Challenges to Comprehension Implied by the Logo
of Laetus in Praesens
Laetus in Praesens Alternative view of segmented documents via Kairos


Types of International Organization

Detailed overview

-- / --

Updated version of an article which first appeared in the Yearbook of International Organizations in 1978. That version was reproduced, with minor alterations, by permission of the publisher and editors of: International Organizations; a conceptual approach 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". Note the subsequent clarification with respect to What Kind of Organizations are Included: criteria specified in the Yearbook of International Organizations 1968-1969 (2019).

1. Introduction
2. Conventional categories
3. Types of organization in the Yearbook
4. Classification categories (Annex)
5. Problems of classifying international organizations

1. Introduction

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 created.

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:

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:

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 editors.

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." (3)

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 perspectives.

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 Appendix 6).

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 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 this type.

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 Yearbook).

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 or F.

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 decision?

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 organization.

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.

6. Conclusion

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, 1973, ST/ECA/190.

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, 1966, pp.33-34.

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, p.211.

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), p. 12.

25. Lt. Colonel Gayre. The Knightly Twilight; a glimpse at the chivalric and nobiliary underworld. Valetta (Malta) Lochore Enterprises, 1973, p. 172.

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. Louis).

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 (E.70.11.D.9).

31. Material on cartels is available within studies by UNCTAD on restrictive business practices.

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.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

For further updates on this site, subscribe here