highly decentralized. Orchestration thus provides a significant way for IOs to improve their regulatory performance. Some IOs already engage actively with private actors and institutions—we provide a range of illustrations, highlighting the activities of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). Yet there remains a significant “orchestration deficit” that provides real opportunities for IOs. We draw on the lessons of existing IO activities to suggest additional possibilities for improving IO performance.


Regulation International organizations New governance Non-state actors Transnational relations Public-private partnerships Standard setting UNEP Transnational new governance Regulatory standard setting Governance Triangle 

JEL codes

F53 F55  F50 F23 K2 



We thank the editors, Tamar Gutner and Alexander Thompson, and the anonymous reviewers for valuable comments on this paper.


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© Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law; School of Politics and Global StudiesArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  2. 2.Department of Political Science; Harris School of Public PolicyUniversity of ChicagoChicagoUSA

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