Dissertation

My dissertation illuminates how the proliferation of global governance institutions affects international cooperation.  Countries have constructed thousands of formal and informal multilateral bodies since World War II, generating a dense network of institutions that compete for authority over specific issue areas like counter-terrorism, development finance, and election monitoring.  My work focuses on the strategic behavior enabled by this environment.  I develop parsimonious theories to explain how countries leverage jurisdictional overlap among institutions to avoid compliance with international commitments, increase their influence in multilateral negotiations, and divide regulatory labor among favored institutions.  I generate original data to evaluate these theories, including through archival research and the collection of text data, and apply novel identification strategies in my statistical analysis. 

The dissertation is motivated by the fragmentation of global governance across multiple international institutions with overlapping mandates.  First, I examine why countries create overlapping institutions, especially in policy domains that are already densely institutionalized. Established theory argues that countries construct institutions to reduce transaction costs and capture efficiency gains from cooperation. This explanation provides a convincing account of institution-building when no other institutions exist, but is less compelling when many institutions are already present. In the latter context, institutional proliferation exacerbates transaction costs by increasing uncertainty and introducing multiple bargaining venues.

I argue that power misalignment in existing IOs leads countries to construct new venues for cooperation. The rules that confer influence in multilateral institutions often fail to adapt to evolution in member state power. Countries engage in strategic institutional proliferation when their influence in existing institutions is constrained by outdated rules. The creation of new institutions bestows founding members with greater control over global governance. In addition to their influence in the newly formed venue, institutional proliferation reshapes bargaining leverage more broadly by giving some countries an additional exit option during multilateral negotiations. 

To test this this argument, I examine whether power misalignment in multilateral development banks spawns the creation of new institutions. In “Angling for Influence: Institutional Proliferation in Development Banking” (Under Review), I analyze how the distribution of countries’ formal vote shares in the World Bank conditions the probability that they establish new development banks. Drawing on original archival research into the allocation of votes at the Bretton Woods conference, I leverage a unique natural experiment stemming from an abrupt change in the Bank’s vote share formula. This strategy enables me to estimate the causal effect of power misalignment on institutional proliferation. Statistical tests demonstrate that countries that are under-represented in existing development lending institutions are significantly more likely to create new development banks.

Second, I examine how the presence of multiple institutions shapes cooperative outcomes. Existing work assumes institutional crowding is detrimental to global governance, since different institutions may duplicate effort or adopt competing rules. In “Deference and Hierarchy in International Regime Complexes” (Forthcoming, International Organization), I explain how member states share authority across institutions to mitigate rule conflict and establish a regulatory division of labor. They do so through a process of institutional deference, defined as the acceptance of another IO’s exercise of authority. I use a novel text analysis technique to show that deference leads to a division of labor among institutions that regulate counterterrorism, election monitoring, and intellectual property rights. When IOs in a given policy domain engage in deference, they focus subsequent rule-making efforts on separate issues. I further demonstrate that deference is a strategic act that is shaped by member states’ interest in improving the efficiency of institutionalized cooperation as well as their attempts to maximize control over global governance.

Finally, “The Effect of Institutional Proliferation on Cooperative Outcomes,” explains how the underlying characteristics of an issue area shape the likelihood that institutional proliferation will undermine or support deep cooperation between countries. I argue that the effect of proliferation is conditioned by two variables: 1) whether institutions seek primarily to regulate behavior or provide programmatic services, and 2) whether cooperation int he policy domain represents a bargain between governments or between a government and its domestic society.  In issue areas featuring programmatic institutions and state-society bargains, such as election monitoring, cooperation deteriorates as institutions proliferate.  On the other hand, regulatory bodies that govern interstate relations (e.g., trade, arms control, and climate change) can sustain deep cooperation in the face of regime fragmentation.  Case studies and quantitative analysis of inter-institutional relations across several policy domains support these claims.

Overall, my dissertation makes three contributions to the field of international relations. First, it reorients the study of international institutions away from narrow analyses of single institutions toward the more complex, networked environment that characterizes contemporary cooperation. Second, by leveraging a natural experiment to estimate causal effects, I mitigate the endogeneity problem that confronts research on international institutions.  My analysis demonstrates that the formation of IOs is not a simple reflection of countries' prior interest in the issue area; their influence in existing institutions has a direct causal impact on the creation of new cooperative bodies.  Finally, my research sheds light on how power and distributive politics operate in the strategic environment of overlapping institutions to shape cooperation. Countries are motivated to maintain and augment their influence in international institutions, but this motivation does not preclude effective cooperation if institutions are able to coordinate rule-making.