IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

Imperfect adaptation: how the WTO and the IMF adjust to shifting power distributions among their members


  • Bernhard Zangl

    () (Ludwig-Maximilian-University Munich)

  • Frederick Heußner

    (Ludwig-Maximilian-University Munich)

  • Andreas Kruck

    (Ludwig-Maximilian-University Munich)

  • Xenia Lanzendörfer

    (Ludwig-Maximilian-University Munich)


Abstract How do international institutions adjust to shifting power distributions among their members? We argue that institutional adaptations to the rise of emerging and the decline of established powers are different from what power transition theories (PTTs) would lead us to believe. Institutional adaptations are not impossible, as pessimist PTT variants hold; and they are rarely easy to attain, let alone perfect, as optimist PTT variants imply. To bridge the gap between these versions of PTT, we propose an institutionalist power shift theory (IPST) which combines insights on the conditions and mechanisms of institutional change from functionalist, historical and distributive variants of rational institutionalism. IPST claims that institutional adaptations will succeed or fail depending on whether or not emerging powers are able to undermine the international institution and to make credible threats to this effect. To demonstrate IPST’s plausibility we analyze: (1) how India and Brazil gained the agreement of established powers to their membership in the WTO core negotiation group (“Quad”), which had previously been dominated by developed countries; and (2) how China reached agreement with established powers on (more) even-handed surveillance of IMF members’ financial stability, which, up to then, had focused on developing countries and exchange rate issues.

Suggested Citation

  • Bernhard Zangl & Frederick Heußner & Andreas Kruck & Xenia Lanzendörfer, 2016. "Imperfect adaptation: how the WTO and the IMF adjust to shifting power distributions among their members," The Review of International Organizations, Springer, vol. 11(2), pages 171-196, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:revint:v:11:y:2016:i:2:d:10.1007_s11558-016-9246-z
    DOI: 10.1007/s11558-016-9246-z

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    File Function: Abstract
    Download Restriction: Access to the full text of the articles in this series is restricted.

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Jean Pisani-Ferry & Adam Posen, 2011. "From convoy to parting ways? Post-crisis divergence between European and US macroeconomic Policies," Working Papers 498, Bruegel.
    2. Gu, Jing & Humphrey, John & Messner, Dirk, 2008. "Global Governance and Developing Countries: The Implications of the Rise of China," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 36(2), pages 274-292, February.
    3. Fioretos, Orfeo, 2011. "Historical Institutionalism in International Relations," International Organization, Cambridge University Press, vol. 65(2), pages 367-399, April.
    4. repec:cup:apsrev:v:94:y:2000:i:02:p:251-267_22 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Putnam, Robert D., 1988. "Diplomacy and domestic politics: the logic of two-level games," International Organization, Cambridge University Press, vol. 42(3), pages 427-460, July.
    6. Jeffrey J. Schott, 2000. "WTO after Seattle, The," Peterson Institute Press: All Books, Peterson Institute for International Economics, number 317.
    7. Alan Matthews, 2005. "The road from Doha to Hong Kong in the WTO agricultural negotiations: a developing country perspective," European Review of Agricultural Economics, Foundation for the European Review of Agricultural Economics, vol. 32(4), pages 561-574, December.
    8. Ismail, Faizel, 2009. "An assessment of the WTO Doha Round July–December 2008 collapse," World Trade Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 8(4), pages 579-605, October.
    9. Ming Zhang, 2009. "China's New International Financial Strategy amid the Global Financial Crisis," China & World Economy, Institute of World Economics and Politics, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, vol. 17(5), pages 22-35, September.
    10. Koremenos, Barbara & Lipson, Charles & Snidal, Duncan, 2001. "The Rational Design of International Institutions," International Organization, Cambridge University Press, vol. 55(4), pages 761-799, October.
    11. Sebenius, James K., 1992. "Challenging conventional explanations of international cooperation: negotiation analysis and the case of epistemic communities," International Organization, Cambridge University Press, vol. 46(1), pages 323-365, January.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    More about this item


    Institutional change; Power transition; Rational institutionalism; World Trade Organization (WTO); International Monetary Fund (IMF);

    JEL classification:

    • F5 - International Economics - - International Relations, National Security, and International Political Economy
    • F53 - International Economics - - International Relations, National Security, and International Political Economy - - - International Agreements and Observance; International Organizations
    • F55 - International Economics - - International Relations, National Security, and International Political Economy - - - International Institutional Arrangements


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:spr:revint:v:11:y:2016:i:2:d:10.1007_s11558-016-9246-z. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Sonal Shukla) or (Springer Nature Abstracting and Indexing). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.