International regulation without international government: Improving IO performance through orchestration

Kenneth Abbott, Duncan Snidal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

200 Scopus citations


International organizations (IOs) have been widely criticized as ineffective. Yet scholars and practitioners assessing IO performance frequently focus on traditional modes of governance such as treaties and inter-state dispute-resolution mechanisms. When they observe poor performance, moreover, they often prescribe a strengthening of those same activities. We call this reliance on traditional state-based mechanisms "International Old Governance" (IOG). A better way to understand and improve IO performance is to consider the full range of ways in which IOs can and do operate-including, increasingly, by reaching out to private actors and institutions, collaborating with them, and supporting and shaping their activities. Such actions are helping to develop an intricate global network of public, private and mixed institutions and norms, partially orchestrated by IOs, that we call "Transnational New Governance" (TNG). With proper orchestration by IOs, TNG can ameliorate both "state failure"-the inadequacies of IOG-and "market failure"-the problems that result when the creation and evolution of norm-setting institutions is highly decentralized. Orchestration thus provides a significant way for IOs to improve their regulatory performance. Some IOs already engage actively with private actors and institutions-we provide a range of illustrations, highlighting the activities of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). Yet there remains a significant "orchestration deficit" that provides real opportunities for IOs. We draw on the lessons of existing IO activities to suggest additional possibilities for improving IO performance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)315-344
Number of pages30
JournalReview of International Organizations
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2010


  • Governance Triangle
  • International organizations
  • New governance
  • Non-state actors
  • Public-private partnerships
  • Regulation
  • Regulatory standard setting
  • Standard setting
  • Transnational new governance
  • Transnational relations
  • UNEP

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Political Science and International Relations


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