AJIL Symposium: Reply by Kristina Daugirdas

by Kristina Daugirdas

[Kristina Daugirdas is Assistant Professor of Law at Michigan Law]

First off, I would like to thank Paul, Daniel, and David for their very thoughtful comments.  I’m glad to have the opportunity to respond to some of the key points that they made.

Paul provocatively suggested that perhaps we should care about results rather than democratic accountability per se.  If a particular set of institutional arrangements actually improves human lives, maybe it’s of secondary importance whether those institutional arrangements are anti-democratic.  Put in the terms of my article, the question wouldn’t be whether the World Bank suffers from a democratic deficit, but whether Congress’s participation in setting World Bank policy advances the Bank’s efforts to rid the world of poverty.

That’s a challenging question.  Many government and Bank officials decry Congress’s meddling, arguing that it politicizes the Bank, that coping with congressionally-created financial crises detracts resources and staff time away from the Bank’s core mission, and that Congress’s interventions amplify the Bank’s tendency to cater to members who contribute funds at the expense of members who borrow them.  Those are serious concerns.  At the same time, the U.S. Congress was a forceful advocate of some innovations in the Bank’s operations that are widely praised, including the establishment of the World Bank Inspection Panel.  The voting rules at the World Bank ensure that only those proposals that are able to gain the support of a range of member states are translated into World Bank policy.  The obviously parochial legislated instructions that could impede the Bank’s efforts to support development are typically dead on arrival.

Both Daniel and David ask whether the dynamics the article describes in the World Bank context are likely to carry over to other international organizations, especially those that are more central to foreign affairs.  Isn’t the conventional wisdom about the President’s dominance in foreign affairs, Daniel asks, really a story about high-salience foreign-affairs issues?  Well, kind of.  It’s certainly right that “foreign affairs” is often equated, explicitly or implicitly, with war and national security.  But one of the points I hoped to emphasize is that this is an increasingly outdated and misleading perception of what “foreign affairs” encompasses.  Today, nearly every federal regulatory regime has an international counterpart of some kind.  To name just a few, there are international agreements that address wetlands protection, financial institutions, and food safety standards.  If we want to understand the dynamics between the political branches in foreign affairs, we would be seriously remiss to ignore the vast realm of lower-salience issues.

The narrower question nonetheless stands:  would Congress be similarly successful in trying to shape U.S. policy towards international organizations that are more central to the president’s foreign affairs strategy?  The answer depends in part on how motivated Congress is to shape policy.  Congress is often thought to be less interested in high-salience foreign affairs issues because their constituents rarely have a direct stake in their outcome.  Indeed, the World Bank’s decisions don’t have significant consequences for individuals and businesses in the United States—and so one might predict that Congress would be relatively uninterested in it.  But the opposite turns out to be true.  Congress may be even more motivated to involve itself in the affairs of other international organizations—including the IMF and the WTO—whose actions more directly bear on constituent interests.

Maybe, however, the executive branch is in a better position to resist congressional efforts to shape U.S. interactions with international organizations that are central to the president’s core foreign affairs powers?  There’s something to this.  Part of the explanation for Congress’s success in the World Bank context is the diverging interests of the Treasury Department and the Department of Justice.  The executive branch may be more internally unified when it comes, say, to the United Nations Security Council.  It would be easy to overstate the case, however. If the executive branch needs funding or implementing legislation from Congress to advance its foreign policy goals—and it often does—then I suspect Congress would be in a good position to persuade the executive branch to go along with its preferences.  The Latin American debt crisis, for example, was a highly salient foreign affairs issue during Reagan’s presidency, and the World Bank featured prominently in the Reagan administration’s response.  As the article describes, Congress proved quite capable in persuading the executive branch to follow its instructions during that period.

These brief comments don’t do justice to the excellent questions that Paul, Daniel, and David have posed.  But I do hope that this exchange—and the article, too—showcases the importance of understanding how Congress goes about shaping the United States’ interactions with international organizations.


One Response

  1. Thanks for the hard work!   i agree that the WB is more remote from US constituents than many of the UN bodies.  See, e.g., http://tfig.unece.org/contents/single-window-implementation.htm#!

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. There are no trackbacks or pingbacks associated with this post at this time.