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date: 15 April 2024

The History of International Organization(s)locked

The History of International Organization(s)locked

  • Bob ReinaldaBob ReinaldaDepartment of Political Science, Radboud University Nijmegen


The emerging discipline of political science recognized international organization as an object of study earlier (i.e., around 1910) than international law, which, through an engagement with League of Nations ideals, began to follow the developments of international organizations (IOs) during the 1920s, and history, which kept its focus on states and war rather than on IOs until the early 2000s. The debate between liberal institutionalism and (dominant after 1945) realism deeply influenced the study of IOs. The engagement of the United States in the United Nations System, however, stimulated further studies of IOs and produced new theoretical orientations that left room for realist factors. The modernization of international relations studies through regime theory eventually removed the need to ask historical questions, resulting in short-term studies of IOs, but new approaches such as constructivism and historical institutionalism contributed to studies of long-term change of IOs and critical junctures in history. The main international relations approach traces the rise of the United Nations System (or, more broadly, IOs) as an instrument of American exceptionalism in the world. This view is being criticized by the paradigmatic turn in the discipline of history in the early 2000s, which has included IOs in its research and relates the creation of IOs to imperial powers, such as the United Kingdom and France, that wanted to safeguard their empires. These historical studies start in 1919 rather than 1945 and question international relations’ Western-centrist universalism by including competing universalisms such as anticolonial nationalism.


  • Organization

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