Legitimacy in IR

Discussant: Alexandra Stafford

The current crisis of multilateral international organizations (IOs) is often described in terms of a failure of their effectiveness and legitimacy. The stability of IOs appears to be rooted in their ability both to be effective at reaching stated goals and to evoke support from constituencies. This paper argues, however, that part of the current “crisis” of multilateralism results from conditions that make it increasingly difficult for IOs to pursue both effectiveness and legitimacy simultaneously. The paper unfolds in three parts: i) it argues that as the numbers and types of actors relevant for global governance have increased over time, the effectiveness-legitimacy trade-off has become more intense; ii) it presents two models for reconciling the goals of effectiveness and legitimacy, the delegation-ratification model and the division-of-labor model; iii) it argues that as the trade-off becomes more intense, actors may seek to first pursue effectiveness in more selective institutions and then seek ex post legitimation in more inclusive institutions. This creates a division of labor between institutional arrangements specialized in promoting effectiveness and those specialized in providing collective legitimacy for policy outcomes. This strategy addresses the legitimacy-effectiveness trade-off in the short term, but may ultimately deepen rather than resolve multilateralism’s legitimacy crisis. The argument is empirically explored using a case study of the WTO and the Joint Statement Initiatives