In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section International Organizations

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals

International Relations International Organizations
Andrea Ribeiro-Hoffmann
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 June 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 02 March 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0033


The definition and role of international organizations vary along different analytical approaches and might include international governmental organizations (IGOs), nonprofit international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs), and for profit international nongovernmental organizations, the latter also usually referred to as multinational corporations (MNCs). This article covers IGOs, organizations created by sovereign states to conclude an international treaty. IGOs must be seen as different from other forms of international cooperation between sovereign states given their high level of institutionalization and judicialization, and their multilateral characteristics. Other widely accepted defining aspects of IGOs are whether their membership is open to all states (global IGOs) or only a group of states (regional IGOs), and whether their competences are issue-specific or comprehensive. The sections and subsections of this article address these aspects.

General Overviews

This section includes books that present broad conceptual and historical accounts of international organizations, and those that provide good introductions without losing depth. Archer 2001, Armstrong, et al. 2004, Bennett and Oliver 2002, and Rittberger and Zangl 2006 are excellent introductory books. Reinalda 2009 presents a rich historical analysis. Claude 1984, originally written in 1956, is an indispensable reference for the study of international organizations. Martin and Simmons 2001 is a comprehensive reader, including a selection of works by leading international relations (IR) scholars on international institutions. Another general source is the Yearbook of International Organizations, published annually by the Union of International Associations.

  • Archer, Clive. International Organizations. 3d ed. London: Routledge, 2001.

    Excellent introductory book covering the definition, classification, and historical development of international organizations, and an evaluation of their future.

  • Armstrong, David, Lorna Lloyd, and John Redmond. International Organisation in World Politics. 3d ed. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

    Accessible book focusing on the historical development of international organizations, the League of Nations, the UN system, regional organizations, and global governance.

  • Bennett, A. LeRoy, and James K. Oliver. International Organizations: Principles and Issues. 7th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2002.

    Updated analysis of the main activities of international organizations, including nongovernmental organizations and multinational corporations.

  • Claude, Inis. Swords into Plowshares: The Problems and Progress of International Organization. 4th ed. New York: Random House, 1984.

    In this seminal book, Claude analyzes the development of international organizations as a response to increasing interdependence, containing both realistic and idealistic components, two streams most commonly seen as alternative sources of cooperation. Although many of its specific debates are outdated, such as UN reform, this is an essential reference to understanding the motivations and origins of international organizations and multilateralism.

  • Martin, Lisa, and Beth Simmons, eds. International Institutions: An International Organization Reader. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001.

    Also published as a special issue of International Organization in 2001, this reader contains chapters by leading scholars on theories, compliance, legalization, empirical studies, and critiques of international organizations. These are deep analyses of some of the main controversies in the study of international organizations.

  • Reinalda, Bob. Routledge History of International Organizations: From 1815 to the Present Day. London and New York: Routledge, 2009.

    Rich historical account of the development of international organizations since the beginning of the 19th century exploring the role of British and American hegemony and of social movements.

  • Rittberger, Volker, and Bernhard Zangl. International Organization: Polity, Policy and Politics. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

    Excellent introductory book on international organizations seen as political systems.

  • Union of International Associations. Yearbook of International Organizations. Brussels: Office central des associations internationales, 1910–.

    Published annually, offers detailed profiles of international governmental and nongovernmental organizations. These profiles include aims, membership, structure, activities, and events, among other details. Since 2000 a continuously updated version covering more than 63,000 international organizations has been available online.

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