Radioactive Waste Disposal at Sea: Public Ideas, Transnational Policy Entrepreneurs, and Environmental Regimes
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Introduction In this book I seek to narrow the ideational and normative gap in studies of environmental regimes. I intend to demonstrate that we can improve our understanding of the dynamics of international environmental regimes con- siderably by focusing in a systematic way on ideas and ideational factors. In particular, I document that powerful public ideas and policy entrepre- neurs can significantly influence the processes of regime formation and regime change. Public ideas are widely accepted ideas about the nature of a societal prob- lem and about the best way to solve it.1 They are about the welfare of soci- ety, and therefore they differ from private concerns. By defining how societal problems are perceived, public ideas shape policy and public debate about policy. Ideas about which there is societal consensus remain stable over time, and they differ from ideas that are altered frequently and from ideas that are promoted by special-interest groups.2 Public ideas are held by society, not just by individuals, and therefore there is a fundamental dif- ference between public ideas and individual beliefs.3 Under certain circum- stances, the interplay of public ideas and transnational4 coalitions of policy entrepreneurs creates and changes environmental regimes. Studies of regime building and regime change in the environmental field have been concerned predominantly with the use of power, the pursuit of rational self-interest, and the influence of scientific knowledge. Scholars have paid far less attention to the role of ideational factors in creating and changing the principles and norms of environmental regimes. Surprisingly, the processes by which the norms and principles of regimes are developed and changed have received little explicit attention, despite widespread agree- ment among regime analysts that regimes are defined and constituted by their underlying norms and principles as well as by their rules and decision- making procedures. Although a growing number of studies of public pol- icy and of international relations ascribe great significance to ideas and norms, analysts of environmental regimes pay little attention to ideas and norms, and their development and significance have not been empiri- cally documented. Moreover, this neglect of the ideational and normative aspects of environmental regimes stands in marked contrast to the impor- tance that politicians, national and international environmental authori- ties, and environmentalists ascribe to awareness raising, campaigning, and education in improving environmental protection. Since the early 1960s, states have signed numerous international environ- mental treaties and agreements and have been building environmental regimes. Initially, regional marine pollution and regional air pollution attracted most of the political attention that was paid to environmental problems. A number of regional regimes were created to deal with ocean dumping, with land-based sources of marine pollution, with acid rain, and with other environmental issues. In the 1980s and the 1990s, protection of the stratospheric ozone layer, preservation of biological diversity, and prevention of global climate change appeared on the international envi- ronmental agenda, and regimes were created to address such global environmental issues. By 1992, there were 170 international environmen- tal agreements and treaties (UNEP 1997).5 States will probably continue to build regimes and to develop international regulatory machinery for envi- ronmental protection for the foreseeable future. There is no overarching international authority for the protection of the environment. Nonetheless, regimes may be able to increase cooperation among countries. According to Krasner (1983, p. 2), “regimes can be defined as sets of implicit and explicit principles, norms, rules, and decision-making procedures around which actors’ expectations converge in a given area of international relations.”6 How are global environmental regimes created, and by whom? Once cre- ated, how and by whom are they changed? At first, analysts mostly paid attention to why and how regimes are initiated and built; less attention was paid to why and how regimes change and transform. More recent studies have made greater efforts to analyze the effectiveness of regimes in chang- ing social behavior and ultimately solving environmental problems. These studies have started from the assumption that regimes matter, and they have aimed to identify causal pathways.7 Despite many insightful analyses, there are still important lessons to be learned about the establishment and the transformation of environmental regimes. Focusing on the global ocean dumping regime and on the developments in the control of ocean dumping of low-level radioactive waste (commonly referred to as radwaste disposal) that have taken place under that regime, I examine the formation and change of the deep normative structure within which global ocean dumping policy—particularly with regard to radwaste disposal—has been embedded. The case of the global ocean dumping regime and radwaste disposal demonstrates the significance of transnational coalitions of policy entrepreneurs and public ideas in a powerful way. In particular, it offers an opportunity to examine more carefully the political construction of a global environmental problem, the role of persuasion and communication in an international setting, and the formation of interna- tional public opinion. These themes have not previously been developed and integrated in regime analysis. I do not claim in this book that the influence of ideas (or, as some prefer, the power of ideas) alone can explain regime development. Policy develop- ment should not be reduced to just a question of ideas; it is important to understand how ideas and interests together influence policy. Scholars who suggest that ideas have a significant independent impact on policy have not always been sufficiently careful or precise when specifying under what con- ditions ideas are likely to be influential, why one set of ideas had more force than another in a given situation, and in what way a particular idea made a difference. To increase our understanding of the policy influence of ideas, we therefore need to focus more systematically on key issues: What kinds of ideas matter? In what way do they influence behavior? In what ways and by whom are influential ideas transmitted? Through careful examination of these important issues, the ideational approach to political analysis improves our understanding of policy initiation and policy development at the national and the international level. The analytical ambition of regime analysis should be to integrate ideas and interests, rather than to segregate them. By focusing on the role of ideas, it seems possible to develop auxil- iary hypotheses that could supplement better-established theories about how power and interests influence regimes. In this book I hope to show that more attention should be given to how the interplay of public ideas and policy entrepreneurs influences environmental regimes. Scholars should carefully distinguish the different paths to regime establishment, or the distinct processes by which regimes are built, and should identify the theoretical models that best explain the different paths to regime establishment. I explore a distinctively ideational type of regime dynamics. Moreover, I carefully compare power-based, interest-based, and knowledge-based theories of regimes, and I show that these theories, despite their many valuable insights, explain neither the formation nor the change of the global ocean dumping regime satisfactorily. In particular, prominent regime theories overlook the significance of public ideas and policy entrepreneurs.8 Ideas and policy entrepreneurs are combined in complex ways in domes- tic and international environmental politics. It is well known that environ- mentalists, ecologists, scientists, experts, and the mass media often can play significant roles when environmental problems are discovered and needs for corrective environmental policy are identified. However, it has largely gone unnoticed, as my study shows, that policy entrepreneurs active inside governments, government agencies, and international organizations also are actively involved in discovering global environmental problems, con- structing and framing global environmental issues, and building environ- mental regimes. In other words, politicians, public administrators, and international bureaucrats are not only responding to the pressures of inter- est groups or just passively following the swings of public opinion. Policy makers and public administrators may actively discover new societal needs, create public value, and provide environmental protection and other national and international public goods.9 In this book I document that transnational coalitions of policy entrepreneurs can play a major role in building a regime for the protection of the global environment. I also document and analyze a significant process of regime change—in other words, a fundamental change of a regime’s principles and norms— that resulted in a major change in international environmental policy.10 Those who expect regimes to have no significant impact on state behavior would doubt the policy consequence of a regime change. I document that global environmental nongovernmental organizations (ENGOs) can act as catalysts for regime change, even when scientists and powerful states sup- port existing policies. In view of the strong opposition to regime change by Britain, France, Japan, and the United States and the absence of a scientific consensus on environmental and human health risks, the regime change that I document contradicts not only traditional power-based theories that predict that regime change will only occur in response to changes in the power and interests of dominant states but also more recent knowledge- based theories arguing for the power of epistemic communities. Though it is true that states are the only formally recognized members of regimes, ENGOs are often de facto members with considerable influence. Finally, the lack of scientific evidence of damage to humans and the environment from ocean dumping of radwaste raises an important question: Does this recent regime development constitute “good”11 and effective or unwise and negative global environmental policy? The London Convention and Radwaste Disposal In this book I investigate the formation and change of the global regime regulating ocean dumping of wastes, a regime established by the so-called London Convention of 1972.12 I examine in detail the events that resulted in the establishment of this environmental regime. I also examine the devel- opments in the control of radwaste disposal that have taken place under the regime. In 1946 a number of countries began unilaterally disposing of low-level radioactive waste at sea. Other countries, though concerned about the envi- ronmental effects of such dumping, failed to halt it. Radwaste disposal con- tinued after the establishment of the global ocean dumping regime in 1972. Hence, the regime initially permitted and regulated controlled radwaste dis- posal, and Britain and the United States (and later France and Japan) strongly supported this disposal practice. A moratorium temporarily halt- ing radwaste disposal was imposed in 1983, however, and no official dump- ing has taken place since then. Agreement on a global ban on radwaste disposal was reached in 1993. According to an advisor to Greenpeace International, the decision to prohibit radwaste disposal was “a major step forward by the world community in making a commitment to protect the world’s oceans.”13 The 1993 ban is evidence of a recent dramatic change of the regime—a change from permissive allowance of radwaste disposal to an emphasis on precaution and prevention. Environmental regimes are manifestations of interstate and transnational cooperation. Keohane (1984, p. 51) has defined cooperation as follows: “Cooperation occurs when actors adjust their behavior to the actual or anticipated preferences of others, through a process of policy coordina- tion.” In this book I examine the global ocean dumping regime and rad- waste disposal regulation as a case of global environmental regime formation and regime change. The formation and the transformation of the global ocean dumping regime—the two most important institutional devel- opments with respect to global policy for radwaste disposal—are examined in detail. Examining policy development requires a time perspective of at least 10 years.14 In this book I present a longitudinal study of more than 20 years of policy and institutional development within one environmental issue area. The primary focus is on political and ideational issues, although attention is paid to the technical and scientific aspects of ocean dumping and radioac- tive waste regulation.