See also the articles "The Europe of Congresses" and "The Concert of Europe” in the EHNE.
International organisations can be divided into two groups according to the state of governmental involvement: inter-governmental organisations (IGOs) and international non-governmental organisations (INGOs). Both are part of the framework of wider international cooperation, which includes international agreements, conventions and laws, as well as internationally respected norms (soft laws) and various forms of international regimes.1 The following remarks are limited to IGOs and INGOs. These terms, however, are not used uniformly in current research, and particularly with regard to INGOs the terms "civil society organisations" and "advocacy networks" are sometimes preferred.2
IGOs denote not only international but, more specificly, inter-governmental organisations.3 They arise through "formal agreements between states".4 Nation states are therefore the foundational elements of all IGOs. IGOs can thus be defined as "institutional structure[s] created by [an] agreement among two or more sovereign states for the conduct of regular political interactions".5 Bilateral contractual systems, therefore, are not international organisations. Certainly, IGOs too are also based on formal agreements (contracts, statutes, charters, etc.), but these relate to activities in more than two states. The number of states involved may be anything between three (e.g. NAFTA) to approximately 200 (e.g. Universal Postal Union). IGOs can be limited both in terms of their members and in relation to their geographical spheres of activity (e.g. Organisation of ) or strive for global participation (e.g. International Telegraph Union). They can devote themselves to a specific field of action (e.g. OPEC) or address a broad range of topics (e.g. United Nations).6
The characteristics of IGOs include regular general assemblies and plenary sessions, a permanent secretariat and an identifiable headquarters.7 IGOs are usually headed by leaders whose titles can vary considerably (Secretary-General of the United Nations, Director-General of the World Health Organisation, President of the World Bank, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, etc.). It is of great importance that the assigned representatives of the member states and especially the staff of the permanent secretariat of an IGO are by no means exclusively committed to the interests of the member states. IGOs are more than instruments of co-operating nation states; they develop their own institutional logic and procedures and pursue their own interests in regard to the organisation's objectives.8
The term "international organisation", however, goes beyond the various forms of intergovernmental cooperation and also designates private organisational forms of transnational groups and associations.9 "Institutionalized internationalism" and "voluntary internationalism" are to be distinguished.10 Organised forms of transnational private networks are called INGOs. This includes, first, "any international organization that is not established by an agreement among governments".11 INGOs can therefore be defined as voluntary, non-governmental, non-profit, non-religious and non-military organisations.12 Further criteria include the pursuit of political, social, economic and other objectives beyond and independent of political parties and state instruments as well as the commitment to altruistic goals, which is to say those that exceed the particular interests of the organisation.13 INGOs are based on a "special type of authority" that requires no legitimation from an outside body and is based on self-defined goals and expertise.14 Scientists generally agree that neither trade networks nor so-called BINGOs (Business international non-governmental organisations)15 nor GONGOs (Government organised non-governmental organisations)16 can be counted as INGOs. Similar to the IGOs, however, there is disagreement on whether religious organisations can be regarded as INGOs.17
It is moreover problematic that not in all cases IGOs and INGOs can be clearly distinguished.18 Both are characterised by regular meetings of representative members, specific decision-making procedures and by the existence of a permanent secretariat.19 States frequently dispatch official representatives to INGOs (e.g. European Broadcasting Union) and, vice versa, various IGOs accept private actors and associations, i.e. INGOs, as members (e.g. International Labour Organisation, ILO).20 In some cases, INGOs are forerunners of IGOs, for example the International Association of the Legal Protection of Labour, whose activities were the basis for the ILO, founded in 1919.21 Above all, however, INGOs are never completely free from government influence. They have to pursue their activities within the scope of a legitimate legal governmental framework and are in many cases active in areas (health, protection of the environment, etc.) that are ultimately legislated by the state.22
The primary fields of activity of IGOs and INGOs are health care, international communications, scientific cooperation, labour organisation, economic cooperation, the international food regime, assisting refugees and displaced persons as well as issues of international law.
Historical Development: 1815–1865
According to the proposed definitions, international organisations first emerged in the period after the . Nonetheless, some important forerunners deserve to be mentioned which are significant both historically and in regard to the history of ideas. The Delian League (478–404 BC, and subsequently from 378–338 BC), an alliance of Greek city-states, may be considered the first example of an IGO. Even the medieval Hanseatic League, a European-wide trade association of free states, has the rudiments of an IGO. The Order of Malta is regarded as the earliest known forerunner of INGOs; in the 12th and 13th centuries it set up hospitals in the Holy Land for wounded crusaders.23
The Peace of Westphalia of 1648 marked an important milestone in the development of transnational cooperation for it reflected the beginnings of a modern state system. Articles 64, 65 and 67 of the peace treaties24 formulated the principle of territorial sovereignty, the right to a separate and independent internal policy and the ban on foreign powers to interfere in the internal policy of another state. The latter was also applied to the Catholic Church and the .25 The Peace of (1713–1714)26 at the conclusion of the War of the Spanish Succession solidified the legal basis of the European state system.27
Equally important for the beginnings of institutionalised international cooperation were some pioneering writings of the 17th and 18th century. The most important authors include the Abbé Charles Irénée Castel de Saint Pierre (1658–1743), Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832) and particularly Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) with his 1795 essay Zum ewigen Frieden (Perpetual Peace). William Penn (1644–1718) already argued in the 17th century for a European parliament, which would be organised by means of internationally selected secretaries. The proposal may therefore be considered as a first version of the permanent secretariat that is typical for IGOs.28 A few decades earlier, Hugo Grotius (1583–1645) outlined pioneering ideas for an international legal system.29
All the same, the Congress of 30 In addition to representatives of the major European powers, a total of 216 delegations participated in the reconstruction of after the Napoleonic Wars. The Congress itself is understood as both a "nascent IGO" and "einer der wichtigsten Vorläufer der internationalen Organisationen" ("one of the most important forerunners of international organisations").31 Among the items on its agenda were the abolition of the slave trade, the fight against piracy and improving international river navigation. Thus, the Congress of Vienna established a commission to oversee navigation on the Rhine. Its organisation was set forth in articles 108–116 of the Final Act.32 Comprised of , the , , , and , the commission laid down the conditions under which the river should be navigated. The Rhine Commission is generally considered to be the first genuine international organisation, and it was the forerunner to other international organisations in the 19th century also dedicated to freeing up navigation on rivers (e.g. the River Commission, 1856).33of 1815 may be regarded as the actual birth of international organisations.
Furthermore, it was also agreed in Article 6 of the Final Act of the Congress of Vienna that regular meetings of the major European powers should take place.34 While the Concert of Europe that emerged from these meetings and continued until the Conferences of 1878 and 1884/1885 does not meet the definitional criteria of an international organisation (irregular meetings, no secretariat, etc.), it would become vital as an institutional precursor for later IGOs.35 The conferences at (1818), (1820), (1821) and (1822) signal the beginning of the Concert of Europe,36 which proved its relevance and flexibility by accepting newly established states such as and (both 1830) but also the into the European system.37 At the Berlin Congress of 1878, an (initially temporary) conference secretariat was established for the first time.38 A similar trend can be observed on the American continent. The Congress of convened in 1826, the Conference of American States in 1889 and the Pan-American Union was founded in 1910.39
The second genuine historical international organisation after the Rhine Commission was the Conseil supérieur de santé, which was established in 40in 1838 in order to prevent the spread of cholera by incoming and outgoing ships. With the Ottoman Empire's participation, a non-European member was thus involved for the first time.
The creation of the first INGOs did not occur until later. But the birth of the World Anti-Slavery Convention in 1840, the establishment in 1844 of the YMCA (Young Men's Christian Association), which held its first international conference in 1855, and especially the founding of the International Red Cross in 1863 represented the emergence of extremely influential, enduring and increasingly global private organisations around the middle of the century.41
Above all, the mid-19th century introduced in the form of international congresses and universal exhibitions "two particularly characteristic forums [of internationalism]".42 Private initiatives, some of which were also supported by the government (as was the case with universal exhibitions), brought together self-proclaimed experts to create clearly defined interest groups with specific objectives. By means of "networks of knowledge-based experts", these groups constituted so-called "epistemic communities", which were decisive in the historical development of international organisations. "Epistemic communities" are defined by a "shared set of normative and principled beliefs", "shared causal beliefs", "shared notions of validity" and "a common policy enterprise".43 Thus an ongoing collaboration emerged which went beyond the institutions of state cooperation and was dedicated to numerous and diverse topics. International congresses and conferences, whose numbers steadily increased over the course of the 19th century, were among the preferred instruments of these networks.44
Many of these conferences were organised within the framework of international organisations or forerunners of international organisations. The universal exhibitions were of particular importance in this respect, as were the meetings that took place within the scope of the Olympic movement.45 Congresses developed into major forums of exchange, especially for the sciences which were being institutionalised at the international level. At congresses internationally recognised techniques of institutionalisation and classification of scientific disciplines were agreed upon.46 Regular meetings of experts were in many cases the starting point for institutionalised international organisations, suggesting a development model for IGOs and INGOs: informal networks led to permanent committees, which were then solidified into regulated structures.47 The establishment of a permanent secretariat may serve as a distinguishing factor between congresses and contractual systems, on the one hand, and INGOs and IGOs, on the other.48
Historical Development: 1865–1918
The International Telegraph Office, established in 1865, can be seen as the first globally operating international organisation. This same year also marks a new phase in the development of international organisations, whose number steadily increased until the Second World War.49 Instead of focusing on individual organisations, the following will cite some of the reasons for this spectacular growth.
The research frequently points out the connection to the Industrial Revolution in and its dramatic impact on the global economy and international trade relations.50 Other economically oriented explanations refer back to the formation of uniform economic areas, which triggered cross-border exchange. The founding of the German Customs Union (1834) is mentioned, along with the British free-trade doctrine.51 In this context, a broad range of international organisations developed that were dedicated to the regulation of new trade and communication routes. Besides the International Telegraph Office (later renamed the International Telegraph Union, ITU), particular mention should be made of the Universal Postal Union of 1874 and the International Bureau of Weights and Measures of 1875.52 These "instruments of voluntary cooperation among states"53 were less intended to bring about a future world order than to adapt the existing conditions to altered circumstances. The permanent office of the ITU became the prototype of the secretariat and members of certain epistemic communities along with diplomats and statesmen were among the new and increasingly influential actors of international organisations.
Besides trade, communications and transport, wars also presented (only seemingly paradoxical) opportunities for strengthening and institutionalising international co-operation. The above-mentioned Napoleonic Wars led to the establishment of the Concert of Europe, but the peace conferences following the 54 In 1856, the partners of the Treaty of Paris not only pledged to respect the agreed-upon terms, but in the 23rd Protocol urged other states to join the treaty. 14 countries accepted the invitation that the same year, with (1886), (1908) and (1909) joining later on.55 The peace movement in particular became a driving force behind internationalism.56 Many INGOs dedicated themselves to preventing war and fostering international understanding. The First and Second Internationals (1864–1872 and 1889–1914) are significant in this context, as the prevention of (imperial) wars was among their main objectives.57War ( 1856), the German-Danish War (Vienna 1864), the Austro-Prussian War ( 1866) and the Franco-German War ( 1870) also resulted in both bilateral and multilateral agreements which are among the important milestones of international organisations in the 19th century.
The Hague Conferences reflect a turning point in the international effort to regulate wars and armed conflicts and, when possible, prevent them altogether. The first was held in 1899 at the instigation of Czar Nicholas II (1868–1918), with the participation of 26 states. The so-called Hague system is frequently described as a further development of the Concert of Europe and its conferences.58 44 states already took part in the second conference at (1907). The non-European presence was especially strengthened by many .59 As a result, the two Hague Conferences may be viewed as a step towards a de-Europeanisation of an international system that was markedly European in its conception and genesis.60
Certainly, similar trends can be observed on the American continent at the end of the 19th century. From October 1889, the Pan-American Conference convened for several months in 61with participants from 17 countries. The delegates decided to establish an international tribunal for the settlement of conflicts. This decision, though, was eventually signed by only eleven participating states and ratified by only one.
The League of Nations
The First World War brought an abrupt end to the often successful efforts of the 19th century to secure peace within the framework of an international community of states founded on treaties and conventions. Nevertheless, various forms of international cooperation and global exchange had been established over the course of the 19th century, particularly from the 1860s onwards. On the basis of the much more numerous networks of transnational "epistemic communities", dozens of IGOs and INGOs were institutionalised and developed into vital players in diplomacy and foreign policy, but also in trade, technology and transport. "[The] multilateral diplomacy of the concert system, the cooperative institutions of the public international unions, and the broader legalistic institutions of the Hague system" were among the most important achievements.62 The international system before the First World War, however, was notably Eurocentric, particularly with regard to IGOs. The activities of many INGOs, especially regarding peace initiatives, were rather more future-oriented and visionary than deliberately pragmatic.63
The period from 1815 to 1914 is called the "phase of preparation" of international organisations, while the years after the First World War are considered as "phase of establishment".64 It is clear that even the unexpected brutality of the conflict not only did not end international exchange, but rather served to highlight the crucial need for international cooperation, above all in regard to peacekeeping and conflict resolution.
In 1919, a group of intellectuals – presided over by the French writer and Nobel laureate Romain Rolland (1866–1944) – wrote a manifesto that introduced the notion of "internationalism as the key to the post-war peace".65 Cultural and intellectual exchange was one of the primary areas of activity of INGOs in the interwar period. In 1922, the Committee for Intellectual Cooperation was established in , and in 1926 the International Institute for Intellectual Cooperation was founded in Paris.66 INGOs developed into legitimate international actors at the state level. Belgium became the first state to legally recognise international organisations in 1919.67
The international treaty system of the 19th century also found new life in the interwar period. Between 1921 and 1922, the 68, , Japan, France and agreed on the maximum sizes of naval forces and the Treaties of 1925 are another example of binding international agreements on peacekeeping and conflict prevention.
Without a doubt, the most important step was the creation of the League of Nations. In a speech before the U.S. Congress during the First World War, on 8 January 1918, President Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924) suggested a blueprint for a post-war international order with his Fourteen Points. The British Lord Robert Cecil (1864–1958), Frenchman Léon Victor Auguste Bourgeois (1851–1925) and South African Jan Christiaan Smuts (1870–1950) were other statesmen who made significant contributions to its realisation.69 Within the scope of the Versailles peace negotiations, a committee was formed (chaired by Wilson) that drafted the basic outlines of the organisation that was to become the League of Nations. The League was part of the Versailles Peace Treaty and was founded on 10 January 1920, after the Treaty's ratification by the individual states. In its first year, it counted 32 member states, of which more than two-thirds were non-European.70 Over the years, the League of Nations recorded 63 members in total. In 1934, the year of the greatest degree of participation, 58 states belonged to the League.71
The basic task of the League of Nations was to maintain the international order just as it had been established at 72 Its aims, therefore, differed little from the Concert of Europe of the 19th century, but its structure was completely different. In addition to the General Assembly and a permanent secretariat based in Geneva, the Security Council was one of its primary instruments. Four major powers with permanent seats (Britain, France, Italy, Japan) belonged to it along with non-permanent members whose number changed over time.73 This raises the question about the League of Nation's genuinely European character. The League of Nations was seen as both "a modern and forward-looking form of complex global networks, but also as a last, and due to the absence of the United States, even involuntary attempt to carry on with the European power politics of the 19th century" ("eine moderne und zukunftsweisende Form vielschichtiger globaler Vernetzung, aber auch [als] ein letzter, durch das Fernbleiben der Vereinigten Staaten sogar unfreiwilliger Versuch, die europäische Großmachtpolitik des 19. Jahrhunderts weiterzuführen").74.
At the time the League was the largest and most influential international organisation ever to have existed. This was due to its big membership and the resulting great legitimacy but also to the fact that a series of other ancillary international organisations were established. First and foremost among these was the Permanent Court of International Justice in The Hague, which originated in Article 14 of the Versailles Treaty and began its work on 20 August 1921. Another institution was the International Labour Organisation (ILO), which had its headquarters in Geneva and took up the work of various pre-war initiatives.75 The founding of the League of Nations was a decisive event in the history of INGOs, too. Not only did the above-mentioned Committee for Intellectual Cooperation come into existence within the scope of the League, but the International Red Cross was explicitly referenced in Article 25 of the Covenant of the League of Nations.76 Article 24 even foresaw placing all existing international offices under the direction of the League of Nations, a notion that finally failed because of the opposition of the United States.
The League was able to achieve some success during the 1920s. It organised plebiscites in(1921) and the (1935) and settled border conflicts between and , and , as well as between and Greece. It guaranteed the territorial integrity of with regard to Italy, Greece and , and managed the former German colonies under the mandate system. Moreover, it provided important guidance for dealing with refugees and the protection of minorities.
On the whole, however, the League was unable to fulfil the great hopes that were placed in it. Firstly, the United States, the most important power, had never ratified the Treaty of Versailles and did not belong to the League of Nations. The Versailles arrangement, fiercely criticised by many parties, was never widely accepted as a basis for the League of Nations. The Great Depression of the late 1920s showed that in economic matters, too, the League did not have a decisive impact. Most importantly, it never succeeded in preventing armed conflicts. It did not act as Security Council member Japan attacked Manchuria in 1931, and it showed as little opposition to the Civil War in Spain in 1937 as it did to Nazi 77 The , which joined the League of Nations directly after the German withdrawal in 1933, became the only state ever to be expelled from the League after its attack on Finland in 1940.78's numerous treaty infringements. The first armed attack by one League member against another occurred when Italy invaded in 1934/1935.
The Founding of the United Nations
In the interwar period, the importance of IGOs and INGOs increased with respect to their number, their influence and their areas of responsibility. However, in the years leading up to 1939 they were as unable as before the First World War to resolve the international crises that escalated into a world war. Nevertheless, the horrors of the Second World War only made the need for international cooperation more obvious. To an even greater extent than during the First World War, efforts to construct an international peace for the post-war period were already being made during the conflict. A key lesson from the interwar period was the acceptance of the fact that international security was also based on sustainable economic and social cooperation.79 This had already been asserted by the League's "Bruce Report" in 1939, and the Central Committee for Economic and Social Affairs, which was formed following the report, was devoted to this very task.80
On 14 August 1941, the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (1874–1965) and U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882–1945) agreed to the Atlantic Charter, and Roosevelt's much acclaimed "Four Freedoms" speech (freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, freedom from fear) anticipated the basic outline of the subsequent UN Charter.81 The agreement of 26 nations to the Atlantic Charter was a significant step towards the international post-war order. The Second World War was characterised by an "unprecedented volume of plans and proposals for post-war international agencies".82 These included the United Nations Conference on Food and Agriculture in Hot Springs ( ) in May 1943 as well as the Bretton Woods agreements from July 1944. Here, the establishment of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the eventual World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund laid the foundation for the international economic order after the war.
Unlike 1919, all the major powers in the 1940s were willing to participate in building an international system.83 Their negotiations started already in November 1943 in . The post-war order under the auspices of an IGO with global participation was further elaborated upon at the conferences at Dumbarton Oaks (August to October 1944) and (February 1945). On 26 June 1945, 51 states, of which only one-fifth were European, signed the Charter of the United Nations, the successor to the League of Nations. The United States was the first country to ratify the charter on 28 July 1945.84 Just as with the League of Nations, a number of subsequently influential international organisations belonged to the IGO United Nations such as the International Court of Justice, the World Health Organisation and the International Labour Organisation, which was taken over from the League of Nations.85
Debated Issues in the Research
To sum up, there was a steady increase in the number of international organisations from the early 19th century to the period after the Second World War.86 In addition to the years immediately after the First and Second World Wars, the last quarter of the 19th century in particular showed exponential growth.87 The exact figures vary greatly in the research literature, however, which can be attributed to the differing definitions of IGOs and INGOs. Often the information of the Union des Associations Internationales, founded in in 1910, is accepted.88 As a result, the number of IGOs before the First World War is estimated to be between 34–50, this number grows to around 80 before the Second World War.89 A similar range of data exists for INGOs. Here, the number is thought to be about 200 around the year 1900, a figure that increased to approximately 800 by 1950.90 It is noteworthy that only about a quarter of all IGOs formed since 1818 have been dissolved.91
The sharp increase in the amount of research dedicated to the study of international organisations is due, first of all, to the various forms of present-day globalisation. The belief that global entanglements cannot be explained within the framework of classical, bilateral foreign policy has stimulated the interest of historical research on international organisations. It has thus been postulated that "the contemporary world would be incomprehensible without taking them [international organisations] into consideration."92 Other researchers see the study of internationalism and international organisations as an "alternative approach to the study of international history".93
The risk of deducing a "quasi-linear march towards world society" from the constant multiplying of international organisations in the 19th and 20th centuries has now been commonly recognised and is therefore no longer a topic in current research.94 By contrast, there is increasing discussion as to whether the First World War is to be regarded as a setback in the development of international organisations. On the one hand, their work almost came to a standstill during the war. In the statistics of international organisations the period from 1914–1918 does not even appear in some cases.95 On the other hand, the war also led to the universalisation of group-centred experiences, which had a great impact on many who became engaged in IGOs and INGOs after the war.96 The secretariats of the war cabinets and the cooperation of the Allies were decisive factors in the organisational formation of IGOs and INGOs once hostilities had ended.97
Similarly, there is disagreement on the extent to which the genesis of a globally operational international system can be explained from a specific Eurocentric context. Are we looking at the worldwide spread of European ideas or rather at the gradual relativisation of European and Western hegemony?98