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International Organizations and Their Evolution Essay

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Updated: Jul 12th, 2021


International organizations and institutions set and execute rules in societies across the world. These rules are akin to constraints that shape how humans behave. Consequently, they define incentives concerning social, political, as well as human economic exchanges. Since organizations and institutions determine how communities change over time, they are important in comprehending historical contexts (Li and Abiad 1). These bodies impact the performance of state economies. In addition, that the differential outcomes of economies in several periods are influenced by how these bodies evolve is also not debatable. Immediately the World War I ended, policymakers in the West started to establish steps that could guarantee Europe as well as other parts of the global security. The measures they adopted were founded on institutional platforms, which defined and implemented security measures (Li and Abiad 1). However, in doing so, they did not take into account the role of balance-of-power politics in the post-Cold War. When Clinton was campaigning in 1992, he said that it was cynical to champion power politics in a world where people were entitled to freedom (Mearsheimer 12; Wallander 706). Later, his administration criticized the former political regime for looking at the world via a prism that was typified by relatively high levels of the classic balance of power.

In this context, it can be stated that this strategy of international politics recognizes the belief that organizations and institutions are key ways of promoting peace around the world. To be specific, Western policymakers argue that the bodies that served the West very well before the collapse of the Soviet Union should be reorganized to incorporate Eastern Europe (Wendt 76). Some of these institutions include “the European Community (EC), the Western European Union (WEU), and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)” (Li and Abiad 5; Nugent 44). This essay discusses how international organizations and institutions have changed over the years and whether they constrain state behavior based on their mandates. Moreover, it discusses how these bodies have failed or succeeded in their mission. Peacekeeping, international trade, and development are the focal areas of discussion.

The Evolution and Constraints

The Versailles Peace Conference in 1919 is one of the earliest starting points of influential international organizations and institutions. In attendance at the conference were victorious power representatives, state interest groups, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) championing varied objectives such as better public health outcomes, improved working conditions for employees around the world, and reviewed laws of war. Those who represented states were keen on creating an international body that would handle world peace as well as economic and social issues. Their arguments were founded on long experience of peaceful co-operation among European states, but they were underpinned by private international organizations that were established in the 1899 and 1907 conferences in The Hague (Archer 2; Keohane 387). Nevertheless, they created the League of Nations and the International Labor Organization (ILO).

The Versailles Conference in 1919 was attended by heads of state and government, ministers in charge of foreign affairs, and their advisers (Archer 5). The meeting was concerned with international peace, although social and economic issues were introduced and considered during the proceedings. Since World War I had just ended, the conference was tasked with creating a treaty that would enhance interstate relations both in the short and long run (Archer 21). To understand why international organizations and institutions began to grow in the 19th century, it is critical to reveal the reasons for their nonexistence before that time. First, these bodies had to wait for the establishment of more stable states in Europe. Second, powers demonstrated by both the papacy and the Roman Empire could not allow a unifying body in Europe. Third, the international organizations that operated outside Europe before the region was integrated into the European system were not keen on founding another body. However, in the second half of the 19th century, international unions, as well as private associations, burgeoned. The most notable conference around that time was the World Anti-Slavery Convention in 1840 that had an impact on bodies such as the International Institute of Agriculture, the Universal Peace Congress, as well as the International Law Association (Archer 23; Pond 9). Notably, the founding of the United Nations Organization was based on the need to predict the future needs of its members.

Nevertheless, it can be stated that as global organizations and bodies evolve, they constrain country behavior in compliance with their mandates. There has been a growing number of powerful commitments as supported by global bodies since WWI to incorporate customary practices into tools that have international legal significance (Hasenclever et al. 17). Due to these constraints, states cannot uphold their legal sovereignty, implying that they are left with no authority to determine the acceptability of their national policies in the context of global relations.

The issues

In trying to answer whether international institutions and organizations are doing their job, it should be understood that member states constitute these bodies. Thus, their failings and successes are attributed to their members. If these bodies fail people, it is because countries fail their citizens. Moreover, if states fail their populations, it is because individuals do not hold their countries responsible. What this implies is that political democracy entrusts every individual in a society with the role of identifying and promoting things that are associated with particular levels of significance (Mearsheimer 5; Simmons and Martin 195). In other words, international organizations and institutions are mere instruments, which cannot be likened to independent actors.

There is evidence of the success of these bodies in several spheres of life. First, they have succeeded in the creation of a world economy and international development of markets as evidenced by the change of GATT to WTO, the establishment of a free-trade region in South America, the evolution of the European Community into the European Union, and the creation of NAFTA from the American-Canadian Free Trade Area. In this context, it can be argued that economics (global trade) has been top of the agenda of international bodies (Nugent 39). Consequently, the thriving of global trade has led to unprecedented levels of international development across all sectors of the economy. Second, international institutions and organizations have led to the creation of security and conflict resolution strategies across borders.

The UN Security Council, as well as General Assembly, undertook and authorized operations in the Persian Gulf, Haiti, Namibia, and Mozambique. However, it is critical to underscore that peacekeeping missions have changed over time. For example, they have evolved from maintaining buffer zones (in the Sinai case) to monitoring the demilitarization of armed factions (in the Nicaragua case) (Durch 154). Moreover, peacekeeping missions have been shifted to overseeing elections and ensuring that there are conflict-free transitions of power as demonstrated in Namibia. To support these efforts, the UN can sometimes oversee the administration of territories and states such as Cambodia as well as Western Sahara cases (Ten Years after UNTAC 3). There has been an evolution of treaties and institutions such as NATO and ASEAN to handle highly dynamic issues like chemical warfare. In addition, the creation of the ICJ has helped to hold leaders responsible for their acts of atrocities.

Despite the successes highlighted above, these bodies have supported the resurgence of neo-tribalism because they hold the principle of self-determination. Notably, while addressing the Versailles Conference, Lord Keynes stated that the notion of self-determination would aid ethnic conflict and, consequently, minimize the benefits of trade. The multinational state system has constrained the actions of member countries, leading to relatively high levels of decolonization. Finally, as global organizations thrive, they transit to centers where important decisions about distributions of products are made. A state should be a member of a global body, such as the General Assembly, the World Bank, and the Universal Postal Union, among others, to make contributions (Mearsheimer 34; Pond 8). This is one of the factors that promote the tribal concept into a political strategy


In conclusion, international organizations and institutions shape how societies behave, and they also impact their politics and economics. The founding of the current global bodies was influenced by past social, political, and economic trends around the globe. The evolution period is long; starting from the second half of the 18th century to date. Although these institutions have faced numerous turbulent times, they have delivered positive outcomes in the establishment of a global economy as well as the development of markets. In addition, they have helped to create strategies geared toward maintaining world peace. For example, the UN peacekeeping missions have evolved with time to cater to the complex needs of member states such as smooth transitions of political leadership. However, these organizations have failed to end decolonization, ethnicity, and neo-tribalism.

Works Cited

Archer, Clive. “Definitions and History.” International Organizations. 2nd ed., edited by Archer Clive, New York, NY: Routledge, 1992, pp. 1-33.

Durch, William J. “Building on Sand: UN Peacekeeping in the Western Sahara.” International Security, vol. 17, no. 4, 1993, pp. 151-171.

Hasenclever et al. “Conceptual Issues: Defining International Regimes.” Theories of International Regimes, edited by Hasenclever et al., Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 1997, pp. 8-22

Keohane, Robert O. “International Institutions: Two Approaches.” International Studies Quarterly, vol. 32, no. 4, 1988, pp. 379-396.

Li, Wei, and Victor Abiad. Institutions, Institutional Change, and Economic Performance. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Mearsheimer, John J. “The false promise of international institutions.” International Security, vol. 19, no. 3, 1994, pp. 5-49.

Nugent, Neill. “The Creation and Development of the European Community.” The Government and Politics of the European Union, edited by Neill Nugent, New York, NY: Palgrave, 1994, pp. 38-54.

Pond, Elizabeth. “Come Together: Europe’s Unexpected New Architecture.” Foreign Affairs, vol. 20, no. 3, 2000, pp. 8-12.

Simmons, Beth and Lisa Martin “International Organizations and Institutions.” Handbook of International Relations, edited by Carlsnaes et al., New York, NY: Sage Publications, 2001, pp. 192-211.

Ten Years after UNTAC: Embedded Norms and Institutions of Democracy in Cambodia. Dissertation.

Wallander, Celeste A. “Institutional Assets and Adaptability: NATO after the Cold War.” International Organization, vol. 54, no. 4, 2000, pp. 705-735.

Wendt, Alexander. “Constructing International Politics.” International Security, vol. 20, no. 1, 1995, 71-81.

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