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date: 26 January 2021

International Organizations and Powerlocked

  • Rodger A. PayneRodger A. PayneDepartment of Political Science, University of Louisville
  •  and Nayef H. SamhatNayef H. SamhatWofford College


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.

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