A Partial Revolution: The Diplomatic Ethos and Transparency in Intergovernmental Organizations


  • Alasdair Roberts

    1. Alasdair Roberts is an associate professor of public administration in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs of Syracuse University. He is also director of the Campbell Public Affairs Institute. He received a juris doctorate from the University of Toronto and holds a doctorate in public policy from Harvard University. E-mail: asrobert@maxwell.syr.edu.
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The World Trade Organization and other intergovernmental organizations confront a crisis of legitimacy that is partly rooted in their perceived secretiveness. These organizations have attempted to address this crisis by promising “the maximum possible level of transparency,” but in fact, the improvements have been modest. Policies regarding access to information about intergovernmental organizations' operations continue to accommodate conventions of diplomatic confidentiality. Such conventions are more likely to be breached in areas where disclosure of information is essential to economic liberalization. A true revolution in transparency would require more rigorous policies on disclosure of information held by intergovernmental organizations such as the World Trade Organization, and could be justified as a prerequisite for the exercise of basic human rights, such as the right to participate fully in the policy-making process.