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Grand Compromises in Global Governance

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 January 2013


Two attempts at grand compromise have underpinned global order since the end of the Second World War. The first, a compromise between laissez-faire liberalism and domestic interventionism, famously described by John Ruggie as ‘embedded liberalism’, legitimated and stabilized a multilateral order for 50 years. A second attempt, this time between North and South at the end of the Cold War around a discourse of ‘sustainable development’, remains uneasy, conflict prone and much less institutionalized. They are compared and contrasted by asking whether they are truly compromises or reflect domination and hegemony, what conditions led to them, and what drivers of change have limited and challenged them. Ultimately, differences in their bases of legitimacy offer lessons for the prospects of building a new grand compromise in the wake of contemporary strains on global governance.

Copyright © The Author(s) 2012.

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2 Ruggie, John Gerard, ‘International Regimes, Transactions, and Change: Embedded Liberalism in the Postwar Economic Order’, International Organization, 36: 2 (1982), pp. 379415 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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4 While climate change – and the related challenge of increasing energy demand – has received the most attention among planetary pressures, a variety of other environmental and resource concerns have also risen to what some argue are crisis proportions, including fresh water, fisheries and ocean health more generally, and food security.

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6 On this distinction, see Matthew J. Hoffmann and Alice D. Ba, ‘Introduction: Coherence and Contestation’, in Matthew J. Hoffmann and Alice D. Ba, Contending Perspectives on Global Governance: Coherence, Contestation and World Order, New York, Routledge, 2005, pp. 8–10.

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8 Ibid.

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10 Richard Bellamy, Markus Kornprobst and Christine Reh, ‘Introduction: Meeting in the Middle’, in this volume.

11 Ibid.

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15 Ibid., p. 383.

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17 Ruggie, ‘International Regimes, Transactions, and Change’, p. 387.

18 Ibid., p. 394.

19 Ibid., pp. 394–7.

20 John Gerard Ruggie (ed.), Multilateralism Matters: The Theory and Praxis of an Institutional Form, New York, Columbia University Press, 1993.

21 Ruggie, ‘International Regimes, Transactions, and Change’, p. 394.

22 Ibid., p. 397.

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32 Ibid., p. 43.

33 Ibid., pp. 50–1, 89.

34 Ibid., pp. 67–91.

35 Bernstein, The Compromise of Liberal Environmentalism.

36 Ruggie, ‘International Regimes, Transactions, and Change’, p. 394.

37 Thomas Biersteker, ‘The “Triumph” of Neoclassical Economics in the Developing World: Policy Convergence and Bases of Governance in the International Economic Order’, in James Rosenau and Ernst-Otto Czempiel (eds), Governance Without Government: Order and Change in World Politics, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1992, pp. 102–31.

38 United Nations, ‘Report of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, Rio De Janeiro, June 3–14. Annex 1, Rio Declaration on Environment and Development’ UN Doc. A/CONF.151/26 (Vol. 1), New York, United Nations, 12 August 1992.

39 The full story is slightly more complex. The norm is repeated in the Cancun agreements, and continues to be invoked in a wide number of negotiations and agreements, but a more fluid understanding of differentiation seems to have replaced the either/or interpretation in the Kyoto Protocol (see The lack of legally binding commitments may also be temporary, but so far only the European Union has indicated a willingness to take on legally binding commitments following the expiry of Kyoto's first commitment period 2012. Negotiations continue on the exact form of a subsequent agreement.

40 Gareth Porter and Janet Welsh Brown, Global Environmental Politics, 2nd edition, Boulder, CO, Westview Press, 1996, p. 117.

41 The United States released ‘interpretive statements’, including on its long-standing opposition to a ‘right’ to development on the grounds that a ‘right’ might override other rights, such as human rights. According to the statement, the United States does not oppose Principle 3, understood as the promotion of development ‘in a way that the development and environmental needs of present and future generations are taken into account’.

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43 See for example: Chatterjee, Pratap and Finger, Matthias, The Earth Brokers, New York, Routledge, 1994 Google Scholar.

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45 World Trade Organization (WTO), ‘Decision on Trade and the Environment’, adopted by ministers at the meeting of the Uruguay Round Trade Negotiations Committee in Marrakech, 15 April 1994, from

46 On the history of UN, WTO and Bretton Woods coordination in the follow-up to the Monterrey Conference on Financing for Development, see Louis W. Pauly, ‘The United Nations in a Changing Global Economy’, in Bernstein and Pauly, Global Liberalism and Political Order, pp. 91–108.

47 UN, ‘The Future We Want’, Zero Draft of the Outcome Document for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development’, submitted by the co-chairs, 10 January 2012.

48 Peter Newell and Matthew Paterson, Climate Capitalism: Global Warming and the Transformation of the Global Economy, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2010.

49 UN, ‘The Future We Want’, paragraph 7.

50 Bernstein, Steven, ‘Legitimacy in Global Environmental Governance’, Journal of International Law and International Relations, 1: 1/2 (2005), pp. 139–66Google Scholar.

51 Margalit, Avishai, On Compromise and Rotten Compromise, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2010, pp. 45, 54Google Scholar.

52 Martin Benjamin, Splitting the Difference: Compromise and Integrity in Ethics and Politics, Lawrence, KS, University Press of Kansas, 1990, pp. 24–38.

53 Bellamy, Kornprobst and Reh, ‘Introduction: Meeting in the Middle’.

54 Devetak and Higgott, ‘Justice Unbound?’.

55 Buchanan, Allen and Keohane, Robert O., ‘The Legitimacy of Global Governance Institutions’, Ethics & International Affairs, 20: 4 (2006), pp. 405–37CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

56 Others (Thomas M. Franck, Fairness in International Law and Institutions, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1995; and Devetak and Higgott, ‘Justice Unbound?’) argue that conditions under globalization have sufficiently changed that justice and legitimacy may be linked globally as they are within the state.

57 Margalit, On Compromise and Rotten Compromise, pp. 4–5, 54.

58 Ibid.

59 Bernstein, The Compromise of Liberal Environmentalism; Kornprobst, Markus, ‘Argumentation and Compromise: Ireland's Selection of the Territorial Status Quo Norm’, International Organization, 61 (2007), pp. 6998 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

60 Richard Bellamy, Liberalism and Pluralism: Towards a Politics of Compromise, London, Routledge, 1999, p. 104.

61 Krasner, Stephen D., Structural Conflict: The Third World Against Global Liberalism, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1985 Google Scholar.

62 Bellamy, Liberalism and Pluralism, pp. 102–11.

63 Newell and Paterson, Climate Capitalism.

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