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  • Governing the Americas: Assessing Multilateral Institutions
  • Ana Margheritis
Governing the Americas: Assessing Multilateral Institutions. Edited by Gordon Mace, Jean-Philippe Thérien, and Paul Haslam. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2007. Pp. vii, 317. Illustrations. Tables. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $59.95 cloth.

This is an excellent volume that provides a fine and updated analysis of the recent evolution and current state of hemispheric regionalism in the Americas. It focuses on the institutional dimension of inter-American relations in four areas: the general regional process and institutional arrangements, security, democracy and human rights, and trade and economic development. The focus on governance is a refreshing and welcome approach to the study of these topics and probably the main contribution of this book.

In particular, the editors aim at a comprehensive understanding of how the governance processes and structure of the inter-American system have changed under the most recent wave of institutional building, that is, since the creation of the summit process in 1994. The goal is also to evaluate the performance of the new institutional mechanisms, their interaction with pre-existing institutions, their effectiveness as instruments for collective action, and their efficiency as tools to solve regional problems.

An impressive group of well-known experts on inter-American relations contributes to the four main sections of the book. The chapters differ considerably in scope and perspective. Some of them offer a historical and descriptive account. Others focus on the analysis of some empirical evidence. A few of them include some policy-oriented accounts. A few others incorporate theoretical analysis. The chapters are organized around the four topics above, though there is no clear rationale within each section. Just to provide an example, there is neither a logical or theoretical thread linking the three chapters in the section on trade and economic development, nor an explanation of whether and why those are the most relevant issues within that dimension.

The chapters in the concluding section partially amend that deficit by summarizing the main findings, assessing progress and shortcomings, and using international relations theories to understand recent institutional building in the Americas. Among others, factors such as intergovernmentalism, power asymmetries, both common and divergent state interests, ideas and norms, and organizations' under [End Page 459] funding and incapacity to enforce decisions all contribute to our understanding of the possibilities and limits of cooperation in the hemisphere. The editors correctly point out the unresolved dichotomy between robustness and effectiveness of inter American institutions (p. 263).

However, their analysis leaves under explored the politics underlying all other explanatory factors above. Most of the chapters focus on formal organizations (e.g., the Organization of American States, the Summits of the Americas, and the Inter American Development Bank), limiting the analysis to the actions that these institutions' missions, resources, and capacities contemplate and allow for and leaving under-explored the reasons behind the difficulty (or, member states' reluctance) to adapt their mandates to new circumstances and acquire the necessary means to deal effectively with collective needs. For instance, the role of the OAS in the promotion and defense of democracy is mainly observed through its participation in electoral processes and intervention (if any) in recent political crises across the region. This provides us with an interesting, though somewhat limited, view of why, when, and how the organization members might invest in transforming the OAS into a more robust tool to prevent democratic crises and make its interventions more effective. I would argue that this limitation comes from insufficient consideration of political factors that shape member states' positions and actions at the international level and the lack of appropriate theoretical tools. On the one hand, it would be fruitful to explore the political dynamics that emerged as electoral processes repeated in Latin America over the years and progressively gave place to different kinds of (imperfect) democratic regimes whose internal problems and unfinished transitions have posed new and unexpected demands on foreign policymaking. This occurred simultaneously with the expansion and deepening of sub-regional integration processes, which have created new incentives to address common problems collectively (and, increasingly, without the participation of the USA) and re-define interests and strategies within a relational and cooperative dynamic...


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