Vote-Trading in International Institutions

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European Journal of International Law, Vol: 19, Page: 3-41

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Eldar, Ofer
International law; Voting; International agencies; Welfare economics; Vote-trading, vote-buying, international law, international institutions, economic analysis
article description
There is evidence that countries trade votes among each other in international institutions on a wide range of issues, including the use of force, trade issues and elections of judges. Vote-trading has been criticized as being a form of corruption, undue influence and coercion. Contrary to common wisdom, however, I argue in this paper that the case for introducing policy measures against vote-trading cannot be made out on the basis of available evidence. This paper sets out an analytical framework for analyzing vote-trading in international institutions, focusing on three major contexts in which vote-trading may generate benefits and costs: (1) agency costs (collective good), (2) coercive tendering and (3) agency costs (constituents). The applicability of each context depends primarily on the type of decision in question - i.e. preference-decision or judgment-decision - and the interests that countries are expected to maximize when voting. The analytical framework is applied to evidence of vote-trading in four institutions, the Security Council, the General Assembly, the World Trade Organization and the International Whaling Commission. The application of the analysis reveals that while vote-trading can create significant costs, there is only equivocal evidence to this effect, and in several cases vote-trading generates important benefits.