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The Role of Legitimacy in the Design and Competition between Institutions: the case of Internet Governance

Governance
Institutions
International Relations
UN
USA
Global
Internet
Eric Brousseau
University Paris-Dauphine, PSL Research University
Eric Brousseau
University Paris-Dauphine, PSL Research University

Abstract

There have been clear claims by the ITU, supported by many Governments, and all kind of stakeholders to take control of the governance of the Internet. In particular a World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) was held in two phases in Geneva in 2003, and in 2005 to launch a process aimed at achieving a transfer of the technical (and other dimensions) of the governance of the information society from ICANN (and related organization) to the ITU. Another world conference held in Dubai in 2012 led to acknowledge the total failure of this process. A coalition formed of (mainly) OECD countries, and supported by representatives of businesses and of the “ technical community” (i.e. those engineers and developers at the core of Internet technical development and management), refused any extension of the mandate of the ITU and of the UN system. Rather they have been continuously working since the mid 2000’s in reinforcing the eco-system built around ICANN, which keeps control of the Internet expansion, architecture, and critical resources. How should this historical episode be interpreted? What have been the drivers of the inability of the UN system to gain control over the governance of a major global resource? Why did the US Government relinquished its initial total control over the Internet Governance, and progressively involved all kind of stakeholders in a cooperative coalition? And are the Governments still in the driving seat? On the basis of an extended analysis of the historical archives of the ITU and of ICANN, this paper proposes an analysis in terms of dynamic of institutions building aimed at establishing legitimacy. It is inspired by the recent work of Greif and Rubin on the British transition to a modern polity and economy (2013). In this paper, we claim that the US Government followed a strategy to establish its legitimacy in governing the Internet, while it had a policy to transfer the Internet to the society, then to the world. ICANN and the way it has been orchestrating a multi-stakeholder approach of governance involving on an equal footing individual and large users, the computer, telecom and digital industries, NGOs, IGOs and governments has been a way to legitimize the Federal government oversight over the development of the Internet and its global regulation. In the same time, it has led to relinquish elements of sovereignty. Transfers of competences initiating balances in the power system of governance, has been the condition for the formation of a coalition, both in term of political influence and competencies, which has been progressively establishing new principles of international governance.