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Thomas G. Weiss and Rorden Wilkinson (eds.), International Organization and Global Governance, (London: Routledge, 2013; 2nd Edition, 2018), 700 pp.

Reviewed by: James Worrall (Associate Professor in International Relations and Middle East Studies, School of Politics & International Studies, University of Leeds).

As the world becomes more complex and interdependent, there is an increasing requirement that the next generation is made aware of the efforts made by states and the full panoply of non-state actors to manage this complexity. The inevitable issues created by our imperfect governance systems at all levels, the problems of the global commons, and the difficulty of consensus building and co-ordination have led to a plethora of attempts and initiatives to manage international interactions in a whole range of spheres. Our progress in governing these issues, however imperfect, is more of a cause for hope than despair. None of this however makes this subject an easy one to teach. Students regularly struggle not only with their understanding of the theories, but also in grasping both the breadth and depth of the range of issue areas and actors involved. Therefore, this textbook is something of a god-send for those of us trying to help that next generation unravel the complexity and to give students a leg-up into studying this fascinating and vital area of international relations.

The League of Nations. photo credit: UN Photo/Jullien.

While the volume exhibits all the qualities of a great textbook – accessibility, balance and coverage – it also acts as a reinforcement tool for those partway into their studies of international institutions as well as an encouragement to all to go deeper into the rich literatures and explore the fascinations of the complexity of the webs of organisations and structures of Global Governance. It is rooted in the existing literature and theoretical approaches, which is undoubtedly its major strength. The book is also logically organised and highly catholic, linking to other key disciplines and ideas within the field of International Relations. Indeed, it should be noted that this is probably the best introductory text so far as it successfully brings together the study of International Organisations (IOs) and Global Governance which for so-long seemed to have been partially talking past each other. In this volume they are united by situating IOs within a broader web of governance; these organisations sometimes act as lynchpins and at other times barely play a supporting role as other actors dominate.

The book begins with an excellent introductory chapter which explains the context, outlines the aims of the volume, and lays out the importance of IOs and Global Governance. In what is clearly an ambitious agenda, the editors claim that “few scholarly works have attempted to offer a complete overview of the actors, institutions and mechanisms that constitute contemporary global governance. [They also note that they]… too cannot claim to have captured contemporary global governance in its entirety… [Instead, their] aim…has been to make the best attempt yet” (p.12). This claim is fully justified, especially when the book is read sequentially. While one can build up a mind-map of the complexities of global governance through detailed multi-year study or by reading plenty of other great introductory volumes to many of the thematic, theoretical, and practical realities of IOs[1] or Global Governance,[2] it is undoubtedly of immense benefit to have a map of the terrain as useful and extensive as that developed in this volume when attempting one’s own mapping project of the complexities of this area of study.

From such a promising start, the volume then devotes five chapters to provide further context. The fact that these chapters are written by some of the leading scholars in the field, gives further confidence of the book’s ability to live up to its aspirations. By covering inter alia in this section, the history of IOs and multilateral attempts at co-operation, the crucial role of International Law, and the key questions of power and authority, this section provides crucial building blocks to contextualise developments and structures and introduces key debates, which underpin the issue areas and theories addressed later in the volume. From this solid foundation, the next section is dedicated to theoretical approaches that explain the dynamics of IOs and Global Governance.

World leaders at the 2010 G-20 Seoul summit. photo credit: Wikimedia Commons / Presidencia de la Nacion Argentina

The theoretical section is undoubtedly another of the book’s key strengths. By introducing such a wide range of theoretical approaches from the outset, the book demonstrates that, because of the scope and scale of Global Governance, multiple perspectives are needed to fully understand the complexities involved in this subject matter. These theories also serve to remind us quite how political all this remains . This is crucial for students who are often somewhat turned off by approaches which are overly focused on functionalist understandings of IOs. This section covers nine full chapters discussing a range of theoretical approaches, including feminism, Marxism, and principle agent theory. The second edition of this volume also includes post-colonial approaches. These theoretical chapters are highly accessible and include useful examples.

One area where the theoretical section might be improved is in the level of detailed provided. The section would have benefited from more detailed discussion, of those theoretical approaches, which have been developed explicitly to help us study IOs and Global Governance, within existing IR theoretic traditions. By highlighting the way in which these IO-specific theories are linked to the wider traditions, while being expressly designed to assist us to study Global Governance and IOs, not only are students given more tools but they are also made more aware of this sub-discipline within IR and of how important it is in informing wider debates in IR. Thus, perhaps a new section, after the main theories, should be included to introduce regime theories[3] and links them to wider discussions. The new section will also benefit from discussing a wider range of approaches from functionalism to the studies of bureaucracies and cultures of IOs from political, anthropological, and sociological perspectives that would add a valuable new dimension to the volume.[4]

Section four moves things forward by examining the roles of key states and IOs in global governance. It offers useful chapters on the US, China, the BRICS and the EU. while also exploring the roles of the Global South and the organs of the UN. This section is then complimented in section five with eight chapters exploring the role of various types of non-state actors, including transnational corporations, think tanks, NGOs, and private military companies in global governance processes. This section is a vital reminder to students of the diversity of actors and the different forms of power and influence they wield. The inclusion of a chapter on transnational organised crime is particularly helpful here in demonstrating the different interests and intentions of non-state actors. From here, sections six (on security issues) and section seven (on economic and social issues), delve into the individual areas of interest. These chapters allow students to deploy ideas they have learnt in the early parts of the book to understand the different problems, different regimes, and different constellations of actors. This in many ways forms the meat of the book and will certainly be the most (initially) attractive chapters for students. The 23 chapters, which form these two sections, are impressive in terms of the diversity of the topics they cover. The contributors discuss the usual issues of peacekeeping, WMD, climate change, and poverty, as well as more specialised and less well publicised ones, including the chapters on internet governance, regional development banks, and counterterrorist co-operation which were particularly welcome. These chapters draw on the other aspects of the volume to build up a detailed picture of the strengths, weaknesses, problems, and opportunities presented by the evolution of global governance mechanisms in these various issue areas.

United Nations Flight Delivers Food Aid to Earthquake Area of Pakistan. photo credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider.

This undoubtedly comprehensive approach to the field certainly brings a number of challenges. This book is most definitely a desk reference volume; attempting to carry it around or to read it in more comfortable surroundings could lead to injury! In addition, in order to manage the diversity of the volume, an attempt is made to bring in the useful approach of having brief introductions to each individual section of the book. These serve nicely to stitch it together, to help the editors to tease out some key themes, and to offer brief synopses of the chapters in each section. This is undoubtedly useful to students, but could certainly be expanded in the (surely inevitable) third edition of this successful textbook. This would really pull the book together further and could offer further thoughts on the themes raised in the introduction. From this perspective, it is also a shame that neither the first nor the second edition of this book offers an editors’ conclusion, this could really reflect on the achievements of the volume, introduce the problems of deepening research in this field, and reflect on the evolution of IOs and Global Governance between editions. This would certainly be of great benefit and could even inspire upper level students towards further research and study. The second edition adds four new chapters, taking the total to 54, further lending credence to the view that the editors have achieved their ambitions in providing the best overview of the terrain of IOs and Global Governance.

All in all, this volume is the perfect introduction to this crucial area of study for both undergraduates and postgraduates new to this field, and certainly provides those teaching them with a valuable new tool in assisting them to embark on their own cartographical journey across the varied and shifting terrains of modern attempts to manage complexity.

[1] J. Samuel Barkin’s work is especially useful on IOs, see: J. Samuel Barkin, International Organization: Theories and Institutions (London: Palgrave, 2006, 2nd Edition 2013).

[2] One of the co-editors here for example has produced an excellent reader which compliments this volume well: Rorden Wilkinson (ed.), The Global Governance Reader (London: Routledge, 2005).

[3] Andreas Hasenclever, Peter Mayer and Volker Rittberger, Theories of International Regimes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).

[4] Marc Abélès (ed.), Des anthropologues à l’OMC: Scènes de la gouvernance mondiale (Paris, CNRS, 2011).