Intergovernmental Institutions

Treaties and regimes are designed to enable governments to act in concert to achieve desired goals across national borders. In the case of certain kinds of resources, producer nations act together as cartels to control price fluctuations, safeguard supplies, or guarantee profits. OPEC is an example of such a cartel (Alhajii and Huettner 2000). Other materials that have been subject to international producer cartels include copper and bauxite (Pindyck 1977), diamonds (Bergenstock and Maskulka 2001), and coffee (Greenstone 1981).

In sharp contrast to the idea of international cartels and organizations designed to control the fl ow of strategic goods and materials, the WTO—an international treaty organization established as the successor to the GATT in 1995—seeks to remove barriers to international free trade. Within the WTO, the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade seeks to ensure that technical negotiations and standards, as well as testing and certification procedures, do not create unnecessary obstacles to trade. Under the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement, however, the WTO does permit member governments to implement trade restrictions where there is a demonstrable risk to human health or the environment. Efforts by some governments to take advantage of these provisions have been subject to hotly contested legal disputes.

Other kinds of international organizations exist to control the flow of strategic goods and materials. The IAEA is an independently established body that reports to the General Assembly and Security Council of the United Nations; its role is to limit the proliferation of technological capacity and weapons-grade fissile material that could lead to the spread of nuclear weapons. Another, less prominent, example is the Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies, which maintains lists of materials, goods, and know-how that may not be supplied to nonsig-natory countries (Lipson 2006). The Arrangement only covers dual-use technologies. Nuclear weapons technology is subject to its own control regime, the Nuclear Suppliers Group, while chemical weapons technologies are controlled by the so-called Australia Group.

The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (Benedick 1991; Parson 2003) is an international treaty that provides for the phasing out of manufacture of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other ozone-depleting chemicals. It has often been invoked as a model for international cooperation to control unsustainable industrial practices. It has also been used as one source of inspiration for efforts to develop a global climate regime, although some commentators have argued that the analogies between the ozone problem and climate change are largely mis-specified (Prins and Rayner 2007). The ozone regime has not been without its problems. It has been argued that its controls violate the free-trade regime of GATT and the WTO (Brack 1996). Another issue has been the extent to which the regime has driven production and trade in CFCs underground, giving rise to a huge black market in illicitly produced and smuggled chemicals.

The main point here is that "the stocks, flows, rates of use, interconnections, and potential for change of critical resources on the planet" are being shaped by the complex interactions of a variety of formal institutional arrangements at the state and international levels, which often pull in different directions. Not least, this is due to the fact that societies maintain competing, often incommensurable, values, goals, and agendas embodied in institutional arrangements, each with their own path dependencies, which make their rational reconciliation all but impossible.

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