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CIAO DATE: 12/00

Habermas, Discourse Norms, and the Prospects for Global Deliberation

Rodger A. Payne

International Studies Association
41st Annual Convention
Los Angeles, CA.
March 14-18, 2000

A surprisingly large number of scholars are now applying the highly abstract theoretical ideas of Frankfurt School philosopher Jürgen Habermas to the study of international relations (IR). While Habermas has produced a vast body of work explaining his highly complex and intertwined moral, political, social, and legal theory (see Habermas, 1996), his writings over the past few decades rarely mention global politics. Indeed, many observers likely find the recent move by IR scholars peculiar and strained, if not altogether far-fetched. 1

Consider, for instance, the central Habermasian concept of "communicative rationality," which is posited as a discursive form of collective reasoning. Communicative rationality results when a community's members discuss disputes or problems in order to discover or develop intersubjective agreement. Normative consensus is ideally achieved in inclusive and public deliberation free of various distortions, such as threats or lies. Given that "ideal speech situations" are unlikely to occur, discursive democracy and communicative rationality might well be considered somewhat utopian ends even for modern democratic societies. Meaningful deliberation would seem to be especially problematic in international contexts which are typically dominated by a very small number of powerful states (see Waltz, 1979; and Milner, 1991) and regularly feature coercive rather than communicative action.

Despite the apparently limited applicability of Habermasian ideas in IR, this article highlights some of the central concepts that scholars have been borrowing and briefly considers their theoretical attraction and potential significance for the field. Particular attention is devoted to empirical efforts to utilize Habermasian concepts in order to transform international practices. Of course, the "real world" hurdle can be an enormous and quite difficult barrier for any moral or critical theory to leap. I demonstrate nonetheless how the practice of world politics can be shaped by Habermasian insights. Burgeoning norms of participation and transparency, which are clearly reflected in various global environment and development institutions and regimes, arguably serve as "discourse norms" promoting communicative rationality in world politics. I specifically discuss how these norms could transform development as supported by the World Bank and the Global Environment Facility. Scholars looking elsewhere might well find common ground in human rights or other IR issue areas and institutions.


Habermas and IR Theory

The blossoming theoretical fascination with Habermas indicates both serious interest in morally grounded critiques of international politics and heightened attention to the ideational dimensions of world affairs. By briefly examining the use of Habermasian concepts by critical theorists and constructivists, this section will consider each of these points in turn.

Critical IR Theory

Habermas and other critical theorists have long condemned modern social, technical, and political systems because powerful individuals or organizations in these systems can readily exploit material advantages in order to realize their narrow instrumental interests. Structures built by strategically self-interested actors inherently restrict the freedom of others and are thus neither genuinely democratic nor legitimate. The critique is often aimed even at liberal and pluralist political systems because their "democratic" policy processes typically feature bargained compromises among selfish and strategic actors rather than genuine consensual agreement (Habermas, 1996: 296). In negotiations, those with the greatest coercive power or leverage are likely to get more of what they want.

As would be expected given the explicit intellectual tie to the Frankfurt School, many of the IR scholars who apply Habermasian ideas to their own work are themselves critical theorists (Linklater, 1998; Samhat, 1997; Dryzek, 1990). By revealing global forms of dominance and injustice, these scholars broaden the critique of modern social and political systems to include contemporary international relations and processes of globalization. They argue, for instance, that current structures and processes have "perpetuated poverty, widened material inequalities, increased ecological degradation, sustained militarism, fragmented communities, marginalized subordinated groups, fed intolerance and deepened crises of democracy" (Scholte, 1996: 53). Much attention is devoted to explaining the illegitimacy of egoistic states and their traditional pursuits, such as power, security, and deterrence.

Additionally, critical IR theorists explore the possibility of radically transforming world order. This would apparently involve extending the concept of political community well beyond the narrowly self-interested, strategic, and potentially violent domain of the nation-state. Emancipation and global justice require, as Andrew Linklater's work (1998: 8) seeks to make clear, that "dialogue and consent replace domination and force" as the central causal mechanisms in IR. The opportunity for building democratic community, according to the critical argument, is actually found in the immanent contradictions of the current political order. Any normative structure not grounded in legitimate authority may well prove unsustainable, ultimately inviting disobedience and change. 2 Invoking an explicitly Habermasian standard for international politics, Neta Crawford (1993: 52) notes that "norms established through coercion, imposed by a hegemon, lack legitimacy." Somewhat more broadly, Linklater (1998: 17, 43) charges that the contemporary international political order has a "tenuous existence and precarious legitimacy," because decisions "are taken without considering their likely effects on systematically excluded groups."

Given that the contemporary international structure is viewed as illegitimate, critical theorists think seriously about the construction of a desirable normative substitute. Among many other contributions, of course, Habermas has already developed and defended a hypothetical alternative form of social and political decision-making based on communication. The democratic deliberation he recommends is grounded in "discourse ethics," which are essentially procedural norms that could purportedly assure genuine public accountability in modern socio-political settings such as the "public sphere" (see Calhoun, 1992; Lynch, 1999). Sound arguments and ideas, advanced and refined in an appropriately open and inclusive discussion process, should lead participants to construct mutually agreed, and thereby authoritative, answers to fundamental questions about truth and justice (Dryzek 1990). Members of a given community, in other words, engage in what Habermas calls "communicative action" that creates the possibility of communicative, or "argumentative" (Risse, 1999), rationality. Most importantly, the community's decisions would reflect the ideational force of a better argument rather than some other arbitrary and likely distorted cause.

In an extensive literature, which cannot realistically be surveyed here, appropriately public and inclusive deliberative contexts are said to provide advocates with a suitable forum not only for advancing their own claims, but also for critically evaluating the arguments of others. By definition, in fact, argumentative rationality concerns intersubjective truth seeking; participants deliberate to reach consensus about normative ideas. Thus, communicative action hypothetically provides a means by which members of a community can identify and/or develop shared understandings that can then undergird consensual policies or norms. In a deliberative setting, all participants would equally find their assertions subject to scrutiny. Ultimately, if sufficiently interested in finding truth, deliberators might agree to dismiss certain claims and to accept the validity and veracity of other points. The compelling appeal of a sound argument, rather than the coercive strength of a materially powerful participant, should carry any given point. Indeed, discursive processes should not only be unaffected by the position or rank of advocates outside the discussion, but should actually reveal and thereby minimize the effects of deception, secrecy, strategic action, and other potential distortions. Because deliberations are inclusive, public, and oriented toward consensus, at least some participants in a discussion should provide good reasons to challenge and reject deceptive or self-serving arguments. By contrast, arguments supporting the community's "generalized interests" will be much more difficult to refute.

Critical IR theorists embrace Habermasian discourse ethics, agreeing that legitimate normative order is "arrived at through communicative action in which participants seek consensus" (Crawford, 1998: 129). Therefore, ideally, the world community's members should develop and identify their shared views by deliberating about publicly presented arguments and evidence, probing and challenging them in a broadly participatory process. Linklater (1998: 219), for example, idealistically calls for a "universal communication community" to serve as a mechanism of transformation and legitimization in a "post-Westphalian" global political order. A deliberative world society, for many obvious reasons, seems impractical and utopian. However, before all hope for meaningful change is summarily dismissed, several specific innovations promoted both by Habermas and others inspired by his work should be given due consideration.

In an essay that in some ways mirrors his earlier consideration of the practical discursive promise of new social movements, Habermas (1998: 177) now additionally identifies "transnational public spheres" as potential sites for meaningful discussion of global issues. Fairly pragmatically, in fact, Habermas embraces David Held's (1995) call for "cosmopolitan democratic community" at the global level. Held recommends not only reforming and recasting current bodies like the United Nations, but also calls for creating new institutions at various levels of global governance that might serve as appropriate hosts for democratic deliberation. Bohman (1998; 1999: 506-7; 1999b: 196) likewise stresses the "globalization of the public sphere" and argues for the construction of appropriately public international institutions. Specifically, he wants to recast international regimes to create the conditions for cosmopolitan deliberation. This must be accomplished, he claims, if global problems like climate change or vast disparities in wealth are to be addressed. None of these scholars, of course, argue very convincingly that current international institutions foment many opportunities for meaningful deliberation. However, Dryzek (1990) and Payne (1996) have recently highlighted "incipient discursive designs" apparent in some environment and development institutions. The promise of these practical innovations is taken up in more detail below.


Constructivists and Habermas

The second rationale for the growing prominence of Habermas in the study of IR is the reinvigorated scholarly interest in ideational concerns (Wendt, 1999) and the construction of "social facts" (Ruggie, 1998). Indeed, given their desire to explain the development of intersubjective normative understandings, it is hardly surprising that more than a few social constructivists apply Habermasian concepts in their work.

First, because socially constructed norms can be said to constitute genuinely shared understandings, constructivists logically turn to Habermas to support their conclusion that a given normative order reflects "legitimate social purpose" (Ruggie, 1983: 96). Indeed, virtually by definition, proper authority is constituted by shared understandings. The constructivists renewing the study of legitimacy in IR often implicitly and sometimes explicitly invoke Habermasian standards when they explain how legitimate normative orders are built around uncoerced social consensus (Hurd, 1999; Barnett, 1997; Payne, 2000). These scholars attempt to clarify distinctions between legitimacy on the one hand and power and self-interest on the other. While the constructivist theoretical arguments about the source of legitimacy in IR are fairly similar to those made by critical theorists, the constructivists tend to be far more willing to find that existing orders are legitimate. They typically stop short of emancipatory ideals.

More broadly, constructivists turn to Habermas because communicative action and argumentative rationality might prove helpful for resolving "highly contested" (Finnemore and Sikkink, 1998: 897) disputes among advocates of various normative ideas. Constructivists are especially interested in explaining why some ideas "win" over others in these normative debates. In fact, a number of scholars have already devoted significant attention to identifying and explaining the persuasion that ostensibly makes it possible for resonant normative ideas to become shared understandings (see Finnemore and Sikkink, 1998; Payne, 1999; Checkel, 1999b). As already discussed above, discursive democracy provides a means for endogenously discovering and/or creating "generalizable" or collective interests in a socio-political setting. Unfortunately, however, the empirical constructivist work does not tend to show how persuasive processes undergird norm construction. Instead, it mostly demonstrates how norm advocates employ material levers to "mobilize and coerce decisionmakers to change state policy. Norms are not internalized by the elites" (Checkel, 1999a: 88; Checkel, 1997: 476-77; Payne, 1999).

Very recent constructivist work, by contrast, takes communicative rationality much more seriously. 3 Most prominently, Thomas Risse (1999; 2000; and Risse and Ropp, 1999) argues that political actors seeking normative consensus behave counterfactually "as if" they are in an Habermasian "ideal speech situation." After reviewing numerous empirical human rights cases, Risse (1999: 551-2) finds that "argumentative rationality and persuasive processes constitute one of three causal mechanisms by which international norms become socialized into domestic practices." Somewhat similarly, Lynch (1999) employs Habermasian public sphere theory to explain how shared normative understandings can be built through public discussion of interests (and identity). One shortcoming of this work is that neither Risse nor Lynch find IR to be particularly inclusive and open to public deliberation. As Risse (2000: 18) notes, for example, "the Habermasian condition of 'equal access' to the discourse…is simply not met in world politics." Both (see Risse, 2000: 21) also acknowledge that public spheres "vary dramatically in international relations" because secretive international negotiations may well limit access about many important decisions exclusively to nation-states. Internationally, the sovereign equality of states might serve as a "functional equivalent" for the norm of equal access. 4 However, it is debatable whether scholars can "relax" this Habermasian requirement, as Risse claims, since IR quite often features hierarchical arrangements determined by differences in the material power of states (see Risse, 2000; Mitzen, 1999). Quite obviously then, as was discussed in the section on critical theory, one important challenge is to identify appropriately open and inclusive public spheres or discursive institutions in world politics.

While this very brief overview examines some of the main ideas that IR scholars have been borrowing from Habermas, there is insufficient space to discuss fully how such an intellectually rich and diverse body of theoretical work might be applied to world politics. Nonetheless, it is quite clear that the ongoing efforts draw upon Habermasian ideas primarily to build and develop critical and/or social theories about progressive and legitimate normative change. Though some scholars invoke Habermas in their empirical research, most of this work is fairly limited in scope. The critical theorists mainly speculate about the applicability of discourse ethics or argumentative rationality to specific communicative contexts. In rare cases, they find nascent discursive designs employed in relatively narrow ways. The constructivists likewise turn to Habermas to bolster their theoretical arguments, and several have looked for specific examples of argumentative rationality in the real world (Lewis, 1998; Risse, 1999; and 2000). Again, however, these have mostly been limited to fairly specific cases. The remainder of this paper considers the possibilities for global deliberation in a broader sense.


Discourse Norms

Though Risse, Lynch, and other IR scholars are demonstrating that meaningful communicative action can occur in world politics, deliberative democracy mostly remains elusive and distant from the day-to-day reality of international affairs. Global politics too often features secretive, exclusive and coercive state action that is fundamentally inconsistent with discursive democracy and communicative rationality. James Bohman (1999: 507), for example, observes that existing international institutional arrangements "do not have anything like the sort of accountability that public access to global processes requires." Thus, most students of IR would likely find the globalization of democratic discussion a virtually inconceivable prospect. Even among scholars attentive to communicative concerns, "operationalizing Habermasian notions" and applying them to "real world settings" are viewed as "difficult" or "daunting" tasks (Checkel, 1999b; see Haacke, 1996: 285).

Nonetheless, in this section, I explore the immanent possibilities of discursive democracy in world politics. Specifically, I briefly discuss the construction of participation and transparency norms in environment and development regimes and institutions. In the conclusion, I will argue that these norms function as "discourse norms" by promoting what critical theorists call "publicity" in world politics. Although this section discusses important empirical developments in global politics, the review is not especially thorough. As will be noted, other researchers explore these normative developments in much greater detail (see Payne, 1997); therefore, the following review is intended to be suggestive and not comprehensive.

Participation Norms

Historically, of course, international politics has been viewed as the near-exclusive domain of states. Only nation-states, for instance, possess sovereignty, wield military power, and engage in warfare. These sovereign states, on a very basic level, can reasonably be viewed as the central "participants" in world politics. In fact, a relatively small number of materially powerful states tend to dominate international politics, typically using their coercive strength to shape important outcomes to their liking. This makes the domain even more exclusive (Waltz, 1979). However, in a broad political sense, "participation" might mean inclusion of virtually all parties with a stake in an outcome into the decision processes that affect that outcome. Obviously, a wide range of social and political actors are concerned about what happens in global politics and would want to have some say in these matters if they could. Critical theorists like Linklater (1998: 109) note that overlooking and silencing the actors affected by a decision is clearly unjust and perpetuates structures of domination. Indeed, as was noted earlier, critical IR theorists and many constructivists challenge the legitimacy and sustainability of exclusive and non-consensual international decision processes. Nonetheless, realists argue that scholars should study the world as it is, rather than as it perhaps ought to be; therefore, they and other IR scholars focus almost all their attention on the interests and behavior of states.

Through the past decade or so, however, numerous IR scholars have been documenting a tremendous amount of global political activity by a wide array of non-state actors. Much of this empirical literature examines the impressive and growing involvement of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in numerous international regimes and formal institutions. 5 The reach of NGO political activity can extend widely across the gamut of regime or norm-building, ranging from lobbying efforts in the agenda-setting stage to monitoring of treaty compliance (see Charnovitz, 1997: 184-5; Finnemore and Sikkink, 1998). Global environment and development institutions and regimes, for example, commonly feature fairly extensive participation by non-governmental organizations. In these issue areas, which are now linked because of the logic of "sustainable development" (see World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987), scholars have thoroughly documented extensive political activity by NGOs (Keck and Sikkink, 1998; Wapner, 1996; Princen and Finger, 1994). Indeed, Zürn (1998: 644) points out that a consensus of studies on international environmental politics demonstrates that transnational NGOs have had "a significant influence on international governance by shaping the agenda, by playing a role in the negotiation process, and by improving implementation."

While this research tends to focus on the global reach of NGOs headquartered primarily in affluent states, it is worth noting that there has been a similar boom in recent years in the number and variety of NGOs that have formed in the Global South. Many of these actors have even become directly and indirectly involved in international politics. For example, consider the involvement of grassroots organizations in the World Bank, an international organization that is now obliged by its own policies to encourage more inclusive participation in its lending practices. NGOs and scholars, of course, have long argued that the World Bank is an aloof and exclusive organization. As recently as 1990, Christensen (1990: 4) pointed out that "public involvement in Bank operations is almost non-existent." Indeed, in words that could have been written by a critical IR theorist, international attorney Jonathan Cahn (1993: 161, 192) argued that the Bank's top-down management of development made for an "extraordinarily powerful" lender that was "fundamentally unaccountable."

NGOs, of course, reject this development model and convincingly argue that people affected by development projects should have a much greater voice in the selection and planning of them (see Ghai and Vivian, 1992; Fox and Brown, 1998). Apparently heeding this kind of advice (and the pressure applied by the advocates), the World Bank has adopted significant reforms that have, among other things, meant somewhat greater NGO inclusion in the identification, design, implementation, and monitoring of projects. As Cleary argues (1996: 94), NGOs "are increasingly closely involved in the project cycle and in sector work on which Bank policy-making is based. The influence of NGOs can be expected to increase in the short- and medium-term future." In theory, every project is now supposed to be open to various kinds of NGO inputs. However, Nelson (1995) argues that "direct" participation is mostly staged and limited to the implementation portion of projects, which obviously constrains real NGO input into development planning. Yet, over time, participation at the project-level has grown and many analysts expect this to continue.

Interestingly, some legal scholars (Bradlow and Grossman, 1995: 428) argue that basic "principles of international human rights law" now oblige multilateral development institutions like the World Bank to open their operations to participation by non-state actors. Whether this right becomes universally recognized or not, both grassroots and international NGOs are now commonly granted access to environment and development regimes of all sorts. Indeed, this well-established practice arguably now constitutes a "participation norm." 6 The most important progress is summarized by Raustiala (1997b), who argues that states recognize the benefits of NGO participation and usually incorporate inclusive language in all new environmental accords and institutions. Though Raustiala (1997: 724) notes that NGOs cannot yet claim an "inalienable right" to participate, in reviewing a plethora of recent accords and regimes, he documents that states typically make NGOs "a regular part" of ongoing international environmental cooperation. They ordinarily participate in decision processes.

Primarily because of the information and unique perspective that NGOs bring to these environment and development debates, scholars who study this phenomenon argue that their inclusion can transform the institutions and regimes. Even an historically detached institution like the World Bank might become substantially more democratic and accountable (see Covey, 1998: 107). Some scholars go so far as to claim that NGO input legitimizes these regimes because broad participation promotes consensual understandings (Simmons, 1998: 86; Payne, 2000), but this claim is contested by others (Zürn, 1998: 648). In any case, it seems apparent that a participation norm is being constructed in this issue area and that the norm promotes inclusive dialogue.

Transparency Norms

In addition to participation requirements, global environment and development institutions and regimes now frequently demand remarkable disclosure of various kinds of information by state members and by international organizations. IR scholars, NGO advocates, and policymakers commonly identify these commitments as transparency obligations, which Florini (1998: 50) notes can be most simply defined as the "opposite of secrecy." In his work, Mitchell (1998: 110) narrowly focuses on "information regarding the operation and impact of a regime," but acknowledges that the idea also includes the "'openness' of a government's political system and decision-making procedures to external observers." An extensive IR literature already explores the way that transparency might facilitate state compliance with international regimes (see Chayes and Chayes, 1995, chapters 6-8; and various chapters in Vig and Axelrod, 1999). Indeed, in the security field, arms control advocates and governments have quite obviously been addressing transparency issues for decades in the form of monitoring or verification. Somewhat less attention, however, has been directed at the openness of global governance institutions. Arguably, transparency requirements can make global governance actors and institutions far more accountable to less powerful political actors and institutions interested in and/or affected by their practices. By contrast, if information is tightly controlled, international institutions can fairly freely pursue policies that have significant, and potentially adverse, effects on specific individual agents. At the very least, if information about governance is made public, the various agents that might be harmed by secretive practices could become informed critics.

To demonstrate the potential importance of transparency requirements, once again consider the recent obligations embraced by the World Bank. While Lumsdaine (1993: 276) argues that Western-dominated development institutions have generally been "committed to public scrutiny and criticism," many activists and scholars have long argued that the Bank traditionally maintained very tight control over information, in part by signing broad financial confidentiality agreements with borrowing states (Rich, 1994: 193-4; Udall, 1995). By contrast, the Bank's new Information Disclosure policy, which was instituted by Executive Directors in 1989 and modified in 1993 and 1994, was designed to make public vast amounts of information about proposed development projects (see Nelson, 1996). The new transparency requirement presumes that information should be disclosed and thereby potentially provides concerned parties with almost any important data they might want about planned projects. If fully implemented, affected peoples and other potential project critics would have access to internal reports that assess the viability and value of projects, or that consider their environmental or social implications. Officially, in fact, interested NGOs are supposed to be able to receive written statements describing every project, including their objectives and possible adverse consequences. To facilitate information disclosure, the Bank even created a new Public Information Center, which opened in January 1994. Public Information Documents (PIDs) theoretically provide (including by electronic means) up-to-date and detailed information about Bank-sponsored ventures (Bradlow, 1994: 570), though the value of the material in PIDs is in dispute (Udall, 1998: 406).

Nonetheless, many NGO representatives claim that the Bank remains too secretive, in part because financial confidentiality agreements continue to work against transparency ideals. If the World Bank is not living up to its new obligations, however, people directly adversely affected by projects can pursue relief by filing a claim with the Inspection Panel, which also opened in 1994 (Shihata, 1994) 7 . While early returns from the Panel were promising (Payne, 1996), critics point out that the Bank's Executive Directors wield arbitrary power to limit the scope of its investigations and to deny information about cases even to claimants. Long-time NGO activist Lori Udall (1998: 426; Hunter and Udall 1994: 3; Bradlow and Schlemmer-Schulte, 1994: 415) acknowledges that the Bank's Information Disclosure Policy and Inspection Panel are "important steps in moving toward public accountability and transparency," but notes that "it is too early to tell whether these reforms will have a long-term or profound impact."

As the World Bank example highlights, the burgeoning international norm of transparency potentially has an impressive scope, encompassing both deep and broad information disclosure requirements. Florini (1996: 381) points out that the norm obligates states "to provide vast quantities of information to other states" and that "treaty after treaty now requires states to report information about their capabilities and activities." 8 Moreover, these transparency obligations are not merely felt by states. International organizations like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and European Union now face similar kinds of reporting requirements and must make public much information about even their inner workings. Private transnational corporations too are increasingly required to disclose information about their environmental or labor standards. In fact, it seems that international politics is experiencing "a rapidly evolving shift of consensus among observers and actors" toward transparency (Florini, 1998:50) and away from secrecy. For IR scholars interested in applying ideas from Habermas, this is centrally important. "Transparency provides a basis for a highly democratic, albeit non-electoral, system of transnational governance based on the growing strength of global civil society" (Florini, 1998: 63). In short, the new norm promotes open dialogue.

The GEF and the Transformation of Development Practices

Advocates of participation and transparency often point out that each norm facilitates the other. Information disclosure, for example, encourages wider participation in decision processes since only reasonably informed individuals and groups are fully empowered to take part in purposeful discussions. At the same time, inclusive participation serves a transparency function because actors granted access to a decision process could disclose what they learn by observing and reporting on the proceedings. In short, these norms are especially powerful when imagined together, working to promote democratic accountability in international politics.

To imagine this synergy in practice, consider the operations of the relatively new Global Environment Facility. The GEF, an international institution which by 1999 had more than 165 member states, is the principal source of development assistance for global environmental purposes and has authorized over $2 billion worth of grants since its inception earlier in this decade. Though its "green" purpose is interesting and important, perhaps the most intriguing dimension of the GEF is its unusually inclusive and transparent decision-making procedures. Specifically, NGOs have been granted a direct participatory voice. 9 Ten at one time are granted "observer status" at meetings of the Governing Council meetings, meaning in practice that five are physically in the room and five view proceedings from closed-circuit television. The GEF is the only multilateral financial institution that creates this opening for NGOs. Moreover, since early 1995, the observing NGOs have been allowed to partake directly in Council discussions. The GEF grants them "an opportunity to intervene on every agenda item" (El-Ashry, 1997). This unique observer status certainly helps assure transparent decision processes. Apparently, however, NGOs have so far behaved tentatively in meetings. The novelty of the NGO situation might invite caution out of fear that states might withdraw observer status. Nonetheless, for the foreseeable future NGOs have attained a unique position to challenge state assertions about environment and development (see Young, 1999). Interestingly, the Council has so far functioned by consensus, evidently having not yet resorted to a vote (El-Ashry, 1997). GEF management claims that NGOs are "an important partner in the design and in the implementation of GEF projects" (El-Ashry, 1997). In support of this assertion, the GEF-NGO Network (1998) notes that NGOs were greatly involved in the design and implementation of a new Medium-Sized Grants program and have also been integrally involved in developing both operational strategies and monitoring and evaluation guidelines. Without careful study of the discussions, it is difficult to know whether NGO presence has made for decisions reflecting anything like communicative rationality. Still, the GEF's normative structure is clearly a promising step in global politics towards a discursive design (see Gupta, 1995: 42). Even a World Bank official considers the GEF a "state of the art" organization, and concedes that it might serve as "a model for other" institutions addressing various global problems (Silard, 1995: 653). 10


Conclusion: Publicity and Global Deliberation

As explored in the last section, environment and development regimes and institutions are being recast to reflect norms of participation and transparency. 11 In this conclusion, I argue that these norms function as crucial "discourse norms," creating the possibility of genuinely inclusive and open deliberation at least in some issue areas. Together, in fact, they perhaps constitute an important norm of publicity in global politics, potentially making the institutions and regimes democratically accountable. Ultimately, by promoting public reason, transnational civil society and cosmopolitan democracy, these norms may well provide tremendous opportunities for transformative and emancipatory politics.

Taken together, international participation and transparency norms arguably constitute what critical theorists call "publicity." Mitzen (1999: 3) explains that "as publicity expands in a social system, in principle everything can be seen and nothing is off limits to outside assessment. Publicity allows actors to constitute events as shared problems and to form opinions on what should be done." Similarly, Bohman (1999b: 198) writes that publicity creates the conditions for meaningful public input and accountability in international contexts. Specifically, he (Bohman, 1999: 506-7) calls for "norms of cosmopolitan publicity" to facilitate democratic accessibility and responsibility within international agreements or regimes. Public scrutiny and criticism of politics, as Elster (1998: 12) argues, has a "civilizing effect" on debates because actors cannot convincingly and without challenge make decisive self-interested claims. Publicity even helps overcome the problem of material differences in power, which Linklater (1998: 175) and others identify as a significant international barrier to genuinely inclusive participation. As Risse (2000: 22) explains, "the more an issue is subject to public scrutiny the more likely it becomes that materially less privileged actors have access to the discourse and that their arguments carry the day and convince an audience."

Responding to skeptics

Obviously, the participation and transparency norms that are being constructed in world politics do not yet encompass all issue areas and are not even fully implemented in the environment and development domain. Bohman (1999: 507) refers to this initiation issue as a "bootstrapping" problem. Additionally, critical theorists could justifiably question the means employed by advocates of participation and transparency norms, since norm-builders have often used coercive strategies and material levers (see Payne, 1999). Bluntly, even though these norm entrepreneurs were acting out of a deep sense of commitment to their principles, they did not seek shared consensus so much as policy change. Emancipation and justice remain elusive goals.

In response to these concerns, Dryzek (1990: 87) claims that progressive change can and should occur incrementally. He specifically argues for the creation of "norms of free discourse" which would "help constitute a world increasingly hospitable to truly discursive designs and to the participatory process of discursive design." Somewhat similarly, Habermas (1996: 304-6) acknowledges that institutional deliberative frameworks can plausibly be delineated from "ideal procedures." Scholars who develop dialogical models of decision-making, for example, typically emphasize the importance of inclusive and open processes in particular issue areas or for specific situations (see Williams and Matheny, 1995; Dukes, 1996; Gundersen, 1995; but note Alford, 1996). In sum, critical theorists should probably embrace the international normative innovations that encourage participation and transparency. These norms promote publicity and provide at least some opportunity to transform dominant structures. This idea is also consistent with the basic constructivist claim that any given context will be what the participants make of it (Wendt, 1992). A particular discursive situation is socially constructed and might approach ideal conditions if the shared understandings and practices of participants make them appropriate for the situation.

Other skeptics might point out that the burgeoning international discourse norms do not come at all close to fulfilling Habermasian ideals. Inclusive participation, for example, is a centrally important precondition for meaningful deliberation and NGO representation at the World Bank or in environmental regimes would not appear to approach an ideal level of inclusion. As Habermas (1996: 305) has written, "no one may be excluded in principle; all of those who are possibly affected by the decisions have equal chances to enter and take part" in discussions. No international institution allows for such broad participation.

However, Bohman (1998: 205, 215n) argues that participation in deliberation might reasonably involve representatives. In practice then, NGOs organized around issues, such as environment or the rights of native peoples, would bring a new perspective to development forums that have previously been dominated by states. Even if they are headquartered in advanced industrial states, NGOs could represent at least some of the most important interests of peoples affected by global governance institutions. International NGOs can, for example, champion the interests of parties affected by environment or development decisions. Moreover, these NGOs have legitimate concerns of their own about the course of development in the South and therefore have a claim to participate in discussions in any case. The challenge is to find innovate ways of included legitimate represents of marginal peoples, often from the global South.



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Note 1: Some of the relevant IR scholarship is reviewed in Haacke (1996) and Devetak (1996). Habermas (1998) has now explicitly applied some of his ideas to world politics.  Back.

Note 2: The Soviet Union and Eastern Europe may have collapsed for this reason (see Koslowski and Kratochwil, 1994).  Back.

Note 3: German IR scholars conducted an extensive debate about Habermasian notions of argumentative rationality and its compatibility with rational-choice theory. Much of this literature is cited in Risse (1999; see Dryzek, 1992).  Back.

Note 4: Non-state actors would be excluded, so not even sovereign equality can assure "equal access" to the discourse.  Back.

Note 5: Following the lead of other scholars, I do not consider profit-making corporations or banks, criminal or terrorist organizations, churches, political parties, or mass communications media (Gordenker and Weiss, 1996: 19), even though they are technically NGOs.  Back.

Note 6: Consistent with this idea, Harris (1996) similarly discusses "equity" as an emerging norm that includes meaningful participation by poor countries in international environmental institutions. He offers, among others, the example of the Global Environment Facility.  Back.

Note 7: The Inspection Panel thus also serves a participatory function. It is "the first forum in which private actors can hold an international organization directly accountable for the consequences of its actions" (Bradlow and Schlemmer-Schulte, 1994: 395; Zaelke and Hunter, 1994: 155). Note that following the Bank's lead, regional development banks are now establishing inspection panels (Bradlow and Grossman, 1995: 433).  Back.

Note 8: Haas (1996, pp. 243-4) asserts that international-level proposals for democratic decision making, notably including transparency and participation, do not have broad global support. He points to U.S. non-support for UN Security Council expansion as evidence. Back.

Note 9: Additionally, the GEF does not utilize the weighted voting mechanisms common to most multilateral financial institutions, but has instead achieved a more equitable structural arrangement based on balance of donor and recipient state authority (see Harris, 1996).  Back.

Note 10: The GEF, of course, is constituted by state members, and undoubtedly often acts to serve their interests. Wealthy donor states of the North clearly have dominated the agency's agenda, which focuses on their concerns with global environmental problems like climate change, not sanitation or other basic needs of the Global South (Payne, 1998).  Back.

Note 11: These include the U.S. Agency for International Development (Auer, 1998) and the European Union (Putzel, 1998).  Back.