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International Organizations as an Instrument of Foreign Policy

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In 1992, there reportedly were 1,147 international organizations IOs active on the world stage. More than one-third of these 340 were created by formal international agreements among countries. Many IOs play an important role in the current international system. It is hard to imagine how world affairs would operate without international bodies such as the United Nations UN and its affiliates, international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund IMF and the World Bank, or functional bodies such as the Universal Postal Union or the International Civil Aviation Organization. Nevertheless, the record shows that international organizations are not permanent fixtures on the world scene. Shanks et al. note that more than a third of the IOs in existence in 1981 were defunct by 1992, while enough new organizations were created to raise by 84 the total number of IOs that were operating in 1992. Following World War I, many theorists believed that IOs could be effective vehicles for resolving international problems. As the academic field called international relations separated itself from political science and historical studies at this time, this expectation seemed to have been its predominant point of view. Traditional diplomacy and power politics tended to exacerbate conflicts, the advocates of the new system believed, while the process of open deliberation through international bodies would pressure governments to resolve their disputes by making them vulnerable to the full weight of world public opinion. Theorists who take a more realistic approach to international politics have generally had less confidence in the efficacy of IOs. They note that the United Nations and most other international bodies have no way to implement their decisions, and that nation states have all the real power in the international system. The author presents arguments for and against international organizations being viable tools of foreign policy.

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  • Government and Political Science

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