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Concepts and Theories of International Organisations

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Guy Burton

on 11 September 2014

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Transcript of Concepts and Theories of International Organisations

Concepts and Theories of International Organisations
Outline of Lecture
Defining IOs

Types, Roles and Functions of IOs

IR theories and IOs

Final thoughts

Defining an IO
Defining ‘international’:
Past: inter-governmental (state to state)
Present: inter-governmental, transnational, trans-government

Distinguish between IOs:
IR Theories and IOs
Three main schools:


Liberal (Institutionalist)

Final Thoughts
Issues and Questions

Material or non-material issues key in IR and IOs?

State or non-state actors dominant in IO formation/development?

Accounting for order/disorder in IR theory: how does this affect the emergence/change/disappearance of IOs?

1 October 2014

UN, EU, ASEAN, IMF, World Bank


Umbrella organisations

World Council for Churches, European Trade Union Confederation

Profit-related transnational organisations

DaimlerChrysler, Microsoft, Allianz

Non-profit related transnational organisations

Catholic Church, IOC, Greenpeace, Amnesty

‘international institutions’ (rules) and ‘international organisations’ (body)

‘Institutions’ includes (descending levels of autonomy):
IGOs (formal; an transcend ‘regime’ issues)
Regimes (e.g. Bretton Woods; issues/area specific norms, rules, decision-making)
Conventions (e.g. diplomatic immunity)

‘Organisation’ implies the following:
Structure (formal, continuous)
Roles, Functions and Types of IOs
Instrument (means to achieve a common goal? States pursue own goal?)
Arena (forum for action, discussion, meeting)
Actor (independent/autonomous beyond members)
Maintain/adapt self
Capabilities to act/respond
Articular/aggregate demands
Set norms
Rule making/application/judgement
Information provision
Several ways to distinguish between types of IOs:
Scope (issues)
Decision-making authority
Nature of decision-making (pooled v delegated)

Function Authority Delegation Example
Programme Organisations Strongly binding Inter-govt UN
Supranational EU
Loosely binding Inter-govt OSCE
Supranational IWC
Operational Organisations Strong implement Inter-govt OPEC
Supranational World Bank, IMF
Weak implement Inter-govt ICO
Supranational UNHCR








...But we're going to consider other variations too:




Funcionalist (may be considered part of institutionalism)
Also, need to consider dimensions of theory:

Generalised, abstract

Analytic (what is)

Normative (what should be)
International anarchy (→ conflict, e.g. Hobbes’ state of nature)
Primacy of state (state-centric)
Focus on international order/stability
Hierarchy of power in anarchic system → world order shaped by hegemonic power(s)
More optimistic, cooperative view (e.g. international trade)
State and non-state actors are important (i.e. greater pluralism in aims and actions)
Concerns broader than international order
Institutions/organisations made by people (open to change)
Interdependency of international society
Response to liberalism (1930s-present)
Dominant IR paradigm?
Combine influence of state (traditional realism) and interdependency (liberalism)
State primacy (i.e. states dominant over non-state actors) BUT…
System-centric (as opposed to state-centric); i.e. acknowledges disparities in power between states (‘haves’ v ‘have nots’) (Waltz)

State power shifts due to economic and military factors (limits scope for change)
State cooperation may benefit some actors over others (so limit extent of cooperation, e.g. greater trade under bipolarity v less trade under multipolarity?)


Response to neorealism

Similarities with:
Neorealism - Primacy of state,
Liberalism - Human-centred organisations and prospect of change

Differences with:
Neorealism - Conventions/norms embedded in international society ('complex interdependence')
Liberalism - Cooperation isn't guaranteed; requires planning/bargaining (by states)

Reaction to materialist theories (realism, neorealism, liberalism)

Challenges ‘anarchy’ and guaranteed cooperation (the world as is)

Social context explains IR, i.e.

Human structures shaped by ideas (not material concerns)

Human identities/interests are the result of shared ideas (not products of nature) (Wendt)

Framing rules and norms becoming embedded in international society (e.g. rejection of war → Geneva Convention)

Embedded norms means actors justify selves on basis of those norms (e.g. West’s criticism of chemical weapons use in Syria)


Material approach (like realism, liberalism)

Capitalism is principle feature of IR

Primacy of economic class/interests (state represents capitalist class)


IO functions reflect problem of collective action (i.e. self-interest in international society discourages cooperation)

Cooperation limited to accommodate members’ aims/interests

Accounts for diversity in IO forms (e.g. universal, specific; flexible rules, inc ICC limitations, WTO’s accommodation of national rules)


IR theory Role/Nature of IO

Realist IO used by state for self-interest

Liberal IOs used by states for common interests (increase gains, minimise

Neorealist IOs used state self-interest/prevent others' absolute gain/IO requires
hegemonic power to accept costs

Neoliberal IOs require planning/negotiation by states

Constructivist IOs reflect shared values and norms

Marxist IOs reflects capitalist world and states

Functionalist IOs deal with common problems; reflects relationships between states
One way: assess IOs?

Coercive impact (i.e. ability to enforce norms)

Consequences of coercion (change in behaviour?)

Non-coercive impacts (e.g. challenging reputation of members for non-compliance)

Creating clear focal points for cooperation

Provision of credible, accepted information

Promotion and/or adoption of norms
Full transcript