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International organization: a state of the art on an art of the state

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 May 2009

Friedrich Kratochwil
Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Law at Columbia University, New York.
John Gerard Ruggie
Professor of Political Science at Columbia University, and Director of the Project on the Future of Multilateralism at the Twentieth-Century Fund, both in New York City.


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International organization as a field of study is where the action is. The analytical shifts leading up to the current preoccupation with international regimes have been both progressive and cumulative. And the field is pursuing its object of study in innovative ways that are bringing it closer to the theoretical core of more general international relations work. As we point out, however, the study of regimes as practiced today suffers from the fact that its epistemological approaches contradict its basic ontological posture. Accordingly, more interpretive strains, commensurate with the intersubjective basis of international regimes, should be included in the prevailing epistemological approaches. In addition, as a result of its enthusiasm for the concept of regimes, the field has tended to neglect the study of formal international organizations. Interpretive epistemologies can also help to link up the study of regimes with the study of formal international organizations by drawing attention to the roles these organizations play in creating transparency in the behavior and expectations of actors, serving as focal points for the international legitimation struggle, and providing a venue for the conduct of global epistemic politics.

International Organization: An Assessment of the Field
Copyright © The IO Foundation 1986


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16. The most extreme form of this criticism recently has come from the political right in the United States; cf. Pines, Burton Yale, ed., A World without the U.N.: What Would Happen If the United Nations Shut Down (Washington, D.C.: Heritage Foundation, 1984)Google Scholar. But the same position has long been an article of faith on the political left as well; cf. Payer, Cheryl, “The Perpetuation of Dependence: The IMF and the Third World,” Monthly Review 23 (09 1971)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, and Payer, , “The World Bank and the Small Farmers,” Journal of Peace Research 16, no. 121 (1979)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and the special issue of Development Dialogue, no. 2 (1980)Google Scholar.

17. Various approaches to the study of integration were summarized and assessed in Lindberg, Leon N. and Scheingold, Stuart A., eds., special issue on regional integration, IO 24 (Autumn 1970)Google Scholar.

18. Haas, Ernst B., Beyond the Nation State: Functionalism and International Organization (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1964)Google Scholar.

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22. Claude, Inis L. Jr, “Collective Legitimization as a Political Function of the United Nations,” IO 20 (Summer 1966)Google Scholar; cf. Slater, Jerome, “The Limits of Legitimization in International Organizations: The Organization of American States and the Dominican Crisis,” IO 23 (Winter 1969)Google Scholar.

23. A representative sampling would include Skolnikoff, Kay and, eds., special issue, IO 26 (Spring 1972)Google Scholar; Russell, Robert, “Transgovernmental Interaction in the International Monetary System, 1960–1972,” IO 27 (Autumn 1973)Google Scholar; Weiss, Thomas and Jordan, Robert, “Bureaucratic Politics and the World Food Conference,” World Politics 28 (04 1976)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Hopkins, Raymond F., “The International Role of ‘Domestic’ Bureaucracy,” IO 30 (Summer 1976)Google Scholar; and Ruggie, John Gerard, “On the Problem of ‘The Global Problematique’: What Roles for International Organizations?Alternatives 5 (01 1980)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

24. The major analytical piece initiating this genre was Keohane, Robert O. and Nye, Joseph S., “Transgovernmental Relations and International Organizations,” World Politics 27 (10 1974)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; cf. their earlier edited work on transnational relations and world politics, IO 25 (Summer 1971)Google Scholar.

25. Robert Cox's recent work has been at the forefront of exploring this aspect of international organization: Labor and Hegemony,” IO 31 (Summer 1977)Google Scholar; The Crisis of World Order and the Problem of International Organization in the 1980's,” International Journal 35 (Spring 1980)Google Scholar; and Gramsci, Hegemony and International Relations: An Essay in Method,” Millenium: Journal of International Studies 12 (Summer 1983)Google Scholar.

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27. Keohane, Robert O. and Nye, Joseph S., “International Interdependence and Integration,” in Greenstein, Fred I. and Polsby, Nelson W., eds., Handbook of Political Science, vol. 8 (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1975)Google Scholar. The point is also implicit in Ernst Haas's selfcriticism, Turbulent Fields and the Theory of Regional Integration,” I0 30 (Spring 1976)Google Scholar.

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29. This is the tack taken by Strange, Susan, “Still an Extraordinary Power: America's Role in a Global Monetary System,” in Lombra, Raymond E. and Witte, William E., eds., Political Economy of International and Domestic Monetary Relations (Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1982)Google Scholar; and Russett, Bruce, “The Mysterious Case of Vanishing Hegemony: Or, Is Mark Twain Really Dead?I0 39 (Spring 1985)Google Scholar.

30. See Krasner, “Introduction,” International Regimes, and Keohane, After Hegemony, for discussions of this thesis.

31. The fad-fettish is argued by Susan Strange, “Cave! Hie Dragones: A Critique of Regime Analysis,” in Krasner, ed., International Regimes.

32. The public-choice approach to the study of international organization began with the use of public goods theory in the early 1970s, went on to explore the theory of property rights later in the decade, and has come to focus on game theory and microeconomic theories of market failure to explain patterns of international governance. See, respectively, Russett, Bruce M. and Sullivan, John D., “Collective Goods and International Organizations,” I0 25 (Autumn 1971)Google Scholar, and Ruggie, John Gerard, “Collective Goods and Future International Collaboration,” American Political Science Review 66 (09 1972)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Conybeare, John A. C., “International Organization and the Theory of Property Rights,” I0 34 (Summer 1980)Google Scholar; and Keohane, After Hegemony. A useful review of the relevant literature may be found in Frey, Bruno S., “The Public Choice View of International Political Economy,” I0 38 (Winter 1984)Google Scholar.

33. In the context of rational-choice theory generally, the argument was first articulated by Harsanyi, John, “Rational Choice Models of Political Behavior vs. Functionalist and Conformist Theories,” World Politics 21 (07 1969)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. In the international relations literature, it is implicit in Jervis, Robert, “Cooperation under the Security DilemmaWorld Politics 30 (01 1978)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, and explicit in Axelrod, Robert, “The Emergence of Cooperation among Egoists,” American Political Science Review 75 (06 1981)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, as well as in Keohane, After Hegemony.

34. Robert Jervis first made these points in his paper “Security Regimes,” in Krasner, ed., International Regimes. For a more extended discussion see Lipson, Charles, “International Cooperation in Economic and Security Affairs,” World Politics 37 (10 1984)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

35. Wallerstein, Immanuel, “The Rise and Future Demise of the World Capitalist System: Concepts for Comparative Analysis,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 16 (09 1974)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Cox, “Labor and Hegemony,” “The Crisis of World Order,” and “Gramsci, Hegemony, and International Relations.”

36. Ashley, Richard K., ’The Poverty of Neorealism,” IO 38 (Spring 1984)Google Scholar, and Kratochwil, Friedrich, “Errors Have Their Advantage,” IO 38 (Spring 1984)Google Scholar.

37. See Susan Strange, in Krasner, ed., International Regimes.

38. This route is taken by Aggarwal, Vinod K., Liberal Protectionism: The International Politics of Organized Textile Trade (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985)Google Scholar.

39. Oran R. Young, “Regime Dynamics: The Rise and Fall of International Regimes,” in Krasner, ed., International Regimes.

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41. Most notable among such works is Axelrod's, RobertEvolution of Cooperation (New York: Basic, 1984)Google Scholar, and Axelrod, , “Modeling the Evolution of Norms” (Paper delivered at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, New Orleans, 29 08–1 09 1985)Google Scholar. For an attempt to incorporate progressively more “reflective” logical procedures into sequential Prisoner's Dilemma situations and to expose them to more realistic data sets, see Alker, Hayward R., Bennett, James, and Mefford, Dwain, “Generalized Precedent Logics for Resolving Insecurity Dilemmas,” International Interactions 7, no. 2 (1980)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, and Alker, Hayward and Tanaka, Akihiro, “Resolution Possibilities in ‘Historical’ Prisoners' Dilemmas” (Paper delivered at the annual meeting of the International Studies Association, Philadelphia, 18 03 1981)Google Scholar.

42. This case, and the more general problem of interpretation which it reflects, are discussed by John Gerard Ruggie, “International Regimes, Transactions, and Change: Embedded Liberalism in the Postwar Economic Order,” in Krasner, ed., International Regimes.

43. In the basic regime text, International Regimes, edited by Krasner, intersubjectivity is stressed by Ruggie, “Embedded Liberalism,” and by Donald J. Puchala and Raymond F. Hopkins, “International Regimes: Lessons from Inductive Analysis,” but no systematic epistemological discussion is undertaken in the volume.

44. Abel, Theodore F., “The Operation Called Verstehen,” American Journal of Sociology 54 (11 1948)CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed.

45. For a good selection of readings that begins with Weber, includes the neopositivist response, the Wittgensteinian school, phenomenology, and ethnomethodology, and ends with hemneneutics and critical theory, see Dallmayr, Fred R. and McCarthy, Thomas A., Understanding and Social Inquiry (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1977)Google Scholar.

46. The position is signaled in Ernst B. Haas, “Words Can Hurt You; Or, Who Said What to Whom about Regimes,” in Krasner, ed., International Regimes; and elaborated in Haas, “What Is Progress in the Study of International Organization?” which has been published only in Japanese translation.

47. Cox, Robert W., “Social Forces, States, and World Orders: Beyond International Relations Theory,” and, especially, “Postscript 1985,” both in Keohane, Robert O., ed., Neorealism and Its Critics (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986)Google Scholar.

48. See, respectively, Kratochwil, Friedrich, “Rules, Norms, and Decisions: On the Conditions of Practical and Legal Reasoning in International Relations” (Manuscript, Columbia University, 1986)Google Scholar; and Ruggie, John Gerard, Planetary Politics: Ecology and the Organization of Global Political Space (New York: Columbia University Press, forthcoming)Google Scholar.

49. For example, a nondeterministic dialectical formulation of states' conceptions of world order is sketched out by Alker, Hayward R., “Dialectical Foundations of Global Disparities,” International Studies Quarterly 25 (03 1981)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and of the mutual recognition among states of competencies to act in collectively prescribed ways, by Richard Ashley, “Poverty of Neorealism.”

50. On the importance of the logical form of modus tollens in the hypothetical deductive explanation scheme, see Popper, Karl, The Logic of Scientific Discovery (New York: Harper&Row, 1968), chaps. 3 and 4Google Scholar.

51. One of the distinctive characteristics of strategic interaction is that ultimately it rests upon a unilateral calculation of verbal and nonverbal cues: “A's expectation of B will include an estimation of B's expectations of A. This process of replication, it must be noted, is not an interaction between two states, but rather a process in which decision-makers in one state work out the consequences of their beliefs about the world; a world they believe to include decisionmakers in other states, also working out the consequences of their beliefs. The expectations which are so formed are the expectations of one state, but they refer to other states.” Keal, Paul, Unspoken Rules and Superpower Dominance (London: Macmillan, 1984), p. 31Google Scholar.

52. See Krasner, “Introduction,” International Regimes.

53. Some of these and related issues are discussed more extensively in Kratochwil, , “The Force of Prescriptions,” IO 38 (Autumn 1984)Google Scholar.

54. Account should also be taken of that fact that different types of norms—implicit versus explicit, constraining versus enabling, and so on—function differently in social relations. Consult Ullman-Margalit, Edna, The Emergence of Norms (Oxford: Clarendon, 1977)Google Scholar, and Hart, H. L. A., The Concept of Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961)Google Scholar. Moreover, compliance too is a variegated and complex phenomenon, as discussed by Young, Oran R., Compliance and Public Authority (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979)Google Scholar.

55. It is well established that the so-called hegemonic stability thesis, for example, leaves a good deal about regimes still to be accounted for. See the original formulation and test by Keohane, Robert O., “Theory of Hegemonic Stability and Changes in International Economic Regimes,” in Holsti, Ole et al. , eds., Change in the International System (Boulder: Westview, 1980)Google Scholar; and, most recently, Snidal, Duncan, “The Limits of Hegemonic Stability Theory,” IO 39 (Autumn 1985)Google Scholar. One of the few contemporary realists who take the relationship between power and norms to be at all problematical and worthy of serious examination is Krasner, Stephen D., as in his thoughtful study of these issues in Structural Conflict: The Third World against Global Liberalism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985)Google Scholar. We can agree with much of what Krasner has to say about the efficacy of norms, principles of legitimacy, and “movements of thought”—indeed, Krasner even invokes hermeneutics. And yet, in the end, we remain perplexed at how he reconciles this position with his fervent commitment to positivist realism.

56. Krasner, , “Introduction,” International Regimes, p. 2Google Scholar.

57. These issues were discussed at length at the October 1980 UCLA conference in preparation for the regimes book edited by Krasner.

58. The interplay between these two scripts forms the basis of Ruggie's interpretation of the postwar trade and monetary regimes presented in “Embedded Liberalism.”

59. The proclivity of international relations theorists to resolve ambiguity and contradiction in images of international order, and the schema on the basis of which they do so, are explored by Ruggie, John Gerard, “Changing Frameworks of International Collective Behavior: On the Complementarity of Contradictory Tendencies,” in Choucri, Nazli and Robinson, Thomas, eds., Forecasting in International Relations (San Francisco: Freeman, 1978)Google Scholar.

60. Cf. Haas, “Regime Decay.”

61. Summers, R. S., “Naive Instrumentalism and the Law,” in Hacker, P. S. and Raz, J., eds., Law, Morality, and Society (Oxford: Clarendon, 1977)Google Scholar.

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63. This is simply another name for the role of precedent in legal interpretation and development.

64. Giddens, Anthony, A Contemporary Critique of Historical Materialism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981), p. 19CrossRefGoogle Scholar: “According to the theory of structuration, all social action consists of social practices, situated in time-space, and organized in a skilled and knowledgeable fashion by human agents. But such knowledgeability is always ‘bounded’ by unacknowledged conditions of action on the one side, and unintended consequences of action on the other.… By the duality of structure I mean that the structured properties of social systems are simultaneously the medium and outcome of social acts.”

65. Representative approaches may be found in Bernstein, Richard, Praxis and Action (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1971)Google Scholar; Toulmin, Stephen, Human Understanding (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972)Google Scholar; Geertz, Clifford, The Interpretation of Cultures (New York: Basic, 1973)Google Scholar; Connerton, Paul, Critical Sociology (New York: Penguin, 1976)Google Scholar; Dallmayr, and McCarthy, , Social Inquiry; Seung, T. K., Structuralism and Hermeneutics (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982)Google Scholar; Polkinghorne, Donald, Methodology of the Human Sciences (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1983)Google Scholar; and Dreyfus, Hubert L. and Rabinow, Paul, Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983)Google Scholar.

66. United Nations, Report of the Secretary-General on the Work of the Organization, 1982 (A/37/1).

67. Williamson, Oliver, Markets and Hierarchies (New York: Free, 1975)Google Scholar, and Ouchi, William and Williamson, Oliver, “The Markets and Hierarchies Program of Research: Origins, Implications, Prospects,” in Joyce, William and Ven, Andrew van de, eds., Organization Design (New York: Wiley, 1981)Google Scholar. From the legal literature, see Calabresi, Guido and Melamed, Douglas, “Property Rules, Liability Rules, and Inalienability: One View of the Cathedral,” Harvard Law Review 85 (04 1972)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Heyemann, Philip, “The Problem of Coordination: Bargaining with Rules,” Harvard Law Review 86 (03 1973)Google Scholar; and Rose-Ackerman, Susan, “Inalienability and the Theory of Property Rights,” Columbia Law Review 85 (06 1985)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

68. Keohane, After Hegemony. Some policy recommendations that flow from the approach are spelled out by Keohane, Robert O. and Nye, Joseph S., “Two Cheers for Multilateralism,” Foreign Policy 60 (Fall 1985)Google Scholar.

69. The GATT multilateral surveillance mechanisms are, of course, its chief institutional means of establishing intersubjectively acceptable interpretations of what actors are up to. For a treatment of investment which highlights this dimension, see Lipson, Charles, Standing Guard: Protecting Foreign Capital in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985)Google Scholar; for nonproliferation, see Nye, , “Maintaining a Nonproliferation Regime,” and for human rights, Ruggie, John Gerard, Human Rights and the Future International Community Daedalus 112 (Fall 1983)Google Scholar. The impact of intergovernmental information systems is analyzed by Haas, Ernst B. and Ruggie, John Gerard, “What Message in the Medium of Information Systems?International Studies Quarterly 26 (06 1982)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

70. Puchala and Hopkins, “International Regimes,” in Krasner, ed., International Regimes, discuss the decline of colonialism in terms that include this dimension.

71. The New International Economic Order is a prime example.

72. See Claude, “Collective Legitimization”; Cox, “Labor and Hegemony,” “The Crisis of World Order,” and “Gramsci, Hegemony, and International Relations”; and Krasner, Structural Conflict.

73. Toulmin, , Human Understanding, p. 1Google Scholar.

74. Ruggie analyzes this process in “On the Problem of ‘The Global Problematique.’ ”

75. Haas, “Words Can Hurt You,” and Haas, , “Why Collaborate? Issue-Linkage and International Regimes,” World Politics 32 (04 1980)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

76. Lentricchia, Frank, Criticism and Social Change (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983), p. 3Google Scholar.

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