Environmental Cooperation in the (Partially) Disaggregated State: Lessons from the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America


Recent accounts of the rise of transgovernmentalism have described the increasingly important role of transnational networks of regulatory officials in creating and implementing cooperative solutions to regional and global problems. In North America, the use of networks is becoming an increasingly important approach to environmental governance and to regional integration more generally. The Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America (the SPP) marks a further, and in our view, important, development in the use of transgovernmental networks because under the SPP, the executive branches of Canada, the United States, and Mexico deliberately turn to transgovernmental networks as a governance strategy across multiple issue areas. The self-conscious use of networks as an alternative to traditional international institutions on a broad scale was contemplated by Slaughter, but the SPP marks the first practical attempt by governments to create a cross-cutting transnational governance structure that relies principally on transgovernmental networks.

The purpose of this Article is to evaluate the environmental agenda of the SPP process critically and the opposition to it in light of the existing literature on transgovernmental networks. Our basic argument is that the paucity of the debate over the SPP results from the failure of the architects of the SPP and their critics to appreciate the nature of transgovernmental networks as a governance structure. To this end we identify certain structural features shared by transgovernmental networks and examine the competing claims concerning the SPP in light of these characteristics.

The Article provides additional support for the descriptive claims of transgovernmentalists that states are turning to networks, but the development and structure of the SPP qualifies the central transgovernmentalist claim that the state is disaggregating. Instead, the picture that emerges is one of partial disaggregation where central governments retain the power to create networks, to enable them, and to define their agendas. The situation also puts the debate over the SPP in greater focus by allowing for an exploration into whose characterization of the SPP more closely resembles its actual governance features. The result, we suggest, is that the debate is in its essence one between networks as they are and networks as they could be.

Finally, we argue that the nature of transnational networks requires a distinct form of legitimacy. In the SPP process, the framers rely exclusively on two forms of legitimacy: expert legitimacy and a highly formalized version of process legitimacy. We argue that these forms of legitimacy are insufficient on their own. Our conclusion, like that of Professor Slaughter, is that the turn to networks as a governance strategy requires a shared normative foundation. But whereas Slaughter appears content to rely on principles of procedural legitimacy, such as inclusivity, discursiveness, and subsidiarity, this Article maintains that a shared commitment to substantive principles is also required.

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