Are Members in International Organizations Powerful? – Ilka Vanessa Walker-Vera

During World War I, states created organizations “to promote international cooperation, peace, and security.” International organizations were established to improve communication between states and enter into agreements fairly. States are the main components of international organizations because international organizations are mainly made up of members from different parts of the world looking out for their state’s interests. However, international organizations are bureaucracies that make rules to address current issues concerning international interests. Its decisions and actions reflect both the interests of the members and staff working at the organization. On the other hand, fundamental organizations, such as the World Bank, which manages money from all over the world, are expected to act fairly and justly, pursuing international interests and not solely their states interests. 

In The Politics, Power, and Pathologies of International Organizations, Michael N. Barnett and Martha Finnemore explained the structure and functions of international organizations (IO). Members are the main actors because they shape how current society behaves in relation to events, chaos, and miscommunications. Decisions are mainly influenced by the members that form part of the international organization. However, their decisions mainly influence the organization’s culture. The behavior of members in IOs is shaped according to what the organization stands for. Lillian Cunningham, editor and writer of On Leadership, interviewed the World Bank’s president, Jim Yong Kim. In the interview, Kim stated that, even though many of his coworkers have completely different backgrounds, they all work together achieve the same goal; everyone wants to end poverty by 2030. He mentions that they all may have different points of view, but regardless of the state they represent, they all have a universal (international) objective. This serves as an example of an international organization that works according the staff’s interests. If this organization were to address solely states’ interests, many poor countries would not be taken into consideration because powerful countries would have more representation and therefore control over the decisions taken. Barnett and Finnemore described these people as bureaucrats; their job consists of proposing “universal rules and categories that are, by design, inattentive to contextual and particularistic concerns.” These bylaws prevent corruption (or any action that would benefit one or more states more than others) and reassures members to concentrate on the bigger picture (all states, in general). James Ferguson, an American anthropologist who studied the World Bank’s activity, showed that the bank’s organization is isolated, more so than any other institution. Ferguson explains that this difference in structure can, and will, cause many developmental failures, but it is also a contributing factor to its well-known, respected status. In other words, the risks it takes in order to fix a common problem, eventually translates into a common good, even if it fails in the process. Other international organizations, like branches of the United Nations, have to take into consideration what will benefit their states interests. The Security Councils main purpose is to maintain international peace and security. However, the members of this council are entitled to “express their country’s best interests and values”. In IOs such as this, the decisions are not entirely made for the benefit of everyone, but rather through a “competitve bargaining process”. However, in cases like Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, authoritative figures in charge of international organizations are expected to act objectively, regardless of their  specific country’s interests. As head of an international organization a person should know how to differentiate his/her country’s interests and the mindset of the institution they belong to. This phenomenon can be easily compared to the responsibility of a president of a country; even though, he/she has individual thoughts, values and concerns, he/she has to act in favor of what would benefit the country as a whole, or in the case of IOs, all states.

International organizations were developed to fairly and justly support or deny proposals  that consists of states all over the world. These institutions would not only facilitate communication and decision-making, but it would also take in consideration the difference in power and authority between states. The members of these organizations follow the set rules for each organization. Depending on the institution they manage, they have to address different situations, in which, they might have to work towards a common goal or its states interest. It is up to the organization’s authoritarian figure to distinguish what is best for the situation and completely separate biased opinions from what their position requires them to behave.


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