How important are international organisations for maintaining international order?

International organisations have seen their influence as global actors reach unprecedented heights post-1945. They fall under two main categories: non-governmental organisations that operate internationally (INGO’s) and intergovernmental organisations (IGO’s) (Evans and Newnham, p.207). These two forms of international organisations have arguably led to less violence around the globe. However, some would argue that it is the actions of other key actors like the United States which maintain a state of world order, not international organisations. Despite this, it is undeniable that in certain cases like the European Union, supranational bodies have led to both economic and social cooperation across the continent. Therefore, with greater powers to act and wider acceptance of these supranational bodies, perhaps international organisations may see their role in maintaining international order increase.

IGO’s: A force for peace and a foundation for stability

IGO’s, whilst seen in their earliest forms in 1814-15 with the Congress of Vienna, have largely seen a surge in activity during the post-war period. New organisations like the Bretton Woods system and the UN were symptoms of a growing need for states to cooperate in order to reach mutually agreeable goals like global security and economic prosperity. Perhaps the most infamous IGO to date has been the UN, formed in 1945 in order to provide a platform for which international diplomacy and problem-solving could occur.

One of the UN’s central goals, as set out in its Founding Charter, states their desire to safeguard peace and security in order to ‘save succeeding generations from the scourge of war’ (United Nations Founding Charter 1945). The body with perhaps the greatest level of influence over achieving this end is the Security Council. In charge of international peace and security, it is the Security Council that has the power to issue legally-binding resolutions on member states. These can range anywhere from economic sanctions to military intervention. Since North Korea’s ballistic missile tests in 2006, the UN has imposed various sanctions on the rogue state, pushing for change through both diplomatic and economic means, not militarily (Ensor & others, 2006).In cases where more direct action is needed, the UN has proven itself as adaptable to maintaining international order through peacekeeping missions. In 1959, a border dispute in Kashmir between India and Pakistan was overseen by UNMOGIP, a military observer group of the UN. By 1966, an agreement had been made between the two states and a full withdrawal of troops in the area was achieved with no further causalities (UNIPOM, 2017). These are clear examples of the well defined powers available to the UN which were not present in prior international organisations like the League of Nations, thus showing the ability of international organisations to grow and adapt to an ever changing international landscape.

As well as this, the UN has made a commitment to ‘promote social progress and better standards of life’, crucial to maintaining international order in the long-term. The most efficient way they have been able to achieve this, especially in 3rd world countries more prone to conflict, has been through organisations like ECOSOC. This council is responsible for providing the general assembly with not only information on economic and social activity within member states but is all responsible for formulating means to tackle any problems that have been identified. In order to manage these problems, the World Bank was formed in an attempt to provide economic support to underdeveloped member states. Currently, the World Bank’s International Development Association has $25bn invested in small businesses and programmes. Subsequently, the IDA has helped employ more than 12,000 young people from vulnerable communities in the Solomon Islands, created a special line of credit in Ethiopia for women which has helped 3,000 female entrepreneurs and employed some 16,000 young people in Nigeria through infrastructure projects (World Bank, 2017). As a result, these projects have led to improved living standards and greater stability in these regions, empowering women and supporting job creation in fragile and conflict-affected areas. If these war-torn nations can be kept stable through investment programmes, they are far more likely to avoid both internal and external conflict. Therefore, the role of international organisations in maintaining international order in Africa and parts of rural Asia cannot be undermined.

INGO’s: A supportive role with severe limitations

INGO’s on the other hand have had a much more recent expansion in their usage, only seeing real diversity in their application in the last 20-30 years. Their role, however, cannot be understated, providing information and consultation not only to larger bodies like the UN but also directly to areas that are in need of it. Overall, whilst it may be in the interests of IGO’s to tackle issues before they have a chance to develop, INGO’s are a primarily responsive entity. They are responsible for tackling humanitarian crises and for providing the first wave of relief in areas of extreme poverty or general poor wellbeing.

Perhaps the best case study to examine the role of these INGO’s can be seen with the International Rescue Committee, operating in every continent in the world and achieving a truly global scale in regards to outreach (IRC – Where We Work, 2017). The IRC provides a crucial private sphere role in maintaining international order by “respond[ing] to the world’s worst humanitarian crises and helps people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover, and gain control of their future” (IRC – What We Do, 2017). To achieve this, the IRC has prided themselves on assisting 26 million people in 2016 alone through community programmes from financial support to 40,000 businesses to training some 31,000 people in effective governance (IRC – The IRC’s Impact At A Glance, 2017). These measures help to maintain international order as they tackle instability at the community level. For Dichter, these INGO’s play an increasingly vital role in the nondemocratic regimes of Africa as they are fully committed to their goals. INGO’s have vital experience at the grassroots and are able to act upon their goals as they are “unencumbered by heavy bureaucracy” which has made direct action much more plausible (Dichter 1999, p.46). Consequently, INGO’s have a unique position on the international scene that allows them to maintain international order as they alone can act in a wholly positive role within war-torn regions. Their ability to act as an impartial body, providing welfare programmes where weak governments cannot, allows them to provide stability and therefore thwart future conflict in these regions.

However, we must also acknowledge the limitations of INGO’s in maintaining international order and crucially the fundamental drawbacks these organisations experience. Carapico argued that INGO’s were “hardly a quick, cheap or easy fix” to the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East affecting international order (Carapico 2000, p.15). She goes on to claim that this new form of grass roots activism “cannot undo the root causes of water shortages, political repression and growing inequality”, all hallmarks of instability in the international system. Whilst these organisations may be useful in providing emergency relief in the Middle East, with the IRC aiding the refugee crisis with 3,000 staff members, they lack the necessary foundations to tackle these long-term issues. For Carapico, these INGO’s are simply trying to “foster liberalization and reform” without taking into account the social unrest that can be created through imposing these values on cultures and states which do not have the foundations to support such pushes for democratization. It is in this spirit that I would argue that nation-states possess a unique advantage, rather than international organisations, in maintaining international order.

The importance of international organisations

In essence, the debate over whether international organisations truly are important in maintaining international order comes down to two schools of thought; the realist interpretation and the liberal interpretation of international relations.

For Elman, a prominent realist theorist, states are the main players in the international system, assuming a “self-help” doctrine in which they may only rely ultimately on themselves (Elman 2008, p. 15-77). As there is no overall supranational authority to manage international order, it is up to states to protect their own interests, thus undermining the power and influence perceived to be held by institutions like the UN and INGO’s. Furthermore, Aslam argues that the justification for the invasion of Iraq based on the possession of WMD’s was not a shared view within the coalition, making their actions illegitimate. He argues that many smaller states involved with the invasion, chiefly from Eastern Europe, did so based on a principled stance to protect human rights (Aslam 2013, p.56). As well as this, the Institute for Policy studies argued that many of these countries were “lured by the desire to enter NATO and to maintain a strategic relationship with the US after joining the EU” (Anderson, Bennis and Cavanagh 2003, p. 8). This shows the domineering attitude held by the US and the influence they hold directly over the actions of the international community, truly undermining the ability of international organisations to resolve international conflict.

However, for some neoliberal thinkers like Keohane and Nye, it is the ever-growing promotion of capitalism and democratic ideals from these international organisations that has led to one of the most peaceful eras of all time. Democracies are now more economically dependent on one another and therefore are more likely to resolve issues through diplomatic means rather than conflict (Keohane 1998). There is no clearer example of an international organisation “whose members share social values and have similar political systems” (Keohane 1998, p.91) than the European Union. The Union is a ideal example, demonstrating the values of the liberal view of international relations. It rejects the notion of power politics, supporting smaller nations both economically and diplomatically to give them a voice on the world stage. It accentuates mutual benefits and international cooperation, tying together countries in a way that was unthinkable 100 years prior. Furthermore, it implements international organisations and non-governmental actors for shaping state policy choices, unifying the goals of an entire continent. The EU has in no doubt harmonised the direction of its 28 member-states and led to unfettered access to one of the world’s largest free markets, greatly benefitting each member state’s economies (Adekoya, 2017). Therefore, to say that these international organisations have not led to international order in some regions of the globe would be disingenuous.

Overall, the importance of international organisations in maintaining international order has never been greater. Whilst some organisations like the UN still rely on hegemonic powers like the US to remain influential, the sheer range of INGO’s and IGO’s has led to a worldwide scope of influence unmatched by any one state. Whilst somewhat limited in powers today, it would not be difficult to imagine the importance of these bodies expand as new economic/political unions develop across the world and the need for progressive policies globally become more needed than ever.


Adekoya, R. (2017). How the EU transformed Poland | Remi Adekoya. [online] The Guardian. Available at: [Accessed 6 Dec. 2017].

Anderson, S., Bennis, P. and Cavanagh, J. (2003). Coalition of the willing or coalition of the coerced?. Washington, DC: Institute for Policy Studies.

Aslam, W. (2013). The United States and great power responsibility in international society. 1st ed. London: Routledge.

Carapico, Sheila. “NGOs, INGOs, GO-NGOs and DO-NGOs: Making Sense of NonGovernmental Organizations.” Middle East Report 214 31, no. 1 (2000): 12-15.

Dichter, T. (1999). Globalization and Its Effects on NGOs: Efflorescence or a Blurring of Roles and Relevance?. Non-profit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 28(1).

Elman, Colin, “Realism”, in Paul Williams (ed.), Security Studies: An Introduction, Routledge: New York, 2008, pp. 15–27.

Ensor, D., Starr, B., Phillips, K., Labott, E., Redman, J., Shubert, A., Jie-Ae, S.,

Wilson, S. and Henry, E. (2006). – U.S. officials: North Korea tests long-rangemissile – Jul 4, 2006. [online] Available at: [Accessed 5 Dec. 2017].

Evans, G. and Newnham, R. (1998). The Penguin dictionary of international relations. 1st ed. London: Penguin Books.

International Rescue Committee (IRC). (2017). The IRC’s impact at a glance. [online]

Available at: [Accessed 1 Dec. 2017].

International Rescue Committee (IRC). (2017). What we do. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Dec. 2017].

International Rescue Committee (IRC). (2017). Where We Work. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Dec. 2017].

Keohane, R. (1998). International Institutions: Can Interdependence Work?. Foreign Policy, (110), p.82. (2017). UNITED NATIONS INDIA-PAKISTAN OBSERVATION MISSION (UNIPOM) – Background. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Dec. 2017]. (2017). Preamble. [online] Available at: [Accessed 9 Dec. 2017].

World Bank. (2017). Overview. [online] Available at: [Accessed 4th Dec. 2017].

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