The Nuremberg Tribunals after World War II institutionalized the notion that individual persons could have criminal obligations under international law. Previously, criminal law was understood as a relationship between a person and their government. By the end of the twentieth century, it became possible for a person to violate “international criminal law” and be prosecuted by a judicial institution at the international level. This is dramatically new, and the International Criminal Court is the capstone to this system. It prosecutes individuals for these crimes when there is no domestic legal system capable of doing so. Among its member states, the ICC has the authority to investigate and prosecute individuals for these “international” crimes and to imprison those convicted. Its jurisdiction is limited in important and interesting ways, and the application of its authority is highly controversial, but its legal status is unambiguous: the ICC has decisive legal authority over individuals for the worst types of crimes.
The International Criminal Court performs two separate functions. While these are intertwined in the fabric of the organization, their contribution to deterring gross abuses of human rights are distinct. First, the Court ensures that states standardize their domestic laws on war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity, and by so doing it helps spread the idea that these crimes will not go unpunished in the parts of the world controlled by countries that are ICC members. Second, it provides the institutional framework and the legal authority to prosecute these crimes in those cases where a state fails in its obligations to do so itself. The former is a piece of legal homogenization, spreading a set of common legal standards around the world, and is therefore one aspect of the broad process of globalization. The latter function creates a completely new international institution with autonomous legal powers and a powerful political role. Binding these two functions together is the concept of “complementarity,” which specifies that the ICC shall be “complementary” to domestic courts rather than supersede them.
The legal hierarchy between international organizations and their member states is interestingly unclear. The organizations are clearly the products of state decisions but the particular legal commitments that states make to international organizations mean that states by definition will find themselves legally subordinated to the rules, decisions, or procedures of the organizations. And while international organizations have few coercive tools of enforcement, it is not costless to states to violate these rules. The costs to violation come in many currencies, both internal and external, both explicit and subtle. The practical power of an international organization may therefore be either more or less than is revealed in its legal charter, and indeed it may be both more and less. To study the impact of international organizations in world politics today requires looking closely at individual cases and crises rather than aiming for generalizations.
All international organizations face the same fundamental problem: how to influence their members to comply with the commitments they made upon joining the organization. These are institutions that exist by virtue of authority delegated to them by states and yet their purpose is to constrain or otherwise shape those same states. The success of an international organization can be judged by the metric of whether its members carry out their obligations, and it is generally considered a glaring failure when a member is blatant in its noncompliance. Filling the interstices between sovereign states, international organizations are the results of inter-state agreements but their functions and their utility in the world depend on changing how those states behave or think. This book has been organized around the investigation of how and whether countries fulfill their commitments to the organizations that they have created.
This book examines each of the main global international organizations. It looks at the legal rules that constitute the United Nations, the World Trade Organization and other institutions and then considers how these rules are used in practice to shape international politics. It is unique among textbooks on international organizations with its emphasis on the interaction between international politics and international law.
The book begins from the twin assumptions that international politics cannot be understood without thinking about international organizations, and that international organizations cannot be understood without thinking about their legal and their political features. From this starting point we get a clearer view into these organizations as power players in world politics and also how governments and others try to use them to advance their own interests. It also gives a window into deeper questions in international relations about the dynamics among power, interests, institutions, and actors.
Thinking about international organizations requires paying attention to power, law, politics, and more all at once. It needs practical as well as theoretical thinking. The chapters in this book look at the world of global governance with an eye on these big issues.
To see the big picture we must first see the details. And so each chapter tells stories from the daily life of the institution. For instance, we see how the government of Burma has manipulated the International Labor Organization around the problem of forced labor in that country. We also see how Japanese whale hunting got it in trouble with the International Court of Justice and how it tried to escape that trouble by claims its whaling is really about ‘scientific research.’ These and other stories provide the raw materials that we can use to construct our understanding of international organizations and from there to understand the bigger questions about international relations.
This third edition of the book brings it up to date with the rapidly changing world of international politics and law.
The two international financial institutions created after World War II provide a similar service to countries but in very different contexts and for different purposes. Both pool the resources of their members and use that capital to fund lending to members in need. The IMF can only lend to countries with immediate balance-of-payments problems. It makes short-term loans of foreign currencies that the borrowing country must use to finance the stabilization of its own currency or monetary system. As a precondition to the loan, the Fund generally requires that the borrower change its policies in ways that enable future monetary stability. The World Bank makes longer-term loans to pay for specific projects related to development or poverty reduction. Most Bank loans are tied to a particular project undertaken by the borrowing government.
The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are twinned institutions with a common origin and many shared structural features. Their practices and their purposes are, however, very different, and the contrast that they display helps to show how very different outcomes can arise out of similar legal structures. The two organizations originate in the explosion of institutionmaking at the end of World War II, where the Bretton Woods conference of 1944 was used as a forum for negotiating among the capitalist powers of the day a new institutional architecture for international economics. They were both founded by inter-state treaties, known as the Articles of Agreement of each respective institution, agreed on at Bretton Woods.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) was intended to be a central coordinating mechanism for exchange rates among countries. It was normal at that time for currency values to be fixed relative to each other and to the price of gold, and managed by national governments. The Fund was given authority over exchange-rate changes. Much like the Security Council centralized the decision to go to war and took away from governments a measure of independence, the IMF became the central authority on currency values. Governments had to request permission to change their currency value, and the Fund would assess whether the underlying economic conditions merited the change. To avoid frequent or dramatic changes, it was also given control over the pool of foreign currency that countries could borrow to stabilize extreme balance-of-payments deficits.
When countries find themselves in a dispute over their international legal obligations with one another, the International Court of Justice can provide a decisive and binding judgment. The Court is an international juridical body that hears cases involving legal complaints between consenting states. Its jurisdiction is carefully defined to preserve the sovereignty of the states involved, and much controversy comes out of the complicated relationship between state sovereignty and the binding nature of international law. For instance, it expressly forbids its decisions from serving as precedents for future cases. The Court provides two important functions in world politics: first, its decisions constitute formal and explicit legal judgments regarding who is right and wrong in a given dispute; and second, these decisions enter into the political discourse of states, despite the absence of precedent, and may have substantial influence beyond their legal terms.
This chapter examines the law and politics of the International Court of Justice. The ICJ is the preeminent judicial body for disputes between states, with a history going back to the aftermath of World War I. The Court's decisions are final and binding on states but its jurisdiction is carefully crafted around the political realities of state sovereignty. The chapter explores one ICJ case in depth, dealing with genocide and sovereign immunity, to show some of the key features of the Court, including its composition, its jurisdiction, and the sources of law. It also shows the legal and political complications that accompany any effort to subsume sovereign states under the principle of the rule of law among states.
The tension between the concepts of international organization and of state sovereignty is most forcefully apparent in the case of international courts. It is unavoidable in the very definition of a court that it should have the power to impose its decisions on the losing party, and yet the rules of state sovereignty have been developed over centuries precisely to insulate countries from such outside and overarching influence. In the extreme, one might say that there is an absolute trade-off between an international court's ability to act like a court and a state's ability to remain sovereign when faced with that court.
It is a perpetual dilemma in market capitalism that firms face a never-ending incentive to reduce costs in order to increase profits. For workers, this is experienced as downward pressure on both wages and working conditions. A global market economy seems to amplify these pressures. The International Labor Organization was created during an earlier period of “globalization” to limit the damage this does to the working conditions of citizens in the international economy. The organization produces labor regulations which member governments are encouraged to adopt as domestic laws. Its structure and authority are highly peculiar, reflecting the highly political nature of its subject matter. It includes representatives of labor and employer groups from each member country alongside representatives of their governments. It also has no authority to impose rules on members, relying instead on the process of deliberation to generate rules that will be appealing to states’ self-interests.
At the end of World War I, the architects of the Treaty of Versailles believed that future wars could arise from economic inequalities between states or from a hyper-competitive race-to-the-bottom among national labor regulations. They felt there was a connection between the mistreatment of workers domestically and the tendency for international conflict, via either domestic social unrest or friction with trading partners. This link between labor standards and international peace and prosperity was widely accepted as conventional wisdom in 1919 and it has returned to the forefront of thinking about the effects of globalization in recent years. The issues at the heart of the International Labor Organization are very relevant again today. Both the contemporary and historical versions of this thinking are based on the same insight: that global capitalism produces an incentive for exporting countries to lower their labor standards to gain a competitive advantage in international trade, and this incentive (when allowed to operate unchecked) is bad for workers, bad for social stability, and bad for international peace and order.
This chapter examines the structure of the ILO, which includes non-state actors in an unprecedented way, and the unique system it creates by which members can choose on a case-by-case basis which decisions of the organization they will accept as binding. The chapter uses the rules against forced labor to present a case study of Myanmar/Burma that illustrates both the power of and the gaps in this enforcement system.
On matters relating to “international peace and security” the United Nations has decisive authority to impose itself on any country or dispute in the world. This power goes far beyond the power ever given to any other international organization and it introduces a radically new kind of legal hierarchy into inter-state relations. There are strict limits, both legal and political, on how this authority can be used, and these limits are in large part responsible for the patchwork of activism and seizure that characterizes the UN's record on international security crises since 1945. The UN Security Council controls this authority, and decisions to intervene must pass through the peculiar membership and voting rules of the Council. The combination of these rules and the political interests of influential states produce the controversies, actions, and limits that define the UN's behavior on international security.
The UN's power over international security begins with Articles 24(1) and 39. These define an organization that has the “primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security” (Art. 24(1)) in world politics and that has the authority to decide what kind of collective response is warranted in times of crisis (Art. 39). There are many other points in the Charter at which this power is modified, elaborated, and limited, and equally important are the ways these powers have been interpreted and applied in practice since 1945. Together, the rules of the Charter and the instances in which those rules have been invoked and fought over by states create the legal regime for international war that exists today. They define both the laws that govern the use of force by states and the military powers and capacity of the UN itself. As a result, no use of force by states can ignore the rules and practices that originate in the UN Charter – and though they may frequently be misinterpreted, abused, and manipulated by states, the rules on force in the Charter create the inescapable context for state behaviour.
The UN Charter, signed in 1945, created two distinct things: a set of basic rules of conduct for governments and a formal organization with its own powers. Both the organization and the rules are legally binding and are therefore a kind of constraint on the sovereignty of member states, and they also make possible new kinds of international politics that can be very useful to states. They are therefore empowering as well as constraining. The formal organization of the United Nations is composed of separate organs including the Security Council, the General Assembly, and the Secretariat. Each has a specific area of competence and they vary in how much authority they exercise over member states. The basic rules include commitments to refrain from the use of force to solve international disputes, to respect the decisions of the International Court of Justice, and to pay the required dues to the United Nations itself. The two aspects of the UN Charter amount to something like a constitution for the international system.
The United Nations Charter defines the UN as a formal institution of limited powers as well as a generalized system of constitutional principles to govern all of inter-state politics. The institutional parts of the UN, such as the General Assembly and the Security Council, are required to operate within these principles, but the principles themselves are refined and brought to life through the daily practices and actions of the states and others who make use of them. The principles and the practices need to be understood together, as neither is really dominant. When, for instance, the Charter says that the Security Council has “primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security” (Art. 24(1)), the only way to know what is meant by the key terms “primary” and “international peace and security” is to look at how the Council and others have used these terms through the years in debates, justifications, and argument. This chapter therefore looks at the UN with one eye on the legal language of the Charter and the other eye on the artful applications of that language in the practical diplomacy and manipulations of states.
All international organizations exist in the conceptual and legal space between state sovereignty and legal obligation. They are created by the commitments made by sovereign states, and their purpose is to bind those states to their commitments. This chapter examines three forces in world politics: the commitments states make to international organizations, the choices states make regarding compliance and non-compliance with those commitments, and the powers of enforcement held by each international organization.
Some international organizations are able to coerce their member states into complying with their commitments; for instance, the UN Security Council has a military component and the IMF has coercive leverage over its borrowers. But far more commonly they are left to find ways to cajole or induce compliance from their members. In each organization, the particular relationship between obligation, compliance, and enforcement is different which in turn creates interesting patterns of politics between states and organizations.
The main problems of international economics and international politics are at some level also problems of international organization. As interdependence between states increases, the importance of international organizations increases with it. International organizations in one form or another are found at the heart of all of the political and economic challenges of the twenty-first century. From international creditmarkets to endangered species towar crimes and torture, today's leading controversies all involve some measure of international cooperation and commitment managed through formalized international organizations (IOs). Some IOsworkwell and some work hardly at all; some need reform, some need abolishing, and some need strengthening. To understand how the world works requires understanding the politics, powers, and limits of international organizations.
The book introduces eleven of the most important international organizations, including those most central to international economics, international security, and international law. It considers their legal powers, their practical effects, and their political controversies. The organizations are:
The World Trade Organization enforces a set of rules limiting the choices of governments with respect to international trade. These rules define what is legal and illegal when it comes to a wide range of state policies that might affect international trade. These include import tariffs, industrial subsidies, and all manner of taxes and regulations. For WTO member countries, any government policy that might have an impact on private firms that trade across its borders could conceivably come under the scrutiny of the organization. However, not all goods and services are covered, and not all trade-influencing policies are prohibited, and so interpreting the WTO's rules has become an important industry both inside the organization and its Dispute Settlement Body and outside the organization in the universe of international trade lawyers, lobbyists, and activists.
The World Trade Organization is among the key institutions that govern the international political economy, and as such it is central to a great number of the controversies associated with globalization. Its main component is the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), a treaty from 1947 which specifies how countries can regulate their imports and exports of most goods. The WTO also oversees an agreement on the trade in services (GATS), rules on intellectual property (TRIPS), trade dispute-resolution processes, and rules on agricultural trade and subsidies, among many other elements. The WTO is a formal organization that was given the task of implementing these agreements on trade starting in 1995. Most of the substantive commitments on trade are contained in the agreements themselves, rather than in the WTO. This chapter uses the GATT and its rules to illustrate the international legal regime for trade. It does not strive to explain all the agreements in detail. This is justified by the facts that the GATT forms the historical and legal core of the international trade regime, and that GATT rules are the baseline from which these other agreements were negotiated.
The European Union is a vast collection of international institutions, laws, and political arrangements. At its heart, it is a regional international organization that integrates the economies of its twenty-eight member states. This has grown, in scope and in territory, out of the European Coal and Steel Community of 1951 to encompass a customs union, a monetary union, a single labor market, and more. These new areas and competencies have been added through additional treaties negotiated among its states, and not all these treaties have been accepted by all members – as a result, the obligations of member states to the EU can vary widely. For instance, the Euro currency is used in nineteen countries while the Schengen borderless-travel area comprises twenty-two EU countries and four non-EU countries, and the customs union encompasses all EU members and several non-members. This chapter examines the legal and political structures of the European Union and places the EU in the context of other regional international organizations. It introduces several other regional organizations, including the African Union, ASEAN, and the Organization of American States, for the sake of comparison. These are much less comprehensive in their integration than the EU though and often use “EU-like” language to describe their aspirations.
The distinctive features of regional organizations arise from the fact that while they strive to integrate a smaller set of countries they also aim to reach across a wider range of substantive issues than the other international organizations in this book. The regional organizations in this chapter are vastly different from each other but they face the same challenge of integrating members on an almost limitless range of policies. They deal with this challenge very differently: the EU has created powerful central authorities, including a bureaucracy and a legal hierarchy between the center and the member states; in contrast, the AU, ASEAN, and the OAS leave most powers of decision in the hands of meetings of their heads of government.
International organizations shape the politics and controversies that arise among countries in a number of ways. They are sometimes powerful forces in their own right, as when an international court decides that a state is violating its legal obligations or when the UN sends peacekeepers to intervene in a conflict. They can also be centers where diplomacy and negotiation among states take place – this “forum” role accounts for part of the importance of the World Trade Organization and of the UN General Assembly. In still other situations, international organizations provide the tools or resources by which countries try to advance their interests in world politics. These diverse functions mean that the relations between states and international organizations can be studied from very different perspectives, with different emphases that produce different insights.
International organizations are diverse and sophisticated entities, with legal, political, and social dimensions that overlap and conflict in interesting ways. They vary widely in their substantive areas of authority, their internal structures, and their political salience. Their complexity allows for an equally complex field of study in which contrasting perspectives offer distinct emphases and tools of analysis, and which therefore come to very different interpretations of the same real-world patterns.
For all their differences, these organizations also all share some basic features. This leads on from the basic paradox of consent and obligation that was noted in Chapter 1: all the organizations in this book were (1) founded by states with an explicit inter-state treaty; (2) have states as their members; and (3) have independent corporate personalities. Taken together these mean that they exist as autonomous legal actors distinct from their members. Jan Klabbers uses these three features to organize his excellent book on the law of international organizations.
These features mean that formal international organizations are stuck in an eternal dilemma as their powers and existence are derivative of precisely those actors (i.e. states) that they are supposed to regulate (or govern, or influence). The existence of international organizations therefore raises deep conceptual questions about the nature of international politics and the capacity for international rules to bind or even coexist with sovereign states. Their powers are in principle devolved to them from nation-states but in practice are much more complex than that and may be either more or less than they appear on paper.
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