Academic journal article University of Western Sydney Law Review

US Power and Transnational Governance

Academic journal article University of Western Sydney Law Review

US Power and Transnational Governance

Article excerpt


A number of commentators have followed Levi-Faur and Jordana, in identifying recent years as a 'golden era of regulation', with the 'proliferation of regulatory activities, actions, networks or constellations' leading to 'an explosion of rules and to the profound reordering of our world.' (1) Beyond the territories of particular nation states 'an increasing share of this intense governance activity takes place between and across nations'. (2) And much of this developing 'culture' of transnational governance relies upon 'voluntary' rules, 'to which formal legal sanctions are not attached.' (3)

The implication is that of a significant expansion of the rule of law or of quasi-legal self-regulatory practices, built upon democratic participation and consensus in transnational affairs, replacing an earlier rule of force or no rule at all.

This paper argues that this is a misleading picture of transnational governance in the contemporary world, insofar as much that it identifies as 'voluntary', 'democratically decided' and/or 'self-regulatory' principles and practises are really built upon the use of force, threat and coercion, including both the economic and military force of the United States ('US'). At the same time, it is as true to see recent decades as a time of deregulation, as much as of regulation, including the winding back of regulations which really were built upon a foundation of democratic and ethical legitimacy to leave the field free for the exercise of the raw economic power of big transnational corporations.

Part of the problem of the Levi-Faur and Jordana analysis, I believe, lies in focusing upon specific microstructures of transnational governance, and losing sight of the bigger picture of the exercise of political and economic power on a global scale. This paper aims to provide a counter-balance to such smaller scale analysis by focusing upon the underlying power relations upon which all such specific governance developments actually rest. In particular, the focus is upon the centrality of the US economic and military power in shaping governance in the contemporary globalised world, and the challenge to US power and US dominated regulation by the rise of China as major world power.


As John Rees points out, since the early nineteenth century there have been three major institutional centres of exercise of such social power.4 First of all, a system of competing nation states, with their own systems of executive authority, commanding a monopoly of force within their geographical boundaries and using this to enforce a particular system of law. Such states have also been directly involved, to a lesser or greater extent, in direct control of production and distribution of material goods and of information.

Secondly, a system of different interlocking and interdependent world markets within which private business organisations--particularly large public corporations--and nation states compete for commercial domination. Such corporations produce and/or trade in and distribute raw materials, manufactured goods, financial and other services, including health services, along with information and ideas.

Thirdly, within each competing nation state, a more or less organised labour force of workers and/or peasants. Insofar as these are the actual producers of social wealth, they have huge potential economic power--to disrupt production and capital accumulation in strikes and go slows and to take over such production through occupation of land, factories and other productive facilities. Insofar as they are the majority of the population so do they have huge political power--to form and vote into power their own political parties--in liberal democratic states; to seize power through force of arms in other political situations.

Control of political and economic structures by the capitalist class obstructs the realisation or effective application of such working class power. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.