Agenda Setting in the United Nations: A Theory of Legislative Politics in International Organizations

Previous research on policymaking in international organizations (IOs) has focused on the policy outputs of such institutions, highlighting variation in hard power to explain which states’ preferences are reflected in policy outcomes. I argue that in order to explain outputs of IOs, we must attend to the legislative politics that condition the set of policy outputs, and concurrently develop a more nuanced understanding of power in legislative politics of IOs. I develop a theory of legislative politics in IOs to answer who decides what the United Nations (UN) works on, and how? I argue that small and medium states shape the set of policy outcomes through legislative politics, choosing from a menu of legislative strategies based on the expected costs and benefits associated with each strategy. Specifically, I compare agenda settingelectioneering, and information provision. I propose that variation in the success of legislative strategies depends not on the distribution of hard power, but the expenditure of interstate social capital, a dynamic form of soft power that is cultivated through state level and diplomat level features. I shed light on the puzzle of why some traditionally less powerful states are more active and effective in advancing policy goals through legislative strategies in IOs. To test this theory, I employ a multimethod approach, bringing to bear evidence from a variety of data sources and statistical techniques, case studies, and interviews to develop a holistic understanding of legislative politics in the UN and its implications, as well as other IO contexts in which the theory should hold.