When the United States decided to reverse the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, it did not act unilaterally. It turned to the United Nations (UN) Security Council.
When the Security Council sought to learn the extent of chemical, biological, and nuclear arms in Iraq, it did not rely on U.S. forces. It dispatched inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
When the international community sought to maintain the suspension of combat in Bosnia, it did not rely only on national efforts. It sent in peacekeeping units under the auspices of the UN and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
When states liberalized trade in services and strengthened intellectual property protection in the Uruguay Round, they were not content to draft rules. They created the World Trade Organization (WTO), and a highly institutionalized dispute settlement mechanism.
Formal international organizations are prominent participants in many critical episodes in international politics. Examples in addition to those above include the following: Security Council sanctions on Libya, IAEA inspectors in North Korea, UN peacekeepers in the Middle East, and so forth. The UN secretary-general’s 1992 Agenda for Peace establishes an even broader range of current and proposed UN functions in situations of international conflict: fact finding, early warning, and preventive deployment; mediation, adjudication, and other forms of dispute resolution; peacekeeping; sanctions and military force; impartial humanitarian assistance; and postconflict rebuilding. But international organization influence is not confined to dramatic interventions such as these. On an ongoing basis, formal organizations help manage many significant areas of interstate relations, from global health policy (the World Health Organization or WHO) to European security (OSCE and NATO) to international monetary policy (IMF). What is more, participation in such organizations appears to reduce the likelihood of violent conflict among member states.
International Nongovernmental Organizations
Much recent scholarship analyzes global structures and processes as distinct level of social reality. The world is more than networks or systems of economic and political interaction and exchange; it has become a single international society, or world polity.
International nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) have proliferated spectacularly, from about 200 active organizations in 1900 to about 800 in 1930, to over 2,000 in 1960, and nearly 4,000 in 1980, but little systematic attention has been given to this domain of global organization. Unlike states, INGOs lack the rational-legal authority to make or enforce law. Unlike global corporations, they have few economic resources.
Since 1850 more than 35,000 private, not-for-profit organizations with an international focus have debuted on the world stage. Associations, societies, foundations, unions, committees, clubs, leagues, conferences, groups, federations, conventions, the range of designations is extraordinary. They include the Pan-American Association of Ophthalmology, the International Exhibitions Bureau, the Commission for the Geological Map of the World, the International Catholic Child Bureau, the International Tin Council, and the Tug of War International Federation. Most are highly specialized, drawing members worldwide from a particular occupation, technical field, branch of knowledge, industry, hobby, or sport, to promote and regulate their respective areas of concern. Only a few such as the Scout movement, the International Olympic Committee, the International Red Cross, and the World Wildlife Fund, are widely known.
Humans everywhere are seen as having similar needs and desires. They are capable of acting in accordance with common principles of authority and action, and they share common goals. In short, human nature, agency, and purpose are universal, and this universality underlies the many variations in actual social forms. Most INGOs are quite explicit about this: any interested person can become an active member, and everyone everywhere is a potential beneficiary of INGO activity.
Universalism is evident also in the breath of INGOs’ claims about what they do. Physics and pharmacology are presumed to be valid everywhere. Techniques for playing better chess are not country-specific. Red Cross aid will alleviate suffering in Africa as well as in Asia. Across every sector, the purposes and means of action promoted by INGOs are assumed to be useful and meaningful, right around the world.
Most INGOs adopt a purer form of universalism that stresses the fundamental uniformity of all human actors. Scientific, technical, professional, medical, and business-related INGOs rarely allow much room for particularism, and they account for the great majority of all INGOs.
INGOs are embodiments of universalism, individualism, rational volunteeristic authority, progress, and world citizenship. Decentralized world authority among states both facilitates transnational organizing, because centralized barriers to rational voluntarism are weak, and forces transnational organizations to focus their attention on states. In mobilizing around and elaborating world-culture principles, INGOs lobby and harangue states to act on those principles.
The Framework for Inquiry
Decision making in international organizations occurs within a context comprising the functions, the institutional framework and basic procedures, and the historical development of the agency.
Given the nature of the international system, the creation of an international organization requires concrete action by states. Usually, although not always, such actions are consecrated in a treaty. In any case, understanding must be achieved about what is to be done, and how.
International organizations have been set up to perform a variety of tasks: keeping the peace, promoting economic development, allocating the radio frequency spectrum, reducing obstacles to trade, ensuring that technology is used only for peaceful purposes, and facilitating the maintenance of stable exchange rates to name only a few.
In order to describe how decisions are usually arrived at in a particular international organization, it will be useful to classify the actors involved, to consider the ways in which they may exercise influence, and to list the modes of decision making that may be employed.
The actors in international organizations may be classified according to the following categories: representatives of national governments; representatives of and international private associations; the executive heads of organizations; high officials and other members of the bureaucracy of each organization; individuals who serve in their own capacity formally or informally as advisers; representatives of other international organizations, and employees of the mass media.
Of course, not all of these classes of actors will be active in all organizations. For each category of decisions, however, the actors will fall into one or more of these classes, and it is important to know which of these categories of actors typically have the most influence on the outcome.
Thinking About the Future of the International Organization System
In order to think about the United Nations (UN), we must escape the narrow perspectives of daily press coverage as well as the mainstream of the scholarly agenda. Harlan Cleveland believes that the study and teaching about international relations is usually hung up on what’s wrong with the picture: riots and their suppression, military takeovers, drug traffic, corporate raids, financial psychoses, arm races, wars, and rumors of wars. If you stand back and assess the whole scene, you see numerous international systems and arrangements that are working fairly well. Examples include weather forecasting (World Weather Watch [WMO]); eradication of infectious diseases (WHO); international civil aviation (ICAO); allocation of the frequency spectrum (ITU); globalization of information flows; agricultural research for development; UN peacekeeping and peacemaking; ozone treaty; cooperation in outer space; law of the sea; the UN high commissioner for refugees; the Antarctic treaty.
The stage on which the drafters of the UN Charter performed was built during a long historical process, at least 500 years through which human inquisitiveness, restlessness, and acquisitiveness produced ever-increasing contacts among human settlements, across even longer distances. The results of this historical process presented opportunities at San Francisco that had evolved out of growing experience in peaceful cooperation among peoples. But there were also constraints produced by tendencies toward wars of increasing geographic scope with weapons of rapidly increasing destructive power.
If we look back in time from San Francisco, we readily see that the UN is a child of the League of Nations. It incorporates important institutional developments of the League, such as an international secretariat and the growth in importance of economic and social activities during the relatively brief history of the League. The UN Charter also reflects efforts to gain from the Leagues failures, as in procedures for deployment of military forces by the Security Council in response to aggression.
Nor was the League wholly a product of its founding conference, the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. The century bounded by the Congress of Vienna (1815) and the outbreak of World War I (1914) and became regarded as the era of preparation for international organization. The League evolved out of the Concert of Europe created by the Congress of Vienna, and united to create a new Europe out of the ruins of the Napoleonic Wars.
Humanity was placed on an irreversible path toward the league and the UN even earlier then 1815, as far back as in the late 15th century, when Europeans began a pattern of worldwide exploration that eventually led to extensive empires in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, and to Western domination of the world. Europe-based empires eventually led to the creation of a worldwide system of states. In its early years, the UN was deeply involved in the creation of independent states out of former colonial empires.
In developing a historical perspective it is worth remembering the depiction of the century between 1815 and 1914 as the era of preparation for international organization. How should we characterize the period between the founding of the League of Nations (1920) and today? Very apt would be the era of preparation for global governance. What have the pioneers in this first era of global organizations left as their heritage? They have achieved universality; they have created a network of global organizations responsive to a growing agenda of global problems; they have established a continuous, worldwide presence of his system of organizations, in at least 134 cities on all continents; they have made multilateral decision making commonplace and have developed new procedures for achieving consensus; they have greatly increased the number of tools available for peace building; they have achieved and made substantial progress in multilateral definition of a set of fundamental global values, such as peace, human rights, development, and ecological balance; they have made progress in breaking down barriers between the people of the world and global governmental organizations.
Overall we can conclude that there is much more potential for moving forward from this era of preparation for global governance than either the daily headlines or the mainstream of international relations research and teaching recognize. Supportive of possible greater employment of this potential are the vitality of INGO and NGO involvement in the UN system, and the large number of creative proposals coming from outside the UN system. Employment of this potential could move more rapidly if governments of states were able to perceive more clearly the long-term interests and needs of their people. This, in turn, might be facilitated by broader media coverage of the UN system, as well as scholarship that offers more probing analysis for the betterment of humankind.
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