Transparency policies have the potential to reduce risks and improve public services in the United States, although they must overcome many obstacles to do so, as we have seen. But can targeted transparency reduce risks and improve services that cross national boundaries? That is a more difficult question.
Assessing three important cross-border transparency policies, we find preliminary evidence that such policies can help further nations' shared agendas, even when no overarching treaty guides international action. At best, targeted transparency provides a form of governance without government.
In some ways, international transparency policies work like domestic policies. The analytical framework we have developed to assess the effectiveness of domestic policies can also assess the effectiveness of international policies. The effectiveness of international policies, like that of domestic policies, depends heavily on whether policies are user-centered and improve over time. But international policies also confront two unique challenges. First, they must earn legitimacy. Second, they must become embedded not only in the decision routines of information users and disclosers but also in national laws, regulations, and enforcement practices of participating nations.
Whether targeted transparency can become a useful tool of international governance is a question with new urgency. Markets are integrating rapidly, while governance remains fragmented, defined by traditional national geographical boundaries. National governments have increasing difficulty framing rules for markets and for collective action unilaterally.
At the same time, the failure of national transparency systems can have dire international consequences, as two recent examples illustrate.