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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2005, Vol. 5 No. 1 .

The Legitimacy of International Organizations
Jean-Marc Coicaud and Veijo Heismanen (eds.)

United Nations University Press, Tokyo and New York, 2001, 578 pp.
ISBN 92-808-1053-7

The legitimacy and effectiveness of international organizations warrants constant and sustained scrutiny. In the wake of a recent unilateral military intervention, failed attempts to achieve peace and security in the early 1990s as envisioned in the UN Charter and the changing nature of international relations elicits the recognition of the need to reinvigorate international organizations to overcome what is referred to in this edited volume as a ?legitimacy deficit?. This edited volume offers a compendium of perspectives and reflections on the ability of international organizations to adapt to a new operating environment, characterized by all that globalization implies in a post Cold War environment, relying on institutions constructed, in some cases, sixty years ago. Many of the issues foreshadow the impending debate which will take place when the United Nations 60th General Assembly is convened in September 2005.

The comprehensive, interdisciplinary approach, by renowned experts in their respective fields (law, political science, economics, environmental studies) present a series of issues that international organizations must navigate and adapt to in a period of globalization, underlined by complex issues of collective security and a new international financial architecture, if they are going to remain legitimate. The authors are cognizant of the importance of international organizations, or at least the enduring nature of these inter-governmental bodies that make up the United Nations, World Trade Organization and World Bank, among others. They are however cautious but deliberate in efforts to alert the reader against equating the existence of international organizations to an implied legitimacy.

The conceptual underpinnings of legitimacy are rooted in the inner workings of the nation state and its relationship with civil society. On account of increased interdependence, inequality, need for political accountability and the continued formulation of principles and norms of international integration, international organizations must take measures to enhance their relevance. In contrast to organic political communities, international organizations are artificial creatures and serve as fora for international cooperation among states and to assist them in the management of international affairs. By design, ?international organizations perform functions that states and governments alone are incapable of performing? (p.5).

The authors set out to determine the impediments to performing these functions in attempt to have readers better understand the nature and function of international governance. The volume is divided into three sections. The first sets out the theoretical issues associated with the legitimacy of international organizations. Section two addresses the changing environment of international organizations and the final section reveals the socio-economic context of international organizations, including the trade regime, attempts to establish a new international financial architecture, distributive justice, the role of the World Bank and the shortcomings of over-reliance on under-regulated market forces, exposing the unsettled debates about the role and functions of the state in the market economy. Kerry Rittich powerfully integrates the distributional effects of market reform, particularly on gender equality.

Allot?s article titled, Intergovernmental societies and the idea of constitutionalism reveals the intersections between the international political marketplace and international governance and the litany of informal social structures and institutions. The barricades erected and isolated locations selected for meetings of key decision-makers from G8 countries highlight the challenges and competing interests to anyone proposing a monopoly in the political marketplace.

In conclusion, the volume provides a thorough and well researched overview of the state of international governance. More importantly, it suggests an agenda for future research in this area. In practice, the legitimacy and effectiveness of international organizations rests in national ownership and the ability of states to transcend national interests, invigorate, shape and bring about a culture of mutually recognized values and rules which can subsequently be monitored and benchmarked against the ideals behind international organizations. Doing so can contribute to combating the legitimacy deficit, with the intended consequences of improving effectiveness.

Jason Pronyk, UNDP, New York

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