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To Reform the World: International Organizations and the Making of Modern States – A Reply to the Discussants

Published on January 22, 2019        Author: 

Earlier this month we hosted a discussion of Guy Fiti Sinclair’s book, To Reform the World: International Organizations and the Making of Modern States. Below is Guy’s reply to the discussants. We are grateful to all of the participants for their role in this discussion

I am extremely grateful for the sensitive and sympathetic comments on my book in the posts by Jan Klabbers, Megan Donaldson, Devika Hovell, and Edouard Fromageau. Together, they offer a rich set of reflections on the book’s themes, each informed by their distinctive scholarly interests and expertise. In reading them, I found myself nodding along, with very little disagreement on even the more critical points. What follows, then, is not an attempt to debate any particular issue, much less all of them, in the systematic manner they deserve – but rather an effort to engage with a few of the wide-ranging concerns raised by four scholars for whom I have the deepest respect, in the hope that doing so will help to advance the conversation and stimulate further reflection and research.

Several of the posts raise questions relating to perspective and methodology. The book’s particular focus emerged from an effort to answer a relatively narrow set of questions, albeit ones that have broader implications for how we understand international law and organizations. Seeking to understand how international organizations have been able to expand their powers informally beyond the terms of their constituent instruments, and the role of international law in making that expansion seem possible and legitimate, led me to look beyond the relatively restricted set of legal materials traditionally examined by international organizations lawyers. Examining a handful of overlapping episodes involving three organizations with very different purposes, structures, and histories, the book adopts a socio-legal methodology which makes it possible to explore the variable role of (international) law in the public discourse and practices of those organizations.

But what does this kind of analysis help us to see, what does it overlook, and what does it obscure? While not the central thrust of his post, Jan Klabbers rightly points out that, by concentrating on fairly well-known organizations – the International Labour Organizations (ILO), the United Nations (UN), and the World Bank – the book leaves open the question whether the same framework of analysis could be extended to other organizations which are less well-studied and may present more anomalous or harder cases, such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the International Olive Council, or the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Moreover, as Megan Donaldson wonderfully shows through a vignette by Shirley Hazzard, the book’s focus on the speeches, writings, and actions of senior international civil servants leaves unexplored the perspectives of lower-level officials in the same organizations. Read the rest of this entry…

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To Reform the World: International Organizations and the Making of Modern States – An Introduction

Published on January 9, 2019        Author: 

How have international organizations been able to expand their governance powers so significantly over the past century? What has been the role of international law in making this extraordinary expansion of powers seem possible and legitimate? And what does this tell us about international law itself?

My book, To Reform the World: International Organizations and the Making of Modern States (Oxford University Press, 2017), explores these questions by examining the expansion of legal powers exercised by international organizations through informal processes of discourse, practice, and (re)interpretation (‘IO expansion’ for short), rather than by the formal amendment of an organization’s constituent instrument. The book argues that IO expansion has been imagined, understood, and carried out as necessary to a process of making and remaking modern states, based on a broadly Western model. It also argues that international law plays a central, protean role in that process. It would be overly simplistic, therefore, to contend that IO expansion has resulted only in a loss of sovereignty by states. To the contrary, my argument is that IO expansion is intimately bound up with the creation of states, the construction of state powers, and the very constitution of modern statehood.

The book develops these arguments through detailed accounts of three episodes of IO expansion. The first involves the beginnings of technical assistance in the International Labour Organization (ILO) in the interwar period. The second concerns the emergence of United Nations (UN) peacekeeping in the two decades following World War II. And the third encompasses the World Bank’s ‘turn to governance’, which reached a high point in the 1990s. By examining three very different international organizations, spanning different periods in the 20th century, the book is able to identify broad themes in how international law has evolved and works in the world.

The research that led to the book began from the commonplace observation that international organizations have become some of the most significant actors in global governance. Today, hundreds of these entities, both regional and global in scope, intervene in myriad areas of activity, including international peace and security, social and economic development, trade and finance, and environmental protection. The powers exercised by international organizations now impact directly and indirectly on the lives of millions of people around the world. Some of these activities involve relatively mundane (though far-reaching) matters of international standard-setting and coordination, while others are more spectacular, including military, financial, and other forms of intervention. Read the rest of this entry…

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Favourite Readings 2018: The Passage of Time

Published on December 19, 2018        Author: 

Editor’s note: Continuing a tradition started by Isabel Feichtner a few years ago, EJIL’s Review Editor, Christian J. Tams, invited members of the EJIL board to offer short reflections on their favourite books of the year 2018. In the following days we will present some selections here on EJIL:Talk! They comprise a wide range of books, from (a few) doctrinal legal texts, to (many more) historical accounts and works of fiction. Unlike in many official book prize competitions, 2018 does not necessarily stand for the year of publication; rather, board members were asked to list books they read or re-read this year, and found inspiring or enjoyable. Today we give you Guy Fiti Sinclair’s favourites.

None of my chosen books would be found in the ‘341’ (or even ‘340’) stacks in a Dewey Decimal classified library, or in the KCs in a Moys-organized library such as the one at my law school. This is not because I haven’t read any books in those stacks this year. To the contrary, it turns out, somewhat to my own surprise, that I’ve actually managed this year to work my way through a fair few international law books – and books about international law, to adopt a to adopt a useful distinction I have heard from Joseph Weiler more than once – and read parts of many more. Nor is it that I’m worried that if I start listing books by international lawyers, one or another colleague will feel offended that I didn’t mention theirs (although I must admit this has crossed my mind).

Rather, I have decided to highlight books that I have read this year which spoke most directly to my current interests (one might say obsessions). Like many people, I suspect, I have spent much of the past year oscillating between trying to understand our current perplexing moment and trying not to think about it. These books have helped, one way or the other.

Nitsan Chorev, Remaking U.S. Trade Politics: From Protectionism to Globalization (Cornell University Press, 2007)

Kristen Hopewell, Breaking the WTO: How Emerging Powers Disrupted the Neoliberal Project (Stanford University Press, 2016) Read the rest of this entry…

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