The Concept of International Delegation

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international bodies, international cooperation, delegation


This article defines and clarifies the concept of international delegation from both a legal and a social-science perspective. In this respect, its approach is similar to that of The Concept of Legalization, by Kenneth Abbott, Robert Keohane, Andrew Moravcsik, Anne-Marie Slaughter, and Duncan Snidal.2 Although these authors properly treat international delegation as one component of legalization in international relations, delegation is worth considering separately because it raises unique issues. The factors that affect how one might classify international delegations may also differ from legalization more generally. Indeed, some factors may even weigh in opposite directions -- for example, precision indicates a high level of legalization, but it may indicate a low level of delegation. The article begins by presenting a definition of international delegation as a grant of authority by two or more states to an international body to make decisions or take actions. Next, it describes the types of international bodies to which states may grant authority. Much of the work on international delegation to date has focused on grants of authority to bureaucracies and courts. While we of course include these grants of authority in our analysis, our focus is broader, in that it also includes grants of authority to collective bodies and subgroups of states. The article then identifies eight types of authority that states may grant: legislative, adjudicative, regulatory, monitoring and enforcement, agenda-setting, research and advice, policy implementation, and redelegation. International bodies will often exercise more than one type of authority, and there will sometimes be uncertainties about whether a particular type of authority falls into a particular category. Distinguishing between the different types of authority is important, however, because many of the existing arguments and theories about delegation may not apply equally across the different types of authority delegated. Failure to appreciate the variety in the types of authority delegated may therefore lead to misleading generalizations. Next, the article discusses how the extent of an international delegation can vary depending on its legal effect and the degree of independence of the international body. These factors have not yet been systematically explored, although they modify the nature of delegation in significant ways. After developing the typology, the article considers some of the benefits and costs of international delegation in light of this typology. The article concludes with a discussion of some of the questions raised by the typology and its implications for further research.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

International cooperation, International agencies