Contemporary politics have seen states with separate policies align themselves into common understanding to form international organizations. Over the years there has been a staggering increase in the amount of international organizations by which different nations work together on common ground to achieve similar objectives.
The concept of international organization can be explained from three main theories; the realist, intuitionalist and idealist school of thoughts. This paper will argue the role of international organizations from the institutionalize point of view. Institutionalize view organization as completely rational. Institutionalists recognizes the complex relation between states in the creation of international organizations however, international organization are steadily becoming more important due to increasingly complex interdependent relationships in many issue areas of international politics. Contrasting from the instituitionalist view, the realist school believes that since the power of international organizations are very limited, it is impossible for any international organizations to be able to change the anarchical structure of international system.
According to the realist view, international organizations are merely being used by stronger state to achieve their self-interest. As for the idealist school of thought, they view international organizations as a representative of commonly accepted values by the society in different members of an international organization and the supporters of the average that leads to an order in the system.
In arguing the roles of international organizations, this paper will use two approaches, the rationalistic and reflective approaches. I will look at the United Nations as an example of intergovernmental organization and Amnesty International as an example of international nongovernmental organization. I will explain both organizations from multiple viewpoints and levels of analysis. The roles of international organizations in the complex interdependent between states can be argued from various points of view but for simplicity this paper will argue that the main roles of international organization involve security and peace, economy and trade, social welfare and human rights. These arguments highlights the significant roles that international organizations needs to play, coinciding with the understanding of international organizations as a common platform by which international co-operation are being held to overcome the many issues and broad area in international politics.
Maintaining peace and security is a complex process that needs massive workforce and lots of co-operation. When peacekeeping efforts are fronted by international organizations the process gets more complicated, questions regarding sovereignty of states especially arise. This is because in peacekeeping missions involving international organizations various countries come together under the international organization banner. Peacekeeping is something that happens in a situation or surrounding that is defined as structured largely in terms of collectively understood concepts, norms, and understandings.
At times the different members have conflicting issues with the affected states making peacekeeping effort more complicated. The United Nations, one of the most influential international organizations for example faces these problems. One example is when China vetoed peacekeeping efforts in Macedonia due to the latter’s stand to recognize Taiwan. Does this legitimize the realist view that international organizations are merely being used by powerful political actors in fulfilling their objectives? From a short-hand view, it can be easily deduced from that point.
However without UN intervention, things could have been worst. One must wonder what would happen to Darfur or East Timor for example without the intervention of United Nations peacekeeping efforts. Situation in both states improved tremendously after UN peace keeping effort. Peace building, in the words of Roland Paris, is a practice by which a liberal international order is projected. The concept of co-operation of states under international organization needs to be clear. In order for the international organization to play its role efficiently, it is important for states under the international organization banner adhere to the organization’s sets of law in missions.
Under this condition members needs to re-address its identity. It is impossible for peacekeeping efforts to be successful if each state were to maintain its own identity. There will be many conflicts of interest even among its own members which would undermine the role of international organizations. Another issue that international organization needs to deal with in regards to its role to front peacekeeping effort is to decide what needs to be done and what can be done. Peacekeeping missions often involve some form of intervention. The most problematic situations of internal displacement are those states that refuse to acknowledge a problem of internal displacement and international access.
For example, if two countries get into a war and United Nations decides to intervene in the war to maintain peace and order what kind of approach they should take to improve the situation. The options that UN have assuming that there are no vetoes would be either to protect the weaker country, only provide necessities for the people or stay out of the conflict. The right decision is extremely important because a wrong approach will worsen the impact on the affected countries. Here we could see how important the role of international organization could play in maintaining peace. The fact that in consist many states to a certain extend gives it the authority and capacity to intervene.
I would argue that in the role to front peacekeeping efforts international organization have its limitation but by improving its structure they can play vital role in ensuring global peace. The structure of United Nations for example has rested an incredible amount of power on its security council. This reduces their efficiency in playing the role as peacekeepers. In contemporary politics, with rapid globalization, many issues relating to peace and security need global solution. The conflict between Israel and Palestine is a clear example where a conflict between two states becomes a global issue. The huge impact that it could bring is why intergovernmental co-operation is becoming very important and popular.
The recent economic crisis that started in from the sub-prime crisis the US and eventually affected the global community proves that international relation can have a massive impact on global economic affairs. If we study the history of international organization’s role in economic affairs, the ability of Organization of Petroleum Export Countries (OPEC) to play a decisive role in international oil market particularly in controlling the supply and price of crude oil and petroleum in the 1970’s marks the significance of intergovernmental organization in economic and trade affairs. The success shows the important role an international organization can play in the affairs relating to global economic development.
The growing interdependence among states especially increasing economic contacts between states regardless of internal policy increases the vital role of international organizations. The capacity it has with members ranging from undeveloped countries to developing countries and developed countries gives international organization the influence to have a significant impact on economic and trade affairs. It is important that international economic organization have an integrated system that can provide help for different countries that have different needs. Without a universal integrated system, this advantage could also dampen the role of international organizations as an imbalance economic trade could actually destroy the smaller economies.
When discussing global economic affairs it is important to highlight the different background and developments in different states as they are not the same. It is also important for the co-operation to include vast amount of countries. A recent report in the Walls Street Journal about the expansion of Group of 8 to group of 20 shows the needs for international economic organization to include more countries. A senior US described the expansion as a reflection of the world today and pulling the international co-operation into the 21st century. In contemporary politics, globalization has made trade very open and inclusive that to stay relevant any international economic co-operation needs to be more inclusive and open to more countries.
Another limitation that could be identified is the different internal conditions of states that are members of international economic organizations. A realist perspective will definitely be skeptical of international organizations due to its nature that members have not got the same capability which creates an imbalance of power. Realists argue that international organizations are merely being used as a tool for stronger states to achieve their self-interest. In issues such as free trade agreement, the realist ideas by which international organisations being used as a tool by stronger states for self-interest probably are true if not done accordingly. Governments have used free trade zone to respond to both domestic and international pressure for more open trade policy.
The pressure is even higher for members in international organization. For developing state, free trade could be a disaster because without a competitive domestic market, free trade would destroy its primary or domestic market. Nevertheless, governments of small countries would face difficulties in facing resisting international even more if they are receiving aids of international organizations.
However, there are initiatives to avoid small states from being duped into unfair trading deals. The role of UN economic and social council proves that the realist view is not entirely fair to describe international organizations. The role of UN economic which is to enhance the coherence and effectiveness of activities of different development partners proves that there are efforts within the organization to work together and find solutions for its members.
The initiation of Development Cooperation Forum that reviews the trends and progress in international development cooperation before providing guidance and recommendations to help its members further proves that despite the complex relation between members, it is possible for the more stable countries to help the less stable countries in terms of economic and trade development. The role of international organization in economic and trade development amongst the global community can be justified by the efforts and its objective on paper however all this needs to be translated into reality.
Human right is a universal idea that came from the western liberalisation. Ramesh Thakur in his writing for the journal of peace research argued that Amnesty International and United Nations are the most preeminent international organisation in the matters relating to human rights. Despite being fundamentally different with UN as an intergovernmental organisation and Amnesty International as a non-governmental organisation that causes both organisations to have different objectives, UN and Amnesty International could work together in issues regarding human rights and social rights.
On the issue of human rights and social welfare, this paper will argue that the role of international organisations in contemporary politics is to uphold the basic principal of human rights in accordance to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. There are major critiques of this declaration saying that it ignores different cultures of the plural global society, but this paper would make a general assumption that the rights discussed here are referring to the rights as suggested by the 1948 declaration and it is by far the most accepted universal proclamation of human rights.
Human right issues have been the epitome of modern international relations. In contemporary politics, there are two major roles of international organisation in regards to human rights and welfare; providing military aid and humanitarian aid. There are many controversies surrounding human right issues especially when it involves military intervention. Generally, the only organisation that has an authority to conduct military intervention is the UN. This is because the only ones that have the very power are states and since UN is a state based organization, it has that authority. As for Amnesty international, it does not have such authority but since it is a non-state based organisation, it is free to act without the influenced of any state actors with self-interest.
Realists regard the pursuit of rights as unnecessary, dangerous and it is against national interest. However surprisingly, they allow defending human rights is a pre-requisite to protecting national interest. Base on this, it is obvious that this view is vague and thus can be rejected. In contrast to realist, institutional theorist sees that defending human right is rational it done by international organisation. To prove that defending human rights is rational and it is done by international organisations we can refer to the achievements of Amnesty International.
The limitation that it has as non-governmental organisation that have got very little authority to intervene in state affairs does not undermines its function in upholding human rights. It provides training and awareness about the content of Universal Human Declaration. For example, after evictions in Zimbabwe in 2005, Amnesty International facilitated a workshop for local activists to develop strategies on how to work with national and international human rights organizations. When a community was threatened with eviction the following year, they were able to mobilize these networks and prevent eviction. This is an example of how human rights are being restored using humanitarian aid such as providing awareness.
Globalisation has certainly changed the global political landscape. In contemporary politics, international co-operations especially under the international organisation banner is increasingly important in dealing with global issues. It is true that international organizations have its limitations but at the same time, it has its own advantages. In many cases, the advantage exceeds the disadvantages. In terms of security and peace, we could see from the case study of how the intervention of UN has improved situations in Darfur and Macedonia. From the perspective of economy and trade, the role of UN economic council in helping development nations such as Burma has been very impressive.
As from the social and welfare point of view,we could see non-governmental international organization such as Amnesty International have saved a lot of lives and provided awareness amongst the global community. Despite all these successes, it did not come easily. International organisations face many obstacles and complication faced in order to achieve its aspirations and objectives in playing a more meaningful role. The functions and roles of international organisations followed by its complexity in contemporary politics confirm the instituitionalist view that despite its complexity, international organizations are rational.
Ramesh Thakur Human Rights: Amnesty International and the United Nations Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 31, No. 2 (May, 1994), pp. 143-160 Sage
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