Board Games: How States Pursue Preferences in International Organizations

Timon Forster, Alexander Kentikelenis, Leonard Seabrooke

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Decision-making of many international organizations—one set of key actors in global economic governance—is based on consensus, rather than voting. This raises the question of how, exactly, shareholders pursue their preferences in international organizations. In this paper, we draw attention to operations on the board of governors and develop four modes of formal governance applicable to powerful shareholders. First, states may engage in overt politics and lead debates if the subject of debate is of geopolitical and economic interest to them. Second, powerful shareholders can use the clandestine politics of network governance, where states affirm the views of peers, rather than lead discussions themselves. Third, we expect powerful shareholders to deliberate openly when preferences are ill-defined, as is the case in policy areas characterized by high uncertainty. Fourth, on topics where the interests of powerful states are not salient, we suggest they refrain from engaging in debate and express weak governance. We test the observable implications of these modes of governance in the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Specifically, we study all discussions pertaining to lending programs of low- and middle-income countries between 1995 and 2009 using quantitative text analysis. Subsequently, we employ regression analysis to explain the behavior of the US representative—the only shareholder with veto power in the IMF—and the modes of governance by China as one key rising power. Further, a case study of deliberations on privatization reveals the consequential nature of these modes of governance. Taken together, our research advances our understanding of state action in international organizations. The IMF’s Executive Board is part of the structure underpinning global economic governance, rather than merely an individual actor. Our analysis has therefore important implications for the regulation and legitimacy of the global economic system. Further, our modes of governance plausibly extend to other institutions, too, such as non-governmental organizations, benchmarking, and hybrid forms of governance.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2020
Publication statusPublished - 2020
EventSASE 32nd Annual Conference 2020 - Virtual: Development Today: Accumulation, Surveillance, Redistribution - Virtual, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Duration: 18 Jul 202021 Jul 2021
Conference number: 32


ConferenceSASE 32nd Annual Conference 2020 - Virtual
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