International relations theories often characterize the international system as anarchic and focus on interactions between nation-states. In the absence of a higher authority, such as a “world government” and to facilitate and manage these interactions, international organizations (IOs), in particular since WWII, are said to have become prominent players in the international system. The primary purpose of such intergovernmental arrangements we are told is the realization of collective goals through cooperation. Cooperation is governed by norms such as reciprocity and rules in the form of joint legal commitments embedded in stable institutional structures.

Whether IOs have such a profound effect on patterns of international cooperation and conflict in contemporary politics and what their “true” intentions are is much debated among scholars of international relations. Some see IOs as insignificant or at best as just another avenue through which states pursue their national interests in the international arena. Others argue that IOs fulfill their important stated purposes. That the enormous rise in the number and reach of IOs is proof that globalization and changing global power dynamics increasingly require cooperation and coordination that can only be achieved by international organizations.

This course critically examines the role and performance of IOs while looking at their future prospects. It is divided into three parts.

After a brief review of the origins and history of IOs, the first part of the course takes a close look at three major theoretical frameworks that have been employed to understand IOs: (neo)-realism, liberalism and constructivism. These theoretical frameworks will be applied in the context of three of the main constitutive characteristics of IOs: “design”, “delegation” and “legalization”. In addition, this part of the course will also examine the organizational and bureaucratic characteristic of IOs. This foray into organizational theory is especially important given the dominance of the ‘new institutionalist’ perspective in the social sciences, which emphasizes the role of institutions as a constraining or enabling variable to political action.

Schools of thought are not just theoretical, rather they often form the perception of policymakers and inform their beliefs about what international organizations can/should and cannot/should not do. Accordingly, part two of the course will test and debate the theoretical frameworks in the context of three case studies. Student teams will each be asked to substantiate “their” theoretical framework in the context of a specific case whereby the other two teams are expected to refute or modify those claims by employing the other two theoretical frameworks.

Finally, part three will devote three sessions towards future prospects of IOs. The first two sessions will examine the impact of an ever more pressing and increasing number of cross-border challenges on IOs --their governance, interactions with other stakeholders and democratic legitimacy. The third and final session will look and the rise of new IOs such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the New Development Bank (NDB) in light of the changing global power dynamics such as the BRICS phenomenon and the rise of China and the degree to which they have the potential to challenge the existing global order.

Learning Outcomes:
By the end of the course students should:

be broadly familiar with the history of IOs;
critically asses the existing logics, theories and functions of IOs;
be able to debate the major theoretical principles and concepts used to study IOs;
be familiar with the major challenges and efforts for reform facing IOs at the beginning of the 21st century;

Participation: 10%

Reflection sheets/quizzes: 15%

Presentation (individual/teams): 20%

The precise nature of the group work will be decided and announced once the total number of course participants is known.

Policy paper: 55%

Students will write a policy paper (3,000 words) discussing the history of an IO of her/his choice; the problem(s) they were designed to solve; the concepts that underlie their organization; governance and management principles; financing; and the responses –if any-- to the challenges discussed in the seminar;

Though not necessary, it is helpful to have taken the elective mandatory course: Introduction to Global Governance and Public Policy.