Academic journal article Global Governance

Collusion in International Organizations: How States Benefit from the Authority of Secretariats

Academic journal article Global Governance

Collusion in International Organizations: How States Benefit from the Authority of Secretariats

Article excerpt

In the theoretical literature on the authority of international secretariats, academics often dichotomize between states and secretariats. Even when they account for the fact that states are often divided, they normally adopt a two-step approach: states first resolve their own differences before they entertain relations with secretariats. This article provides an alternative perspective. It argues that individual or groups of states may collude with like-minded secretariats to achieve outcomes at the expense of other states. Working informally together is beneficial. States can benefit from the rational-legal, delegated, moral, and expert authority of secretariats. States and secretariats can also exchange resources. The article illustrates this perspective through two case studies: the NATO intervention in Libya in 2011 and the European Union's military operation in Chad in 2008. KEYWORDS: international secretariats, authority, principal-agent model. 

THE AUTHORITY OF INTERNATIONAL SECRETARIATS HAS BECOME A MAJOR TOPIC in the discipline of international relations. (1) From Jacques Delors at the helm of the European Commission to the technical expertise of officials in the World Health Organization (WHO), academics have shown how nonstate actors make a difference. When analyzing the authority of secretariats, they often dichotomize between states and secretariats: authority comes at the expense of the member states. This dichotomy is inherent in the theories used. Constructivists want to make a point about the independent contribution of nonstate actors. Principal-agent scholars, by the nature of their model, distinguish between "principals" and "agents." They also tend to focus on the formal rules, in which the member states are normally treated as a collectivity.

In this article, I provide an alternative theoretical perspective. I argue that individual or groups of states team up with secretariats to achieve outcomes at the expense of other states. First, secretariats can be powerful allies for states due to their multiple sources of authority. (2) Second, secretariats rarely have sufficient powers to ignore the interests of states. They normally need the support of a substantial number of states. Collusion between like-minded states and secretariats is a logical outcome. While collusion is informal, it includes a range of activities such as jointly confronting other states, precooking meetings, discussing strategies, and exchanging resources.

Member states are often divided and this affects the authority of secretariats. Many scholars have focused on the "preference heterogeneity" between states and what this means for secretariats. (3) The literature, however, almost exclusively focuses on the initial delegation phase and assumes a "collective principal." That is, member states first solve their differences before they delegate functions. After delegation, however, the policy dynamics are different. Authority will depend on the ability of secretariats to work with like-minded states. (4) Collusion is particularly likely to take place under three conditions: states and secretariats have complementary resources, they share preferences, and the risk of a loss of reputation is small for the secretariat.

In the article, I provide empirical evidence from two case studies: the intervention of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Libya in 2011 and the European Union (EU) military operation in Chad and the Central African Republic in 2008. While military intervention is an area where the role of secretariats is assumed to be limited, it is also domain where the capabilities of the member states differ significantly. We would thus expect key states to take the lead and work informally with the secretariat. This is precisely in line with the empirical evidence. Both secretariats pursued their own agendas in cooperation with key member states. They made use of their procedural advantages. …

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