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date: 11 December 2018

Summary and Keywords

An international organization (IO) is an ordering principle and a method of conducting international relations. It may refer to formal institutions set up by more than three sovereign states through multilateral treaties to achieve, with the support of a permanent secretariat, shared interests, and desirable objectives. IOs are a byproduct of the European Westphalian anarchical interstate system of international relations and can be traced back to the “Concert of Europe” and to institutions set up throughout the 19th century to facilitate interstate international economic or technical cooperation. After a pause in the 1910s and 1930s, the number of institutions dealing with an ever-expanding range of transnational issues grew exponentially in the second half of the 20th century, becoming a ubiquitous component of the international relations landscape. Numerous contributing factors have accounted for this momentous transformation in interstate relations, and these developments have also fed a steady stream of contending and constantly shifting theoretical approaches to international relations within IO scholarship. There is now a glut of theories, each making different assumptions about the nature of international politics, focusing attention on different aspects of international organization and propounding widely diverging conclusions about the role and functions of IOs. There is, however, a trend among these: the legal/historical tradition which initially provided the intellectual lens through which international organizations were understood has given way to a mix of realist regime theory and liberal intergovernmentalism views.

Keywords: international organization, institutional forms, historical processes, interstate relations, international politics, regime theory, liberal intergovernmentalism, historical development

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