Academic journal article Global Governance

The Dynamics of Regime Complexes: Microfoundations and Systemic Effects

Academic journal article Global Governance

The Dynamics of Regime Complexes: Microfoundations and Systemic Effects

Article excerpt

This article takes stock of the current debate on regime complexes. The specific relevance of such complexes for global governance is best grasped if these complexes are understood as systems that relate and organize their elemental institutions. They emerge from activities of relevant international actors, in particular the member states of their elemental institutions, as well as from interactions among these institutions. Regime complexes establish interinstitutional competition, which may lead to open conflict and turf battles, but may also produce a well-established division of labor among the elemental institutions. As they provide forum-shopping opportunities for actors, regime complexes put overlapping governance institutions under continuing competitive pressure and they do not necessarily predominantly benefit the most powerful states. In order to increase the coherence and effectiveness of global governance efforts, the management of regime complexes will become an increasingly important task of global governance. KEYWORDS: regime complexes, micro foundations, systemic effects, institutional interaction, interplay management.

THE EMERGING LITERATURE ON REGIME COMPLEXES REFLECTS CONSIDERABLE uncertainty as to how regime complexes matter for global governance. To tackle this question, we need a comparatively clear idea of their nature. Kal Raustiala and David G. Victor's widely used definition of a regime complex, to which the editors of this issue refer, focuses on three aspects: composition by a number of elemental institutions, horizontal structure among these institutions, and a common issue area. (1) However, these indicators do not tell us much about the nature and effects of regime complexes. Accordingly, many contributions to the increasingly intensive debate on regime complexes, as well as the contributors in this issue, use this notion somewhat metaphorically. It is not clear whether a regime complex reflects merely the sum of its elemental institutions or whether it has an existence of its own. Only in the latter case may it influence global governance as a systemic factor separate from its elemental institutions and relevant actors. Moreover, a loose conception risks that regime complexes are identified in every issue area of global governance, without gaining much analytical leverage.

In this article, we take stock of the current debate. We argue that the specific relevance of regime complexes for global governance is best grasped if they are understood as systems that relate and organize their elemental institutions. They emerge from activities of relevant international actors, in particular the member states of their elemental institutions, as well as from interactions among these institutions. Regime complexes establish interinstitutional competition among functionally overlapping institutions as a systemic feature that influences the operations of their elemental institutions. While competition may lead to open conflict and turf battles, it may also produce a well-established division of labor among the elemental institutions. Since regime complexes create forum-shopping opportunities for actors, they can be assumed to put all functionally overlapping governance institutions under continuing competitive pressure, but they do not necessarily predominantly benefit the most powerful states. In order to increase the coherence and effectiveness of global governance activities, their management will become an increasingly important task of global governance.

Regime Complexes Are Systems of Institutions

Regime complexes must refer to observable facts in international relations, not merely to the observer's perspective, if they are meant to be more than a metaphor for the sum of their elemental institutions. They cannot affect international relations and global governance unless they have an existence of their own beyond the observer's views and analytical interests. …

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