The Interests of the States are the Interests of the Staff–Evelyn Lumish

When I look at the questions posed in regards to the readings on the bureaucratic actions of international organizations (IOs), I find myself facing, as with my previous time, a primarily semantic argument. When one asks question of whether an IO’s decisions reflect the interests of the members, it implies that the interests overlap, or at least that they overlap enough that a single decision can reflect all or even a large fraction of them; at a further stretch, it asks whether individual decisions reflect an interest or interests of individual states or groups of states, so as to have the overall set of decisions be said to reflect the overall interests, with “states” being used in place of “members” as, in this case, they are synonymous. The intent of the question, especially when juxtaposed with the following question, appears to be asking to compare between the binary ideas of the decisions reflecting on one hand members’ interests or on the other hand the staff’s interests.

I would argue that that implication is not true and that, given the falsity of the implication, the comparison is unhelpful. In many cases, decisions cannot reflect the interests of all members; for the World Bank, for example, where there is limited money to give out, one state being given a loan may prevent another state from receiving one. Beyond that, however, interests are not being equally represented within the IO. A member’s interests, I would argue, are being reflected, while the members’ interests aren’t necessarily. Or, in the case of the World Bank, the interests of only a few members are being reflected.

This is most clear in the case of the United States. The United States, holding 16% of the vote in the World Bank, picks the president of the Bank; as such, every president since the Bank’s creation has been American. That alone indicates that the Bank’s decisions would reflect the interests of the United States. Though this is just one example, it is in no way unique. The United Nations Security Council has as one of its five permanent members the United States. The United States has also consistently held a position on the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors. In general, any IO that the United States is part of seems to have the United States in the forefront of it, holding if not overwhelming than at least consistent power within it.

While this may indicate that the obvious answer to the question of whether the interests reflect those of the members or the staff, I would argue that the answer is not so simple. Staff of IOs would, at least theoretically, work primarily in the states where they are citizens; following that logic, staff at headquarters of IOs would disproportionately represent the state where the headquarter is located in comparison to the other states who are members of the IO. Returning to a previous example, the headquarters of the World Bank are located in Washington, DC. Similarly, the headquarters of the United Nation is located in New York City, NY. This may be a circular argument—the headquarters are in the state which holds the most power over that IO—but it also gives an indication of what state the interests would generally point towards if the interests of the staff were the deciding factor, and in at least these cases, it appears to be the same.

Without looking through every decision ever made and action ever taken by every IO in the world, it seems reasonable to conclude, sometimes simply by common sense, that the actions represent the interests of the economically and militarily powerful member states, as well as the staff from those states who work in the headquarters located there.


One thought on “The Interests of the States are the Interests of the Staff–Evelyn Lumish”

  1. There is certainly an enormous amount of ambiguity centered around the question of whether an organization is influenced by the bias of its state members or its administrative staff and the only safe response is that it is a combination of both. I would be interested in hearing your take on whether or not one is more acceptable than the other. On one hand, it is the role of the member states to try and influence the decisions made by the bureaucracy (as long as the amount of influence coming from each state is proportional to its investment in the establishment.) But on the other hand, it is the role of the administrative staff to regulate that influence and assure that no one state has a monopoly of power in the organization. Do these two factors compete or would their relationship be more accurately described as a system of checks and balances? And if so, does that system work?


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