Date of Award

Spring 2012

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science - International Relations


William D. Coleman



Committee Member

Tony Porter; Robert O'Brien


Rising levels of food insecurity is currently one of the most pressing issues in global politics. While the United Nations (UN) system has traditionally been responsible for addressing world hunger, the World Trade Organization (WTO) has emerged as a major site of global food security governance. As a result, the UN system and WTO now share authority over the global governance of food security. There are major tensions between these two regimes, with WTO trade rules making agriculture and food increasingly subject to market forces, while, in sharp contrast, the UN advances a human rights approach to food and a greater role for states and deeper constraints on the market. The WTO’s expanding authority over food security has prompted a counter-movement by the UN system, with UN institutions actively seeking to shape WTO trade rules in an attempt to limit the negative impacts of trade liberalization on world food security. This study develops a theory of international organizations as semi-autonomous actors that influence outcomes at competing institutional sites of global governance. This theoretical model, and its supporting empirical investigation, provide a novel contribution to the International Relations and International Political Economy literature on the role of state and non-state actors in contesting global governance. In particular, this study demonstrates that international organizations: act behind the scenes and in hidden ways in inter-state negotiations; perceive and adapt to new hierarchical configurations of power at the global level; and, engage in transnational political action that is motivated by moral and ethical concerns.

McMaster University Library