Gabriele Spilker, Vally Koubi, and Thomas Bernauer
How does liberalization of trade and investment (i.e., economic globalization) as well as membership in international organizations (i.e., political globalization) affect the natural environment? Does economic and/or political globalization lead to ecological improvement or deterioration? This article reviews the existing literature on international political economy (IPE) and the environment in view of these and related questions.
While globalization has various dimensions—economic, social, and political—IPE focuses mainly on the economic dimension when analyzing the effect of globalization on the environment. In particular, IPE puts most emphasis on the environmental implications of trade in goods and services as well as foreign direct investment (FDI). Even though both trade and investment are thought to have a substantial impact on the natural environment, the existing literature demonstrates that the effects of economic globalization on the environment are neither theoretically nor empirically one-dimensional. This means that existing research does not allow for a clear-cut overall assessment in terms of whether globalization leads to an improvement or deterioration of the environment. This is the case because the impact of economic globalization on the environment materializes via different mechanisms, some of which are supposedly good for the environment, and some of which are bad.
On the one hand, economic globalization may improve environmental quality via its positive effect on economic growth, since trade and FDI facilitate specialization among countries according to their comparative advantage and the transfer of resources across countries. On the other hand, relevant economic theory gives little reason to believe that free trade and FDI will influence all countries in the same way. Instead, when considering the relationship between economic globalization and the environment, it is important to consider the interactions between scale, composition, and technique effects created by different national characteristics and trade and investment opportunities. In particular, the scale effect of openness to trade and capital mobility increases environmental degradation through more intensive production. The technique effect predicts a positive effect of trade and FDI on the environment through the use of cleaner techniques of production. And the change in the sectoral composition of a country as a consequence of trade and FDI, the composition effect, could positively or negatively affect the environment of a country (e.g., a change from agriculture to industry may lead to higher energy consumption and air pollution while a change from industry or agriculture to service is expected to decrease environmental degradation). Consequently, the overall effect of trade and FDI on environmental quality can be positive, negative, or nonexistent strongly depending on the specific situation of the country under investigation.
Furthermore, both theory and empirical research highlight the potential for government policy and environmental regulations to affect the relationship between trade/FDI and the environment. On the one hand, increased competition between economic actors (usually companies) due to increased market openness (globalization) might cause a race to the bottom or at least regulatory chill in formal and informal environmental standards as well as pollution havens attracting foreign direct investment. The reason is that countries might weaken (or at least not increase) their environmental policies in order to protect industries from international competition or attract foreign firms and FDI motivated by the expectation of lower costs of environmental protection. Hence the (theoretical) expectation here is that developed countries will refrain from adopting more stringent environmental regulations and might even reduce existing standards due to competition with countries that have laxer environmental regulation. And less-developed countries will adopt lax environmental standards to attract FDI flowing into pollution-intensive sectors and export the respective goods to jurisdictions with higher environmental standards.
In contrast, the Porter hypothesis states that a tightening of environmental regulations may stimulate technological innovation and thus help improve economic competitiveness. In addition, trade openness may induce an international ratcheting up of environmental standards (trading up) as higher environmental standards of richer and greener countries spread—via trade and investment relationships—to countries starting out with lower environmental standards. Furthermore, multinational corporations engaging in FDI and applying universal environmental standards throughout their operations tend to transfer greener technology and management practices to host countries, thus promoting the upgrade of local environmental standards and improving the environmental quality in those countries (the so-called pollution halo effect).
Echoing the many theoretical pathways through which globalization can affect the natural environment, empirical studies estimating the impact of trade and FDI on environmental standards and environmental quality deliver quite heterogeneous results. In particular, the literature points to various factors mediating the effect of trade and FDI on the environment, such as differences in technology between industrial and developing countries, stringency of environmental regulations, property rights and political institutions, corruption levels as well as the pollution intensity of multinationals.
More recently, IPE scholars have started to study the political dimensions of globalization and how they are related to environmental protection efforts. Memberships in international organizations are at the center of this research and recent studies analyze, for example, how they may affect the quality of the environment. Other studies focus more on specific organizations, such as the World Trade Organization, and, for instance, evaluate whether in trade disputes over environmental standards economic or environmental concerns prevail. Finally, a new strand of the IPE and environment literature deals with the micro level and studies how citizens evaluate economic openness in light of potential environmental concerns.
Tanja A. Börzel and Soo Yeon Kim
Economic regionalism has been dominated by preferential trade agreements (PTAs). Not only have their numbers surged since the end of the Cold War, we also see different varieties of PTAs emerging. First, long-standing PTAs have evolved into deeper forms of economic regionalism, such as custom unions, common markets, or currency unions. Second, PTAs increasingly involve “behind-the-border” trade liberalization, such as the coordination of domestic trade–related regulatory standards. Third, many of the PTAs that were established over the past 25 years no longer only involve countries of the “Global North” but are formed by developing and developed countries (“North-South” PTAs) and between developing countries (“South-South” PTAs). Finally, a most recent development in economic regionalism concerns the building of so called “mega-PTAs,” such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), combining several PTAs.
In order to explain the formation, proliferation, and evolution of these varieties of PTA, existing international political economy (IPE) approaches have to give more credit to political factors, such as the locking-in of domestic reforms or the preservation of regional stability. Moreover, IPE scholarship should engage more systematically with diffusion research, particularly to account for the spate of deeper regionalism. Finally, “rising powers” and “emerging markets” constitute an exciting new research area for IPE. These new players differ with regard to the importance they attribute to regionalism and the ways in which they have sought to use and shape it. Identifying and explaining variations in the link between rising powers and regionalism is a key challenge for future research
Ireland joined the European Communities—as they were known then—in 1973, alongside the United Kingdom and Denmark. In many ways, that membership was defined by the bilateral British-Irish relationship. Ireland was, to all intents and purposes, an underdeveloped appendage of the British economy, and membership alongside the United Kingdom was deemed by most of the Irish political and economic establishment as virtually axiomatic. Irish policy makers, however, took full advantage of the opportunities offered by membership; in particular the Common Agricultural Policy, the direct transfers that derived from cohesion, regional and structural funding, and the opportunity to present the country as a successful location for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) with access to the entire European market. Irish policy makers also positioned themselves rhetorically close to the heart of European construction, which had the added value of creating an Irish antithesis to Britain’s ongoing European discontents.
There are perhaps four key themes to be analyzed with respect to Ireland and its membership of the European Union. The first is the question of a small state and its sovereignty. As a former colony, with a bitter experience of imperialism and a strong sense of independence, Ireland’s pooling of sovereignty with its European partners has most often been presented as a desirable trade-off between legal, formal sovereignty and effective sovereignty. Having a seat at the main table—alongside the former imperial hegemon—was deemed to be a major advance, one that allowed the state more effectively to pursue its interests—including the resolution of conflict on the island of Ireland. The 2008 financial collapse, and Ireland’s experience of the EU-led “troika” has profoundly challenged that narrative, with concerns often now expressed at the loss of political and economic autonomy to technocratic multilateral institutions rather than a democratic, transnational European polity. The prospect of Brexit and its consequences for peace and security on the island is also a contemporary challenge in that regard.
A second theme of inquiry is that of Irish economic development within the European Union. In contrast to other similarly under-developed states and regions in the EU, Ireland is seen by many as something of a poster child for making a success of EU membership. In the run-up to the 2004 enlargement and shortly thereafter, Dublin was a magnet for central European and Mediterranean states looking to replicate the success of the so-called “Celtic Tiger.” Debate however persists on the precise balance of costs and benefits deriving from the model of economic development pursued by the Irish state, the role of Irish government policy therein, and the precise added value of EU membership.
A third theme of inquiry is the intersection of local, national, and European democracy. Once membership was secured, the European Union became a central and largely uncontested fact of Irish political life. Early constitutional referenda authorizing ratification of EC and then EU treaty changes, while vigorously contested, were overwhelmingly won by coalitions of the mainstream political parties and sectoral interest groups. With both the Nice (2001) and Lisbon (2007) treaties, however, ambivalence, antagonism, and complacency combined initially to thwart ratification. The gap between popular opinion on EU treaty change, which ultimately divided roughly 60/40 in favor, and the near unanimity among political elites and sectoral interests, opened a conversation on the relationship between local, national, and European democracy, which is as yet unresolved, but which many see as having further centralized policy making and distanced it from effective democratic control.
A fourth theme is that of Ireland and Europe in the world. Ireland joined the European Communities with no expressed reservations on its further political integration, but as the only non-member of NATO. During those initial debates, economic arguments overwhelmingly predominated, but the political issues were aired and the implications for Ireland’s traditional neutrality were robustly discussed. The subsequent membership of other non-aligned states ought, on the face of things, to have made Ireland’s position all the more secure. Thus, with a long and popular history of UN peacekeeping and active international engagement, the development of European foreign, security, and defense policies should not have proven to be problematic. In fact, neutrality, security, and defense remain neuralgic issues for Ireland within the European Union and have contributed in a very modest way to the challenges faced by the Union in its attempts to craft a coherent and credible common security and defense policy. This speaks to debates surrounding Ireland’s proper place in the world, the lessons of its own history and the perceived capacity for smaller states to shape the international community.
These four themes underpin much research and analysis on Ireland as a member of the European Union. In an unstable contemporary climate, with many well-established expectations under threat, they also serve to identify the pathways available to navigate beyond political and economic instability both for Ireland and the wider European project.
What does current scholarship suggest about the relationship between the rights of workers in the developing world and the global economy? Contemporary multinational production includes both direct ownership of manufacturing facilities abroad and arm’s length subcontracting and supply chain relationships. Thus far, political economists have paid greater attention to the former; there are various reasons to expect that multinational firms may have positive, rather than negative, effects on workers’ rights. For instance, some multinationals are interested in hiring at the top end of local labor markets, and high standards serve as a tool for recruitment and retention. Multinationals also could bring “best practices” from their home countries to their local hosts, and some face pressure from shareholders and consumers—given their visibility in their home locations—to act in “socially responsible” ways. Hence, while directly owned production does not automatically lead to the upgrading of labor standards, it can do so under some conditions.
Supply chain production is likely more mixed in its consequences for workers. Such production involves arm’s length, subcontracted production, in which multiple potential suppliers typically compete to attract business from lead firms. Such production often includes more labor-intensive activities; minimizing costs (including labor costs) and lowering production times can be key to winning subcontracts. We may therefore expect that subcontracted production is associated with greater violations of labor rights. It is worth noting, however, that research regarding the consequences of supply chain production—and the conditions under which such production may lead to improvements for workers—is less advanced than scholarship related to foreign direct investment.
The governance of labor rights in a supply chain framework is marked by several challenges. It is often difficult for lead firms, even those that wish to protect worker rights, to effectively monitor compliance in their subcontractor facilities. This becomes more difficult as the length and breadth of supply chains grow; private governance and corporate social responsibility have therefore not always lived up to their promise. Rather, achieving labor protections in a supply chain framework often requires both private and public sector efforts—that is, governments that are willing to privilege the rights of workers over the rights of local factory owners and governments that are willing to enact and implement legal protections of core labor rights. Such government actions, when coupled with private sector–based capacity building, codes of conduct, and regular monitoring, offer the most promise for protecting labor rights within global supply chains. Finally, governments of developed countries also may play a role, if they are willing to credibly link working conditions abroad with market access at home.
Multilevel Governance as a Global Governance Challenge: Assumptions, Methods, Shortcomings, and Future Directions
Joachim K. Rennstich
Multilevel governance (MLG) as a research approach has mostly been applied to explain governance issues surrounding the European Union or international organizations. As a general research framework in the area of international relations (IR) theory, however, MLG has widely been underutilized, despite the many advantages that the approach offers in the empirical investigation of an increasingly complex international or global system. There are key concepts, assumptions, and definitions of MLG that focus separately on levels and governance as key elements of the approach and its interdisciplinary lineage. Some contested IR concepts include sovereignty, the nation-state, the international system, anarchy, agency, and levels of analysis. These IR concepts benefit from the application of an MLG framework by enabling the use of an interdisciplinary and multimethodological, yet systematically comprehensive, approach—which allows for nuanced use of these concepts. Other areas that benefit from IR methodologies applied in MLG research are methodological toolkits with a special focus on the areas of global governance, security studies, and international political economy.
Laase Aaskoven and David Dreyer Lassen
The political budget cycle—how elections affect government fiscal policy—is one of the most studied subjects in political economy and political science. The key theoretical question is whether incumbent governments can time or structure public finances in ways that improve their chances of reelection; the key empirical question is whether this in fact happens. The incentives of incumbents to engage in such electioneering are governed by political institutions, observability of political choices, and their consequences, as well as voter knowledge, and both theoretical and empirical studies on political budget cycles have recently focused on conditions under which such cycles are likely to obtain. Much recent research focuses on subnational settings, allowing comparisons of governments in similar institutional environments, and a consensus on the presences of cycles in public finances—and in the reporting of public finances—is beginning to emerge.
First-generation research in International Political Economy focused considerable attention on the relationship between hegemony and global economic stability. This focus was the result of a confluence of scholarly and policy concerns about the impact that the apparent decline of U.S. hegemony would have on international trade and investment regimes. Interest in this hegemonic stability hypothesis waned, however, as deeper explorations of the theoretical logic indicated that hegemony was not a necessary condition for international economic openness, and as the collapse of the Soviet Union and the consequent “unipolar moment” suggested that American hegemony was hardly in decline.
Interest in hegemony resurfaced in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. The crisis triggered many scholars to proclaim the end of the era of American global hegemony. Scholars argued that the U.S. government’s attachment to a large budget and trade deficits and the resulting growth of foreign debt were likely to weaken foreign confidence in the dollar and encourage the shift to an alternative reserve currency such as the Euro. At the same time, China’s rapid industrialization and emergence as a large creditor nation was creating a new pole in the international economy that constituted a meaningful alternative to a global economy organized around the United States’ economy. Thus, a shift toward a Beijing hegemony was all but inevitable.
The predicted decline of American hegemony has yet to materialize. The U.S. economy remains the world’s largest, and the U.S. government continues to play the leading role in system making—creating new rules to govern international economic cooperation—and in privilege taking—manipulating these rules in ways that advantage U.S. public and private sector actors. Moreover, the U.S. government plays this role in all three economic subsystems: finance, knowledge, and production. Empirical scholarship conducted over the last decade encourages one to conclude by paraphrasing Mark Twain: Recent reports of the death of American hegemony are premature.
The recent global economic crisis has renewed interest in the nature and history of monetary policy, the distributional effects of central bank policy, central bank governance, and the personalities at the helm of major central banks. In modern times, a country’s central bank formulates, or, to a minimum, implements, a country’s monetary policy, or the process of adjustment of a country’s money supply to achieve some combination of stable prices and sustainable economic growth. Monetary policy depends heavily on a country’s exchange rate system. Under fixed exchange rates, the country’s commitment to keep the level of the currency at a certain level dictates monetary policy to a great degree. As the gold standard was unraveling after World War I, many countries experienced high inflation or even hyperinflation. A similar situation faced monetary policy after the collapse of the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates in the 1970s. By the 1980s, however, countries turned toward central bank independence as an institutional arrangement to control inflation. The current issues surrounding monetary policy have emerged from the historical increase in central bank independence and the 2007 economic and financial crisis. In particular, the opacity of central bank decisions, given their autonomy to pursue stable prices without political interference, has increased the demand for transparency and communication with the government, the public, and financial markets. Also, the 2007 crisis pushed central banks toward unconventional measures and macro-prudential regulation, and brought back into focus the monetary policy of the euro area.
Transboundary haze pollution affects about half of the countries in Southeast Asia with varied intensities on an almost annual basis. Haze not only affects visibility, but also causes widespread health problems, transportation disruptions, and other socioeconomic issues. This haze, and the fires that cause it, has been a key topic for environmental politics research in the region since the late 1990s. This has largely been driven by one overarching objective: how to prevent haze from returning in the following years. However, conditions on the ground (mostly in Indonesia and in the larger Southeast Asian region) have been changing and evolving drastically. This has resulted in a very dynamic research agenda that has to keep up with these changes.
Within the context of environmental politics, fires and haze can be viewed through the broad lens of national interest. There is a strong link between the severity of haze and the burgeoning agribusiness sector in the region: that of oil palm in particular. Oil palm is a very important crop in the region, with Indonesia and Malaysia making up almost 90% of total global palm oil output. Hence, national and business interest theories have often been used as a framework for research in this area, with commercial oil palm plantations often being the unit of analysis. This includes research by this author, using the patronage politics framework. However, this has been called to question lately as these plantations face increasing market pressure to act more sustainably. A new group of actors that have since been highlighted are smallholders, either independent or in contract with larger plantations. There is potentially much to be uncovered with regard to the relationships between smallholders and commercial plantations, and how this affects patterns of fire use and global sustainability issues.
Related to this is the ever-evolving collection of local, regional, and national policies (and related enforcement issues) over land and fire use in Indonesia. One key area of contention is the use of peatlands. Fires on peat produce the thick, sooty smoke that travels across national boundaries, and are notoriously hard to put out. Political research in this area is heavily framed by a tough debate between the scientific community and socioeconomic concerns. While peatlands play an important role in the global climate change balance, at the same time, these peat areas face immense pressure for development fueled by the scarcity of land.
The regional context has also been an important theme for haze research. Haze primarily affects the Southern Southeast Asian subregion. And the major players of the palm oil sector also come from this region. The Indonesian palm oil sector is a vibrant combination of Malaysian, Singaporean, and local companies. And ASEAN has been the hub of cooperation and mitigation activities over haze. Hence, many scholars have searched for answers at the regional level. However, new national developments like Singapore’s Transboundary Haze Pollution Act suggest that countries may be losing confidence with regional efforts, which may be an indicator for future directions for solutions as well.
Melanie Richter-Montpetit and Cynthia Weber
Queer International Relations (IR) is not a new field. For more than 20 years, Queer IR scholarship has focused on how normativities and/or non-normativities associated with categories of sex, gender, and sexuality sustain and contest international formations of power in relation to institutions like heteronormativity, homonormativity, and cisnormativity as well as through queer logics of statecraft. Recently, Queer IR has gained unprecedented traction in IR, as IR scholars have come to recognize how Queer IR theory, methods, and research further IR’s core agenda of analyzing and informing the policies and politics around state and nation formation, war and peace, and international political economy. Specific Queer IR research contributions include work on sovereignty, intervention, security and securitization, torture, terrorism and counter-insurgency, militaries and militarism, human rights and LGBT activism, immigration, regional and international integration, global health, transphobia, homophobia, development and International Financial Institutions, financial crises, homocolonialism, settler colonialism and anti-Blackness, homocapitalism, political/cultural formations, norms diffusion, political protest, and time and temporalities