Lessons from the International Governance of Biotechnology

Lessons from the International Governance of Biotechnology

Catherine Rhodes (University of Manchester, UK)
Copyright: © 2013 |Pages: 17
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-3670-5.ch006


This chapter covers the development and operation of norms within the international system and more specifically within the international governance of biotechnology. Through the use of case studies it highlights several key points which should be considered when analysing the role, application and implementation of norms in other governance areas.
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Governance At The International Level

There are differences between international, regional and national governance which may mean that some of the lessons from the international governance of biotechnology will not apply directly at these other levels. This chapter begins by outlining some key points about the international system and how governance operates within it, to set the context.

System Characteristics

The international system is characterised as anarchical because there is no supranational authority to govern it. The most important actors in international relations are states. Other actors such as international organisations, non-governmental organisations and multinational corporations are having increasing influence on international processes, but states remain dominant. They create and are the subjects of international law and are still the key decision-makers in international governance.

In the absence of supranational authority, the international system is shaped partly by norms and rules, but power relations play a significant role and the pursuit of power (particularly in military and economic terms) is still a core part of conceptions of national interest. Powerful states dominate the direction and content of international governance. For example, in law-making they have more influence on the creation of rules; can persuade or pressure other states to comply (or not) with rules; and can afford to ignore certain rules.

Powerful states can, based on their superior resources, dominate the processes of international law-making. They have the resources to be able to enforce the laws that they support and bear the costs of attempted enforcement action by others. (Rhodes, 2010, p. 55)

International treaties are unlikely to be agreed without the support of the main powers. Not surprisingly then, the rules and governance arrangements that exist tend to favour the interests of dominant states.

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