Types of International Organization
Updated version of an article which first appeared in the Yearbook of International
in 1978. That version was reproduced, with minor alterations, by
permission of the publisher and editors of: International Organizations; a conceptual
edited by Paul Taylor and A J M Groom (London, Frances Pinter, 1977;
New York, Nichols Publishing Company, 1978). The article appeared there under
the title: "International institutions: diversity, borderline cases, functional
substitutes and possible alternatives"
2. Conventional categories
3. Types of organization in the Yearbook
4. Classification categories (Annex)
5. Problems of classifying international organizations
This section reviews the complete range of international organizations. The
conventional categories used are first examined, then various ways of distinguishing
between the many kinds of organization and degrees of "internationality"
are considered. The problem of borderline cases is discussed, together with
non-organizational substitutes for organizations and possible alternative
forms of organization. Quantitative information on the growth of international
institutions and indicative data on regional organizations are also presented.
A major difficulty in obtaining some understanding of international organizations
is the variety of organizational forms which need to be considered. Abstract
classification schemes, particularly when simplified for convenience, tend to
conceal the existence of well-developed groups of organizations with distinct
features. The approach employed here has been to use several different ways
of breaking up the range of organizations and to cite several examples of organizations
of any particular type.
The intent is not to put forward a new systematic classification of international
organizations but rather to facilitate an appreciation of the variety of bodies
which could be incorporated into any such scheme. A comment on the three conventional
categories used (intergovernmental, international non-governmental non-profit,
and multinational enterprises) is thus a valid point of departure. The second
breakdown of international organizations is developed on the basis of the terminology
used in the actual title of the body. The intent here is to show the limitations
of this obvious, but somewhat superficial, approach, as well as its value in
distinguishing between some kinds of organization. The scheme developed is based
on the relationship between such bodies and the meetings by which they were
Another categorization used is based on the structural peculiarities of some
kinds of organization. Bodies are distinguished in terms of their hybrid character,
dependent character, semi-autonomous character, relationship to leadership,
regional orientation, functional orientation, heterogeneity of membership, structural
complexity, or minimal structure.
Some international organizations may also be usefully characterized by the
special emphasis they give to a particular mode of action. Others may be distinguished
by the specialized nature of their preoccupation (as contrasted with any more
conventional classification by subject). A significant number of bodies called
"international" can also be usefully distinguished in terms of peculiarities
in their geographic orientation or distribution of membership.
In addition to the above rubrics, there are a number of groups of organizations
with other special characteristics such as commemoration of individuals, focus
on charismatic personalities, special patronage bodies, alumni associations,
retrogressive bodies and hyperprogressive bodies.
Each of the dimensions mentioned brings out different aspects of the range
and variety of international bodies. Several examples of organizations in any
such group are cited to give a better grasp of the kinds of bodies which exist.
Most of the named bodies are described in this volume, the number in parenthesis
following each name being the reference number of the description. It should
be stressed that a particular body could well exemplify several of the special
characteristics discussed, although it may only have been cited because of the
apparent dominant nature of a particular characteristic. The term "apparent"
is deliberately used because the characteristic in question may not necessarily
be of great important in determining the actual functioning of the organization
(eg the Howard League for Penal Reform could perhaps just as well be called the International
League for Penal Reform). It should also be stressed that in the main the dimensions
and characteristics discussed attempt to draw attention to the many exceptional
cases rather than to distinguish between organizations lacking any of the characteristics
noted. It could be argued that there is a central core of international organizations
which can only usefully be classified in terms of aims, internal structure,
control, activities and membership. Unfortunately, it is these same bodies which
tend to be multifunctional and therefore to be difficult to capture adequately
and meaningfully in the schemes which have been proposed to date. Given the
preponderance of organizations possessing characteristics distinguishing them,
to a greater or lesser degree, from a model international organization, it is
appropriate to attempt a descriptive review on this basis - in anticipation
of a more adequate and comprehensive scheme.
2. Conventional categories
It is usual to distinguish between three main types of "international
organization", namely: inter-governmental organizations, international
non-governmental organizations, and multinational enterprises.
2.1 Inter-governmental organizations (IGOs)
The Yearbook of International Organizations, which aims to identify
and list all intergovernmental organizations, defines such bodies as:
- (a) being based on a formal instrument of agreement between the governments
of nation states;
- (b) including three or more nation states as parties to the agreement;
- (c) possessing a permanent secretariat performing ongoing tasks.
The view of the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations concerning
intergovernmental organizations is implicit in its Resolution 288 (X) of 27
February 1950: "Any international organization which is not established
by intergovernmental agreement shall be considered as a non-governmental
organization for the purpose of these arrangements." The resolution
was concerned with the implementation of Article 71 of the United Nations Charter
on consultative status of non-governmental organizations, and it was amplified
by Resolution 1296 (XLIV) of 25 June 1968: "...including organizations
which accept members designated by government authorities, provided that such
membership does not interfere with the free expression of views of the organizations."
The matter is complicated by the fact that, pursuant to Article 12 of the regulations
of the General Assembly of the United Nations (giving effect to Article 102
of the Charter), the Secretariat publishes (in the UN Treaty Series) every instrument
submitted to it by a Member State, when "so far as that party is concerned,
the instrument is a treaty or an international agreement within the meaning
of Article 102" (Note in UN Treaty Series, Vol; 748). The terms "treaty"
and "international agreement" have not been defined either in the
Charter or in the regulations. Furthermore: "It is the understanding
of the Secretariat that its action does not confer on the instrument the status
of a treaty or an international agreement if it does not already have that status..."
This difficulty is compounded by the delays (often of many years) before a treaty
is published in the UN Treaty Series. Further complications arise from:
- the increasing number of "international agreements" in which
one or more of the parties is a constituent state (eg Quebec) of a federal state system (eg Canada). This matter was not resolved by the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (Vienna, 1969);
- bilateralisation of treaties when several states act together to aid another state under a "multilateral" treaty signed by all of them;
- agreements in which one of the parties is itself an intergovernmental organization (thus "multilateralising" the agreement) acting to establish an intergovernmental institute in a particular country (thus "bilateralising" the agreement), of which
the government is one of the parties to that agreement (eg many UNESCO agreements with individual developing countries to establish regional research centres);
- agreements signed on behalf of national government agencies or departments which, in the case of purely technical matters, may not fully engage the state; the resulting organizations may then define themselves as "non-governmental".
In practice therefore, the editors assume that an organization is intergovernmental
if it is established by signature of an agreement engendering obligations between
governments, whether or not that agreement is eventually published. If any organization
declares itself to be non-governmental, it is accepted as such by the
All organizations established by agreements to which three states or more are
parties are therefore included. Following the adoption of Resolution 334 (XI)
of 20 July 1950 (see Appendix 14), it was agreed with the UN Secretariat in
New York that bodies arising out of bilateral agreements should not be included
in the Yearbook (although they may be included in Type G or N).
A detailed re-examination of this matter by Singer and Wallace questioned
this conventional definition. In particular they argue: "It may be objected,
of course, that bilateral organizations should not be included on the
grounds that they are not "really" IGOs, as we usually conceive of
them because they result from "contractual" rather than "law-making"
treaties. There are two points to be made here: One, this objection is met by
us in that mere treaties or pacts are excluded by other criteria. We only urge
that an organization's bilateral character cannot of itself be grounds for exclusion.
Further, such exclusion would not only leave out such important organizations
as the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) but would also force us to
drop such multilateral organizations as the Rhine Commission when historical
circumstances temporarily reduced the membership to two." (2)
Singer and Wallace also consider the distinction between IGOs and NGOs in the
case of "mixed" organizations, some of whose delegations are appointed
by governmental agencies or ministries and some by private bodies such as corporations.
They conclude that "it would be unreasonable to exclude organizations
simply because a number of their members were not national states. Instead we
adopted the criterion employed by the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC):
whether or not the organization was created by a formal instrument of agreement
between the governments of national states." (2) There appears to be
some conflict here with the ECOSOC definition of a non-governmental organization,
namely: "Any international organization which is not established by
inter-governmental agreement shall be considered as a non-governmental
organization for the purpose of these arrangements, including organizations
which accept members designated by government authorities, provided that such
membership does not interfere with the free expression of views of the organization."
They also object to the inclusion of associations or confederations of IGOs
as constituting additional IGOs on the grounds that such bodies are not independent.
They exclude treaties or agreements administered by another international organization
(such as the various special unions of the International Union for the Protection
of Industrial Property). Finally, in cases where two separate IGOs claim jurisdiction
over the same domain (eg the Commission européenne du régime du Danube, Rome,
and the Danube Commission, Budapest), only the organization "with evident
de facto control over the domain" is included.
2.2 International non-governmental organizations (NGOs)
A clear and unambiguous theoretically acceptable definition of international NGOs remains to be formulated. Much research on these bodies
is based on those described in the Yearbook of International Organizations.
The criterion for inclusion in this volume is based on the ECOSOC definition
of NGOs (noted in the above) which however fails to define the meaning to be
given to "international organization". The editors of the Yearbook
have therefore developed a set of seven rules designed to identify an international
NGO in terms of aims, members, structure, officers, finance, autonomy, and activities.
The intent has been to include only those bodies oriented to three or more countries.
Skjelsbaek in reviewing the growth of NGOs using the above definition regrets
the use of "a legalistic criterion to distinguish between intergovernmental
organizations (IGOs) and international non-governmental organizations
(NGOs). This criterion defines IGOs as organizations established by inter-governmental
treaty, as specified in the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)
resolution of 1950, regardless of the character of their membership. Most but
not all IGOs include only governmental members, and in practice many NGOs have
both governmental and non-governmental members." (4) He concludes
that the Yearbook list of NGOs is somewhat different from, and more restrictive
than, a list of organizations compiled according to minimum criteria for "transnational"
which he puts forward, namely: "At least two different countries must
be represented in the organization and one of the representatives must not be
an agent of a government." The editors of the Yearbook responded in
part to these and other pressures in the 1977 edition by splitting the range
of international organizations into two groups, the first based on the original
criteria and the second on looser criteria, discussed below. They still exclude
pure bilateral bodies (eg a "Franco-German" association).
The abbreviation "INGO" tends to be used by the academic community,
whereas "NGO" is favoured by the United Nations system. "NGO"
tends to be used by the academic community to refer to national NGOs. The organizations
themselves, in those few cases where they use the term (rather than a more specific
term such as trade union, voluntary agency, etc), use "NGO" and never
"INGO". The two are used interchangeably here.
2.3 Multinational enterprises
As with IGOs and NGOs, there is no clear definition of multinational or transnational
corporations. A study by the United Nations Secretariat lists many proposed
definitions. (5) Much data is available about the several hundred most economically
powerful corporations likely to constitute the basis for any list. The editors
of the Yearbook of International Organizations have published the results
of their survey to determine probable numbers in term of different criteria
based on the distribution of subsidiaries between countries (6) and in 1976
published such information as one section of their experimental Yearbook
of World Problems and Human Potential (7).
The controversy, discussed below, over the term to be applied to such bodies
goes beyond the issue of whether one or other word is more appropriate for designated
entities. Sahlgren notes that "Even among those using the terms "transnational
corporations" or "multinational enterprises", for instance, there
is still a wide margin of disagreement as to which entities are or are not included...some
would like to see partly or wholly-state owned enterprises excluded from
the scope of the term "transnational corporations"...others have argued
that such enterprises display characteristics and motivations that are essentially
identical with those of privately-owned enterprises." (8)
2.4 Comment on organizational "existence"
Identification of "international organizations" raises problems concerning
what is meant by the "existence" of an organization in terms of different
2.4.1 Legal: International non-governmental organizations have
no existence in international law. They are organizational "outlaws".
One legal study of international organization notes: "Des associations
revêtant les formes d'une organisation internationale peuvent aussi être créés
par des personnes de droit privé ou de droit non étatique... Mais, n'étant pas
formés par des Etats, ce ne sont pas là des organisations internationales au
sens stricte des termes." Those NGOs recognized by the United Nations
under Article 71 of the Charter acquire a measure of legal significance. It
is important to note however that NGOs which are recognized as existing by one
IGO are not necessarily recognized as existing by another even if both IGOs
form part of the UN system. There have also been attempts to extend the interpretation
of the status of private persons in international law to cover collectivities
(10). It is interesting to note that multinational corporations are "non-governmental
organizations" having no existence in international law despite efforts
within the framework of the European Economic Community. This creates an embarrassing
situation for the United Nations which for political reasons is obliged to examine
"international" entities whose legal existence it cannot recognize.
(The practical consequence is that the UN unit studying such bodies cannot send
a questionnaire to them). Ironically, since the UN Charter does not distinguish
between profit-making and non-profit making bodies, the only way
that the UN Commission on Transnational Corporations may be able to relate to
such bodies is under Article 71 governing relations with NGOs. (11) Within
the European Community, at least, this situation may be altered if the recently
approved European convention on the recognition of the legal personality
of international non-governmental organizations is ratified (see
2.4.2 Political: Organizations with a so-called "universal"
membership, such as the United Nations, have considerable difficulty in recognizing
the existence of "regional" bodies such as the Council of Europe,
the OAS, or the OECD and in establishing any working contact with them. (12)
This has been due to suspicion within the universal bodies that the regional
bodies could only reflect a partisan, political viewpoint which would disturb
the delicate balance of power amongst the universal body's membership. Such
political reasoning may also be used to reinforce legal arguments concerning
NGOs when the suspect organization does not have members from all the countries
represented in the universal body.
A UNESCO/UNITAR International expert meeting on the study of the role of international
organizations in the contemporary world (Geneva, 1976) reluctantly concluded
that NGOs were also international organizations but for political reasons could
only acknowledge that multinational corporations "engaged in activities
which affected international organizations" and therefore such relations
could not be neglected, although the corporations could not be considered
as a phenomenon in their own right. (The main purpose of the meeting was to
specify the contents of a series of textbooks for widespread use).
2.4.3 Impact: Presumably because of a desire to simplify the international
system to a point at which it becomes comprehensible and quantifiable, there
is a tendency to use a measure of political or economic impact as a means of
determining whether to give attention to an organization or organizational category.
A body therefore exists to the extent that it has impact. Since many international
bodies do not act to have an impact in a manner which would be considered significant
to an economist or to a political scientist, they are frequently ignored in
studies from such perspectives. For example, Keohane and Nye note that the impact
of inter-societal interactions and transnational actors in international
affairs has often been ignored both in policy-oriented writings and in
more theoretical works, and that when they have been recognized they have often
been consigned to the environment of interstate politics, and relatively little
attention has been paid to them in their own right or to their connections with
the interstate system. (13) Singer and Wallace, for example, are quite explicit
about exclusion of NGOs from their analysis: "our interests (and, we
suspect, those of most of our colleagues) are more concerned with IGOs than
with non-governmental organizations...as an independent variable, one
can hardly urge that the amount of NGOs is likely to be important in accounting
for many of the theoretically interesting phenomena, which occurred in the system
of the past century or so." (2) Proof of impact is therefore required
before scholarly attention can be given to the existence of the organizational
phenomenon giving rise to that impact. Ironically research and debate on international
organizations and their political impact may well be conducted under the auspices
of bodies excluded from the categories of the discussion as being without impact.
(This leads to an effort on the part of some impact-conscious organizations,
such as the Club of Rome, to define themselves as being "non-non-governmental"
in order to distinguish themselves from NGOs).
A counter-trend has however been stimulated with the publication edited
by Keohane and Nye (13) which focuses on a wide variety of transnational interactions,
including non-governmental associations, multinational business enterprises,
revolutionary movements, cartels, scientific networks, and the like.
2.5 Comment on "Transnational" versus "International"
It is still common practice to blur the meaning to be attached to "international
organization". It is frequently taken to mean intergovernmental organizations
only, although in other cases it may include NGOs but not multinational corporations.
Attempts have been made to use "transnational" to clarify the situation.
Thus for Keohane and Nye "transnational interactions" describe the
movement of tangible or intangible items across state boundaries when at least
one actor is not an agent of a government or an inter-governmental organization.
(13) They therefore consider that both NGOs and multinational corporations are
transnational together with some contemporary revolutionary organizations, and
bodies such as the Roman Catholic Church and the Ford Foundation.
In discussing NGOs, Skjelsbaek states that "For an organization to
be "transnational" two minimal requirements must be met: At least
two different countries must be represented in the organization and one of the
representatives must not be an agent of a government. In practice it would probably
be wise to specify that at least one-half of the members of the multilateral
organization should not act in governmental capacity." (4) Judge and
Skjelsbaek have attempted to encourage use of "transnational associations"
as a substitute for "international NGOs" to distinguish them from
other types of transnational organizations. (14) In 1977 the Union of International
Associations, following a symposium on transnationality in relation to non-governmental
organizations in Geneva in 1976 (15) changed the name of its periodical from
International Associations to Transnational Associations.
The situation has however been confused by debate within the United Nations
on "multinational corporations" as originally termed by the Secretariat
and the business community. The Group of Eminent Persons invited to study their
role noted the "strong feeling that transnational would better convey
the notion that these firms operate from their home bases across national borders"
transcending all forms of individual state control. In arguing in support of
a Latin American draft resolution to ECOSOC for a UN focus on "transnational"
as opposed to "multinational" corporations the point was made that:
"The term "multinational corporation" had been applied both
to enterprises operating in all parts of the world without a home base and to
those which had a main office in one country and branches in other countries,
for which the term "transnational corporations" was more descriptive.
In Latin America enterprises had been established whose concerns were different
from those multinational corporations, as normally understood, but whose structures
were similar... It would clearly be desirable to use the term "transnational
corporations" for enterprises operating from their home bases across national
borders and reserve the term "multinational corporations" for those
established by agreement between a number of countries and operating in accordance
with prescribed conditions."
This debate subsequently led to the establishment by ECOSOC of a "Centre
on Transnational Corporations". (8) "Transnational", for the
interstate community, must now bear the many negative connotations originally
associated with "multinational" which appears to have been "laundered".
The attempt to switch from the existing descriptor for NGOs, which contains
a logical negative (with negative connotations in some circumstances (16)),
to "transnational" should be assessed with caution now that the latter
is acquiring some negative connotations. These are not relieved by the choice
of the other term of the descriptor because of problems of translation (eg "corporation"
is translated into French as "société", which is used in the titles
of many NGOs).
3. Types of organization in the Yearbook
Before entering (in the next section) into a detailed discussion of the international
organizations in all their variety, it is appropriate to review the types into
which such organizations are allocated in this Yearbook. These types have been
defined in such a way as to provide an empirical means of ordering many kinds
of organizations. They have proved to be a convenient working tool. Reference
is made to these types in the subsequent discussion. Detailed refinements and
exceptions to the definitions given below, are discussed in the description
of each type in Appendix 3.
3.1 Conventional international organizations
These are grouped together in Types A to D. They are autonomous international
governmental and non-governmental organizations of a non-profit
nature. Multinational enterprises are therefore excluded. All such bodies have
members in at least 3 countries and do not have their activities or decision-making
structured in favour of any particular country. The Yearbook endeavours to provide
comprehensive coverage of such organizations.
3.1.1 Federations of international organizations: Type A includes all
international organizations whether governmental or non-governmental,
which group together at least three other autonomous non-regional international
bodies as full members. "Umbrella" organizations of this kind which
have national organizations as an additional membership category are also included.
The United Nations is included in this type because of its focal role in relation
to its Specialized Agencies that are "members" of the UN system.
3.1.2 Universal membership organizations: Type B includes all non-profit
international organizations, whether governmental or non-governmental,
that have a widespread, geographically-balanced membership, management
and policy-control. Although this concept of a "universal" membership
organization is much discussed, no generally accepted rule for distinguishing
such bodies has been formulated. The rule applied here is that there should
be members in at least 60 countries, or else in more than 30 countries provided
that the distribution between continents is "well-balanced".
3.1.3 Intercontinental membership organizations: Type C includes all
international non-profit organizations, whether governmental or non-governmental,
whose membership and preoccupations exceed that of a particular continental
region, although not to a degree justifying its inclusion in the previous type.
3.1.4 Regionally defined membership organizations: Type D includes all
international non-profit organizations, whether governmental or non-governmental,
whose membership or preoccupations are restricted to a particular continent
or subcontinental region.
3.2 Other "international organizations"
These are grouped together in Types E to G. Such bodies fail to meet the simple
criteria of the previous types in a variety of ways. They may nevertheless be
considered as "international organizations" in some respects even
though their inclusion may be questioned from a number of viewpoints.
3.2.1 Organizations emanating from places, persons, proprietary products
or other bodies: Type E includes any international non-profit bodies,
whether governmental or non-governmental, which may be considered an "emanation"
of a particular organization, place, person or proprietary product. Such bodies
do not necessarily have a membership in the form required for the preceding
types. It is not feasible to include the multitude of semi-autonomous
commissions of international organizations. The coverage of this type is therefore
limited to those which tend to be cited as though they were autonomous bodies.
3.2.2 Organizations having a special form, including foundations and funds:
Type F includes all international organizations, whether governmental or non-governmental,
whose formal characteristics raise fundamental questions if they are allocated
to any of the preceding types. Typically it includes international banks, courts,
training institutes, libraries, laboratories, etc. It is used for organizations
of exiles, common markets, and political parties. Discontinuous "bodies"
such a periodic conference series, may also be included together with information
networks and informal quasi-organizations. In addition this type may also
be used for any unusual, possibly illegal bodies when their inclusion serves
to raise interesting questions.
3.2.3 Internationally-oriented national organizations: Type G
includes national organizations with various forms of international activity
or concern such as research, peace, development or relief. It may also include
national bodies which have relations with international organizations and which
are listed by them in conjunction with truly international bodies or which appear
from their titles to be international themselves. This criterion includes organizations
having consultatative status with United Nations and other intergovernmental
bodies. No systematic efforts are made to trace individual organizations of
3.3 Special types
Several types are used to handle bodies which raise special problems. All except
Type R organizations are only listed, having no descriptions.
3.3.1 Inactive or dissolved international organizations: Type H includes
all international non-profit organizations, whether governmental or non-governmental,
which have been dissolved, are currently inactive, or are otherwise dormant.
It includes only those bodies that would have appeared in Types A to D, occasional
exceptions being made for bodies that appeared in Types E or F.
3.3.2 Multinational enterprises: Type M (now incorporated into Type
F) was developed to include multinational enterprises, whether governmental
or non-governmental. It is to this type that profit-making corporations
would therefore be allocated.
3.3.3 National organizations: Type N includes bodies known to hold meetings
with extensive international participation. The type is also used for national
bodies which have names that create the impression they should be in any of
the preceding types. Bilateral intergovernmental bodies are allocated to this
type. Organizations are included here if they are encountered during search
procedures for those in the preceding types or if it is believed they may be
of interest to users. No systematic efforts are made to trace individual organizations
of this type.
3.3.4 Religious orders, fraternities and secular institutes: Type R
includes religious, military and fraternal orders or congregations, together
with similar bodies based on charismatic leadership or commitment to a set of
religious practices. Many of these bodies cannot be treated as "conventional"
international organizations because of their special decision-making procedures
and their partially dependent relationship to religious hierarchies (such as
that of the Catholic Church, for example). A major reason for including this
type lies in the interesting range of questions raised by the differences and
similarities between orders (created over the past millennium) and many conventional
organizations (created over the past century), each concerned in their own way
with human and social development. Of special interest, for example, is the
parallel between papal "approval" of order and the "recognition"
accorded to NGOs under Article 71 of the UN Charter.
3.3.5 Multilateral treaties and agreements: Type T includes multilateral
treaties, conventions, pacts, protocols or covenants signed by 3 or more parties.
It excludes those concerned with a specific country, a specific event, or the
creation of an intergovernmental organization (identified elsewhere in this
3.4 Index-only types
Additional "types" are used for organization entries which are listed
even though the entries (to which the other entries refer) are not printed in
the Yearbook. Type J is used to indicate names of apparently international organizations
whose creation has recently been reported but for which no further information
has been obtained. Type K is used for names of units concerned with substantive
matters within the selected complex international agencies. Type U is used for
names of apparently international organizations whose existence has not been
confirmed as well as for inactive bodies which would have appeared in Type E
4. Classification categories
See Annex Types of International Organization: Classification categories
5. Problems of classifying international organizations
5.1 Borderline categories
As was noted in a cautionary remark concerning the specific examples cited
in the previous sections, the organizations are included there to show that
a body could be "international" according to some characteristics.
Some of the bodies, however, would tend not to be identified as presenting a
sufficient degree of "internationality" at this time - for reasons
other than those for which they were cited as examples.
This is a very real problem which has pre-occupied the editors of the
Yearbook of International Organizations - a reference book designed
to provide descriptive listings of all "international" governmental
and non-governmental bodies. Over the years they have developed an empirical
set of criteria for deciding whether an organization should be included or not.
With the 16th (1977) edition, however, they were obliged to note that:
"With the increase in the number and the variety of bodies called "international",
it has become more and more difficult to limit a Yearbook of International Organizations
only to those organizations corresponding to the selection criteria used for
previous editions, even though those criteria remain valid as a definition of
"minimal internationality". Consider the following examples:
(a) The practice of the United Nations Economic and Social Council to give
consultative status to an increasing number of "national" non-governmental
organizations on the same basis as for international non-governmental
organizations. Previously this was only done in exceptional cases. (By agreement
with the United Nations, all organizations acquiring consultative status are
described in this Yearbook.)
(b) The creation of several hundred non-governmental committees to
coordinate commercial and industrial activities within the European Economic
Community countries. Such bodies therefore acquire a special "federal"
(rather than international) character within the Community.
(c) The creation of a large number of semi-autonomous regional or
functional bodies of governmental or non-governmental organizations, making
it difficult to determine satisfactorily the degree of autonomy justifying their
inclusion as separate entries.
(d) The emergence of a variety of new kinds of organization which raise
unresolved questions as to whether such bodies should be considered as "international"
or not, although they clearly represent a mutation which it is important to
reflect in this Yearbook. In editions prior to the 16th these difficulties have
been met either by excluding the body (and merely mentioning it in the entry
on the organization to which it had some dependent relationship), giving it
a "short entry", or (particularly in the case of inter-governmental
bodies) giving it a separate full entry." Many of these problems have
been resolved by the approach developed from the 19th edition which results
in the classification discussed in Section 3 above.
5.2 Organizational substitutes
Functions performed by conventional international bodies may also be performed
by substitutes for such bodies under certain circumstances as was implied in
an earlier section.
One example of how a need satisfied by a conventional organization may be satisfied
by a functional equivalent is the case of a "subscribership". In one
setting it may be necessary to have interaction between members via an "organization",
while in another the need for such interaction may be satisfied by a journal
to which individuals can subscribe. Another example is the case of an "agreement"
which may be considered an hyperformal organization. In one setting a written
or even verbal agreement may satisfactorily regulate relations between members,
in another an equivalent agreement may have to be administered by a secretariat
via an organization. Where formal agreement is not possible, an "organization"
may perform the necessary mediating or negotiating functions between its members.
A final example is the case of a meeting, and particularly large periodic meetings,
in a series. In terms of activity, this may be more significant than a small
normally constituted organization.
Of particular interest at this time is the increasing importance of various
kinds of international information and data networks (possibly based on telex
or real-time computer links), by whatever bodies they may be operated
or ultimately controlled, if any. One important variety is associated with the
movement of bibliographical information (UNISIST, AGRIS, INIS, DEVSIS, and the
like). Another is associated with movement of quantitative scientific data (weather,
earthquakes, astronomical phenomena, etc). Yet another is concerned with movement
of financial data within networks of major banks, governments and financial
institutions. Few of these have received scholarly attention, one recent exception
being international (news) wire services. (32) The more sophisticated varieties,
with fewer but more powerful users, are available through computer networks.
One example is Technotec which is a technology exchange data base service offered
by the Control Data Corporation to facilitate worldwide technology transfer
through the Cybernet/Kronos timesharing networks. A special problem is associated
with such services, for although few constraints are placed upon users, their
regular use of such services may effectively bind them into dependence on them,
making the users vulnerable to unilateral decisions on the part of the institutions
or country in which the processing power or files are located. This may be especially
serious where, for example, complex national economic computations of low technology
countries can only be switched onto computers based in high technology countries.
What organization or country could risk dependence on a United Nations computer
system when its files and access could be frozen by a General Assembly majority
One consequence of focusing on conventional organizations only is that functional
equivalents, particularly in non-Western cultures, are excluded from the
analysis, thus introducing cultural bias and jeopardizing comparative studies.
Another consequence is that even within a certain culture an "organizational
analysis" will exclude many styles or organization performing functions
which mesh with those of the organizations we are trying to isolate for closer
scrutiny, thus rendering the analysis incomplete.
A further complicating feature is that a conventional organization may, for
example, perform functions for a "membership" but at the same time
produce a periodical which serves as a focal point for a "subscribership"
which is neither identical nor coterminous with the membership. A further complicating
feature derives from the dynamic of a social system in that the growth or decay
of a particular organization form may be accompanied by transference of functions
to another organization form, for instance due to change in technology. The
ability to accomplish this transference may be hindered by inertial features,
such as vested interests identified with particular patterns of organization.
Because we are trapped within our categorical straitjackets we are unable to
appreciate fully the complex and subtle ways in which the various forms of organization
share and switch the burden of particular social functions between them. Proposals
for social change therefore tend to be based on a rather myopic vision of the
functions currently performed by a limited number of conventional organizations,
rather than on a panoramic view of the rich and complex organizational ecosystem
in which many species flourish and interact.
5.3 Alternative categories
In addition to the organizational substitutes discussed above, it is appropriate
to draw attention to what may be called alternative styles of organization.
It is a frequent complaint of those dissatisfied with international NGOs (and
IGOs to much lesser extent) that most of these bodies are based on a Western
model or concept of organization. As such it is claimed that they do not reflect
the style, practice or tradition of organization in non-Western societies.
This said, however, the regional organizations in such societies tend to differ
very little organizationally from the Western model, except perhaps in the degree
of direct or indirect government influence on their activities. The only non-Western
bodies which the author has been able to locate which could be said to represent
the beginning of an alternative approach to organization at the international
level are the Waqf in the Arab culture and associations between widely dispersed
Chinese populations based on the family name or the ancestral province. Whether
organizational forms currently emerging from the Chinese social experiment could
be employed at the international level is a matter for attention (particularly
regarding the manner of participation of nation states), but there seems to
be no evidence of any use of such a distinct form, except in the trend towards
consensus decision-making (as advocated by Unesco).
As was mentioned earlier, deliberate efforts have been made in some cases to
create minimally structured organizations which blur into informal networks
of individuals, groups or institutions. Where these bear a recognized name,
they may presumably be considered as semi-formal bodies. Others are purely
informal (eg the commune network).
The pattern of links between organizations across national boundaries may be
such that the resultant network effectively constitutes an organization in its
own right but at a different level. Such "organizations" emerge without
being deliberately designed and created. (It would be useful to know this process
could be facilitated.)
The relations between members in an organization are conventionally governed
by statutory and procedural provisions detailed in appropriate documents. With
the advent of computer data networks linking widely dispersed terminals, a new
form of organization is emerging. The rules governing the interaction between
the members are precisely embodied in the computer software by which the member
users interact through the data network. This technique, known as computer conferencing,
has given rise to what are being called "on-line intellectual networks".
(33) Some of these already cross national boundaries, linking many institutions.
Clearly the rules governing the participation of member-users can be modified
to include most of those which are essential to the functioning of a normal
The increased use of the technique noted in the above paragraph could also
be accompanied by sophisticated modifications to control procedures in organizations.
The current range of organizations is limited because of the need for simple
voting and control procedures and easily understandable membership groups. The
calculating and display power of the computer permits the use of complex weighted
voting techniques to allow for a considerable variety of possible distinctions
and means of safeguarding against abuse. For example, one member might be allocated
10 votes on one issue range and 70 on another, with the total votes from particular
voting blocs weighted in terms of a complex index, itself governed by a weight
changing at an agreed rate over the life of the organization. This would permit
a much more subtle make-up of organization membership, reflecting more
closely the relative interests, capabilities and qualifications of members.
The variety of organizational structures would therefore increase. Organizations
could be successfully created from combinations of members which would currently
be considered improbable or unstable.
The above techniques make possible the existence of organizations which only
"cohere" and "exist" on particular issues, or which might
have a wide voting membership on one issue, but a very limited voting membership
on another. This takes us to a point where the concept of an organization as
a distinct and well-defined structure (other than in computer terms) is
replaced by an emphasis on the potential components of a structural pattern
at any one time and the stimulus necessary to call each of them into play. This
formalization of organization dynamics is foreign to conventional thinking about
formal organization but is close to the normal intuitive understanding of the
operation of small groups, informal organizations and pressure groups.
Clearly the above trends would encourage the emergence of issue-oriented
organizations, presenting all the characteristics of a permanent formal organization
except that they would be designed to terminate after a period of days, weeks
or months. Such bodies might even be rapidly "created" by computer
from a pool of members who have registered interest in participating in any
such bodies activated by a sufficient number of requests in response to an urgent
issue. The whole procedure of informing members, registering statutes, obtaining
funds and initiating action would be handled through data networks. A situation
might emerge in which considerably more temporary organizations of this kind
existed that those of a more permanent conventional nature. This would have
many implications (34).
5.4 Quantitative data The growth and development of international organizations
has been analyzed quantitatively by many authors (2,4,35). Many of these analyses
have been based on the bodies identified in successive editions of the Yearbook
of International Organizations and its predecessors.
A summary of the growth of international organizations by type is given in
the accompanying statistics. Geographical data on membership and secretariat
countries is given in Volume 2: International Organization Participation.
An analysis by subject and region is given in Volume 3: Global Action Networks.
This section in many ways raises more questions than it answers. Hopefully
it clarifies the variety of bodies which at some stage can be usefully brought
within a coherent classification scheme. This is an interesting challenge. The
confusion over the nature and quantity of international/transnational organization
is at the moment only partially clarified by simplistic definitions of the entities
which are thus selected for study. In some ways the contentment with the distinction
"IGO, NGO, multinational" resembles the situation of zoologists prior
to the classification of "omnivores, herbivores and carnivores" into
a multiplicity of animal species interrelated to different degrees. It is perhaps
abusing the metaphor to suggest that the widespread preference for "big
game" impedes the development of understanding of the communication networks
in the organizational ecosystem as a whole and of the role of the many smaller
or less numerous species. Despite the lack of conceptual clarity, the variety
of organizational forms functioning in some way transnationally continues to
increase. At some stage it will presumably be possible to trace the manner in
which these forms increase, decrease and evolve in response to the opportunities
open to them.
1. Union of International
Associations. Yearbook of International Organizations. Brussels, Union of International
Associations, 1986, 23rd edition.
2. Michael Wallace and J. David Singer. Inter-governmental organization
in the global system, 1815-1964; a quantitative description. International
Organization, 24, 2, Spring 1970, p.239-287.
3. UN/ECOSOC. Resolution 1296 (XLIV), June 1968.
4. Kjell Skjelsbaek. The growth of international non-governmental
organization in the twentieth century. International Organization,
25, 3, Summer 1971, p.420-442.
5. United Nations. Multinational Corporations in World Development. New York,
6. Union of International
Associations. Yearbook of International Organizations. Brussels, Union of International
Associations, 1968-1969, pp.1189-1214 (including tables of aggregate
data on 7000 multinational business enterprises, partially revised in following
edition 1970-1971, pp.1028-1046).
7. Union of International
Associations and Mankind 2000. Yearbook of World Problems and Human Potential. Brussels, Union of International
Associations and Mankind 2000, 1976 (Section M,. commentary)
8. Klaus A. Sahlgren. Transnational Corporation; terminology. International
Associations, 28, 12, 1976, p.577-578.
9. W. J. Ganshof van der Meersch. Organisations Européennes. Bruxelles, Bruylant,
10. Université Catholique de Louvain. Premier Colloque du Département des Droits
de l'homme, 24 Octobre 1969; Les Droits de l'Homme et les Personnes Morales.
Bruxelles, Bruylant, 1970.
11. See comment on activities of the ECOSOC Commission on Multinational Corporations
in International Associations, 26, 1974, 10, p.464-467.
12. Peter Smithers. Governmental Control; a prerequisite for effective
relations between the United Nations and non-UN regional organizations.
New York, United Nations Institute for Training and Research, 1972.
13. Robert O. Keohane and J.S. Nye (Eds.). Transnational Relations and
World Politics. International Organizations, 25, 3, Summer 1971.
14. Anthony Judge and Kjell Skelsbaek. Transnational associations and their
functions. In: A.J.R. Groom and Paul Taylor (Eds.), Functionalism; Theory
and Practice in International Relations, University of London Press, 1975, p.190-224. [text]
15. Documents published in International Associations, 28, 1976, 12;
Transnational Associations, 29, 1976, 1-2 and 6. See also: The
Future of Transnational Associations from the Standpoint of a New World Order;
Report of a Symposium. Brussels, Union of International Associations, 1977,
16. Anthony Judge. Conceptual distortions from negative descriptors; the
possibility that "non-governmental" may be comprehended as "anti-governmental"
in some languages. International Associations, 26, 1974, 3, p.150-155. [text]
17. G. P. Speeckaert. The Various Types of International Meetings. Brussels,
Union of International Associations, 1967, p.8.
18. Walter Laqueur. Guerrilla. Little, Brown, 1977.
19. Yohan Alexander. International network of terrorism. (Paper
presented to 3 panel on international terrorism at the 18th Convention of the
International Studies Association, 1977, St Louis).
20. H. E. Cardinale. The Holy See and the International Order. Gerrards Cross,
Colin Smythe, 1976.
21. Ivan Vallier. The Roman Catholic Church; a transnational actor.
International Organization, 25, 3, Summer 1971, p.479-502.
22. J. Bowyer Bell. Contemporary revolutionary organizations. International
Organization, 25, 3, Summer 1971, p. 151.
23. Gunner Boalt, et al. The European Orders of Chivalry; a sociological
perspective. Stockholm, Norstedt, 1971, p. 151.
24. International Commission for Orders of Chivalry. Register of Orders of
Chivalry. Edinburgh, The Armorial, 1970 (Report of the Commission 1960-1963),
25. Lt. Colonel Gayre. The Knightly Twilight; a glimpse at the
chivalric and nobiliary underworld. Valetta (Malta) Lochore Enterprises, 1973,
26. Diana Crane. Transnational networks in basic science. International
Organizations, 25, 3, Summer 1971, p.585-601.
27. International Peace Research Institute. Producer Associations; cooperation
among developing countries in export pricing and marketing of primary commodities.
(Paper prepared at the request of the UNCTAD Secretariat). Oslo, PRIO, 1975,
p. 92 (PRIO 22-45).
28. Ezra S. Krendle. Group representation in European Armed Forces.
(Paper presented to a panel on military unionism in the western democracies
at the 18th Convention of the International Studies Associations, 1977, St.
29. Croner's World Directory of Freight Conferences.
30. United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. The Liner Conference
System; report by the UNCTAD Secretariat. New York, United Nations, 1970
31. Material on cartels is available within studies by UNCTAD on restrictive
32. Mary Emery and J.C. Pollock. Wireservices in the global network.
(Paper presented at the 18th Annual Convention of the International Studies
Association, St. Louis, 1977).
33. See collection of articles in Transnational Associations, 29, October
1977; also: Operation trials of electronic information exchange for small
research communities, (US National Science Foundation, Division of Science
Information, Access Improvement Program, Washington DC, 1976, NSF 76-45).
34. Anthony Judge. Communication and international organizations.
International Associations, 22, 1970, 2, p.57-79. [text]
35. Chadwick F. Alger and David Hoovler. The feudal structure of systems
of international organizations. Proceedings of the International Peace
Research Association Conference, (Varanasi, February 1974), 1975.