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Journal of Political Ecology:
Case Studies in History and Society
VOLUME 8 (2001)
Domestic Sources of International Environmental Policy: Industry, Environmentalists, and U.S. Power, by Elizabeth DeSombre, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press (2000), xvi and 300 pp.
Reviewed by Dimitris Stevis, Department of Political Science, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO.
Since the late 1980s international relations scholars
have increasingly sought to apply theoretical insights to the empirical
study of various aspects of international environmental politics. Elizabeth
DeSombres volume is a welcome and valuable addition to this growing
literature contributing, primarily, to understanding the domestic sources
of international environmental policy, as the title of her book suggests.
After presenting her major arguments and findings I identify some future
or relevant avenues of research that this project suggests, either implicitly
or explicitly. Every researcher chooses her areas of interests and research
and, in any event, there is only so much that any one of us can do. In
that sense, these latter comments do not detract from DeSombres
solid theoretical and empirical work. But because the theoretical and
substantive issues that she raises are contested issues I find it appropriate
to situate her volume within a broader context.
In her words, "one important way that regulations
in general appear on the international scene is through the internationalization
of regulations that one or more states have undertaken domestically"
(p. 2). She proceeds to examine this proposition through the practice
of the U.S. in the areas of endangered species, air pollution and ocean
fisheries. She recognizes, however, that trying to internationalize a
domestic policy is not the same thing as having it accepted by other countries.
For this reason she divides the overall process into two "stages".
Stage I deals with the politics of attempting to internationalize a domestic
policy; Stage II deals with the question of the success of such an attempt.
The first part of the book (Chapters 3 - 5) "argues that we should
expect to find attempts at internationalization when domestic economic
and environmental interests combine to benefit from adoption by other
states of the environmental regulations in question" (p. 14). The
second section (Chapters 6 and 7) "argues that target states will
adopt the regulations pushed by internationalizing states that make a
credible threat to impose sanctions in an area in which it [sic] has dominant
market powers" (p. 14). On the basis of her research, DeSombre identifies
some key implications or, perhaps, possible lines of additional research.
One key implication is that of alliances between industry and environmentalists
in promoting the internationalization of domestic regulations. A second
implication is that crosscutting alliances may also be present in other
issue areas. A third implication relates to the effectiveness of sanctions.
According to the author, sanctions may actually work well under specific
conditions. A final implication is "that domestic politics and international
relations are not distinct entities"(p. 17). Moving between the authors
"Introduction and Overview" and the relevant chapters of the
book I will deal with the two stages in their temporal order.
Stage I involves "the conditions under which the
United States will attempt to internationalize domestic environmental
regulations" (p. 9). Professor DeSombre identifies two general explanations.
The environmental explanation posits that "environmental externalities
will drive attempts to encourage other states to adopt environmental regulations
similar to those of the United States" (p. 9). The economic explanation
"looks to the economic harm suffered by the regulated domestic industries
and the potential for economic gain offered by internationalization"
(p. 9). Her answer is that the U.S. "... typically pushes to internationalize
those domestic environmental policies that would be advantageous on the
international level for both economic and environmental reasons"
(p. 10). In fact, she finds that "in no case ... is one set of actors
able to push forward an attempt at internationalizing without engaging
the interests of the other group" (p. 10).
Chapter 2 provides the research questions and research
design for Stage I. After reviewing the alternative environmental and
economic explanations. DeSombre states her argument more clearly and evocatively.
She argues that attempts at internationalization are more likely to take
place when Baptists (environmentalists) and bootleggers
(industry) ally with each other. In particular "we should expect
a push for internationalisation most frequently when domestic regulation
causes trade externalities for the regulated industry within the United
States" (p. 45). Even though competitiveness arguments
carry the day, however, "it is important that there be an environmental
reason to internationalize regulation" (p. 46). The three sets of
cases (endangered species, air pollution and ocean fisheries) she examines
in Chapters 3 - 5 uphold the basic parameters of this argument. The author,
however, is careful to point out variations and modifying conditions.
Stage II deals with the question of whether the U.S.
is successful in internationalizing domestic policies, and also offers
explanations for such success. The "legitimacy" explanation
posits that "a state will adopt regulations because it thinks doing
so is the "right" thing to do regardless of self-interest or
fear of consequences." The "self-interest" explanation
posits "... that a state will adopt a regulation pushed by another
state," if it is in its interest to do so. The "threat"
explanation posits that a state will adopt a policy if it "fears
that it will be harmed by the other state if it does not do so" (p.
12). DeSombres argument "... relies most heavily on the variant
of the realist hypothesis, but also relies on the credibility gained from
the involvement of the coalition of environmental and economic interests
observed at Stage I" (p. 12). In particular, "the most important
aspect in predicting success is the market power that the internationalizing
state has over the states it is trying to persuade, relative to the costliness
to the target state of adopting the regulation" (p. 13).
In Chapter 6, the author discusses the various explanations
in more depth. As noted above and restated at the end of this chapter,
the cases demonstrate that the U.S. has its greatest success in cases
when "the sending state has a high degree of relative market power
in the threatened resource, with that resource inherently related to the
environmental issue over which the regulation is sought" (p. 171).
Chapter 7 presents a detailed examination of evidence relevant to this
proposition. In this chapter DeSombre discusses specific cases within
each one of the three issue areas and the responses of the various target
states. The author recognizes that there is variation across issues and
countries (p. 225), with the ozone case being the most successful and
efforts at persuading others to regulate tuna fishing within their EEZs
being a failure (pp. 225-226).
On the basis of her detailed examination of these cases
the author proceeds to evaluate the merits of each explanation. She finds
that the "legitimacy" explanation does not seem persuasive because
there seems to be no relationship between high legitimacy policies (for
instance those adopted through multilateral means) and positive response
to U.S. efforts (p. 229). The second explanation that the author examines
is that of "environmental self-interest," i.e., that a target
state may choose to comply because compliance will confer come environmental
benefits. As the author suggests, her study seems to pick-up those instances
where the internationalization of environmental regulation is contentious
(p. 231). As a result, this explanation may carry more weight than is
apparent. In the case of the contentious cases, however, environmental
self-interest does not seem to play a dominant role (p. 234). The third
explanation, "threats," does seem to play a more important role.
According to the author, the impact of threats varies depending on "the
power of those making the threat, the credibility of that threat, and
the cost to the target state of suffering the consequences of refusing
to change behavior "(p. 237). She concludes that the most successful
internationalization attempts are found in cases where the sending state
stands to gain the most from imposing sanctions (p. 238) such as prohibiting
a major competitors access to its markets. This leads to the last
explanation, market power. The authors view is that the combination
of credible threats with market power (in the specific issue area involved)
is the best predictor of internationalization success. Moreover, the credibility
of the threat increases if there is a strong Baptist-bootlegger alliance
in Stage II, as well. Such an alliance will push for sanctions and will
ensure that the state actually pursues them.
Central to the authors project is the necessity
of an industry-environmentalist alliance (bootleggers and Baptists) before
an internationalization attempt (operationalized as Congressional legislation)
can get off the ground and, also, in making threats credible. In her discussion
of "lessons for environmentalists," and elsewhere, the author
points out that "Baptists create bootleggers and should be advised
to consider what types of concerned actors will contribute most in the
long run to international environmental regulation" (p. 251). The
author would agree that bootleggers also create Baptists. But neither
Baptists nor bootleggers are unitary categories, whether at the beginning
of such a mutually engendering process or during the course of it. As
a result, the potential for alliances involving particular Baptists and
bootleggers is ever present and clearly evident in the U.S. foreign policy
record (Audley 1997). The kinds of alliances that are formed and their
reasons, justifications, and longevity are central to the study of the
"greening of industry" and the "marketization of environmentalists"
so prominent in our days.
This convergence is particularly important because,
as DeSombre observes, industry does have a preponderant role. Throughout
the book, it is apparent that industry does not simply bring its concerns
about competitiveness to the table but, also, its "structural power".
On the other hand, environmentalists bring not only environmental sensitivity,
but also legitimacy. The final fusion is an uneven synthesis. From one
point of view, this synthesis may be seen as the introduction of environmental
sensitivity into the behavior of industry (Vogel 1995, Hawken et al. 2000).
From another point of view it can be seen as the subjugation of environmentalists
to the hegemony of capital ("weak ecological modernization")
(Christoff 1996, Mol and Spaargaren 2000). Whoever has the upper hand
shapes, in my view, not only particular policies but, also, second order
rules, i.e., the rules that delineate which policies are legitimate and
feasible. To illuminate this point, the examination of the various disputes
brought to the WTO is important in its own terms and adds to our understanding
of world politics. Yet, there is a good case to be made that the WTO represents
a certain order of things that makes some issues important and relevant
while it delegitimates others.
The above is important because, as DeSombre is right
in pointing out, such alliances may occur in other issue areas. A prime
example of that would be U.S. labor policies during the 1940s and, again,
the use of domestic trade policies to enforce international labor standards
since the late 1970s. As with the environmentalist-industry case, the
labor-industry case worked on various levels and, also, differently across
time. On one level, during the 1940s elites within industry and the unions
did find common ground and, thus, marginalized recalcitrant business leaders
and radical unions; on another level, this accommodation cast unions in
a subordinate role with long term implications. Labors junior role
is also evident in the various attempts at using trade laws to enforce
labor standards abroad.
A related issue I would like to raise here is that
the role of the state, other than as a recipient and processor of societal
pressures, is not examined even though it is ever present. The author
can well argue that she has shown that alliances between environmentalists
and industry are sufficient explanations. Such an approach, legitimate
as it may be, carries with it important substantive and theoretical implications
and ought to be discussed. Alternatively, we can be left with the impression
that the state simply responds to the instrumental interests of particular
social forces regardless of the implications for broader state or societal
priorities. The authors argument would have been strengthened if
this issue was addressed, both theoretically and through one of these
or some other, more appropriate, case. This is particularly important
because during critical points in U.S. history, such as the formation
of the post-WWII economic order and its reorganization in the 1980s and
with respect to critical issue areas, such as climate change and nuclear
power, state agencies take a leading role. It is quite possible, for instance,
that states may not want sanctions to succeed if the broader edifice is
likely to be compromised.
A third issue that DeSombre raises is that her study
does contribute to the understanding of the domestic-international divide.
There is no denying that her study does contribute well to the study of
that divide. Here I would like to point out, however, that the arguments
regarding the fuzziness of this divide are much earlier than the late
1980s, as exemplified by works from the whole spectrum of international
politics, including historical materialists, dependency theorists and
liberal institutionalists. The issue, therefore, is how that divide is
conceptualized and treated. The increasing vertical and horizontal integration
of firms and the internationalization of the state may, in fact, militate
in favor of a more historical and sociological view of the constitution
of social agents and of their preferences (e.g., Cox 1987, Ruggie 1995)
than the "game theoretic" discourse can accommodate.
A final issue is whether one can generalize from the
United States experience to the rest of the world. I agree with DeSombre
that there is evidence that similar cases do obtain in other countries.
Yet, it would seem to me that the experiences of dominant countries or
dominant state-society alliances (whether domestic or transnational) are
different from those of subordinate ones. Is it the case, perhaps, that
what is interesting with the former is the process of attempting to internationalize
domestic policies while with the latter, the process of trying to adjust
to such efforts? The authors evidence in Chapter 7 raises some intriguing
ideas in this direction.
In my view, DeSombres volume would have been
well served by the allocation of a chapter to the discussion of broader
structural issues - whether with respect to the Baptist-bootlegger alliance,
the role of the state, or the different experiences of dominant and subordinate
social forces. Yet, this may well be outside of the authors interests
and she cannot be faulted for that, nor is the value of this fine book
diminished as a result. My goal in commenting on some of the contextual
issues above has been to situate the volume while asserting its positive
contribution to the growing literature on international environmental
Audley, John. 1997. Green Politics and Global Trade:
NAFTA and the Future of Environmental Politics. Washington, DC: Georgetown
Christoff, Peter. 1996. Ecological Modernisation, Ecological
Modernities. Environmental Politics 5(3): 476-500.
Cox, Robert. 1987. Production, Power and World Order:
Social Forces in the Making of History. New York: Columbia University
Hawken, Paul, Amory Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins. 1999.
Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution. Boston:
Little, Brown and Company.
Mol, Arthur P.J. and Gert Spaargaren. 2000. Ecological
Modernisation Theory in Debate: A Review. Environmental Politics
Ruggie, John Gerard. 1995. At Home Abroad, Abroad At
Home: International Liberalisation and Domestic Stability in the New World
Economy. Millennium 24(3): 507-526
Vogel, David. 1995. Trading Up: Consumer and Environmental Regulation in a Global Economy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.