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date: 20 January 2021

Evolution of International Organization as Institutional Forms and Historical Processes Since 1945: “Quis Custodiet ipsos custodies?”free

  • Jacques F. FomerandJacques F. FomerandSchool of Professional Studies, New York University


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.

Updated in this version

Fully reworked and extended.

International organization (IO), in a broad sense of the term, is an “ordering principle” (Thompson & Snidal, 1999), a “method” (Leonard, 1951) of conducting international relations, in brief a process. More narrowly defined, international organization may refer to what the Yearbook of International Organizations labels as “conventional international bodies”—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. So defined, IOs are a byproduct of the European Westphalian anarchical inter-state system of international relations. Their first, modest and hesitant stirrings may 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 (Mackenzie, 2010; Reinalda, 2013). After a pause in the 1910s and 1930s, the number of global and regional, technical and political, regulatory, consultative, and operational institutions dealing with an ever-expanding range of transnational issues grew exponentially in the second half of the 20th century. The latest issue of the Yearbook of International Organizations, which has been tracking the IO phenomenon since the early 20th century, provides information on over 38,000 active and an equal number of dormant international intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations from 300 countries and territories. Most of them—33,000 to be precise—were founded since the 1950s. Between 1900 and 2009, 6,216 intergovernmental organizations were founded, again the bulk of them (5,240) in the second half of the 20th century (Weiss, Seyle, & Coolidge, 2013); and the Yearbook estimates that there are currently 7,757 intergovernmental organizations. Relying on the narrower definition of IO offered earlier, the numbers are more modest but still telling. The Yearbook thus identifies a total of 273 “conventional international bodies” including one federation of international organization, 37 universal membership organizations, 36 intercontinental membership organizations, and 199 regionally oriented membership organizations. Competing figures can be found in other sources, ranging from 126 by the U.S. Department of State, to over 250 by the Encyclopedia Britannica, to 325 by the Correlates of War database (Davies & Woodward, 2014).

Notwithstanding the lively controversies about the reliability of the data, the fact of the matter remains that the international intergovernmental institutions have indeed become a ubiquitous component of the international relations landscape (Barnett & Finnemore, 2004, p. 1). In Hurd’s words (2011), they are at the heart of many global issues today. Numerous contributing factors have been cited accounting for this momentous transformation in interstate relations including “tectonic changes in the structure and essential conditions of international politics” (Claude, 1968, p. xix), a “pluralization” of global politics and the emergence of “diverse forms of multi-actor, multi-sector, and multi-level governance” (Held in Weiss & Rorden, 2014, pp. 4, 63), the growing interdependence of the world economy, the unrelenting processes of the globalization of the past decades, and the recognition that pressing issues transcending national boundaries cannot be tackled, let alone solved, by single states (Baylis, Smith, & Owens, 2014).

These developments have also fed a steady stream of contending and constantly shifting theoretical approaches to international relations within the framework of which the study of international organizations remains embedded in. 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 (Rosamond, 2000, pp. 198–205). One broad trend can be detected, though: 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 intergovernmentalist views, augmented more recently by approaches derived from sociology to what Margaret Karns and Karen Mingst call the “pieces of global governance” (2004, p. xvi) and Weiss and Wilkinson call “the contemporary global governance puzzle” (2014, p. 5). The strand of what might be called “critical theories”—the works of Robert Cox (Cox, 2002; Roach, 2008) and feminist students (Caglar, Prugl & Zwingel, 2013; Kronsell & Svedberg, 2012; Tickner, 1992)—remains by and large on the periphery of mainstream scholarship.

IOs may be viewed as “political systems converting inputs into outputs, reacting to demands and support for their environment, and transforming these into policies directed towards their environment (Rittberger, Zangl, & Staisch, 2012). From this vantage point, students of IOs have over time raised four sets of questions about the IO phenomenon. One, what is the nature of the environment of IOs, and once they have come into being, to what extent can they be viewed as bona fide international actors? Two, what are the internal dynamics of IOs and modes of decision making. Three, what are the policy outputs of IOs—that is, the purposive courses of action emerging from their decision making machinery to address particular problems (Thakur & Weiss, 2009, pp. 18–35). Four, what is the feedback effect of these policies, the support (or lack of) they generate—in brief, their legitimacy and the authority of the institutions that produce them.

The IO/Environment Nexus: Actorness

One enduring central debate about IOs is their “actorness”—that is to say the extent to which they can be differentiated from their constituting environment, enjoy a degree of identity, their structural and functional autonomy, and their capacity to influence the statist environment they spring from. Throughout the 1940 to 1960s, realist and legalistic paradigms prevailed stressing that IOs were simply creatures and servants of their principals. Now, after over a century of IO practice, the prevailing view that IOs are not simply “playthings of states [or] instruments of capitalism” (see Barnet & Duvall in Weiss & Rorden, 2014, p. 57). They may also enjoy a significant, though still conditional and ever fluctuating, degree of autonomy, independence, and capacity to effect change. In brief, they have capacity (Tavares, 2009).

Whether they emphasize state sovereignty, power, and human nature (Bull, 1977; Carr, 1964; Morgenthau, 1978), or focus on the anarchical structure of the international political system (Mearsheimer, 1994–1995), realists take a dim view of IOs. Balancing power among states whose sovereignty cannot be divided is of the essence (Morgenthau, 1978, p. 328). In a context where the actions of states are driven by their interests rather than universal moral principles, IOs thus come into existence only because states, especially powerful ones (global or regional, as noted by Drezner, 2007), share common interests that they have elected to pursue in multilateral settings under their control. In their operation, IOs are, accordingly, instruments of national policies, arenas, effectors of great power agreements, or legitimizers of dominant state policies. They mirror their environment and are shaped by it. Their actorness is virtually nil (Godehardt & Naber, 2011; Ikenberry, 2012; Rosenau & Czempiel, 1992). What purposes IOs may have, they flow from the political process and reflect changes in purpose of the states dominating the organization (Claude, 1968, p. xvii). From this vantage point, the argument has been made that the strategic interests of the major powers shape the responses of the international community to refugee crises (Haddad, 2008). Some students of the European Union have highlighted the fact that, without a credible military component (Bull, 1982), the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy is fatally flawed and undermined by a critical “capabilities-expectations gap (Hill, 1993) and a “consensus expectations gap” (Toje, 2008a, 2008b). The result is the “emergence of a European strategic culture characterized by continuing dependence on the United States and a predisposition to “soft” power (Wright, 2011). In Kagan’s trenchant words, Venus prevails over Mars (2004).

At the other side of the academic divide, constructivists argue that neither international structures, nor states’ identities and interests—especially their sovereignty—are givens. Rather, they are constructed through the social practice, socialization, and interaction of a multiplicity of actors. States are prominent as argued by Kratochwil (1989) and Ruggie (1993). But non-state actors (Jonsson & Tallberg, 2010; Scholte, 2011) have also been increasingly drawn into IO processes. These include, among others, non-governmental organizations that have been studied by Willetts (2011); advocacy networks and social movements by Keck and Sikkink (1998) and Hertel (2006); corporate actors by Brainard (2006) and Tagi-Sagafi & Perlmutter (2008); labor organizations by Banerjee and Colucci (2007) and Bieler and Lindberg (2010); think tanks and global policy networks by McGann, Viden, and Raffely (2014), “issue specific transnational expert networks” by Haas (1992); the media (Bahador, 2007; Seib, 2008; Thompson, 2007); religious movements (Cherry & Elaugh, 2014; Green & Viaene, 2012); transnational criminal networks (Jakobi, 2013); and private military companies (Chesterman & Lehnardt, 2007; Patterson, 2009).

By assigning a central place to identities and interests and maintaining that such ideas and processes form a structure of their own, which in turn impact upon international actors, constructivists offer more optimistic analyses of international relations and show how IOs are an integral part of international political processes; IOs enjoy a significant though not necessarily complete autonomy in relation to their principals and contribute, together with, or as “norm entrepreneurs,” to the development, diffusion, and internalization of acceptable global norms (Finnemore & Sikkink, 1998). In her pioneering work on National Interests in International Society (1996), Finnemore highlighted the role of UNESCO, the Red Cross, and the World Bank in reconstituting state interests. Likewise, Audie Klotz explained how the sanctions regime, adopted against the Apartheid regime in South Africa, developed out of the emergence of a global norm of racial equality that led states to redefine their interests. The large scale multi-year, multi-volume United Nations Intellectual History Project traces the origins and evolution of key ideas and concepts about international economic and social development to the work of United Nations institutions (Jolly, Emmerij, Ghai, & Lapeyre, 2004). Haddad (2008) has shown how specific images have defined the refugee, for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) policies and practices and for states ratifying the refugee convention. Chwieroth (2010) has traced the evolution of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approach to capital controls back to internal staff debates and their changing beliefs. The European Union’s actorness has likewise been conceptualized as the resultant of “the interplay of internal political factors with the perceptions and expectations of outsiders” (Bretherson & Vogler, 1999, p. 1) and socialization processes (Hayes-Renshaw & Wallace, 2006; Hooghe, 2001). Other notable examples of works in the same vein include analyses of the Europeanization of national foreign policies (Gross, 2009).

Drawing from the literature on bureaucracies and their culture (Brechin, 1977), and starting with the commonplace observation that organizations tend to acquire a life of their own, Barnett and Finnemore (2004) have gone a step further and made the compelling argument that IOs may act autonomously, deviate from and expand their original mandates in ways dictated not by states but by the “constitutive” nature of bureaucracies and their culture. Even “technical” or “functional” agencies are not immune from these changes. Lee (2008) has shown how the World Health Organization turned itself into the “world’s health conscience.” Broome and Seabrooke (2014) have argued that “analytical institutions” of IOs and adjudicatory bodies of the Bretton Woods Institutions, the World Trade Organization, and the OECD interact with states in such a manner as to determine how public policy problems are identified, comprehended, and resolved. Likewise, Abbott, Genschel, Snidal, and Zang (2015) developed the idea that IOs can shape and steer global governance by orchestrating intermediaries such as non-governmental organizations. In some cases, these transformations may pave the way to internal dysfunctions and “pathologies” (Dijkzeul & Beigbeder, 2003). In an odd manner, “institutional wrongs” ranging from fraud, corruption, and turf wars, to managerial failures, to the “unintended consequences” of UN peacekeeping operations (i.e., sexual abuse and exploitation, distortions of the local economy, impact on local civil service and on troop contributing countries) all become elements and indicators of “actorness” (Andreas, 2008; Aoi, De Coning, & Thakur, 2007; Mendelson, 2005).

A variant on these constructivist themes derived from the sociology of law, the “principal agent” perspective interprets political institutions as devices designed to solve the ubiquitous principal-agent game in politics (Lane, 2007) and posits that IOs are not merely a set of rules and procedures but partially autonomous actors implementing policies and pursuing their own interests strategically, variously as “managers,” “enforcers,” and “authorities” (Reinalda & Bertjan, 2004). These insights have been applied to the European Union (Pollack, 2003), the World Bank (Nielson & Tierney, 2003) and to environmental institutions (Siebenhüner, 2008). The actorness of IOs is thus explained on the basis of such variables as contracts, agency slack, shirking autonomy discretion, agency losses and reflexive or adaptive learning. Hawkins, Lake, and Nielson (2006) have explored the conditions under which IOs evolve into dutiful agents, rogue actors, or both. In a similar vein, the deepening autonomy of IOs has been explained through the template of constitutionalism, the interaction of a pouvoir constituant with normative and organization principles, the institutional setting, the conditions of membership, the exercise of political power, and the interface between centers of power (Tsagourias, 2007).

In between these two polar opposites, the heterogeneous family of “liberal-institutionalist” scholars offers a wide variety of prognoses about the actorness of IOs. Basically, liberals see individual freedom, democratic accountability, and respect for the demands of the economic market place as the domestic foundations of international relations. At the global level, these standards translate into the belief that inter-state relations can be progressively improved by means of cooperative and collective-action institutions variously focused on democratization, economic interdependence, and the management of security and economic issue areas (Doyle, Johnstone, & Orr, 1997; Held, 1995). This is what Russett and ONeal (2001) label triangulating peace. The early versions of liberalism, articulated by Normal Angell (1912), Woodrow Wilson and Hamilton Foley (1969), and Alfred Zimmern (1939) were followed by normative-empirical “federalist” approaches (Friedrich, 1968), the “peace by pieces” prism of functionalist (Mitrany, 1966) and neo-functionalist analyses, applied primarily to the European integration process (Haas, 1964) and, occasionally, to the United Nations (Sewell, 1966) Other contemporary studies of the emergence of “security communities” (Deutsch, Burrell, & Kann, 1957) that have been recently applied to the European and East Asian experiences (Acharya, 2014; Kelstrup, 2000; Osborne & Kriese, 2008) can also be viewed as versions of the theme of complex interdependence developed in the mid-1970s by Keohane and Nye (2001). From this vantage point, conditions of increasingly complex interdependent relations among states fraught with “sensitivities” and “vulnerabilities” point to a growing need for “cooperation under anarchy” (Oye, 1986) through IOs endowed with varying degrees of autonomy depending on issue areas (Keohane, 1984).

Insofar as states and other actors design institutions to advance their joint interests, (Koremenos, Lipson, & Snidal, 2001), liberal institutionalists maintain that the primary function of IOs is to act as facilitators of inter-state cooperation. They have explored the types of constellations of interests most likely to lead to the emergence and success of IOs (Snidal, 1985). Some have underlined the fact that the effectiveness of IOs does not necessarily hinge on the continued existence of a hegemon as argued by realists (Keohane, 1984). Others have shown how the regimes IOs are embedded into reduce uncertainty-about the preferences and behaviors of concerned state as well as non-state actors, thus providing a structured and predictable environment that generates expectations of further cooperation as well as reduced transaction costs (Krasner, 1983; Oye, 1986). An offshoot of this “organized voluntarism” (Barrett, 2007, p. 19) is the “public goods” approach, which emphasizes that IOs are more effective than markets in the provision of such “global conditions” as peace, health, environmental stability, foreign aid, poverty elimination, human rights, technology transfer, and intellectual property (Andersen & Lindsnaes, 2007; Brousseau, 2012; Kaul, Grunberg, & Stern, 1999; Maskus & Reichman, 2005).

Yet another line of reasoning in the literature is the idea that IOs can help states societies develop shared values and norms (Alvarez, 2005) and resolve collective action problems in the maintenance of peace and security (Goodby & O’Connor, 1993) or in economic and environmental issues (Breitmeier, Young, & Zurn, 2007; Ruggie, 1993). Meanwhile, students of global governance maintain that IOs are entities pertaining to transnational networks of state and non-state actors crystallizing around and seeking to manage and resolve problems of global scope and concern in a noncoercive way (Karns & Mingst, 2009). They acknowledge that modalities of involvement and contributions of each actor in this constellation of actors fluctuate widely. But they all emphasize the pivotalrole of the United Nations plays as a “linchpin institution” at the center of a “tattered patchwork of authority” and “polycentric,” “messy” multi-actor interactive networks concerned with the trans-spatial management of global issues beyond the capacity of individual states to resolve (Avant, Finnemore, & Sell, 2010; Diehl, 2005; Weiss, 2013; Weiss & Thakur, 2010; Weiss & Wilkinson, 2014).

The Rules of the Game

The constitutions, legal status, purposes, membership, formal structures and powers, and functioning and institutional problems of international organizations have been a long standing focus of interest of IOs students who initially combined factual, historical, and legal analyses with normative concerns. These formal approaches have, by and large, been superseded by writings embedding legal descriptions into sociological foundations.

International conferences and public unions that predated the establishment of the League of Nations were studied by Paul Reinsch (1911), Frederick Dunn (1929), and Norman Hill (1929). Subsequently, important contributions by legal scholars and historians were made by Lauterpacht (1934) and Zimmern (1939), who lauded the League for having institutionalized and expanded on the old conference system. The historical/legal baton was taken over after the Second World War by Goodrich, Hambro, and Simons (1969). The normative assumptions that pervaded such early legal studies of IOs—especially the notion that organizations like the League and the UN were early manifestations of a de facto and/or desirable evolution towards world government—have virtually disappeared. One notable exception is the World Order Models Project (WOMP), which took off in the 1960s under the intellectual leadership of a number of radical scholars who explored ways in which a new world order could be organized in such a manner as to obtain “peace without national military arsenals,” “economic well-being for all inhabitants on the earth,” “universal rights and social justice,” and “ecological balance” (Clark & Sohn, 1973; Falk & Mendlovitz, 1966; Mendlovitz, 1975). Mendlovitz and Falk and a handful of other scholars have carried over the WOMP into the post Cold War era, exploring the cosmopolitan goal of transcending the Westphalian state system through international law and “global constitutionalism” (Falk, Kim, & Johansen, 1993) or a variety of “transnational democracy” to be achieved by making the Security Council more accountable, granting greater financial independence to the organization, and broadening the participation of non-governmental organizations in its decision making processes (Falk, 1995; Walker & Mendlovitz, 1990).

Battered by realists as incorrigible idealists and utopians (Barata, 2004; Bull, 1977; Mangone, 1951), the ranks of normative IOs students have been reduced to a handful of academics (Pojman, 2006). The idea of world government has receded into the background and, while some acknowledge that there may be a role for a limited federal world government, which would entail a significant strengthening of the United Nations (Yunker, 2011), it has been superseded by the dominant discourse of global governance. In the trenchant but accurate words of contemporary observers “a world federal government that would remain democratic and truly protective of world citizens is almost everywhere regarded as something for the far future” (Baratta, 2004, p. 536) and/or “impractical” (Yunker, 2011).

The field now is by and large occupied by the heirs of D. W. Bowett (1970). Their focus is on the “common law” or the “principles of the institutional law” of IOs, an area of inquiry that encompasses a broad range of topics, including such subjects as the participants in the international legal system (D’Aspremont et al., 2011), IOs membership and representation, legal personality, privileges, and immunities (Carter, 2011; Johns, 2010; Reinisch, 2013); financing, rule making, and dispute settlement role (Klein, 2005; Menkel-Meadow, 2012), enforcement techniques (Cameron, 2013; Noortmann, 2006), practice of judicial organs (Hernandez, 2014; Kolb & Perry, 2013; Pasqualucci, 2003; Rosenne & Ronen, 2006), liability of members, dissolution and succession, constitutional amendments (Chesterman, Franck, & Malone, 2008; Conforti & Focarelli, 2010; Klabbers & Wallendahl, 2011; Zacklin & Guggenheim, 2006).

The proliferation of IOs has prompted more pointed behavioral inquiries dealing with the role of IOs in the development of international law (Higgins, 1963; Tams & Sloan, 2013), the interface between national sovereignty and international organization (Jackson, 2006), the reactions of national courts to IOs (Reinisch, 2008), the changing relationship between domestic policy and external relations (Dashwood & Maresceau, 2008) and, more importantly, the legal issues arising from their increasingly overlapping assigned tasks (Blokker & Schermers, 2001; Pauwely, 2003). Other scholars have focused on the modalities through which states confer authority to IOs and the exercise of these delegated “sovereign” powers (Hawkins et al., 2006; Sarooshi, 2007; Shan, Simons, & Singh, 2008), on how transnational security issues affect the thinking and practice of the UN Security Council (Summers, 2014; Vaughan, Roberts, Welsh, & Zaum, 2010) and, more narrowly, on the capacity of international legal bodies such as the International Court of Justice to resolve claims of self determination (Coleman, 2013) or self defense (Green, 2009).

Equally interesting are the recent efforts of legal scholars who seek to bridge the gap between formal descriptions of the institutional aspects of international organizations and real world politics, thus in effect linking environment to structures and outputs. Recent instances of such writings include Alvarez’s exploration of the ways through which global IOs like the UN system and WTO are reshaping the development, implementation, and enforcement of international law (2005); Winkler (2006), analysis of the Council of Europe monitoring procedures; Chesterman et al. (2008), exploration of the constraining impact of the interaction between law and practice on multilateral institutions; and Luck and Doyle (2004), investigation of the institutional, political, and legal challenges arising from the gap between “expanding norms and norms” and “lagging compliance.” Focusing on the international and European models of transnational constitutionalism, Tsagourias (2007) explains how laws are created, behaviors regulated, and institutional functions assessed through the interfacing of distinct centers of powers (2007, pp. 1–3). Acknowledging that globalization has blurred the traditional distinction between domestic and international law, Krisch (2010) has mapped out a pluralist vision of a post-national legal framework reflecting the “hierarchical interaction of various suborders of different levels.” Meanwhile, Johnstone (2011), in an effort to understand the dynamics of power in the international system, hypothesized that legal argumentation in and around international organizations has a significant impact on international politics.

Decision Making

Formal modes of decision making in international organizations vary widely, ranging from unanimity to simple and qualified majority to weighted voting systems (Reinalda, 2013; Reinalda & Bertjan, 2004; Schwartzberg, 2013). Most observers of the League of Nations attribute its weak executive authority to the rule of unanimity prevailing in both the Council and the Assembly (Northedge, 1986; Walters, 1952), a predicament that led the drafters of the UN Charter to adopt a mix of procedures seeking to reconcile differentials in power distribution with the legal principle of the sovereign equality of states (Russell & Muther, 1958). From this formal perspective, the voting and procedural arrangements of the UN Security Council have been explored by Bailey and Daws (1998), the UN General Assembly by Bosch (1998), the procedures of the UN principal organs by Jessup (2008), and UN-sponsored international conference by Sabel (2006). The institutional design and the voting power of the European Union have also received considerable attention (Zyczkowski & Cichocki, 2010).

Early on, however, students of IOs have recognized that the operation of formal decision making machineries can evolve considerably as a result of their internal dynamics and interactions with their broad changing political and cultural context (Sato, 1996). As Stoessinger showed (1965), the sacrosanct veto built into the decision making of the UN Security Council to protect the interests of big powers did not always incapacitate the organization. Likewise, veto threats have influenced the outcome of treaty negotiations but have not stymied them within the EU context (Slapin, 2011). Cox and Jacobson (1973) explored the kaleidoscopic sources and exercise of influence in the decision-making process of eight specialized agencies of the United Nations from this vantage point. Antolik (1990) and Aggarwal and Morrison (1998) have shown how regular processes of consultation are distinctive of the ASEAN “way,” and how they shape the proceedings and outcomes of the organization. Conversely, the narrow institutional space granted to the League of Arab states in conjunction with its members’ use of the norm of Arabism in their foreign policies may have contributed to the organization’s “symbolic entrapment” (MacDonald, 1965). Naurin and Wallace, in a path breaking study (2008), have empirically documented the games governments play in Council of the European Union, which range from coalition building to deliberation and risk regulation to strategic bargaining. In the same vein, Vreeland and Dreher (2014) show how powerful countries on the UN Security Council trade the political support of the elected members of the Council by extending (or threatening to withhold) financial favors.

Comprehensive accounts of the European policy process, combining analyses of the European institutional machinery with discussions of sectoral policies, are legion (Cini & Borragan, 2010; Kissack, 2010; Niemann, 2000; Versluis, van Keulen, & Stephenson, 2011; Wallace, Wallace, & Pollack, 2005). These studies generally characterize decision making in the Union as a system of intertwined and overlapping multilevel governance, where authority is widely dispersed among a wide range of states and non-state actors including in particular supranational and national bureaucracies (Berry, 2009; Hooghe, 2001; Hooghe & Marks, 2001). Comparative studies of integration processes in military security, fiscal policy, and public administration have challenged this conception and have shown that the Union operates primarily by regulating core state national capacities rather than by creating European-wide standard (Genschel & Jachtenfuchs, 2014). Be that as it may, single institution studies of the Commission (Ellinas & Suleiman, 2012; Geary, 2013; Hartlapp, Metz, & Rauh, 2014), the Council (Eggermont, 2012; Foret & Rittelmeyer, 2014;Hayes-Renshaw & Wallace, 2006), the Parliament (Ripoll Servent, 2015; Thomson, 2011), and the European Court of Justice (Dawson, de Witte, & Muir, 2013; Micklitz & Witte, 2012; Schmidt & Kelemen, 2013) provide useful insights in the processes leading to changes in the balance of power and division of labor among the institutions of the Union.

The growing number of independent states actively seeking membership and participation in international organizations in conjunction with persisting state sensitivities about their formal and/or legal equality have contributed to the ever-widening reliance on and use of consensus as a mode of decision-making. Case study on decision making in the UN Security Council (Dedring, 2008; Malone, 1998) have shown how ad-hoc informal practices set precedents and evolve into norms guiding decision making processes that increasingly involve the participation of nonmember states and the consideration of cross-cutting agenda. An analysis of a data set of 180 elections, from 1970 to 2005, found that UN Security Council elections appear to derive from a compromise between the demands of populous countries to win elections more frequently and the norm of giving each country its turn (Drehe, Gould, Rabien, & Raymond, 2014). The consensus principle may be an egalitarian procedure, but it does not necessarily eliminate geopolitical realities, as recent studies of the failure of trade negotiations within the World Trade Organization have shown (Sampson & Chambers, 2008), nor does it erase, to use legal language, the “sovereign (in)equality” of IOs members (Efraim, 2000). Not infrequently, searching for and achieving consensual decisions may generate a mixed bag of outcomes ranging from onerously time-consuming negotiations and ambiguous language, reflecting the lowest common denominator among participants, which in turn leads to contentious interpretations of the agreements reached, and to policy incoherence (Egenhoffer, Van Schaik, & Carrera, 2006) and “rationality gaps” (Block, 2011). Rather than signaling political agreement, consensus sometimes turns out to be part of a blame avoidance strategy (Novack, 2013), or worse, as anthropological students of IOs have suggested, a “gloss of harmony” hiding “disarticulations” between practice and stated ideals (Muller, 2013).

Another deviation that has received considerable attention has been the emergence of more or less informal groups and bloc voting in large parliamentary diplomatic bodies. Alker and Russett’s pioneering 1965 study documented how voting processes in the UN General Assembly reflected the dual impact of the Cold War and decolonization. Their study has been replicated in more recent explorations of the responses of states to US dominance of the Organization in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union (Bosch, 1998; Russett & Kim, 1996; Voeten, 2004). The evolution and widely varying effectiveness of informal groups of states in support of the peacemaking work of the United Nations has been explored through case studies in El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Georgia, Western Sahara, and East Timor (Prantl, 2006; Whitfield, 2007). Earlier, Rothstein (1979) and Weiss (1986) had shown how North-South group interfacing—especially the role of the Group of 77 in multilateral settings—created rigidities in decision making and shaped elusive diplomatic policy outcomes. A 2007 study of more than 12,000 recorded votes between 1979 and 2004 established that transnational parties in the European Parliament are highly cohesive and that the classic “left-right” dimension dominates their voting behavior. The authors also showed that the cohesion of parties in the Parliament had increased with the expanding powers of the institution (Hix, Noury, & Roland, 2007).

States’ engagement, negotiations, and bargaining in IOs is the resultant of both domestic and international considerations (Koops & Macaj, 2014; Takac, 2009), but constructivists have demonstrated persuasively how national interests are shaped by multilateral institutions (Checkel, 2004) and participants socialized into the norms and rules of the multilateral game (Bulmer & Lequesne, 2005). On this point, it may be worth recalling here the burgeoning literature on the Europeanization of the members of the Union—the transformative effect of the European Union on their politics or on countries seeking membership (Baun & Marek, 2014; Gross, 2009; Mannin & Bretherton, 2013; Wong, 2006). In fact, for some observers of the European Union, this process of value internalization has anchored the Union into the core interests of national governments (Moravcsik, 1998). From this perspective, the decision-making process of IOs becomes much more diffused and segmented, distinct “networks” of public and private actors informally coalescing and bargaining among one another out of formal institutions around discrete policy sectors. In the mid-1970s, Keohane and Nye (2001), looking at oceans and monetary politics, had drawn attention to the fact that conditions of “complex interdependence,” “sensitivity,” and “vulnerability” had created a policy environment in which the erosion of military power, the absence of hierarchy among issues, and the emergence of multiple channels of contacts prevented any single actor from imposing its agenda, compelling them to enter into a bargaining process that entailed coalition building through the exchange of resources and expertise. This “muddling trough” paradigm, has been detected in the “management of cooperation” through IOs in global governance (Jordan, Archer, Granger, & Ordes, 2001), as well as in the workings of the European Union (Peterson, 2004), and the European Council in particular (Veen, 2011).

In that “global dance” (Smith, 2005) of states and non-state actors involved in “parliamentary diplomacy” (Jancic, 2012; Kaufman, 1988), it is increasingly recognized that international secretariats may acquire leadership functions that enable IOs to play roles extending beyond what states originally envisaged. A network version of this insight is the recent identification of a “second” and “third United Nations,” the former consisting of members of the international civil service, and the latter composed of actors associated with the Organization but not formally part of it, such as IOs, academics, consultants, and experts (Weiss, Carayannis, & Jolly, 2009). The institutional manifestations of the “Third” United Nations have been noted earlier in the context of the growing salience of global governance as an organizing concept of IOs. The second UN has long been a matter of scholarly attention, extending back to the role played by international bureaucracies in developing and shaping UN peacekeeping activities (Silke, 2014). Cox and Jacobson’s seminal comparative analysis of decision making processes in the UN specialized agencies (1973) documented how the ILO, between 1945 and 1970, evolved into a kind of limited monarchy “in which one central figure—the executive head—played a leading role, subject nevertheless to a variety of constraints The published recollections of senior IO administrative officials are in this regard a rich source of insights into the quiet influential impact of international bureaucracies on multilateral processes, policies, ideas, and priorities (Ogata, 2005; Traub, 2006). The role of the UN Secretary-General has of course been the subject of considerable debate. The office and its incumbent have thus been conceptualized in contrasted terms: as an “adjunct of the intergovernmental system or part of a wider process of global governance that transcends state structures” (Newman, 1998) or, more figuratively, as a secretary or a general (Chesterman, 2007). Short-term phases of expansion and contractions notwithstanding, in a long-term perspective, the office has acquired governance responsibilities way beyond the few and elusive formal duties assigned to it in the Charter, and the incumbents have rarely, if ever, embraced a “political celibate” (Gordenker, 2010; Kille, 2007; Rovine, 1970). Likewise, in the European Union context, the policy entrepreneurship of the Commission in the enlargement of the Union (Geary, 2013) and the development of its regional policy (Ginsberg, 2010) have been frequently highlighted. Much attention has been also devoted to the interfacing of the “Eurocrats” who work in or around EU institutions (Georgakakis & Rowell, 2013) and the committee system of the Council of Minister (Hage, 2013). This comitology system, it has been suggested, has informally developed as a tool for governments to strike a balance between delegating power to the Commission and controlling it (Blom-Hansen, 2011).

Drawing from these fragmented findings and expanding on them in a more theoretical vein, a (relatively) new and rapidly expanding stream of studies has focused on the informal governance of international organizations—“the systematic influence of unwritten rules, shared expectations or norms within international organizations that substantially modify or substitute for formal treaty provisions” (Stone, 2013, p. 123). Their common assumption is that a full understanding of the functioning of international organizations entails an examination of not only their formal rules but also their informal practices and arrangements (Christiansen & Neuhold, 2012) as they develop in a loosely organized network or forum, do not engage traditional diplomatic actors, and do not lead to a formal treaty (Berman, Duquet, Pauwelyn, Wessel, & Wouters, 2012, pp. 3–4). Randall Stone’s (2001, 2011) pioneering analysis of the influence of the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, and the European Union provides useful insights into these theoretical, conceptual, and normative perspectives. Of relevance here, too, are Kleine’s study (2013) of the parallel development of the formal rules and informal norms that have governed the evolution of the European Union since 1958, and discussion by Colgan and Van de Graaf (2012) of the role of how the coincidence of “regime complexity,” “frozen formal structures” and “changing causal beliefs” have shaped the operation of the International Energy Agency. It should be noted here that there is considerable disagreement on exactly what factors account for the emergence of informal practices as highlighted in the case studies edited by Stone (2013, p. 123) that deal with international trade in investment regimes, international security, the United Nations General Assembly, and UN functional agencies, international financial institutions, multilateral banks, the Bank for International Settlements, and regional organizations such as EU, NAFTA, Mercosur, ECOWAS, CARICOM, ASEAN, and CIS.

Policy Outputs

Policies vary considerably depending on the degree of obligation that they carry or coercion that is built into them. The literature acknowledges the extraordinary broadening of the range of types of policies carried out by and through IOs. Initially, its main focus has been on what we call below “norm-making” policies and “regulatory policies” rather than “distributive” or “redistributive policies” (Lowi, 1972).

Outputs: Norm-Making

Normative policies may be viewed as prescriptive statements of action in support of desirable goals and aspirational ways of doing things. Most IOs have legislative bodies producing non-binding resolutions, recommendations, directives, and the like. These acts carry with them a seal of approval (or disapproval) or, as Claude observed in reference to the United Nations, of collective legitimization of broad aims and objectives supported by a majority of actors in the international community. That function, in Claude’s, view was a reflection of an inverse relationship between the UN verbal and executive functioning, “the organization’s incapacity for decisive intervention and control of international relations” (Claude, 1968, p. 88).

Whether they are set up to achieve broadly stated objectives, as is the case for the UN or the EU, or more narrowly defined ones objectives, for instance Interpol (Martha, 2010) or the International Organization for Standardization (Murphy, 2006), one of the core long-standing aspects of the work of IOs is their verbal function, that is the collection, creation, exchange and dissemination of knowledge based information. Virtually all IOs produce a plethora of reports, studies, statistical information on a dizzying number of subjects, all of which have become indispensable sources of information to laymen, scholars, and policy makers. As has been frequently noted, the information IOs produce may be used for a variety of purposes ranging from the monitoring of global and or regional trends to the identification of emerging issues to serving as early warning instruments to providing guidance to intergovernmental bodies (Endres & Fleming, 2002).

From this perspective, the information work of IOs—purposely or not—may shape the perceptions of states (and non-state actors as well) and may contribute to their social construction of reality. Considerable scholarly attention has been devoted to how some international organizations “changed the world” (Sayward, 2008). The United Nations Intellectual History Project mentioned earlier has documented the role of the United Nations in the development of key political, economic, and social ideas and their impact on policy thinking and practice, with particular attention to human security (MacFarlane & Khong, 2006); prevention (Ramcharan, 2008a); development approaches (Berthelot, 2004; Jolly, Emmerij, Ghai, & Lapeyre, 2004); money, finance, and trade for development (Toye & Toye, 2004); transnational corporations (Sagafi-Nejad & Dunning, 2008); the “global commons” (Schrijver, 2010); statistics (Ward, 2004); women (Jain, 2005); and human rights (Normand & Zaidi, 2007). The UN system may not always have been ahead of the curve in that process (Emmerij, Jolly, & Weiss, 2001), but Endres and Fleming (2002) document how IOs produced ideas on such essential issues as international business cycles, trade policy, public expenditures, taxation and government investment, full employment, and the North-South divide. In the same vein, the ILO undoubtedly contributed to the “globalization of social rights” (Kott & Droux, 2013). The extraordinary political journey of the Millennium Development Goals is yet another reminder of the capacity of an organization even with weak executive capacity, like the UN, to generate influential norms. As Fukuda-Parr notes (2010), the MDGs have become benchmarks for measuring progress in development as well as a framework for the formulation and implementation of national and international policies. They have also triggered a dense and broad debate about a desirable post-2015 frame development agenda (Weiss & Browne, 2014; Wilkinson & Hulme, 2012). Likewise, UN global conferencing has, since the 1990s, provided avenues for different constituencies to legitimize their conflicting policy claims. Such meetings as noted by Schechter (2005), while mirroring the evolving world order, have also generated new knowledge, mobilized attentive publics, acted as agenda setters and incubators of ideas, and played a part in paradigmatic changes in development thinking.

Nor should the role of IOs in developing human rights norms and standards be underestimated. The UDHR has acquired a moral authority and influence close to constituting a source of obligation (Alfredsson & Eide, 1999; Morsink, 1999). The Declaration has also set the stage for the incubation within the UN of additional human rights norms and accountability principles and instruments, at both global and regional levels (Alston & Megret, 2004; Ramcharan, 2008b). Risse, Ropp, and Sikkink (1999) have analyzed the mechanism through which its principles affect the behavior of states, a so-called “spiral model” of staged internalization of human rights norms and practices into domestic political arenas. Building further on these insights, Sikkink (2011) more recently illustrated how human rights prosecutions have impacted on national and global politics. Empirical efforts have also been made to show that human rights and humanitarian standards embedded in strategic framing in U.S. and UN policy arenas may resonate with decision makers in such a way as to possibly shape variations in the political will to embrace the emerging norm of a “responsibility to protect” (Labonte, 2012).

Students of IOs have increasingly focused on the normative role of regional organizations. Wessel and Blockman (2013) have documented the increasing influence of norms enacted by international organizations on the European Union legal order. The Organization of American States, away from the media, has developed an increasingly significant set of normative and operational activities that do affect behavior and decisions of member countries, including the United States (Herz, 2011; Horwitz, 2010). The Council of Europe has been praised for fostering regional cooperation in a number of key areas, for helping integrate Eastern European states into Euro Transatlantic structures, and for contributing to the development of a common law in Europe, prompting observers to label it a “pioneer and guarantor for human rights and democracy” (Keller & Sweet, 2008; Kicker, 2010). Its Cold War origins notwithstanding, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe has been described as an instrument furthering democracy, protecting human and minority rights, and encouraging military reform (Galbreath, 2007). The fledgling African Union has been portrayed as contributing to the spread of democratic regimes in the continent (Walinka & Okumu, 2008).

Outputs: Distributive Policies

At the national level, distributive policies are intended to provide services such as education, highway, and public safety to segments of the population. Their cost is met by general tax revenues. Likewise, numerous scholars have highlighted the role of intergovernmental IOs, primarily the specialized agencies of the United Nations, in the definition of international rules governing a steadily expanding set of transnational transactions, which they have labeled “the soft infrastructure” of the world economy (Zacher, 1999, p. 4).

The role of the World Health Organization (WHO) has been ably explored by Chorev (2012) and Clift (2013), the latter also showing that, in the cross-pressures of North and South, the Organization did preserve a relatively autonomous agenda and promoted a consistent set of values of its own. Masson-Matthee (2007) provides a balanced assessment of the Codex Alimentarius, a collection of internationally recognized standards relating to food production and food safety, serving in many cases as a basis for national legislation produced under the aegis of the WHO and the Food and Agricultural Organization. Servais (2011) charts the genesis and development of the International Labor Organization, offers a comprehensive description of its structure, membership, and role in international cooperation, as well as an assessment of how its rules and regulations are developed and applied. Meanwhile, Hughes and Haworth (2010) dissect the criticisms and debates surrounding the ILO and in particular the broadening of its agenda and future direction. Lyall (2011) usefully augments and updates Savage’s (1989) earlier study of the International Telecommunications Union by also focusing on the regulatory work of the Universal Postal Union Weber and Mendes de Peon (2007), Milde (2008), and MacKenzie (2010a, 2010b) investigate the standards and practices concerning air navigation developed under the aegis of the International Civil Aviation Organization, highlighting its leading role in the fight against sabotage and hijacking. As Singh explains (2010), the East-West divide and the subsequent rise of identity politics in global politics did not prevent UNESCO from producing important norms and standards in its areas of work. A discussion of the legal regulatory instruments developed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), to improve safety at sea, facilitate trade among seafaring states, and control and prevent marine pollution, can be found in the Beringieri comprehensive account (2014, 2015). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2015) (hosted by the World Meteorological Organization), established to provide a scientific view on the state of climate change and its potential environmental and socio-economic consequences, is capably scrutinized by Bolin (2007).

Outputs: Regulatory Policies

Regulatory policies place restrictions on individuals and institutions and may entail a degree of coercion by prohibiting unacceptable forms of behavior and requiring mandatory alternate ones. Instances of regulatory policies at the national level include regulations on business practices, pricing, and access to public goods. A typical example of such policies at the international level might be the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals, developed through the European Economic Commission of the United Nations, which is updated every two years and serves as a basis for the harmonization of national, regional, and global rules and regulations (Eriksson, Gilek, & Ruden, 2010).

One of the earliest instances of regulatory policies set by treaty was the 1886 Berne Convention, which established a system of multilateral recognition of copyrights protecting the work of authors. The Berne Convention’s rules were incorporated into the 1995 World Trade Organization’s TRIP’s agreement and further restricted by the 1996 World Intellectual Property Organization Copyrights Treaty (Ficsor, 2002; Ricketson & Ginsburg, 2006; Stack, 2011). Intellectual property rights remain a passionately debated subject (Lanoszka, 2009), as much as agricultural trade, textiles, subsidies, and emerging issues such as the environment, e-commerce, and the new role of developing countries (Horlick, 2014; Rao, 2000; Smith, 2009). Considerable attention has also been given to the WTO dispute settlement system whose decisions are virtually unassailable as they can only be reversed by a “reverse consensus,” which would presumably entail the concurrence of the winning party (Foltea, 2012; Hartigan, 2009; Ortino & Petersmann, 2004). Another newcomer in the regulatory landscape is the International Seabed Authority established in accordance with the 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea, whose functions related to the exploitation of mineral resources beyond the limits of the Exclusive Economic Zone have been explored by Freestone (2013) and Pinto (2013). The regulatory control that EU institutions exert over member states is probably the closest equivalent to what may be found at the national level. This much emerges from studies of food safety (Lee, 2008; Pisanello, 2014), consumer protection and competition (Feretti, 2014), health and the environment (Eriksson et al., 2010), currency and banking (Scherf, 2014), trade (Bunbenberg & Herrmann, 2013), racial discrimination (Howard, 2010), or services (Wiberg, 2014).

The adjudicatory functions of international courts are another long standing and expanding variety of IOs regulatory policies extending back to the unheralded and underestimated contributions to the development of international law of the advisory and compulsory rulings of the Permanent Court of International Justice and the International Court of Justice (Aljaghoub, 2006; Coleman, 2013; Hernandez, 2014; Lauterpacht, 1934; Rosenne & Ronen, 2006; Tams & Sloan, 2013; Zyberi, 2008). The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has received comparatively more scholarly attention. Its rulings, at times controversial, have unquestionably shaped the legal framework within which the EU operates and have gradually helped constitutionalize the treaty of Rome by legitimizing and de-legitimizing national policies, judicializing national debates, and overseeing policy implementation by states members of the Union as emphasized by such commentators as Sweet (2004), Micklitz and de Witte (2012), Dawson, de Witte, and Muir, 2013, and Schmidt and Kelemen (2013).

An equally striking post-war development has been the emergence of human rights regional courts. With varying degrees of effectiveness, their interpretation and application of human rights norms procedural requirements, and remedies has in no negligible manner impacted on national constitutions and enhanced the principles of accountability and rule of law, a point stressed notably by Shelton (2006, 2008). In its judgments, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has not hesitated to deal with major issues of social concern. As highlighted by such different authors as Keller and Sweet (2008), Koch (2009), Anagnostou and Psychoglopoulou (2010), Leach and Trust (2010), Christoffersen and Madsen (2011), Brems and Gerard (2013), and Follesdal, Peters, and Ulfstein (2013), it has been a vital instrument in the process of European democratic consolidation and integration. Notwithstanding its relatively modest output, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has issued influential groundbreaking doctrinal precedents in matters relating to the right to life, the rights of indigenous peoples, and transitional justice (Tinta, 2008). The checkered record of the human rights regime, established in the framework African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, and the system put in place by a 1998 protocol to the Charter have been investigated by Mohammed (2010), Ssenyonjo (2012), and Alemahu (2013).

It is in the peace and security field, however, that IOs have exerted a seemingly ever-expanding web of regulatory activities. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has inspection and verification functions under the 1968 Non Proliferation Treaty that have been critically assessed by Njoltad (2010) and Harrer (2013). Likewise, the implementing arm of the 1992 Chemical Weapons Convention, the little known Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), has been granted powers of verification of state compliance carefully depicted by Pfirter (2009) and Krutzsch et al. (2014).

In dealing with peace and security issues, the UN Security Council may use a broad range of non-coercive techniques. Its deliberation, investigation, recommendation, and mediation tools have been studied by Damrosch (2008); Bosco (2009); Luck (2015); and Malone, von Einsiedel, and Stagno Ugarte (2015). Blunter instruments initially focused on the interposition of peace-keeping forces between states, as discussed by Rikhye and Skjelsbaek (1991) and Durch (1993). Scholarship has refocused on the state and nation building functions of peacekeeping when, beginning in the early 1990s, UN operation morphed into more complex multitasked peace operations primarily involved in the prevention, management, and resolution of internal conflicts (Adebajo, 2011; Aksu, 2003; Diehl & Druckman, 2010; Dobbing, Crane, Jones, Rathmell, Steele, & Teltschik, 2005; Doyle & Sambanis, 2006; Isely, 2010; Zanotti, 2011). In this respect, the comparative advantage of regional organizations in the maintenance of peace and security has been the subject of considerable debate and numerous students of IR, such as Dwan (2003), Boulden (2013), Graham, Felicio, and Elskens (2006), Soderbaum and Tavares (2013), Tavares (2009), Douhan (2013), and Aris and Wenger (2014) have noted the political structural and financial challenges that they face. The UN Security Council, nevertheless, has found it increasingly expedient in the past two decades to incorporate regional approaches in its crisis management and conflict resolution tool box by relying on such organizations as the African Union, ECOWAS, and ECOMOG (Adebajo, 2011; Engel & Gomes Porto, 2013; Francis, 2005; Gelot, 2012; Soderbaum & Tavares, 2013; Tardy & Wyss, 2014), the European Union (Krause & Ronzitti, 2012), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (Dominguez, 2014; Leatherman, 2003; Sandole, 2007).

The involvement of the UN in civil wars, and the growing complexity of the tasks assigned to peace operations, have triggered considerable scholarly attention on the problems associated with their development, operation, and effectiveness. This rapidly and already vast body of literature essentially focuses on problems associated with the command and control of UN forces, civil-military structures and interfacing (Brocades Zaalberg, 2006; Egnell, 2009), the use of force and rules of engagement, police assistance and judicial reform (Lyck, 2009), the reintegration of former combatants, the promotion of democracy and human rights (Holt, Taylor, & Kelly, 2009; Munoz Mosquera, 2011; Nsia-Pepra, 2014), the implementation of humanitarian law, relations with non state actors, role in transitional and restorative justice (Cockayne & Lupel, 2011; Reddy, 2012), and overall impact on the ground (Howard, 2008; Hunt, 2015; Murphy, 2006; Paris & Sisk, 2009; Sitkowski, 2006; Whalan, 2013). Diehl and Druckman (2010) provide insightful guideposts facilitating the assessment of peace operations outcomes.

Short of the use of force, sanctions are the most coercive tools in the management of peace and security. With the collapse of rigid bipolarity, the UN Security Council and the European Union have been able to impose sanctions with increasing frequency. As noted by Sirleaf (2003), Wallensteen and Staibano (2005) and Gheciu (2008), other regional organizations have followed suit and are playing an increasing role in implementing and enforcing UN measures or imposing their own coercive measures. The initial modalities of sanctions included such measures as arms, commodities and oil embargoes, travel bans, partial assets freezes, economic blockades, and more comprehensive measures, which have been analyzed by Conion (2000) and Damrosch (2008), among others. More recently, the design of sanctions has been to make them more targeted on individuals, groups of individuals, and particular products (oil, diamonds, and timber) used to finance internal conflicts (Cortright & Lopez, 2000, 2002; Giumelli, 2013, 2014; Wallensteen & Staibano, 2005).

The decade sanctions of the 1990s were overshadowed by controversies triggered by the humanitarian impact of the unprecedented and rigorous sanctions regime imposed on Iraq (Gordon, 2010). In subsequent years, another grand debate has taken center stage, prompted by the expanding number of actors involved in the design and implementation of sanctions and the increasing complexity of instruments and mandates involved. These political and academic controversies focus primarily on such issues as the strategic effectiveness of sanctions (De Vries, Portela, & Guijarro-Usobiaga, 2014; Friedrichs, 2014; Hakimdavar, 2014), their compatibility with human rights norms and the rule of law (Avbelj, Fontanelli, & Matinico, 2014; Chesterman, 2008; Eckes, 2009; Farrall & Robertstein, 2009; Fassbender, 2011), and the coordination problems arising from their proliferation (Blokker & Schrijver, 2005).

Outputs: Redistributive Policies

Typically, redistributive policies involve the transfer of goods and services from one social group to another, most frequently by means of taxation. In the performance of that function, IOs act likewise as resource transfer mechanisms, channeling with large discretionary powers assessed or voluntary state contributions to public or semi-public recipients. The Bretton Woods institutions are archetypical instances of IOs primarily involved in redistributive policies. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) raises its funds from capital subscriptions by member countries, the world’s capital markets, and earnings from interest payments on its loans, and it makes conventional loans to credit worthy middle-income and lower-income countries (it also provides advisory and analytical services). The Bank made its first loan in 1947. It has since loaned a cumulative total exceeding $1trillion. Mason and Asher’s 1973 study of the origins and first years of operation of the Bank and its affiliates is still worth reading at least for contextualizing subsequent more engaged analyses. As IOs with stronger executive capacity, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund [the Bretton Woods institutions (BWI)], and the World Trade Organization (Narlikar, Daunton, & Stren, 2014; Reis & Kahn, 2009)—the so-called “unholy trinity” (Peet, 2003)—have indeed been profusely criticized for banking on the poor or trapping them into poverty (Ayres, 1983; Chossudowsky, 1998; Payer, 1974), for promoting the interests and worldviews of economically powerful states (Bird, 2005; Boas & McNeill, 2004; Marshall, 2007), for “mortgaging the earth” (Rich, 1994), for conveying and spreading a corporate neo-liberal agenda (Neu & Ocampo, 2008), and for their unrepresentative, undemocratic, opaque, or inefficient decision-making processes (Buira, 2000; Jones, 2015). In the view of some, the policies of the BWIs have not only produced few if any economic benefits and eroded local societies (Bevene, Havnevik, Bryceson, Birgegard, & Matondi, 2008; Brown, 1997), they are in fact contributing to “losing the development war” (Head, 2009). Reputedly feebler entities like UNICEF and the International Labor Organization (Cornia, Jolly, & Stewart, 1987; World Commission, 2004) have also relentlessly documented the socially destructive impacts of structural adjustment programs and globalization. Whether the Bank and the Fund stated efforts, to put a human face on their program, amount to significant departures from the Washington Consensus that has guided them remains a matter of intense academic and political dispute. But at least at a discursive level, the compensatory measures they have introduced in their programs and the emphasis they now place on poverty eradication and human rights are noteworthy (Fujita, 2013).

The lending operations of the International Development Association (IDA), the International Finance Corporation (IFC), and the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) are quite sizable. Since it began operations in 1960, IDA has given $268 billion in credits and grants and IFC cumulative commitments exceed $180 billion. But oddly enough none of the Bank’s affiliates has elicited passionate interest or, for that matter, much recent attention (Baker, 1968, 1999; Weaver, 1965; West & Tarazona, 2001). The same is true for the Global Environmental facility, which since 1991 has provided 13.5 billion in grants for environmental projects in more than 165 countries (DeSombre, 2006).

The United Nations and its specialized agencies, which were virtually invisible suppliers of technical assistance services in the early 1950s, have inched their way to the position of major provider of “operational activities for development” and humanitarian aid, now funding over $20 billion a year in assistance and capacity building projects. With the exception of Weiss and Browne (2014), however, overviews of the system are few and far between, and the reader will have to rely on official documentation or monographs of single involved institutions, like UNDP, WHO, and ILO, to get a sense of this largely invisible but important field work. Numerous other IOs have jumped into the multilateral redistributive bandwagon. The European Union (EU) claims to be the world’s largest donor, the European Commission and the member states channeling over half of the world’s official development assistance. But on this subject again, the literature is spotty (Carbone, 2007).

Final Thoughts: The Legitimacy/Accountability Conundrum

Enforcers, managers, or authorities (Jutta, Reinalda, & Verbeek, 2007), global players (Wetzel, 2011), self-directed actors (Oestreich, 2012), global conflict managers (Whitman & Wolff, 2012), agents of distinct political cultures (Zervak, 2014)—the common thread behind this language about IOs is not necessarily that they rule the world, as argued by Colemer (2014), or enjoy and exert sovereign powers (Sarooshi, 2007). More accurately, this discourse suggests that they have come to exercise increasingly broad powers over an expanding range of diverse policy objectives and have become greater participants in who gets what, how, and when processes.

Questions of “oughtness” about the exercise (and exerciser) of power and authority, of what is desirable, proper, and appropriate of accountability and consent—in a nutshell, questions of legitimacy—have grown louder and more insistent (Clark, 2007; Davant, Finnemore, & Sell, 2010; Ku & Jacobson, 2003). The need for “legitimating international organizations” (Zaum, 2013), including judicial institutions (Adams, de Waele, Meeusen, & Straetmans, 2013), is well understood. But if the notion of legitimacy is relatively clear when applied to national polities, the concept is far more elusive for international organizations. The assumption that IOs derive their authority primarily from the consent of their member states (Jutta et al., 2007), especially dominant or hegemonic states (Drezner, 2007), or from a delegation of power under the principal agent theory, is no longer wholly persuasive in light of the mounting unboundness of IOs (Matheson, 2006).

For some, reasoning on the premise that decision-making arrangements affect both legitimacy and effectiveness, the solution is to be found in devising institutional improvements that would fill IOs “democratic deficit.” (Nayyar, 2002; Schwartzberg, 2013). For others, the notion of representativeness is simply illusory (Hassler, 2013). Should IOs legitimacy flow from transnational constitutionalism, that is to say, shared values about the normative and structural premises of the political orders that they embody (Tsagourias, 2007), or from a sense of collective identity cutting across regimes and relations between transnational and domestic constitutions (Christiansen & Reh, 2009; Dunoff & Trachtman, 2011; Joerges & Petersmann, 2011; Wallace & Strømsnes, 2008)? Should the legitimacy of IOs be grounded considerations of efficiency, effectiveness, and economics (Sheehan, 2011; Whalan, 2013)? Should IOs like NATO that have lost their initial raison d’etre and have yet to find a unifying set of priorities continue to operate (Rupp, 2006)? Should IOs be held accountable when they develop such dysfunctions as fraud, waste, and gross human rights abuses (Neudorfer, 2015)?

Demanding accountability is understandable, in light of the growing scope of IOs invisible governance (Mathiason, 2007) or the current mounting skepticism facing the European Union (Fuchs, Magni-Bexton, & Roger, 2009), not to mention the increasingly unabashed involvement of some of them in the promotion of Western-based democratic norms. But to whom is accountability owed, and through what mechanisms (Rapkin & Braaten, 2007)? A revamped UN General Assembly or the European Parliament, which can hardly be described now as “Parliament(s) of Man” (Kennedy, 2006)? The creation of a supranational citizenship regime (Auvachez, 2009; Balibar, 2004; Zweifel, 2006)? Or democratic experimentalism supplementing state-based constitutionalism (Ortino & Petersmann, 2004)? What empirical criteria and parameters should be used to measure claims of greater transparency and accountability?

Adapting the legitimacy models derived from hierarchical, territorially bound constitutions of nation states to IOs is further complicated by issues arising from “intersecting multilateralisms” (Laatikainen & Smith, 2006). There is a rapidly expanding body of literature documenting how international organizations influence one another and act as a source of preference and strategies in their policies, projects, and practices (Blavoukos & Bourantonis, 2010; Oriol & Jorgensen, 2012). Intersecting however, does not necessarily mean consistency, a point relating to the issue of effectiveness discussed earlier (Smith, 2006; Kissack, 2010). Despite shared policy outlooks, the European Union and the Council of Europe relationship in the field of human rights is increasingly fraught with interorganizational conflicts (Kolb, 2013). The disconnect and conflicts between the WTO principles and practices and international law rules relating to the environment, sustainable development, and social regulation has been repeatedly underlined (Kulosevi, 2011; Pauwely, 2003; Schefer, 2010; Voigt, 2009). The discourse on the legitimacy of IOs would also gain in depth if the literature were not so overwhelmingly dominated by studies of Western organizations and the UN system, a blind spot lamented by Madeleine Herren (2014). Engaging in truly comparative rather than single institutional analyses would also be a step in the right direction. In the meantime, casting a better and sharper light on the legitimacy of IOs is indeed likely to be one of the most vexing challenges facing IOs scholars and practitioners alike in the years ahead.


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