May 21, 1999

Dr. Maryann K. Cusimano, The Catholic University of America

Dr. Maryann Cusimano spoke about her research and work on the topic of Fighting Transsovereign Problems in a Sovereign World. Dr. Cusimano began her talk by giving a definition of the term "transsovereign problems". "Transsovereign problems are problems which transcend state boundaries in ways over which states have little control and which cannot be solved by individual state actions alone."

Dr. Cusimano continues by stating that although many policymakers (and sometimes even scholars) use the term transnational problems, she prefers the more accurate name transsovereign problems because the term nation is not synonymous with the term sovereign state. A nation is a group with a common cultural, linguistic, ethnic, racial, or religious identity. A sovereign state, however, is an internationally recognized unit of political authority over a given territory. National boundaries (where various ethnic or linguistic groups are located) often do not coincide with sovereign state boundaries. We know transnational is a common word, but as present policy in Kosovo shows, there is a great deal of confusion about the relationship between nations and states, and as political scientists we want to clarify, not add to the confusion.

She then raises the question of how to respond to transsovereign problems in a world still demarcated by sovereign states. There are two primary ways transsovereign problems are being addressed: through state centric and non-state centric responses. Dr. Cusimano argues in favor of a third way, integrating both state and non-state-centric responses. So point number one is why bother to do this? Why bother to use a multi-pronged approach to fight transsovereign problems? If you come to the conclusion, however, that a multi-pronged approach is necessary, point number two is how can you do it? Second, what is it going to take to bring change about to pursue a multi-pronged approach incorporating both state and non-state centric policies? What lessons have we learned about changing our institutions and concepts?

Dr. Cusimano points out that policy prescriptions toward dealing with transsovereign problems fall into two main categories: state-centric and non-state-centric responses. The state-centric approach to transsovereign problems suggests that states strengthen law and order institutions, control over borders, markets, and illegal activities, and even cooperation among states and within states to increase states? efficacy of response. In essence, this approach argues that the same forces which facilitate transsovereign problems and undermine sovereignty (open technologies, economies, and societies) can be harnessed or managed to fight transsovereign problems. States need to better use the same new technologies and market forces which are being used against them in transsovereign problems. If we could just make states smarter, this argument goes, equipped with better technologies, cooperating and sharing information and implementation more effectively multilaterally across governments and interagency-wide within governments, states would be able to fight transsovereign problems more effectively.

State centric responses are seen most heavily in the efforts to fight the transsovereign problems of drug smuggling, terrorism, international crime, and nuclear proliferation. This should come as no surprise, since these issues touch most closely to the security sectors where state identity and activities are strongest, where states have always been active.

Well what?s the alternative? Since many here in this room are in agreement that the traditional, old-style state centric responses are not working, many have been trumpeting the need to work with the private sector, with NGOs, MNCs, and civil society to solve transsovereign problems. The non-state-centric policy approach emphasizes the limitations of trying to work through the state for help in reigning in activities that largely fall in the social and economic sectors, where the arms of liberal, capitalist states reach the least. Therefore this approach emphasizes developing new responses and infrastructure that utilize non-state actors such as NGOs and MNCs. Economic liberalization has reduced the role of the state in the economy, and increased trade and capital flows has overwhelmed the state?s abilities to monitor or detect the illicit within the growing volume of licit transfers. Thus what?s a state to do, if these transsovereign problems are taking place in sectors where states are less active and able to pursue a response? Many argue this shows the need to turn to the private sector to respond to problems that are often taking place in the private sector. Efforts to fight transsovereign problems of refugee flows, disease, and environmental degradation tend to focus more readily on non-state centric approaches. This should come as no surprise, since these are areas where NGO activities have traditionally been strongest.

There is a third way, however. Which advocates a mixed response, using both state-centric and non-state-centric prongs of attack to combat transsovereign problems. While at first glance such a wide-scatter response might seem analytically and practically messy, a grab bag exercise in everything-but-the-kitchen-sink policy making, there are underlying theoretical rationale that may justify the mixed response. Underlying these differences over responses to transsovereign problems are implicit assumptions about the future of the sovereign state. Is the sovereign state retreating, its power becoming more diffuse in a globalized economy? Susan Strange argues that power is moving sideways from states to markets, as states abdicate more functions either to non-state actors, or vacate certain functions altogether. If states are losing power to non-state actors and market dynamics, then responses to transsovereign problems should be aimed at non-state actors and market forces.

Other scholars, such as Stephen Krasner and Hendrik Spruyt, argue that the sovereign state is still the fundamental unit in the international system. While it is being challenged, sovereignty took centuries to develop and will not disappear in a few decades, and there are no well-developed alternative organizing units ready to replace sovereign states. If this is the case and state actors still reign supreme, then efforts to fight transsovereign problems should still be aimed at states, at strengthening state institutions or perhaps at developing more cooperative multilateral ventures among states.

If sovereignty is changing but not dead, fighting transsovereign problems may necessitate a multi-pronged approach, in which a wide spectrum of policy responses are undertaken and coordinated, aimed at both state and non-state sectors. If we are in a period of transition, in which a changed economic system has created new actors and dissipated the power of states in crucial economic and social sectors, but in which state actors are still important, then a wide-scatter approach is not the result of analytical adhocary, but necessity. New networks using new actors must be built at the same time that the old state actors are still functioning.

In asking the state to develop new, flexible, strategic networks with the private sector we are changing the very nature of what states do, how they organize, and how they conceive of state authority. The very efforts to use states in fighting transsovereign problems changes states in important ways. So to continue with the why bother question, if states alone cannot adequately respond to transsovereign problems, why is it important that they be part of the multi-pronged approach? The most important advantage states have that can be useful (even to the private sector) in fighting transsovereign problems is they exist. They have addresses, and known processes, which are understood and available for interaction, which may allow the opportunity for transparency and accountability. These advantages can be summed up as institutional. States may not have the ability to command or compel resolution of a transsovereign problem; however they are uniquely positioned to coordinate, communicate, facilitate. Why not use the institutional advantages states have of being available as a forum, and plug into those advantages? Existence carries over beyond an institutional advantage to a conceptual advantage: states are a focal point. People are familiar with the concept of states. Whether or not states can solve transsovereign problems alone, the question is still raised by publics and the media, "What is the state doing about it?"

For all the advantages of pursuing a multi-pronged approach, however, there are also difficulties. Bureaucratic and organizational dynamics are well-known, which can lead to turf guarding, resistance to change, different organizational cultures and SOPs. There are also the problems of working with many different actors and responses, requiring coordination, communication, cooperation, prioritization, transparency, and accountability, which can be difficult to achieve in practice. Pursuing a multi-pronged approach also necessitates vigilance for threshold effects and unintended consequences. Likewise, unintended consequences are not unique to a multi-pronged approach, but since action must be coordinated among a wider variety of players, it may be more difficult to anticipate the full ramifications of a wider array of actions. Continued monitoring and attention to coordination, prioritization and accountability are necessary in undertaking a multi-pronged response to transsovereign issues. It must be noted, however, that none of these critiques are unique to multi-pronged approaches, though they may be more intense with them. All the other forms of response, state-centric and non-state-centric, share these obstacles of coordination, communication, prioritization, transparency, accountability, resistance to change, threshold effects, and unintended consequences.

This moves us to point two, if we are convinced that we should bother with setting the bar higher and taking on the increased difficulty of coordinating action between the public and private sectors to pursue a multi-pronged approach, how can it be done? What needs to change? The biggest strengths of working with states - institutional and conceptual, are also the biggest problems to be overcome in changing to fight transsovereign problems. In proposing a multi-pronged approach requiring integration with state and non-state centric policies we are essentially asking states to do what they do least well: to coordinate, communicate, integrate, facilitate, share information and turf, and to persuade not command. We are also asking states to develop new capacities (beyond compulsion) in new areas with new actors, to be proactive, and proactive toward what? Towards transsovereign threats that don?t have a face, towards diffuse, long-term, linked, decentralized, multiple, indirect threats in the absence of a catastrophe or crisis to mobilize action, focus attention, and marshal public support and resources. In essence, we are asking states to organize and behave less like states and more like the diffuse, decentralized networks they face, not only to go beyond sovereignty in working with other states and the private sector, but also to go beyond bureaucracy.

Institutions are developing new collaborative networks to exchange information and coordinate action among a wide variety of state and non-state actors. These new types of collaborative foreign policy networks mirror ideas in organization studies about post bureaucratic organizations, and stress integrative, interactive networks, and share many characteristics of post-bureaucratic institutionalized dialogue. In bureaucracies, consensus of a kind is created through acquiescence to authority, rules, or traditions. In the post-bureaucratic form it is created through institutionalized dialogue. Dialogue is defined by the use of influence rather than power: That is, people affect decisions based on their ability to persuade rather than their ability to command.

These organizational theorists do not believe bureaucracy is going away any time soon, and they have found no evidence of large organizations switching over entirely to post-bureaucratic forms. But they stress that alternative organizations are responding to rapid change in the external environment, and that even large bureaucratic organizations are using more integrative, active collaboration sub-systems to deal with problems of interdependence and rapid change.

Networking may be difficult for governments, however, because by organization and culture they are very different from loose networks. But by pursuing a multi-pronged approach which incorporates both the bureaucratic organizational form of states and the post bureaucratic networks seen more readily in the private sector, the strengths and weaknesses of each organizational form can balance off each other. So we are asking governments to do what they do least well, and we are asking bureaucratic organizations to change. Political science tells us lots about the obstacles to institutional, organizational, and bureaucratic change. But despite the pessimism of the theoretical literature, it appears that Machiavelli was right. Change is the only constant in politics. More cooperative, multilateral and public-private networks are being built, based more on post-bureaucratic models of organization. In each of these examples, a change in the external, international environment alone was not enough to produce institutional change. Most of these institutions took years to change to meet the changing circumstances.

Infamous bureaucratic intransigence to change does not mean that change never occurs! When is it in a bureaucracy?s interest to change? Bureaucracies are willing to change when they feel organizational survival is threatened, when their personnel or resources are threatened. Institutions resisted changes to their core missions and functions, but they embraced changes they saw as necessary to their survival, such as the UN?s and the FBI?s outreach to the private sector.

Sustained and sophisticated political leadership and pressure was able to overcome organizational inertia and bureaucratic intransigence. Sustained effort by Senator Jesse Helms was able to push UN downsizing and remove the autonomy of ACDA, USIA, and US AID. Activism by Anthony Lake was able to spearhead NATO expansion. In the U.S. context, any proposal which needs money or legal authorization requires the approval of Congress and the President, requires lining up political coalitions. As democratization spreads as part of globalization, lining up political coalitions continues to be imperative in managing transsovereign problems.

Organizations where vertical or horizontal links are weak, or without the backing of powerful interest groups were less able to resist organizational changes. ACDA, USIA, and US AID had few powerful constituents. However, even organizations with strong vertical and horizontal links and strong constituent backing will be subject to change, when political leadership advocates for change, when internal leaders promote change, and when bureaucrats are motivated to change.

The hardest part about changing organizations is changing beliefs about the world. One DOD official noted that the biggest obstacle to post-Cold War cooperation with Russia was the persistence of cold war mindsets. Changes in organizational structures and operating procedures may be slow and incomplete unless attitudes can be changed as well. This may be the bad news, that changing concepts is slow and difficult. But the good news comes from an excellent book by political psychologist Deborah Larson, The Origins of Containment. Larson concludes that even the most highly placed government officials learn the way small children do: by hands-on experience and experimentation with their environment. Conceptual change came after action, not before. The good news this presents for transsovereign problems is that we don?t have to have it all figured out in advance, and we don?t have to win over hearts and minds of all involved before actions to combat transsovereign problems can be undertaken.

Perhaps during the stability of the nearly fifty year Cold War period, our imaginations atrophied. But today we find that the impossible has occurred and our thoughts have not caught up with it. Until we do, institutional change will likely be a slight reworking of a well-worn refrain, rather than the creation of new structures. Of all the obstacles to organizational change, the biggest obstacle appears to be ourselves, and our limited ways of thinking about the changed world in which we find ourselves. But if Larson is correct that we learn by doing and we change our beliefs about the world as a result of our actions in the world (not prior to our actions), then perhaps we will see greater conceptual change as a result of initial experiences with the post-Cold War environment.

Change is not easy, direct, logical, and institutions created by democracies are often slow to change and require political coalitions to change, and the change produced likely will not be efficient in the narrow economic sense. But these observations about the obstacles to change should not obscure the fact that change is occurring, even if it is hard-fought, long in coming, constrained by political parameters, and occurring unevenly in fits and starts. To conclude, states are still important players in fighting transsovereign problems, in launching multi-pronged approaches integrating both bureaucratic and network organizational forms. If states are still important in fighting transsovereign problems, why is the book called Beyond Sovereignty? In fighting transsovereign problems and retooling states to form more integrative, public-private, cooperative networks, sovereignty is changing in important ways.

For more information, see:
Cusimano, Maryann. "Beyond Sovereignty: Issues for a Global Agenda." 1999. New York, NY: St. Martin?s Press.
Cusimano, Maryann. "Unplugging the Cold War Machine." 1999, forthcoming. Sage Publications.

Prepared by Elaine French, Junior Fellow.