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  Félix Peña

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Institutions and decision-making processes in a world with multiple stakeholders

by Félix Peña
January 2010

English translation: Isabel Romero Carranza


After the United Nations Copenhagen Climate Change Conference (COP-15) it is very likely that, during the upcoming year, the debate will continue to focus on the extent and validity of the diagnosis regarding the climate changes that are taking place, the measures to be implemented, the responsibilities of each country -particularly the developed and developing ones according to their past and present contribution towards environmental pollution- and the distribution of costs and funding of the measures to be adopted.

The meager results of the Copenhagen Summit have given clear evidence of three aspects of the new international scenario. Firstly, that some relevant matters that have a bearing on international relation, and that can even affect the future of humankind, can only be tackled at a global scale. Secondly, the difficulty in determining, in practice, how many countries are needed to achieve a critical mass of power so that the decisions that are adopted towards a reasonable global governance are of a binding nature, efficient and socially legitimate. The third aspect is that some of the current global international institutions have certain shortcomings that could render them less than effective at the moment of building, among its numerous member countries, the necessary consensus for action and especially for the creation of binding commitments

The abovementioned are just a few of a number of aspects that show the extent of the systemic world crisis and recreate the classical dialectic tension between order and anarchy in international relations. This crisis might have a domino effect in different regional global spaces and, eventually, at a global scale. It can be clearly evinced precisely by the inability to find efficient answers, within the scope of institutions that originated in a collapsing world order, to the collective problems that are being faced at a global scale.

After the United Nations Copenhagen Climate Change Conference (COP-15) (see or download here and held last December, the analogy of the 'half-full or half-empty glass' has been frequently used to illustrate its concrete results.

In this sense, the opinion of analysts is divided among those who perceive that a step has been taken, albeit a timid one, towards the right direction and those who, on the contrary, have pointed out that there is a long distance between the few commitments that were made and those that would be needed to attain a credible legal framework to successfully face the great challenges posed by the profound climatic changes that are taking place.

Everything indicates that this debate will continue along the way towards the upcoming Summit that will take place in Mexico next December (see

We may presume that during the current year the debate will continue to focus on the scope and validity of the diagnosis regarding the severity of the climatic changes that are taking place, on the measures to be adopted, on the responsibilities to be borne by the different countries -particularly developed and developing countries according to their past and present contributions towards environmental pollution- and on the distribution of the corresponding financing of the measures to be adopted.

It is a complex debate due to the scientific considerations but much more so because even when the most serious consequences would take place in the mid and long terms, many of the corresponding costs will have to be assumed in the short term. In political terms, this lack of temporal synchronicity is of great relevance for those countries that will have to take on the greatest responsibilities.

In any case, after the meager results of the Copenhagen Summit, three different aspects of the international scenario have been clearly exposed.

Firstly is that certain relevant issues that have a bearing on international relations and that can even impact the future of mankind can only be dealt with at a global scale. An example of this is precisely climate change. The main problem is that if the most alarming scientific forecasts are right any delay in the action can have strong consequences and important social costs.

Other relevant issue at a global scale, and as serious as the one mentioned above, is the approach towards the several divisions raised by the present security and peace agenda in the world. No individual country acting on its own seems to be in the position to guarantee the efficiency of the actions that may be required on this plane. Additionally, the situation is getting even more complicated by the proliferation of non-state actors employing different forms of violence in the international scenario.

Regarding both matters -among others that have a bearing on the international agenda- global governance will be strongly conditioned by the willingness of nations with certain prominence in the world scenario to work together. It will also be conditioned by the success in developing new creative forms of joint work among nations, both at the global level as well as at each regional level (this was one of the issues dealt with at the Conference "Global Governance: Future Trends and Challenges", organized by Wilton Park in the U.K. between January 11 and January 13, 2010, and whose account will be published on

This second aspect is related to the difficulty of pinpointing, in practice, how many countries are needed to achieve a critical mass of power that is sufficient to guarantee that the decisions that are taken to attain reasonable global governance are of a binding nature, efficient and socially legitimate. This is the main issue posed by the modality of informal associations -the "G". It is of great relevance given that it is a known fact that in the future global governance will not be able to depend on one single nation, as powerful as this may still be -such the case of the United States.

At a global level this aspect has surfaced with the G20 and also, in good measure, in the chaotic final hours of the Copenhagen Summit. Not only is it a problem to know which and how many countries should form part of this or other similar groups (see the February 2009 edition of this Newsletter). The debate on this regard is an ongoing one and may not be over for a long time. Additionally, it is a matter of knowing how to overcome the effects of the heterogeneity of power among the multiple participating countries or those that may aspire to participate.

As was mentioned on previous opportunities (see the October 2009 edition of this Newsletter) by expressing their opinion and acting within a "G" group some countries reflect their own and unquestionable quota of relative power, such the cases of the U.S. and China, Others reflect the ability to rally nations through different modes of power coalition within an institutional framework of working together in a given geographical space. This is the case of the current European Union. Yet other countries, even when they can be relevant in terms of economic dimension and relative power -sometimes more of a potential than a actual reality- cannot really claim to represent the prevailing opinion of the geographical region to which they belong. Such are the cases for example of Argentina and Brazil in the South American regional space and of India, Russia, Indonesia, Egypt and South Africa., among others, in their own geographic regional spaces.

In any case, this informal modality of joint work at the international level -informal in the sense that it does not involve the creation of institutions with the legal capacity to generate binding commitments- shows some difficulties which can lessen its relative effectiveness. These problems are manifested in the preliminary processes of preparation of each meeting and especially in the limited capacity to translate then what is agreed into concrete realities. It may be more effective when coordinating actions that ultimately depend on measures that are adopted at the respective domestic level, such as for example some of the G20 agreements regarding the international financial system. However, this effectiveness may be lessened, or even annulled, in the case of actions that need to be translated into binding legal commitments or the development of new international rules. This has been the case, for example, of the G20 in relation to its resolution to conclude the Doha Round.

The third aspect is made manifest by the fact that some of the current global international institutions exhibit certain shortcomings that render them barely effective to build the consensus among the numerous member nations that is needed for action and especially to generate binding agreements. In their decision-making processes, they may be reflecting and international architecture that has been outpaced or is in the process of being rapidly left behind. On this regard there are three fundamental questions: How is it possible to achieve the necessary balance of interests among 193 countries (the case of the UN) or among 153 countries (the case of the WTO) that will enable to adopt binding decisions that actually impact reality?; Would such decisions have the necessary effectiveness, efficiency and social legitimacy if they were adopted only by a more limited number of relevant countries?; And if this were the case, which countries should these be so as not to cause the explicit or implicit rejection of those not participating in the adoption of the corresponding decisions? To answer these questions in actual fact will not be an easy or swift task. The recent book published by Debra S. Steger offers very interesting contributions regarding the case of the WTO. (Please refer to the Recommended Readings Section of this Newsletter).

The abovementioned are only some of the aspects that expose the extent of the systemic global crisis. They recreate the classic dialectic tension between order and anarchy in international relations. It could have a domino effect in different regional spaces and, eventually, at a global scale. It is made manifest by the difficulty to find, within the institutional ambit of a collapsing order, effective solutions to the collective problems faced at a global scale.

As was mentioned on previous opportunities one of the risks is that this situation results -as has happened in the past- in the emergence of systemic problems within countries that have been and still are relevant actors in the international scenario, or within those countries which, even when not as relevant, can cause a domino effect in their respective regional geographic spaces.

This can happen in the measure that the citizens of the different countries, including the most developed ones, not only lose their trust in the markets -a possible effect if the current global financial crisis continues- but also in the capacity for finding solutions within the framework of their respective democratic systems. If this were the case, the most dismal forecasts of some analysts would pale in comparison to what would have to be faced in the future.

Recommended Readings of Recent Publication:

  • Auboin, Marc, "Restoring trade finance during a period of financial crisis: stock-taking of recent initiatives", World Trade Organization, Economic Research and Statistics Division, Staff Working Paper ERSD-2009-16, Geneva, December 2009 en; o download here.
  • Centro de Economía Internacional, "Revista del CEI. Comercio Exterior e Integración", CEI-MRECIC, Noviembre de 2009, Número 16, en
  • CARI-KAS, "La Nueva Realidad Internacional. Su impacto en la formación de especialistas", Consejo Argentino para las Relaciones Internacionales (CARI) y Fundación Konrad Adenauer (KAS), Documento de Trabajo nº 87 del CARI, visit or download here.
  • Dabène, Olivier, "The Politics of Regional Integration in Latin America. Theoretical and Comparative Explorations", Palgrave, Macmillan, New York 2009.
  • Denae Trasher, Rachel; Gallagher, Kevin P., "21st Century Trade Agreements: Implications for Long-Run Development Policy", Boston University, The Frederick S.Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future, The Pardee Papers, nº 2, September 2008, visit or download here.
  • Fundación Standard Bank, "Conectividad, creatividad y competitividad: su relevancia para la internacionalización de empresas", Instituto de Comercio Internacional de la FSTB, Material didáctico sobre Comercio Internacional, nº 2, Buenos Aires 2009.
  • Goswami, Anandajit; Dasgupta, Mitali; Nanda, Nitya, "Mapping Climate Mitigation Technologies and Associated Goods within the Building Sector", International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD), Geneva, January 2010, visit or download here.
  • Grevi, Giovanni, "The interpolar world. A new scenario", European Union Institute for Security Studies ISS-IES, Occasional Paper, nº 79, June 2009, visit or download here.
  • Hoeckman, Bernard; Martin, Will; Mattoo, Aaditya, "Conclude Doha. It matters!", The World Bank, Policy Research Working Paper (WPS5135), Washington, November 2009, visit or download here.
  • INTAL, "Informe Mercosur nº 14. Período Segundo Semestre 2008-Primer Semestre 2009", INTAL-BID, Buenos Aires, Diciembre 2009, en or download here.
  • Kosacoff, Bernardo; Mercado, Ruben (eds), "La Argentina ante la nueva internacionalización de la producción. Crisis y oportunidades", CEPAL - PNUD Argentina, Buenos Aires 2009.
  • Mayne, Richard, "In Victory Magnanimity; In Peace, Goodwill. A History of Wilton Park", Whitehall History Publishing in association with Frank Cass, London - Portland, Or. 2003.
  • Rhodes, David; Stelter, Daniel, "Collateral Damage. Preparing for a Two-Speed World: Accelerating Out of the Great Recession", The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), January 2010 en or download here.
  • Steger, Debra S.(editor), "WTO. Redesigning the World Trade Organization for the Twenty-first Century", CIF, Wilfrid Laurier University Press, International Development Research Centre, Ottawa 2010.
  • Stelzer, Joana; Nascimento, Natali; Duarte Peixoto Morella, Patricia (org.), "Comércio Exterior em Açâo: estrategias competitivas", Coleçâo Negócios Mundiais do Curso de Comércio Exterior da Univali, UNIVALI, Itajaí 2008.
  • Stelzer, Joana; Nascimento, Natali; Duarte Peixoto Morella, Patricia (org.), "Desafíos do Comércio Mundial: sustentabilidade e internacionalizaçâo de empresas", Coleçâo Negócios Mundiais do Curso de Comércio Exterior da Univali, UNIVALI, Itajaí 2009.
  • The World Economic Forum, "A Partner in Shaping History. The First 40 Years", WEF, Geneva 2009.
  • Tussie, Diana (ed), "The Politics of Trade. The Role of Research in Trade Policy and Negotiation", Republic of Letter, BRILL, International Development Research Centre, Dordrecht - Leiden - Boston 2009.
  • Valle Lomuto, Valeria Marina, "Las Negociaciones del Acuerdo de Asociación Interregional entre la Unión Europea y el Mercosur", Tesis para obtener el grado de Doctora en Ciencias Políticas y Sociales con orientación en Relaciones Internacionales, Facultad de Ciencias Políticas y Sociales, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, México 2008.
  • World Bank, "Connecting to compete. Trade Logistics in the World Economy - The Logistics Performance Index and its Indicators - 2010", The World Bank, Washington, January 2010, visit or download here.

Félix Peña Director of the Institute of International Trade at the ICBC Foundation. Director of the Masters Degree in International Trade Relations at Tres de Febrero National University (UNTREF). Member of the Executive Committee of the Argentine Council for International Relations (CARI). Member of the Evian Group Brains Trust. More information. |

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