Governance, Communication, and Public Policy




When and how do International Organizations Adapt to Power Transitions?

Beteiligte Wissenschaftler

Prof. Dr. Bernhard Zangl




The rise of emerging powers such as China, India and Brazil and the ensuing decline of established powers such as the United States, the United Kingdom and France is considered to be prone to international conflict. Power transition theories (PTTs) expect emerging powers to ask for the adaptation of the international order and the underlying international institutions to the new (power) realities, while established powers prefer to keep untouched the time-tested international order and the underlying international institutions. PT theorists thus generally agree that emerging powers aim at gaining the very same institutional privileges that established powers want to preserve for themselves; they disagree, however, whether and when the resulting conflicts can be dealt with cooperatively. Pessimist PT theorists expect non-cooperation and institutional stalemate (or worse), while optimist PT theorists expect cooperation and institutional adaptation. Empirically, we see both at the same time: institutional stalemate in some institutions and institutional adaptation in others. While agreement could be reached to adapt voting rights in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to emerging powers’ demands, attempts to adapt permanent seats and voting rights in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to altered power realities resulted in failure. Thus, against what most PT theorists would hold, power transitions as such cannot explain whether emerging and established powers are able to agree on institutional adaptation. The ambition of this project is to refine power transition theories in this respect. Drawing on different variants of rational institutionalism in IR, we develop an institutionalist power transition theory (IPTT) which specifies the conditions and mechanisms of international institutions’ adaptation to power transitions among their member states.