The study of international organizations (IOs) has been described as lacking theoretical depth. However, the field actually has a more solid theoretical foundation than some of its critics allege. Moreover, the variety of approaches has entailed multifaceted knowledge of the internal workings as well as the global effects of IOs. Three theoretical traditions have emerged, dealing with institutions, organization, and governance. Institutional analysis has a central position in political science. In the study of domestic institutions, three major schools—rational choice institutionalism, historical institutionalism, and sociological institutionalism—have emerged. Organization theory represents a change of focus from the ideational structures studied by institutionalists to more material and human structures. Whereas both institutional and organizational approaches were originally formulated for domestic structures, institutionalists have been more receptive to exploring domestic-international analogies and contrasts. Even if both institutional and organization theories pay attention to process— institutionalizing rules and practices as well as organizing collective entities are long-term processes— IO studies inspired by these approaches tend to focus on relatively stable structures, asking questions concerning the establishment, persistence or change, and impact of international institutions and organizations. A third, more recent perspective focuses on continuous processes of governance, involving international organizations as well as other types of actors.
Martin S. Edwards and Jonathan M. DiCicco
International organizations (IOs) such as the United Nations play an important role in war prevention. In theory, IOs reduce the risk of war between belligerents by improving communication, facilitating cooperation, and building confidence and trust. In practice, however, IOs’ war-preventing capacities have sparked skepticism and criticism. Recent advances in the scholarly study of the causes of war have given rise to new and promising directions in research on IOs and war prevention. These studies highlight the problems of interstate and intrastate wars, global and regional organizations, preventive diplomacy and peacekeeping, and the relationship between IOs and domestic institutions. They also offer novel insights that both complement and challenge studies of traditional concepts such as collective security. An interesting work is that of J. D. Fearon, who frames war as a bargaining process between rational states. Fearon articulates a central puzzle of international relations: since war is costly, the question that arises is why rational leaders of competing states choose to fight instead of pursuing less costly, nonviolent dispute settlements. Three general mechanisms account for rational, unitary states’ inability to identify an alternative outcome that both would prefer to war: bluffing about private information, commitment problems, and indivisibility of stakes. Despite the obvious progress in research on IOs and war prevention, there remain methodological and theoretical issues that deserve consideration for further investigation, two of which are: the interaction of domestic and international organizations, and the implications of variations in IO design.
Rodger A. Payne and Nayef H. Samhat
Power plays an important role in the formation of international organizations (IOs), including the formal institutions established by nation-states to promote collective action at the intergovernmental level. Power is commonly defined as the ability or authority to act, to accomplish a task or to create something new. Those who wield power are typically seen as having the ability to influence or even control the behavior of others. The willingness of states to employ material (or “hard”) power to accomplish their goals—whether those goals primarily reflect the interests of the strongest states or the shared preferences of many states—has long been the subject of scrutiny by international relations (IR) scholars. More recent scholarship approaches the topic from different perspectives, with particular attention to both the power generated by collective action and the collective identity created during the recognition and pursuit of common purposes. According to Michael Barnett and Raymond Duvall, there are four types of power: compulsory, institutional, structural, and productive. This typology can be linked to the way four major schools of IR theory view IOs: realism, neoliberalism, constructivism, and critical theory. Realist and neoliberal institutionalist schools use compulsory or institutional views of power to explain the development of regimes and their effects, while social constructivists and critical theorists rely on productive or structural power to tackle the meaning and importance of regimes. Scholars argue that regimes serve a cooperative function very similar to more formal IOs and provide a rationalist account of regime formation and behavior.
Dennis Dijkzeul and Leon Gordenker
International organizations (IOs) play an important role in addressing the plight of vulnerable groups (VGs), especially when states are either unwilling or unable to do so. Vulnerability as a concept thus provides a unique perspective for analyzing some of the strengths and shortcomings, as well as the challenges, of IOs. Vulnerability implies that the effects of disasters are determined not only by physical events but also by the institutional context. Some definitions of vulnerability suggest that it is a forward-looking concept indicating damage potential for people arising from hazards, which can be social and technological and not just natural. Three cases illustrate how specific forms of vulnerability are constituted, who are (considered to be) vulnerable, and who does what, when, and how to address vulnerability: Herbert Hoover’s Commission for Relief in Belgium during World War I, internally displaced people, and policy attempts by the United Nations and nongovernmental organizations to address different and growing forms of vulnerability. These cases contribute to a history of vulnerability as addressed by IOs, and highlight the incomplete nature of international action to address vulnerability as well as the difficulties faced by IOs in implementation, compliance, and concomitant institutionalization. Future research should devote more attention to issues such as the interaction of the politically powerful and vulnerable groups, the actual pathways that resistance to change or addressing vulnerability takes, and the processes by which vulnerability arises, and why and how it is being addressed—or not, states, IOs, and other actors.
James P. Muldoon
The evolution of international administration in theory and practice mirrors the pattern of development of international organizations and the institutionalization of governance for the international system, which can be divided into three time periods: 1815–1945, which marks the initial organization and bureaucratization of the international system; 1945–91, the period of rapid growth of international organizations and reconstitution of the international system that had been destroyed by World War II; and, 1991–present, which represents the end of the Cold War and a transformational moment for the international system as globalization and the technological revolution challenge the structure and function of international governance system. The bureaucratization of the international system is due to the effectiveness of this type of organization for administration and government on the national level. However, the structure and function of international administration is different from national administration. The bureaucracies of today’s international organizations reflect both the changes in the environment in which they observe and the nature of the issue areas they are tasked to manage. Meanwhile, the creation of the United Nations (UN) in 1945 marked the transition from the first stage to the second in the development of international organizations and the system of governance for a new international order. Finally, the end of the Cold War and the dramatic changes in the world’s political, economic, and social landscape brought about by globalization revived interest in international organizations, and the role that they would play in the “new” world order.
The evolution of international organizations (IOs) can be divided into three phrases. The first phase started with the Congress of Vienna (1814–15), which set in motion a series of innovations, inventions, and learning processes, shaping the core of what we now call IOs. The second phase of international organization in the nineteenth century is characterized by the building of permanent institutions. This is reflected in the new and dominant term “union” for organization. The term “public international union” (PIU) became the overarching term for the by intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. PIUs have been regarded as “early IGOs” which later transformed into specialized agencies of the UN system, with their subdivisions as institutional prototypes for the League of Nations and the UN. The third phase of international organization is the continued existence of IOs during the first half of the twentieth century. The outbreak of World War I can be regarded as an exogenous shock to the evolutionary development of IOs. During the war, the concept of international organization was not lost and was even central to the thinking on international politics in the UK and the US. Detailed plans for an international peace organization, using the term “international government”, were produced and discussed by politicians and citizens. These plans, which became part of the institutional strategy devised by the US, strongly reflected the organizational experiences of the PIUs.
Margaret P. Karns
The teaching of international organization (IO) poses unique challenges. One is deciding whether to take a broad global governance-IO approach dealing with the creation, revision, and enforcement of rules that mark different governance arrangements, the roles of formal, informal, intergovernmental, and nongovernmental IOs, and the politics, dynamics, and processes of problem-solving and governance in various issue areas, a theory-driven approach, or an IOs approach focusing primarily on select formal intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) and possibly nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), emphasizing structures, charters, mandates, and functions. Either choice could lead one to utilize recent literature on IGOs (and to a lesser extent NGOs) as organizations and bureaucracies, examining their design, functions, and performance or behavior. Another is the extent to which various international relations as well as IO-related theories such as theories of cooperation, regime and institution formation and evolution, functionalism, constructivism, and others are integrated into an IO course. To what extent are students introduced to currents of critical theory such as postmodernism, Marxism, feminism, and postcolonialism in relationship to IOs? There is also the question of which IGOs—global and/or regional—to include given the range of possibilities. How all the abovementioned issues are addressed will strongly influence choices with regard to textbooks, other readings, and various types of electronically available materials.
Kendall W. Stiles
International organizations (IOs) of the most distinct kinds and characteristics have effectively modified the structure of international law. For more than six decades, IOs have echoed the aspirations of humankind in pursuit of the ideal of realization of justice, and have furthermore given their contribution to that end. IOs are provided with privileges and immunities that are intended to ensure their independent and effective functioning. They are specified in the treaties that give rise to the organization, which are normally supplemented by further multinational agreements and national regulations under the international law. Rather than by national jurisdiction, legal accountability is intended to be ensured by legal mechanisms that are internal to the IO itself and access to administrative tribunals. In the course of many court cases where private parties tried to pursue claims against IOs, there has been a gradual realization that alternate means of dispute settlement are required, as states have fundamental human rights obligations to provide plaintiffs with access to court in view of their right to a fair trial. Otherwise, the organizations’ immunities may be put in question in national and international courts. Ultimately, international law binds IOs to the same degree that it binds states. This means that IOs, like states, are not bound by treaties without their consent, with some very narrow exceptions that apply to states and IOs alike.
Wesley W. Widmaier
Global economic governance refers to efforts to organize, structure, and regulate economic interactions. In substantive terms, economic governance deals with a host of policy challenges, including the definition of basic property rights, efforts at monetary and fiscal cooperation, ando concerns for the “macroprudential regulation” of financial markets. The Global Financial Crisis has demonstrated not only the importance of macroeconomic and regulatory cooperation, but also the role of crises in redefining the purposes of economic governance itself. Debates in the fields of international relations (IR) and international political economy (IPE) over global economic governance have revolved around strategic interactions, social psychological forces, and the post-crisis emergence of new agents and international organizations. In applied IPE settings, these debates more explicitly pertain to the systemic importance of hegemonic power, multilateral interactions, or intersubjective interpretations. These views intersect with neorealist, neoliberal, and constructivist assumptions regarding systemic interactions. Over the 1990s, IR and IPE scholars would increasingly seek to move beyond both the structural materialism associated with hegemonic stability theory and the structural idealism associated with “first-generation” Wendtian constructivism. Future research should focus on broader questions of whether the Global Financial Crisis will spark renewed theoretical creativity and contribute to an enhanced policy relevance, or whether IR and IPE will continue to work to mask the role of power in limiting such possibilities.
Adam M. Smith
One of the primary goals of the United Nations (UN) is to provide justice. The vast majority of mentions of “justice” in the UN Charter relate to the creation of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), one of the UN’s five principal organs. However, this body is not empowered to take cases on behalf of aggrieved individuals or even to prosecute individual malefactors. Rather, it is “justice” for states that is its goal. Meanwhile, the treaties signed at the 1948 Peace of Westphalia radically delimited the arena of international affairs. Most importantly, Westphalia held as paramount the noninterference by other states in the internal affairs of other members of the international community. Rejecting the logic of Westphalia, the notions of “humanitarian intervention” and the “responsibility to protect” refer to the legal right and/or obligation for a state to interfere in another state for purposes of humanitarian protection. Consequently, the UN established the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in order to address the carnage ongoing in the Balkans, as well as the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), which targeted that country’s 1994 Hutu–Tutsi violence. Meanwhile, the International Criminal Court (ICC), a non-UN institution, is the first permanent international tribunal devoted to justice in the wake of mass crimes. Each of these post-Cold War international tribunals have been concerned with the enforcement of International Humanitarian Law (IHL). Ultimately, however, the international community continues to hold fast to central elements of Westphalian protections.