Project

The Decline and Death of International Organisations (ERC)

Goal: This five-year project funded by the European Research Council (ERC) addresses the question why do international organisations (IOs) decline or die? Many IOs are currently under significant pressure resulting in the loss of competences, resources and even member states. The ultimate way for states to show their discontent is to disband IOs: no less than a third of the IOs, created between 1905 and 2005, has formally ceased to exist. While academics have analysed how IOs are designed and develop, we know virtually nothing about decline and death.

Date: 1 January 2019 - 31 December 2023

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Project log

Hylke Dijkstra
added a research item
The multilateral order is in crisis. States increasingly contest, undermine, and even withdraw from international organizations (IOs) and multilateral institutions. Challenges emanate not only from emerging powers dissatisfied with the institutional status quo forged for and by Western powers but also from established Western states as well as transnational civil society. No other actor but the EU is more intimately entangled with the multilateral order. This article therefore analyses the extent to which the EU has risen to sustain the multilateral order since 2016. It identifies three types of mechanisms: defence, reform, and extension of multilateralism. Based on interviews with senior officials in EU institutions and the member states, the article finds that the EU has proven to be rather successful in temporarily defending existing institutions under pressure. However, it largely failed to reform multilateral institutions and extend multilateral cooperation to new areas. In doing so, the article contributes to a differentiated understanding of the EU as a foreign policy actor and the processes of the crisis of the multilateral order.
Hylke Dijkstra
added a research item
The Trump administration posed an unprecedented challenge to many international organizations (IOs). This article analyzes the ability of IOs to respond and explains variation in the survival strategies pursued by the international actors of IOs. It argues that leadership, organizational structure, competences, and external networks affect whether institutional actors can formulate responses to existential challenges. Providing evidence from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and World Trade Organization (WTO), this article shows how institutional actors varied in their ability to pursue survival strategies toward Trump. NATO officials publicly leveraged the Trump challenge on burden-sharing while quietly shielding the alliance from Trump on Russia policy. UNFCCC officials considered US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement as inevitable and focused on preventing further withdrawals through coalitions with non-state actors. WTO officials lacked the leadership and organizational structure to formulate a strategic response toward Trump.
Hylke Dijkstra
added a research item
Many international organizations (IOs) are currently challenged, yet are they also in decline? Despite much debate on the crisis of liberal international order, politicization, contestation, loss of legitimacy, gridlock, pathologies, and exiting member states, there is little research on the concept of IO decline. This research note aims to conceptualize and operationalize processes of IO decline. It argues that IO decline can be considered at the level of individual IOs as well as the IO population and entails both absolute and relative decline. The research note empirically reviews a wide variety of indicators, complementing existing datasets with newly gathered data (mostly since 1945), to find out which indicators best capture instances of IO decline. It finds that many of the indicators of absolute decline are ill-suited to systematically identify instances of IO decline in the postwar era. The indicators of relative decline of IOs are beneficial for the population-level and are also promising to study individual IOs. This research concludes with further directions for studying IO decline.
Hylke Dijkstra
added a research item
The liberal international order is being challenged and international organizations (IOs) are a main target of contestation. COVID-19 seems to exacerbate the situation with many states pursuing domestic strategies at the expense of multilateral cooperation. At the same time, IOs have traditionally benefited from cross-border crises. This article analyzes the policy responses of IOs to the exogenous COVID-19 shock by asking why some IOs use this crisis as an opportunity to expand their scope and policy instruments? It provides a cross-sectional analysis using original data on the responses of 75 IOs to COVID-19 during the first wave between March and June 2020. It finds that the bureaucratic capacity of IOs is significant when it comes to using the crisis as an opportunity. It also finds some evidence that the number of COVID-19 cases among the member states affects policy responses and that general purpose IOs have benefited more.
Hylke Dijkstra
added an update
Our ERC research project on the decline and death of international organizations started in January 2019. We are very pleased that our first results will be published in an article accepted for the European Journal of International Relations (link below). This quantitative paper tests whether institutional characteristics of international organizations (flexibility, institutionalization and secretariat size) affect chances of survival (spoiler alert: they do). This is only our first paper. We are already working on several follow-up papers including case studies. Throughout the project, we aim to upload working papers here prior to review and publication.
 
Hylke Dijkstra
added a research item
The liberal international order is being challenged and international organizations (IOs) are a main target of contestation. COVID-19 seems to exacerbate the situation with many states pursuing domestic strategies at the expense of multilateral cooperation. At the same time, IOs have traditionally benefited from cross-border crises. This article analyzes the policy responses of IOs to the exogenous COVID-19 shock by asking why some IOs use this crisis as an opportunity to expand their scope and policy instruments? It provides a cross-sectional analysis using original data on the responses of 75 IOs to COVID-19 during the first wave between March and June 2020. It finds that the bureaucratic capacity of IOs is significant when it comes to using the crisis as an opportunity. It also finds some evidence that the number of COVID-19 cases among the member states affects policy responses and that general purpose IOs have benefited more.
Hylke Dijkstra
added a research item
Major international organizations (IOs) are heavily contested, but they are rarely dissolved. Scholars have focused on their longevity making institutional arguments about replacement costs and institutional assets as well as IO agency to adapt and resist challenges. This article analyzes the limits of institutional stickiness by focusing on outlier cases. While major IOs are dissolved at considerably lower rates than minor IOs, the article nevertheless identifies 21 cases where major IOs have died since 1815. These are tough cases as they do not conform to our institutionalist expectations. To better understand these rare but important events, the article provides case illustrations from the League of Nations and International Refugee Organization (IRO), which were dissolved due to their perceived underperformance and a disappearing demand for cooperation. These cases show the limits of the institutional theories of IO stickiness: Sometimes member states find high replacement costs justified or consider assets as sunk costs, and IOs may lack agency to strategically respond. This article refines theories of institutional stickiness and contributes to the institutional theory of the life and death of IOs.
Hylke Dijkstra
added a research item
Many international organizations (IOs) are currently under pressure and the demise of the liberal international order is the talk of town. We theorize that institutional characteristics help to explain why some IOs survive external pressures where others fail. We test this argument through a survival analysis of 150 IOs (1815–2014). We find that the only significant variable explaining the death of IOs is the size of the secretariat: IOs with large bureaucracies are good at coping with external pressures. In addition, IOs with diverging preferences among members and those that are less institutionalized are more likely to be replaced with successor organizations. We find that institutional flexibility included in the treaties does not have an effect on survival. This is surprising because the purpose of flexibility clauses is precisely to deal with external shocks. Finally, we also find that systemic and domestic factors do not explain IO failure. In conclusion, we should not write off the liberal international order all too quickly: large IOs with significant bureaucratic resources are here to stay.
Hylke Dijkstra
added a research item
International organizations do not live forever. Recent empirical studies show that around 39% of international organizations created since 1815 have formally died. Yet we know, in fact, little about their decline and death. This is surprising as it is well-known that different forms of governance-city-states, great powers, public agencies, alliances and others-have a life-cycle. Building on recent empirical studies, this paper provides a conceptual and theoretical perspective on the decline and death of international organizations. It embeds debate on decline and death in the broader academic literature on the life-cycle of different governance arrangements. Building on research about the design and development of international organizations, it outlines an institutional theory on the decline and death. An institutional theory helps us to understand why, subject to similar external pressures, some international organizations decline and die where others survive.
Hylke Dijkstra
added an update
We are recruiting 3 fully-funded PhD candidates (4 year positions) for our project on "The Decline and Death of International Organisations". The application deadline is 15 March 2019.
The PhD candidates will conduct qualitative case studies of international organisations at risk of decline and/or death in the post-Cold War era, particularly in the policy areas of trade/finance, environment/energy and foreign/security affairs.
 
Hylke Dijkstra
added an update
I am recruiting a postdoctoral researcher for a period of 3 years for this ERC project on the decline and death of international organisations.
Candidates with a completed PhD in international relations (or another relevant topic/field, such as political science), with methodological experience in quantitative methods, are invited to apply. Experience with survival analysis or datasets related to international organisations is considered a strength.
 
Hylke Dijkstra
added a project goal
This five-year project funded by the European Research Council (ERC) addresses the question why do international organisations (IOs) decline or die? Many IOs are currently under significant pressure resulting in the loss of competences, resources and even member states. The ultimate way for states to show their discontent is to disband IOs: no less than a third of the IOs, created between 1905 and 2005, has formally ceased to exist. While academics have analysed how IOs are designed and develop, we know virtually nothing about decline and death.