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Democratic memberships in international organizations: Sources of institutional design

Abstract

Domestic regime type has emerged a powerful explanation of multiple phenomena in world politics. This article extends this argument to the design of international organizations (IOs), where a profound development in recent decades is growing access for transnational actors (TNAs). While earlier research has shown that democracy in IO memberships helps to explain IO openness, we know little about the mechanisms that drive this effect. This article unpacks the relationship between democratic memberships and IO design by theorizing and assessing the impact of three different constellations of democracies on the openness of IOs. Empirically, we conduct a multivariate analysis of TNA access to 50 IOs from 1950 to 2010, combined with a case study of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Our main findings are three-fold. First, democracy’s effect on openness is primarily a product of the combined weight of democracies within IOs and their resulting capacity to secure support for their polity preferences. Second, in contrast, we only find limited support for a specific influence of new democracies and democratic major powers on IO openness. Third, decision rules that allow for openness reforms to be adopted by a majority of member states facilitate and strengthen the influence of democracies, by reducing the ability of autocracies to block change. The findings have implications for our understanding of institutional design in global governance and democracy’s effects in world politics.

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Notes

  1. For a contrarian view, see Cooley and Ron (2002).

  2. On credible commitment theory generally, see Fearon (1994); Leeds (1999); Simmons and Danner (2010).

  3. We use this variable with a 1-year lag, similar to all other independent variables (if not stated otherwise). From a theoretical viewpoint, the risk of endogeneity is minimal, since we do not expect TNA access to IOs to affect domestic democracy of member states. Additional tests show that the results for this variable even hold for longer time lags.

  4. See Table A.3 in the online appendix available at this journa’s webpage for the bivariate correlation matrix of all variables.

  5. We follow the operationalization of major power that is used in the COW Database, and add regional powers for the period after 1989 (Cline et al. 2011).

  6. Information on five IOs in our sample was missing in the Blake and Payton (2014) data. We added these cases with the help of the codebook for the dataset “Voting Rules for Intergovernmental Organizations.” In the absence of clear theoretical expectations, we did not include the third category of weighted majority voting.

  7. See Table A.1 in the online appendix.

  8. To be included, an organization must: (1) be intergovernmental; (2) be independent from other IOs as regards budgets, decision-making, and reporting; (3) have at least three members; (4) have at least one organization body that operates permanently; and (5) be active in 2010.

  9. For a detailed description of the operationalization of these control variables, see Table A.4 in the online appendix.

  10. Summary statistics (Table A.2) and bivariate correlations (A.3) of the main variables are shown in the online appendix.

  11. This lends support to the dichotomous democracy/autocracy measure we use in all other models.

  12. This result may also be interpreted as support for the logic of credible commitments (Hypothesis 2), since democratization of old member states boosts the share of young democracies in an IO’s membership. However, since our core measure for the credible commitment logic receives limited support, we favor interpreting this variable in terms of its effects on the democratic density of IOs (Hypothesis 1).

  13. Since the decision rule remained consensus throughout this period, the case study does not allow us to trace the implications of varying decision rules on openness.

  14. Van Esterik and Minnema (1991, 4) explain that NGOs were often able to acquire media accreditation.

  15. “West wants press at human rights talks,” The Globe and Mail, May 7, 1985; “Ottawa meeting on human rights opens; agenda and dispute,” New York Times, May 8, 1985.

  16. A non-paper was also submitted by the US (Heraclides 1993, 122).

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Acknowledgments

Earlier versions of this article were presented at the workshop “The Design of International Institutions: Theory Meets Data,” Chapel Hill, April 25–27, 2013; the Transaccess/Transdemos Workshop, Stockholm, May 6–7 2013; the annual meeting of the Swedish Political Science Association, Stockholm, October 2–4, 2013; and the workshop “Transnational Actors in Global Governance,” Lund, June 12–13, 2014. For helpful comments and suggestions, we are particularly grateful to Thomas Biersteker, Mathias Friman, Gary Goertz, Liesbet Hooghe, Barbara Koremenos, Gary Marks, Marta Reuter, Erik Voeten, and to the editor and two anonymous reviewers of RIO. The research for this article was funded by the European Research Council (Grant 200971-DII) and Riksbankens Jubileumsfond (Grant M2007-0399:1-PK).

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Tallberg, J., Sommerer, T. & Squatrito, T. Democratic memberships in international organizations: Sources of institutional design. Rev Int Organ 11, 59–87 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11558-015-9227-7

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Keywords

  • Democracy
  • Political regime
  • International organization
  • Global governance
  • Institutional design
  • Openness

JEL Classification

  • F5
  • F6