Abstract: A 'Science' of Sovereignty? Domestic and Transnational Concerns in Automobile Safety

Stève Bernardin and Harrison Grafos


International standardization—a result of economic and political decisions that governments, industries, and voluntary organizations have taken for decades—is hardly a new development. Nevertheless, controversies over the use of science in international regulatory bodies are sometimes passed over for economically driven issues. This case study of car safety regulation—investigating the genesis of a conflict between two distinct scientific regulatory processes at the United Nations—illustrates how science can be at stake when national officials use science to defend their idea of a democratic regulatory process. Here European leaders, inspired by functionalist notions guiding the post–World War II rebuilding of the continent, advanced a model of majority voting at the UN to facilitate rapid economic growth of the automobile industry. Many years later the United States would propose its own regulatory model for the UN, spurred on by the rise of the Japanese auto industry. These two regulatory perspectives—European and American—confronted each other in the mid-1990s, when an influential transatlantic business lobby pushed for harmonization of diverging national regulations. In a recent development, China and India have emerged as the key players likely to ultimately decide the future of the transnational regulation of the auto industry.