By Bader Alnutawa, Contributing Writer
United Nations Headquarters-Geneva

International Organizations Under Pressure: Legitimating Global Governance in Challenging Times, which was edited by Klaus Dingwerth, Antonia Witt, Ina Lehmann, Ellen Reichel, and Tobias Weise, utilizes a comparative method to understand the history of post WWII global governance instruments and the way that liberal norms and values have been crucial to their legitimacy. Even though this book covers ideas that might initially seem very similar to other works that analyze neoliberalism, hypocrisy, and global governance institutions post World War II, it ultimately sets itself apart.

Instead of focusing on a neoliberal agenda that made the global south a hostage to the privatization drive of its raw materials and resources by the West — led by the United States — the book takes a novel approach by deconstructing the norm systems that have permitted this. Instead of recycling old analyses into new theoretical models as others often do, the authors argue that norm production permits international organizations to present legitimacy that is not questionable. Their analysis presents the progression of norms and values in parallel with the development of U.S. hegemony and the use of international organizations to support global dynamics that are unbalanced. The authors cover 50 years of history of the United Nations, European Union, World Bank, World Trade Organization, and International Monetary Fund.

The first chapters state that pressure and scrutiny –– or basically being scrutinized for whether or not values are maintained and the way international organizations have acquired the needed legitimacy to be the leader of the global governance structure –– have developed flexible values of global governance as well as norms. Instead of questioning the agenda and the intentions of the institutions that support global governance, the book examines the response of global society to this. The book argues that more pressure has been placed on international organizations to justify not only their presence but also how they act towards countries in the global south when compared to the West. Instead of changing or developing in response to criticism, international organizations have selectively applied liberal norms and values based on various conditions. The book makes use of African monetary-policy case studies in the context of a neoliberal agenda that used structural adjustment loans and the effects of forced privatization to repay development loan debts. The book uses this example to depict how this selective application of values has been noticed by the international community, forcing international organizations, in some ways, to exercise governance.

The book references the failure of institutions before World War II, like the League of Nations, due to a lack of legitimacy. Similarly, the United Nations Security Council could not resist challenges to implementing global governance without breaking its own values and norms. The authors aim to present global governance as a failed premise that could benefit and reinvigorate itself by collaborating with local and national actors in ways that have meaning; instead of trying to continue an inclusive narrative that legitimizes actions that negate norms and values. Just like the neoliberal emphasis on privatization by all means, the authors think that it is possible that newfound legitimacy is obtained through altering the developmental model at its core to a model with a higher emphasis on benefiting the global south. The authors also make an intriguing remark about norms and values evolving, finding that comparisons of values and norms with their connection to legitimacy being much more prominent after 1989 than during the Cold War. They do not exaggerate the fact that the fear sparked by a communist enemy within the public permitted organizations to govern in often unquestionable ways. Nonetheless, this was not successful during the global Islamic terrorism era since governance has been criticized for being extremely intrusive. In this sense, the focus is on a transition from legitimacy to legitimization. For the authors, legitimacy takes place when norms and values overshadow actions and are not separable from governance actions. On the other hand, legitimization is defined as changing norms to suit actions of governance.

The book contributes towards the literature on international organizations by using a constructivist approach to analyze the last 50 years of international organizations and their relation to norms and values. The book is also refreshing in its shying away from the common neoliberal focus in terms of ideological hegemony. Instead, it talks about its expansion and existence.

It is important that one realizes how the authors put themselves in a more general debate that goes beyond the limitations of academia and the policy world in order to concentrate on newfound legitimacy acquired from a dynamic (free of exploitation) with the global south. The authors combine the discussion about development loans and the neoliberal development agenda and join the critical side. This is imperative when it comes to the current set of debates that perceive international organizations as part of the issue; international organizations are not only under stress to fulfil the desires of a progressively conflictual set of state actors and an increasing amount of conflicts among actors; but they also spark or worsen the conflict That does not mean that the authors think that international organizations are under stress because of growing conflict and a requirement that the organizations come up with resolutions. They claim that international organizations are biased against current hegemons, with pressure consequently arising because of attempting to reaffirm an imbalance towards the current hegemon, specifically the U.S. The book informs the debate revolving around international organizations by reconsidering the organizations’ purpose in real terms as an instrument of U.S. hegemony.

Dingwerth, K., Witt, A., Lehmann, I., Reichel, E., & Weise, T. (2019). International Organizations Under Pressure: Legitimating Global Governance in Challenging Times. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Bader Alnutawa is a postgraduate Politics student at the London School of Economics and Political Science.