Democracy and Dissent
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Democracy and Dissent

The Challenge of International Rule Making

Frank Vibert

Frank Vibert expertly examines the fundamental issues involved in attempts to rethink international institutions and their rule making procedures. He analyses the basic problems with the existing system and the main approaches to its reform. The book rejects the idea that there are any simple institutional ‘fixes’ for current problems – such as relying on the G20 to coordinate global rule making and also rejects more ambitious attempts to prescribe new general organizing principles for world governance. It calls instead for specific remedies for specific problems. The author recommends new procedures for all international rule making so that both expert groups and governments are subject to much stronger external checks on what they do.
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Chapter 5: The Choice of Instruments

Frank Vibert


1 ARITHMETIC OR ALGEBRA When Joseph Stalin met Anthony Eden, the British Foreign Secretary, in Moscow in December 1941 to start discussions on cooperation and post war goals, Stalin expressed a firm desire for ‘arithmetic rather than algebra’.2 The notorious scrap of paper presented by Churchill to Stalin in October 1944 dividing Europe into areas of control according to percentages of influence was one outcome.3 Many appalling charges can be laid against Stalin, but in his choice of arithmetic rather than algebra he was pinpointing an issue that permeates all international agreements. It is about how to express an international commitment – with symbolism or with action, with precision or with flexibility, with specificity or with ambiguity and room for interpretation. It is an issue that applies to treaties dealing with war and peace. It is an issue that applies equally to questions of regulating the global environment and international financial markets. In current debates the possible need for binding numerical commitments permeates discussions about international agreements on measures that might help mitigate climate change.4 In the Cold War era, game theorists sided with Stalin. They too argued that precision was superior to flexibility. This was because they equated precision with the credibility of the commitment of the signatories to the terms of the agreement.5 The end of the Cold War has led to a complete recasting of this debate in terms relating to the uses of ‘soft power’.6 Soft 1 Shelton (2000: 5) defines ‘instruments’ as the varieties of texts...

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