The death of 21 major international organizations:
When institutional stickiness is not enough
Maastricht University, The Netherlands
University of Potsdam, Germany
18 January 2021
Major international organizations (IOs) are heavily contested but they are rarely dissolved. Scholars
have traditionally focused on their longevity making institutional arguments about replacement
costs, institutional assets, and secretariat agency. This article analyzes what it takes for major IOs to
die. While major IOs are dissolved at considerably lower rates than minor IOs, the article identifies
nevertheless 21 'outlier cases' where major IOs have died since 1815. To get a better understanding
of these rare but important events, the article provides five case illustrations from the International
Institute of Agriculture, International Refugee Organization, League of Nations, Warsaw Treaty
Organization, and Western European Union. Their principal causes of death differed, but these case
illustrations highlight limits to institutional theories of IO stickiness: Member states may not want
to replace challenged IOs, they consider institutional assets as sunk costs, or secretariats may not be
in a position to fight for survival.
international organizations, death, failure, institutional theory
This article is part of a project that has received funding from the European Research Council
(ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant
agreement No 802568).
Word length: 10045 words (main text and reference list)
Online appendix: 4269 words
Against the backdrop of the crisis of liberal international order, scholars have started to study the
demise of international organizations (IOs). Challenged by illiberal powers, populist governments,
and above all the Trump administration, IOs face gridlock, contestation, politicization, loss of
legitimacy, and even state withdrawal (e.g. Hale et al. 2013; Zürn et al. 2012; von Borzyskowski &
Vabulas 2019). The ultimate outcome for IOs may be dissolution or 'death,' which recent studies
show is a regular occurrence in international relations. Eilstrup-Sangiovanni (2020) informs us, for
instance, that 39% of the IOs created since 1815 have ceased to exist (cf. Pevehouse et al., 2020).
Gray (2018) equally finds that only half of international economic organizations are functioning,
whereas the other half are either dead or 'zombies'—organizations that continue to operate without
any progress toward their mandates.
Research on IO dissolution is important, but the trouble with these large-N studies is that they
hardly distinguish between the three dozen major IOs ('household names') which have considerable
authority (Zürn, 2018) and their 500+ much smaller cousins.1 Yet IOs "are organized in radically
different ways" (Koremenos et al., 2001, p. 761) and the death of the League of Nations was not the
same as the death of the International Wool Study Group. Indeed, major IOs are often considered
'sticky,' from a theoretical perspective, due to their high replacement costs, institutional assets, and
secretariat officials fighting for survival (e.g. Keohane, 1984; Strange 1998; Ikenberry, 1999;
Barnett & Finnemore 2004; Chorev 2012; Jupille, Mattli, & Snidal 2013). Debre and Dijkstra
(2021), moreover, empirically find that institutionalized IOs and those with large secretariats (>50
staff) are much more robust than smaller IOs. This is consistent with the observation of Hooghe et
al. (2017, p. 17) that only 2/76 major IOs in their dataset have died.
1 Many empirical studies rely on Correlates of War Intergovernmental Organizations dataset which includes 534 IOs
(Pevehouse et al., 2020), a number of observations that allows for statistical analysis.
Starting from this puzzle—that major IOs are heavily contested yet unlike minor IOs rarely
dissolved—this article analyzes what it takes for major IOs to die. While major IOs die at
considerably lower rates than smaller IOs, this article identifies nevertheless 21 instances of 'outlier'
IOs which can be considered as 'dead' in spite of a large membership, high institutionalization, or
substantial secretariat resources. Using five case illustrations of major dissolved IOs to inductively
explore pathways to death (International Institute of Agriculture (IIA); International Refugee
Organization (IRO); League of Nations; Warsaw Treaty Organization; Western European Union
(WEU)), it shows that there are limits to the institutional stickiness—the ability to stick around even
when significantly challenged—of major IOs. First, replacement costs may prevent member states
from negotiating alternative institutions and therefore dissolving existing ones, but sometimes
member states may not even want to replace IOs because institutional arrangements have become
unsuitable (e.g. League of Nations; IIA) or because there is no more demand to cooperate (e.g.
Warsaw Treaty Organization; IRO). Second, major IOs often possess assets which remain valuable
to the membership even in case of a changing environment, but in some cases these are really sunk
costs (e.g. IRO; Warsaw Treaty Organization; WEU). Third, while secretariat officials may try to
keep their IO running, they do not always have the ability to strategically respond (e.g. League of
Nations; IIA; WEU).
This article thus makes a contribution to institutional theory and the understanding of the concept of
IO death by further specifying scope conditions for survival. The institutional theory of IOs so far
privileges institutional stability rather than explaining rare but important instances of the death of
major IOs. This article also complements recent large-N studies on the death of IOs (e.g. Gray,
2018; Eilstrup-Sangiovanni, 2020; Debre & Dijkstra, 2021) by focusing exclusively on the major
ones and thereby providing a richer understanding of the dissolution of IOs. By analyzing five case
illustrations of major IOs, the article furthermore provides middle-ground between large-N studies
of IOs and small-N case studies. Scholars have studied these major IOs as individual cases (e.g.
Holborn, 1956; Scott, 1973; Mastny & Byrne, 2005; Matějka, 1997; Henig, 2010; Bailes &
Messervy-Whiting, 2011), but they have rarely engaged in comparative analysis.
The article starts by discussing three institutional logics of the longevity of major IOs. It continues
with the available data on dead IOs and identifies 21 major IOs that have died. The article continues
with five case illustrations and revisits institutional theory on this basis. The conclusion reflects on
the implications of the findings for the liberal international order.
2. Institutional theory and the stickiness of major IOs
Ever since the first IO was established following the Treaty of Vienna in 1815, IOs have faced
many serious and existential crises. These included world wars and other conflicts in which member
states found themselves at opposite ends, hegemonic transitions during which existing institutions
were questioned, financial crises and economic nationalism, and changing cooperation problems
including due to technological development. While a variety of such exogenous challenges helps to
explain the death of IOs in general (see e.g. Eilstrup-Sangiovanni 2021), major IOs are traditionally
considered resilient—like other sticky institutions that tend to persist (Ikenberry, 1999, pp. 45-46;
Pierson, 2000, pp. 290-293). At the same time, we know that even major IOs occasionally die (e.g.
League of Nations). These may be rare events, but they are important nonetheless. To understand
these 'outliers,' this section first reviews the institutional logics of longevity in order to identify
scope conditions in the remainder of the article. Realist and notably constructivist theories also
provide reasons for IO stability (see Cottrell, 2016, pp. 24-26), but the focus of this article is
The first institutional logic why major IOs stick around, even when challenged by their member
states, is that they carry out important functions. This means they cannot be instantly dissolved.
Unless member states do not mind leaving large gaps in global governance, the functions of
dissolved IOs somehow need to be taken over by other institutions—either by other IOs or informal
institutions or other forms of governance. Yet the negotiations of replacement institutions is often
complex. Jupille, Mattli, and Snidal (2013) show that states, even when unhappy with certain IOs,
rarely create new ones and prefer to "stick with the institutional 'devil they know' as long as the
status quo produces results above some minimum threshold" (p. 7). Keohane (1984, p. 102) tells us
that "[t]he high costs of regime-building help existing regimes to persist." Eilstrup-Sangiovanni
(2020, table 1) shows that IOs with many member states are less likely to die, which also points at
transaction costs involved in re-contracting.
This institutional logic seems relevant as many major IOs provide us with vital public goods. For
instance, the United Nations (UN) has been established to ensure collective security. While it may
not fully achieve its aim, it is difficult to imagine our contemporary world without a diplomatic top
table. Indeed, even though the League of Nations was generally perceived to have mismanaged
conflicts between the member states in the 1930s (see further below), the Second World War more
than anything else showed the need for collective security. Or as international lawyer Klabbers
(2009, p. 298, emphasis added) notes, "the rationale behind an organization will usually continue to
exist; it is merely the institutional arrangements which are deemed unsuitable." The real question
therefore is whether existing institutional arrangements are so ineffective that member states are
willing to abandon them and go through the hassle of negotiating replacements. With major IOs, the
answer is often 'no.'
The second institutional logic why major IOs persist concerns the investment states have made in
terms of institutional assets. While also a member states-centric logic, the presence of institutional
assets within IOs differs from first logic which is about negotiating complexity, bounded rationality,
and the unintended consequences of institutional rearrangements. Wallander (2000), for instance,
has argued that major IOs may possess significant institutional assets and she explains NATO
persistence after the Cold War in part as a result of these capabilities. IO capacities are real. The
World Health Organization (WHO) has, for instance, a large staff of medical experts and regional
field offices. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is the world's principal body on
macroeconomic expertise (e.g. Barnett & Finnemore, 2004). Highly institutionalized IOs have
adjudication mechanisms or even standing tribunals. Abandoning such IOs and replacing them is
very costly for the member states.
The third institutional logic is that major IOs will have some secretariat agency of their own (e.g.
Barnett & Finnemore, 2004; Hawkins et al., 2006). Officials in IO secretariats can use their agency
to foster cooperation between member states, reform IOs in light of a changing external
environment, or resist external pressure. Beach (2004), for instance, shows how the EU Council
Secretariat was critical in reaching deals during high-level treaty negotiations and Schuette (2021)
points at the role of the European Commission in keeping the member states together after the
challenge of Brexit. Chorev (2012) shows how the WHO "strategically adapted" to external
pressures by playing member states of against each other. Dijkstra (2017) goes further and shows
how IO secretariats and like-minded member states may "collude." Finally, Kaufman (1976, p. 9)
notes that bureaucrats "are not helpless, passive pawns in the game of politics as it affects their
lives; they are active, energetic, persistent participants. The motives … to preserve the organisations
to which they belong are very strong."
It is clear that institutional theory helps us to understand why major IOs tend to stick around. These
are three different logics, but they are not mutually-exclusive and are often reinforcing. These logics
also theoretically distinguish major from minor IOs: Most institutions are sticky to a degree, but
replacing minor IOs is exponentially less complex, minor IOs have less assets, and they typically do
not employ many staff members who can fight for survival. Major and minor IOs are thus like
apples and oranges when it comes to institutional stickiness. At the same time, these logics are not
absolute and institutional stickiness has its limits even for major IOs. The next section 3 identifies
21 major IOs that have died since 1815. Institutional theory so far provides few answers to explain
these outlier cases. The subsequently section 4 shows that, contrary to institutional logics, member
states may not always want to replace IOs, institutional assets may turn into sunk costs, and IO
secretariat staff may not have the ability to strategically respond. The remainder of the article
therefore studies the death of major IOs against these three logics to gain a more sophisticated
understanding when stickiness is not enough.
3. Descriptive statistics: Which major IOs have died?
To systematically study the death of major IOs, it is important to first provide a descriptive
overview of all major IOs that have died since 1815. The starting point is the dataset from The
Correlates of War Project Intergovernmental Organizations (COW-IGO v3.0) which includes a
total of 534 IOs (Pevehouse et al., 2020). To distinguish major IOs from minor IOs, the article
includes IOs that have a large membership (50% of existing system member states), high level of
institutionalization (such as an adjudication mechanism), or substantial administrative resources (50
or more staff members). The purpose is to be relatively inclusive with regard to the definition of
'major IOs' simply because we want to, as a first step, get an overview. Other scholars are more
restrictive in defining major IOs. For instance, Zürn (2018) concentrates on the 34 most
authoritative IOs and Hooghe et al. (2017, pp. 14-15) focus only on the 76 IOs that have a physical
headquarter or website, a formal structure with a written constitution, at least 30 staff, and that hold
regular annual meetings.2 We want to avoid a bias against pre-1945 IOs, which carried out
important functions in their days, such as mapping the world, sharing statistical data on agriculture,
or oversee quarantine rules to prevent the spread of plague and cholera. In total, our inclusion
criteria lead to 153 major IOs (see Table 1).
The purpose of distinguishing major IOs is that they are more likely robust and this goes for each of
the three inclusion criteria, which are in line with the institutional logics discussed above.3 If the
number of member states increases, IOs are more likely to survive (Eilstrup-Sangiovanni, 2020).
Establishing IOs with a large membership is more complex than IOs with a smaller membership,
simply because more member states are involved in the negotiations. Due to such transaction costs,
IOs with a large membership are not a given and it will be much more difficult to replace those IOs
with other institutions. Also, IOs with a large membership are less dependent on the idiosyncrasies
of individual member states. The article includes IOs that at some point included 50% of existing
states as members. This varies significantly over time. For IOs during the interbellum, for instance,
this means 33 members (out of around 65 states), whereas currently it requires almost 100 members
(out of nearly 200 states). Data are available in COW-IGO v3.0 (Pevehouse et al., 2020). In total,
there are 50 IOs which had at least 50% of existing states as members.
Total IOs Dead IOs % Dead IOs
Total international organizations 534 140 26%
Large membership (>=50% states as members) 50 6 12%
2 Hooghe et al. (2017) only focus on 1950-date and Zürn (2018) excludes dead IOs.
3 Since the purpose of the article is to explore limits to institutional theory, we do not include indicators stemming
from other theories.
High levels of institutionalization 45 6 13%
Large administrative resources (>= 50 staff members) 126 6 5%
Large membership, high institutionalization, and large resources 11 0 0%
Large membership, high institutionalization, or large resources
153 16 10%
Small membership, low-medium institutionalization, and low
resources (minor IOs)
381 124 33%
Table 1: Number of dead IOs. Sources: Pevehouse et al. (2020); Karreth and Tir (2013); Debre & Dijkstra (2021);
Yearbook of International Organizations.
The second inclusion criteria for major IOs concerns high levels of institutionalization. Just as the
negotiation of IOs with many member states is costly, establishing high levels of institutionalization
by granting IOs considerable authority also requires significant negotiations by the member states
because it involves sovereignty costs (Abbott & Snidal, 2000). Once highly institutionalized IOs are
in place, chances are smaller that member states will abandon or replace them with other
organizations (Debre & Dijkstra, 2021). The article relies on the dataset of Karreth and Tir (2013),
who build on Boehmer et al. (2004), to differentiate between low, medium, and highly
institutionalized IOs. Highly institutionalized IOs "contain mechanisms for mediation, arbitration
and adjudication, and/or other means to coerce state decisions" (Boehmer et al. 2004, p. 18). These
are key assets that IOs may possess. In total, there are 45 IOs with high levels of institutionalization.
The final inclusion criteria for major IOs concerns substantial administrative resources. It has long
been recognized that secretariat officials are key to the functioning of IOs (e.g. Barnett &
Finnemore, 2004). They are in a position to foster cooperation between member states as well as
resist and fight off pressures on IOs (Chorev, 2012; Gray, 2018; Debre & Dijkstra, 2021). While the
indicator of institutionalization concerns delegated authority, administrative resources are about
capacities of secretariats to act. The article follows Debre and Dijkstra (2021), who code IOs with
50 or more staff members as 'large.' Below 50 staff, it is unlikely that an IO has a substantial policy
directorate which is required to have agency in policy-making (Debre & Dijkstra, 2021). The
Yearbook of International Organizations provides staff numbers for the last reporting year of an IO.
In total, there are 126 IOs with 50 or more staff members.
The article thus identifies 153 major IOs in total. 16/153 are coded as 'dead' in the COW-IGO v3.0
dataset (Pevehouse et al., 2020). Death means that IOs no longer have (1) three or more member
states, (2) have a plenary meeting once every 10 years, or (3) have a secretariat and correspondence
address, and have not been coded as replaced or integrated into other IOs. Replacement occurs
when the operations of an IO are transferred to a newly founded institution with a similar mandate,
membership, and/or headquarter location. IO integration occurs when the operations of an IO are
transferred to an already existing institution and becomes a sub-institution within the other IO. It is
critical to exclude replacements and integrations (e.g. Organization of African Unity by African
Union), as these are often about institutional development rather than IO death (Debre & Dijkstra,
2021; Eilstrup-Sangiovanni, 2020). At 10% the number of major IOs that have died is considerable
lower than the 33% of dead minor IOs (Table 1).
Table A in the appendix provides an overview of all these large dead IOs. As with any dataset, there
are questions about borderline cases and missing data. We have therefore gone carefully through the
COW-IGO dataset to identify additional dead major IOs. Our strategy was twofold. First, we have
gone through all the 140 cases of dead IOs with missing data on any of the three indicators to see
whether they could also be reasonably coded as 'major.' We found this to be the case for the
International Allied Rhineland High Commission and the IRO. Second, we have gone through all
cases of major IOs which were coded as 'replaced/integrated' in COW-IGO to see whether these
could equally be coded as 'dead' thereby being borderline cases. We found this to be the case for the
IIA and the League of Nations, both of which were replaced by very different IOs with a different
mandate, membership, and secretariat location after the Second World War. Finally we added the
Arab Maghreb Union, which has not met since 2007 but still has an operating secretariat, as a
borderline case. By adding these five borderline cases, we get to 21 dead major IOs.
4. Death of five major IOs and the lack of stickiness
Having identified 21 major IOs which have died since 1815, this section explores five examples of
major dead IOs. The purpose is to better understand these outliers and why institutional stickiness
was not enough. The article does not engage in in-depth process-tracing and does not present
original data, since there are some excellent studies available for these cases, including historical
work based on archival data. Yet comparative analysis is largely missing and by providing several
case illustrations we gain further insight on the scope conditions for institutional theory. Because
the article relies on secondary sources and readily available documents, the chosen examples are not
entirely representative for the 21 major dead IOs. By selecting examples previously covered in the
literature, the case illustrations are biased towards the most prominent and indeed the largest among
these major dead IOs. This is a valid selection strategy, because the purpose of the article is not to
test but to explore the limits of institutional theory and we would expect actually most stickiness in
these five prominent cases among all the 21 major dead IOs.
4.1 League of Nations
The League of Nations is undoubtedly the most studied dissolved IO (Pedersen, 2007). While it is
often portrayed in International Relations (IR) literature rather simplistically as an inevitable
casualty of the Second World War, from an institutional perspective the story of the League is a
much more interesting. It concerns the peripheral position of the League in the increasing conflicts
between the member states in the 1930s, the way in which the League was kept alive during the
Second World War, and why it was not revived once the war was over. While many historians point
at continuities between the League and the post-war institutions (Clavin, 2013; Pedersen, 2007;
Gram-Skjoldager & Ikonomou, 2019), it is striking that the three logics of institutional stickiness do
not seem to apply: the founders of the UN negotiated a new treaty instead of trying to reform the
League, they did not care enough about League assets to keep it alive, and the remaining League
officials—trapped in Geneva and scattered around the world—had little agency to fight for their
Set up as a collective security organization and concerned with "[a]ny war or threat of war" (LoN
Covenant, article 11), the League obviously failed to prevent the Second World War. Its principal
cause of the death is, however, normally traced to the conflictual relations between the member
states in the 1930s and the League's failure to play a meaningful role (Hinsley, 1963, pp. 309-322).
The Manchurian conflict between China and Japan (1931-1933), for which the General Assembly
blamed Japan, resulted in the withdrawal of Japan from the League (Burns, 1935; Scott, 1973, pp.
207-241). Nazi Germany left the same year and Fascist Italy withdrew in 1937 after the League
sided with Ethiopia and voted for sanctions on Italy (Henig, 2010). The Soviet Union was expelled
from the League after its invasion of Finland (Beck, 1981). While the League's decision made little
difference for Finland, it was clear that the Soviet Union would not return to the League and as such
"the act of expulsion became the League's death warrant" (Beck, 1995, p. 178).
The League's Secretary-General Joseph Avenol described the period prior to the Second World War
as "demi-guerre" (as cited in Beck, 1995, p. 175). Strikingly, neither the Secretary-General nor the
two remaining permanent Council members, France and the United Kingdom, did much to defend
the interests of the League. France and the United Kingdom, for instance, dealt with Italy bilaterally
during the Ethiopian crisis, preferring to maintain good relations in the context of the threat from
Nazi Germany, rather than following the League's decisions (Henig, 2010, pp. 163-166). Except for
the expulsion of the Soviet Union, "[k]ey events were kept away from Geneva ... which was
steering, or rather being steered by leading members, clear of major international problems" (Beck,
1995, p. 175). Avenol was described as an "unofficial agent in the League" of the great powers
(James Barros in Beck, 1995, p. 178) rather than an autonomous operator. On the day of the
Anschluss in 1938, he was planting trees on the lawn of the Palais des Nations in Geneva (Beck,
1995, p. 185).
The League continued operating during the Second World War, but was severely affected by it. Its
host Switzerland had opted for neutrality and could therefore not be seen as supporting the League
(Walters, 1952, pp. 801-802). Secretariat staff had already been significantly reduced when by mid-
1940 Geneva became almost isolated. Avenol resigned and was replaced by his deputy Sean Lester
who remained in Geneva (Fosse & Fox 2016, pp. 171-188), supported financially largely by the
United Kingdom. Many League officials fled Geneva to set up shop in among others in Princeton,
Montreal, London, and Washington (Clavin, 2013, pp. 258-266; Walters, 1952, p. 809; Fosse &
Fox, 2016, pp. 191-193). The departure from Geneva and the 'globalization' of the League meant
that many officials got involved in the new post-war institutions (Clavin, 2013, pp. 267-340; Kott,
2014). At the same time, cut-off from the world, with very little resources, and no Swiss support,
the League in Geneva had little agency to fight for survival. Officials still tried. Lester, for instance,
considered it "essential that some element of the League remained alive in Geneva ... to keep the
ideals of international cooperation and organization alive for the post-war era" (Clavin, 2013, p.
260). League officials also drafted the 1944 London Report "to counteract the declining image of
the League of Nations" (Auberer, 2016, p. 393; Wilson, 1944).
Continued wartime activity raises the question whether the League of Nations died or was merely
replaced by the newly-founded UN. During its last assembly in Geneva, British statesman Robert
Cecil paraphrased an old French saying by proclaiming that "The League is dead, long live the
United Nations." The UN took also over the assets (office buildings, furniture, books, archives, and
some capital) of the League in Geneva (UN General Assembly, 1946, articles 1-2; Myers, 1948),
which would become the second headquarters location of the UN, and 200 League officials went on
to work of the UN (Gram-Skjoldager & Ikonomou, 2019, p. 421). Clavin (2013, pp. 267-340)
furthermore shows how the 1939 Bruce Report of the League provided the blueprint of the UN
Economic and Social Council and how the Princeton officials helped set up the United Nations
Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), Bretton Woods institutions, and various other
post-war IOs. On the other hand, the UN was a different IO with the United States as a key member,
a qualitatively different UN Charter, and the UN headquarters eventually built in New York.
Regardless of such continuities and discontinuities, the question remains why the League was not
revived under its own name and ultimately dissolved in 1946. The answer is ultimately twofold.
First, states wanted to write off the doomed League and give the UN a fresh start (Goodrich, 1947,
pp. 3-4). During the negotiations about the UN and its Security Council, which took place largely
during the war, there was thus very little talk about continuity from the League. While League
officials attended the San Francisco UN conference negotiated in the Opera House in 1945, they
initially found themselves without assigned seats thereby spectators at their own funeral (Clavin,
2013, p. 341). The absence of references to the League was, secondly, also critical from a political
perspective. Being expelled from the League in 1939, the Soviet Union did not have any fond
memories (Goodrich, 1947). Furthermore, the U.S. Senate had failed to ratify the Treaty of
Versailles resulting in the absence of the United States from the League. The UN Charter therefore
had to be something new and member states were willing to go through the trouble.
4.2 Warsaw Treaty Organization
Several major IOs have died due to a declining demand by member states to cooperate. The focus is
here on the Warsaw Treaty Organization, which was dissolved, along with its economic
counterpart, the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON), in July 1991. Striking
about the Warsaw Treaty Organization is that it did not suddenly collapse due to the implosion of
the Soviet Union, but that there were significant negotiations during the late-1980s to transform the
organization. These negotiations eventually failed, precisely because of the collapse of the
hegemon, which rendered the organization incapable in adapting to the changing environment.
While the Central and Eastern European states were ultimately keen for the Soviet-dominated
organization to be dismantled, and had no interest in replacing it with another institution, there was
still some anxiety about insecurity in Europe as a resulting of the dissolved Warsaw Treaty
The Warsaw Treaty Organization (or Warsaw Pact) was established in 1955 as a reaction to West-
Germany joining NATO. Its members were the Soviet Union and the Central and Eastern European
'satellite' states except for Yugoslavia. Soviet dominance became apparent when its tanks rolled into
Hungary in 1956 after Hungary had announced its withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact. In 1968,
Soviet and other Warsaw Pact members took military action against Czechoslovakia following the
Prague Spring, thereby establishing the Brezhnev Doctrine to avoid further upheaval in Central and
Eastern Europe. It was not until the late-1980s that this grip of the Soviet Union, and the use of the
Warsaw Treaty Organization as its instrument, loosened. From a macro-perspective, it is therefore
not a surprise that when transition eventually happened, and the Soviet Union itself fell apart in
1991, the Warsaw Treaty Organization would go down as well.
While events went relatively quickly toward the end of the 1980s, there was nevertheless a serious
negotiation process and dissolution of the Warsaw Treaty Organization was not automatic. For
instance, the newly adopted military doctrine of 1987 started a process to add a political dimension
to the Warsaw Treaty Organization. It led to intensive negotiations between the Soviet Union and
its allies (see Matějka, 1997 for an insider account; see Mastny & Byrne, 2005 for a compilation of
key documents), during which Moscow tried to change how it dominated the Organization whereas
the allies tried to reduce Soviet dominance (Matějka, 1997, p. 56). Proposals included the rotation
of commander positions among the allies or even the abolition of the Military Council. As of 1990,
particularly for newly elected leaders of Central and Eastern Europe, the withdrawal of Soviet
troops became a top priority with Hungary and Czechoslovakia seeking to revise the 'temporary'
Soviet deployments since the revolutions of 1956 and 1968.
As the German re-unification progressed, the question of East Germany joining NATO and the
potential power vacuum in central Europe became an issue for discussion in the Warsaw Treaty
Organization. Some of the member states suggested the dissolution of both NATO and the Warsaw
Pact in favor of the then-Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Wallander & Prokop,
1993, pp. 77-79). During the Moscow summit in June 1990, leaders eventually set up a
Transformation Commission. Whereas several Central and Eastern European countries argued for
dismantling the military structures and a focus on political structures to ensure pan-European
collective security, the Soviet military strongly opposed changes (Matějka, 1997, p. 62). The Soviet
military was in particular disarray struggling with overall force reductions (Odom, 1998, pp. 272-
277). The military structures of the Warsaw Treaty Organization in Moscow, however, soon came
down as allies started to recall their officers (Matějka, 1997, p. 62). They were finally dismantled in
February 1991. With the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) in November
1990, the Warsaw Pact no longer had a rationale. It was dissolved during the summit in Prague on 1
July 1991. There was no continued demand for collective defense, the assets in Moscow became
sunk costs, and headquarters officials were ineffective in achieving meaningful reform.
4.3 International Refugee Organization
Various IOs are time-limited and tasked to address a specific problem. It rarely happens, however,
that the member states establish a major IO with high levels of institutionalization and substantial
bureaucratic resources and subsequently close it down after a couple of years. The OEEC, created
to implement the Marshall Plan, is a borderline case as it was replaced by a very different OECD
which continued operating out of the same Parisian castle. The focus here is, however, on the IRO.
It was set up as a temporary IO shortly after the Second World War in 1946 to deal 1.5 million
refugees and displaced persons in Europe. It was closed in 1952 (Holborn, 1956, pp. 559-561).
The problem of refugees became increasingly pronounced during the interbellum and resulted in
various forms of international cooperation including under the League (see Orchard, 2014, Chapter
5). In addition, the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees (IGCR) and UNRRA were
established, respectively in London in 1938 and Washington in 1943, to deal with refugees and
displaced persons during and particularly after the Second World War. The scale of the problem
was immense with 6.6m displaced persons outside their countries, 33m displaced persons inside
their countries, and more than 750,000 refugees from German and Soviet territories (Orchard, 2014,
Table 6.1). While many displaced persons were soon repatriated, once the Second World War had
ended, there were difficulties with refugees, displaced persons, and prisoners of war from Central
and Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union (Ristelhueber, 1951, p. 177). Particularly the United
States objected to forced return on the basis of humanitarian principles (Orchard, 2014, pp. 146-
152), whereas as the Soviet Union expected all its citizens to come home.
Conflict over the course of the UNRRA, the end of the League's High Commissioner for Refugees,
British unwillingness to sustain the IGCR, and the new problem of how to resettle refugees and
displaced persons (rather than return them) resulted in the creation of the IRO as a temporary UN
agency in February 1946. Yet during the negotiations of the IRO states split along East-West lines
on the definition and level of support to refugees and displaced persons (Ristelhueber, 1951, pp.
178-180). When finally established, the IRO therefore had only member states from the Western
hemisphere. The IRO nevertheless provided refuge through camps and resettlement support to 1.5
million displaced persons until the end of its mandate (see Rucker, 1949; Ristelhueber, 1951;
Holborn, 1956 for a discussion of the activities). It employed nearly 2900 international officials in
1949 (Holborn, 1956, p. 99) and had a total budget of around $400m during its less than five years
of existence (Holborn, 1956, p. 122).
More than half of the budget was paid for by the United States (Holborn, 1956, p. 122), also
because the IRO membership remained smaller than anticipated, and the United States soon started
behaving like as a dissatisfied customer (Orchard, 2014, pp. 168-170). At the same time, with the
emergence of the Cold War, the United States wanted to avoid handing over more responsibilities to
the UN where the Soviet Union had a strong position. This tension became critical once
negotiations over the dissolution of the IRO started. While the United States could not prevent the
establishment of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in 1949, the role of the High
Commissioner was more restricted and the office did not receive any operational funds from the
UN.4 When the IRO disbanded in 1951-1952, it handed over responsibilities mainly to host
countries, such as France, Germany, Austria, and Italy (Ristelhueber, 1951, pp. 221-222). The staff
had already been reduced dramatically to 1684 officials at the end of 1950 and 677 officials at the
end of 1951 (Holborn, 1956, p. 99). IRO was therefore time-limited and its function in Europe had
largely been fulfilled leaving assets (such as temporary refugee) camps without much value. The
organization was American sponsored and there was no drive by its staff for survival.
4.4 Western European Union
The WEU is the fourth case illustration and its cause of death concerns competition from another
IO, the European Union (EU). While member states rarely set up two major IOs doing exactly the
same thing, IOs are dynamic in terms of membership, scope, and challenges they are addressing
(e.g. Koremenos et al., 2001; Hooghe et al. 2019). The death of the WEU is a notably example of
competition, but there are other examples, such as the Intergovernmental Bureau for Informatics
which was dissolved once UNESCO started to develop its own informatics programs. What we can
learn from the WEU is that IO competition is different from market-type competition, because the
(overlapping) membership makes critical choices. In the case of the WEU, this included a managed
closing of operations.
The WEU and EU existed as entirely separate IOs until the dissolution of the WEU in June 2011.
The WEU was the result of the Brussels Pact of 1948, which was a collective defense treaty signed
by France, the United Kingdom, and the Benelux countries. The WEU, however, quickly found
itself redundant with the establishment of NATO in 1949 and remained largely dormant. From the
late-1980s, however, the member states of the European Communities started to develop their joint
4 The budget of the High Commissioner was set at 300,000 USD compared to the IRO's 4,800,000 USD for
administrative expenses and 151,060,500 USD for operational expenses (Ristelhueber, 1951, p. 182, 225).
foreign and security policies, in addition to economic integration, and the WEU became a vehicle
for these ambitions (Bloed & Wessel, 1994, pp. xviii-xix). With the Maastricht Treaty of 1993, the
WEU essentially became the implementing IO for the EU's security and defense policy. While the
Maastricht Treaty considered the WEU as an "integral part of the Union" (as cited in Bloed &
Wessel, 1994, p. xxv), both IOs remained legally separate.
With the WEU no longer dormant, it started to implement various activities during the early-1990s,
including some modest crisis management missions in the Western Balkans. At the same time, it
became increasingly clear that the EU as an emerging global actor would need to develop its proper
policies. When EU member states failed to bring the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo to a close, having
to rely on the United States instead, the EU established the Common Security and Defence Policy
(CSDP) with the implication that the "WEU as an organisation would have completed its purpose"
(Cologne European Council 1999, Annex III, para 5). Over time, the EU took over core functions of
the WEU, including the 1992 Petersberg Tasks now implemented through the CSDP, armament
cooperation through the newly-established European Defence Agency in 2004, and collective
defense through the 2009 Lisbon Treaty. The EU as such has been described as a "black widow"
sucking life out of the WEU (Wessel, 2001).
Even though a full integration was formally on the table, the EU ultimately decided not to integrate
the WEU into its own structures. It only took over two specialized WEU agencies (the Institute for
Security Studies and the Satellite Centre). The rest of the institutional structures were essentially
ignored by the EU as the EU set up new institutions which mirrored WEU institutions, such as the
newly-established EU Military Staff. To ensure that the WEU would not openly compete with the
new EU structures, the member states appointed the EU High Representative, Javier Solana, also as
the WEU Secretary-General. WEU secretariat staff was rapidly reduced and only three WEU
officials made it into the newly established EU structures (Bailes & Messervy-Whiting, 2011, p.
47). Almost immediately following the entry-into-force of the 2009 Lisbon Treaty, which
introduced the EU collective defense clause, the United Kingdom announced its withdrawal from
the WEU. The remaining member states dissolved the WEU in 2011 after they had figured out a
social plan, pension schemes, and what to do with the classified archival documents. The EU thus
took over the functions of the WEU, ignored its assets, and prevented WEU staff from pro-actively
fighting for survival.
4.5 International Institute of Agriculture
While some of the examples presented above are familiar to many IR scholars and their pathways to
death fit with some of the established IR theories, there are also some more surprising causes of
death: Various major IOs closed because their operations were disrupted due to a war in their host
country. Once the war was over, the appetite was gone. The example discussed here is the IIA in
Rome. While linked to Fascist Italy, its operations effectively ceased shortly before the Second
World War as tensions during the 1930s went from bad to worse (see illustration of the League
above). During the war the FAO was established in the United States and it became the principal
post-war IO dealing with agriculture. As with the League, there was no appetite to resurrect the IIA
and it was not formally replaced by the FAO. Only when the FAO was eventually located in Rome,
it inherited some of the IIA assets, such as the library and archives. In various other instances, war
equally led to disrupted operations by major IOs. The Organization for the Management and
Development of the Kagera River effectively ceased operations due to the civil war in Rwanda. The
offices of the Central Bureau of the International Map of the World were even bombed during the
Second World War.
The IIA was established in Rome in 1905 mainly as a statistical and scientific body with the
objective to provide authoritative and trustworthy agricultural information to its member states
(Luzzatti, 1906). In 1928, it employed around 135 staff members and was therefore a substantial IO
(Hobson, 1931, p. 98). The IIA operated until around 1939, but there was already a clear decline in
the years prior to the war, particularly after the Ethiopian crisis (see above). The organization
remained dormant during the war and formally dissolved in 1946. The IIA was significantly
sponsored by its host state with the close personal involvement of King Victor Emmanuel III who
originally gave the IIA a budget and a building. The close involvement of the Italy continued until
the end, which included Benito Mussolini taking an interest in the organization. The IIA even
became an instrument of international fascism with links to Nazi Germany (Herren, 2017, pp. 203-
While the IIA closed operations in 1939, during the Second World War, the United Nations Interim
Commission on Food and Agriculture was created in Washington, DC in 1943. This was a newly
founded IO that did not explicitly succeed the IIA (Staples, 2006, pp. 77-79). Given the position of
Italy in the war, it is also not surprising that officials from the Italy-sponsored IIA were not part of
the FAO negotiations and had no agency in the post-war institutions. The original idea was to locate
the to-be-established FAO together with the rest of the UN in New York (Abbott, 1991: chapter 7).
Only when Italy, a couple of years after the war, offered an attractive building and generous terms
(Staples, 2006, p. 96), it was decided that the FAO would be based in Rome from 1951. Two-third
of the staff, however, decided against moving from Washington, DC to Rome (Abbott, 1991,
chapter 7). Eventually the functions and assets of the IIA (the library and archive) were taken over
by the FAO (International Institute of Agriculture, 1946, preamble). The succession of the IIA to
the FAO was not automatic however. The story was similar with many of the other IOs which saw
their operations disrupted due to the war. Newly-founded IOs took over functions, often in different
locations, but there was no real succession.
5. Conditions for institutional stickiness
This article has started off arguing that major IOs tend to be sticky due to three reasons. First, major
IOs carry out important functions as a result of which they cannot be instantly dissolved. Second,
major IOs have institutional assets which make them valuable for their member states. Third, major
IOs will have some agency which they can use to increase their survival chances. This article has
shown that these institutional logics are indeed supported by empirical evidence, as IOs with a large
membership, high institutionalization, or large resources are dissolved considerably less than their
smaller cousins (e.g. Table 1). Nevertheless, the article has also identified 21 outlier cases of major
IOs which have actually died and discussed five case illustrations. This brings us back to the
question what it takes for major IOs to get dissolved.
As an initial observation, the causes of death of major IOs are very varied. Among the five case
illustrations, causes of death include divergence between member states, hegemonic decline,
expired mandates, competition between IOs, and disruption of operations due to war. While these
causes are, of course, related to some of the major IR theories, they also vary so widely making it
virtually impossible for a single theory to explain IO death (cf. Eilstrup-Sangiovanni, 2021). It is
nonetheless fair to say that most major IOs occasionally face serious and existential challenges,
often of an exogenous nature, which requires us to look at the institutional side of things and to
assess why institutional stickiness is not always enough to save major IOs. We thus need to revisit
the institutional logics and define scope conditions.
The first logic notes that major IOs cannot be easily dissolved, since this would leave gaps in global
governance. Negotiating replacement institutions is complex, so member states may stick to the
original IO. Only when institutional arrangements have become too unsuitable, are member states
likely to negotiate a new institutions and dissolve the old ones. This assumes, however, that
dissolved IOs indeed leave gaps and that member states care about those gaps. As the five examples
show, this is not always the case. When mandates expire because they are time-limited or fulfilled,
this logic of gaps in global governance does not hold. The classic liberal explanation of the 'demand
and supply' of IOs (Keohane, 1982) implies that once international problems get solved or
disappear, IOs are dissolved (Park, 2018; Rittberger et al., 2019; Keohane, 1984; Moravcsik, 1993).
The IRO is an example. Secondly, IOs may also be forced out by competition. In such cases, there
is no gap in global governance, because the 'winning IO' takes over the functions, as in the case of
the WEU. Finally, supply and demand also apply to other theories. Hegemonic stability theory, for
instance, links cooperation to (regional) hegemonic powers which sponsor institutions (Gilpin,
1981; Krasner, 1976; Keohane, 1984: pp. 32-39). Once the sponsor is weakened, other member
states may not worry about the remaining gap in governance. The Warsaw Treaty Organization is a
case in point: Even though there were some concerns about a power vacuum, the Central and
Eastern European member states were eventually happy to do without Soviet interference. In other
words, IOs can face a variety of challenges, and if member states do not have to worry about gaps
in global governance, major IOs are at risk.
The second logic concerns institutional assets. A key question, however, is whether they actually
hold value or constitute in fact sunk costs—costs incurred that cannot be recovered. In case assets
are sunk costs, there is no reason why this institutional logic would prevail. Once more, variation in
the challenges that IOs face is important. For instance, in line with the argument made above, when
IOs are under pressure because member states no longer see a cooperation need, their assets are
more likely sunk costs (the command structure of the Warsaw Pact comes to mind). Furthermore, if
an IO faces competition from other IOs, it is questionable whether the institutional assets are indeed
valuable—after all, they did not help the 'losing IO' deliver. Finally, when mandates are fulfilled or
problems disappear, the key question is also exactly how much value the assets have and whether
IOs can be repurposed. NATO is a positive example of continuity as a result of assets, and so is the
OEEC which was transformed into the OECD after the post-war Marshall aid ran out. The assets of
the IRO (refugee camps in Europe) proved less valuable. In other words, institutional assets are not
always valuable, which may affect the longevity of major IOs.
The third logic is that major IOs will have some secretariat agency.Yet this assumes that when
faced with a challenge, IO officials actually have the ability to strategically respond and use their
superior information or that they actually still have authority. This is not always the case. For
instance, if IOs heavily rely on a hegemonic sponsor, the authority of their officials is likely linked
to the fate of the sponsor. Officials working for the Warsaw Treaty Organization, for instance, did
not enjoy a lot of moral authority to say the least, which undermined their chances to drive reform.
The lack of directive leadership by secretariat officials may also be due to contingent factors.
League of Nations staff, for instance, had to evacuate when Switzerland became encircled. WEU
officials were prevented from fighting for survival of their organization, as the EU High
Representative was appointed as WEU Secretary-General. It is therefore clear that even though
secretariat officials can be powerful advocates for their organizations, their agency is not guaranteed
which implies that this institutional logic is neither absolute.
By critically studying cases of IO death, we can thus further refine institutional theory and define
scope conditions, such as the relevance of gaps in global governance, the value of institutional
assets, and the ability of secretariats to respond strategically. In general, institutional theory remains
convincing when explaining the longevity of major IOs. Even in the five cases empirically
discussed, we see some institutional stickiness. After all, the League was ultimately replaced by the
UN, despite the considerable negotiation costs, because the need for collective security had only
been reinforced by the Second World War. Reform negotiations did take place even for the Soviet-
dominated Warsaw Treaty Organization. There was some continuity from the IRO to the UNHCR
against the wishes of the United States. It took a considerable effort to eventually dissolve the
WEU. And the FAO was eventually established in Rome. Nevertheless, such stickiness was not
absolute and by better appreciating the variation in external challenges we can strengthen these
In the context of the current crisis of liberal international order, several scholars have empirically
started studying the death of IOs and they show that IOs are not immortal. The trouble with these
large-N studies is that they hardly distinguish between major and minor IOs. Yet there are good
reasons to assume, based on institutional theory, that major IOs—those with many member states,
high levels of institutionalization, or substantial administrative resources—are a class of their own.
After all, the death of major IOs potentially leaves significant gaps in the global governance
landscape, their considerable institutional assets might be valuable, and secretariat staff might fight
for the survival of their IOs. These theoretical logics are much less relevant for minor IOs, which
may not carry out critical public functions, have only very limited assets, and typically do not have
secretariat agency. Major IOs are therefore likely to be exponentially more sticky than minor IOs.
To complement the recent large-N empirical studies on the death of IOs, this article therefore
wondered what it takes for major IOs to die.
The article has identified 21 major IOs which have died since 1815. The percentage of major IOs
which have died (10%) is, however, considerably smaller than the percentage of minor IOs which
have died (33%). This confirms the institutionalist logics and implies that these 21 major IOs are
outlier cases. The death of a major IO, nevertheless, remains an important event in international
relations and this article has zoomed in on five instances by providing case illustrations on the basis
of secondary literature and official documents. What has become clear is that principal causes of
death vary greatly among these major IOs. Yet the five case illustrations neatly show that there are
limits to institutional stickiness. As a final step, the article has revisited institutional theory. A key
finding is that institutional theory—and institutional stickiness—works differently across the causes
of death. In some instances, states may worry about possible gaps in global governance, they may
consider assets as sunk costs, or secretariat officials may not have the ability to fight for survival.
What do we make of these findings? First, institutional theory is and remains critical to understand
the robustness of IOs. For all the talk of the crisis of liberal international order, particularly by
realists and domestic politics scholars, major IOs tend to be robust and they will likely stick around.
Second, while major IOs do occasionally die we need to pay much more attention to how their
precise causes of death relate to their institutional design. Even within the relatively coherent theory
of realism, for instance, some logics may focus on the divergence of the member states, while
others privilege hegemonic decline, yet both suggest different causal pathways to death. Divergence
of member states does not imply less demand for IOs, whereas hegemonic decline potentially does.
This is important because, third, the causes of death help to explain how the dissolution process
unfolds, including whether major gaps can be left in global governance, whether institutional assets
are valuable, and whether secretariat staff plays a relevant role. To conclude, the interaction
between institutional theory and causes of death needs to be accounted for and further explored.
While these findings qualify discussions on the crisis of liberal international order, they also show
that some major IOs are particularly at risk in case of hegemonic decline—the cause of death where
replacement costs, assets, and secretariat agency seem to play the least important role. The decline
of the United States and rise of China is, in this respect, a reason to be concerned. While real power
transitions are not frequent, and the evidence presented in this article only shows some impact of
the decline of the Soviet Union for IOs, a substantial number of major IOs have been established on
the back of American hegemony. In line with our findings, we would not expect the whole post-war
order to come down, but IOs that are perceived as instruments of American power may be at
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Table A: 21 major international organizations that have died
This table lists all 16 international organizations (IOs) which have died in the COW-IGO v3.0 (dead
minus replacements and integrations) and have more than 50% of states as members (Pevehouse et
al., 2020), a high level of institutionalization (Karreth & Tir, 2013), and 50 or more staff members
(Debre & Dijkstra, 2021). In addition, we have added 5 borderline cases where data were missing or
IOs have been coded as replaced/integration in COW-IGO v3.0 (see justification in the main
article). Brief explanatory notes are provided and all 21 cases are briefly discussed below on the
basis of available sources.
International organization Years Members Institutio
Dead in IGO-COW v3.0
African and Malagasy Coffee
1960-2007 9 High 6
Central American Research Institute
1956-1998 7 Medium 127
Central Bureau of the International
Map of the World
1909-1953 45 No data No data Functions replaced by
the United Nations
Commonwealth Air Transport Council 1945-1991 37 High No data
Council for Mutual Economic Aid 1949-1991 15 Low 2000
European Atomic Energy Community 1958-1992 12 High No data For unclear reasons,
EEC, ECSC and
EURATOM as "dead"
rather than "replaced"
by the EU.
Intergovernmental Bureau for
1974-1988 40 Low 82
International Commission for the
Decennial Revision of the
International Lists of Diseases and
Causes of Death
1900-1948 38 No data No data Functions replaced by
the statistical office of
the World Health
International Commission for the
Protection of the Moselle Against
1963-2004 3 High 2 Unclear why coded as
dead. IO still alive with
a functioning secretariat
in Trier, Germany.
International Office of Public Hygiene 1907-1946 37 No data No data
International Technical Committee of
Legal Experts on Air Questions
1926-1947 33 No data No data Functions replaced by
Legal Committee of the
1964-2001 137 Low 5 ITSO privatized as
Intelsat in 2001, but a
small oversight IO
remains with an annual
assembly and less than a
dozen staff members.
Organization for European Economic
1948-1961 16 No data 1000 Coded as "dead" in
COW IGOv3.0. As
"replaced" in COW
IGOv2.1 by the OECD.
This is a borderline
Organization for the Management and
Development of the Kagera River
1977-2004 4 Low 76
Warsaw Treaty Organization 1955-1991 9 High No data
Western European Union 1955-2011 10 High 60
Borderline cases: missing data or not dead in IGO-COW v3.0
Arab Maghreb Union 1989-2007 5 Medium 50 Alive in COW-
IGOv3.0. Plenary no
longer meets, but
secretariat still exists
International Allied Rhineland High
1919-1934 5 No data No data No data, but evidence of
with substantial staff
International Institute of Agriculture 1905-1946 48 No data 50 Coded as replaced by
FAO in COW-IGOv3.0.
Around 135 staff in
1928 (Hobson 1931:
International Refugee Organization 1946-1952 23 No data No data Nearly 2900
international staff in
1949 (Hobson 1956: 99)
League of Nations 1919-1946 57 No data 158 Coded as replaced by
UN in COW-IGOv3.0
Notes on all major international organizations that have died
This annex includes brief descriptions of the principal causes of death of the different IOs, which
are summarized in Table A above. Primary and secondary sources are provided to give further
transparency on how the coding decisions were informed.
African and Malagasy Coffee Organization
The African and Malagasy Coffee Organization (OAMCAF) was established in 1960 to promote
francophone coffee producing countries. It was based in Paris with an office in London to represent
the membership within the International Coffee Organization (ICO) as a single member. Within the
OAMCAF, Ivory Coast had long been the largest coffee producing country, also holding majority
of the coffee quota within OAMCAF while ICO still operated with a quota system. The
productivity of OAMCAF members remained very low (African Research Bulletin, 2007, p. 25).
Ivory Coast thus left the OAMCAF in 2005 and took its own seat in the ICO (International Coffee
Organization 2005a). Almost immediately afterwards, OAMCAF itself stopped being a member of
the ICO (International Coffee Organization 2005b) and was liquidated in May 2007. Madagascar
and Cameroon took the initiative to study "another cooperation structure" (African Research
Bulletin, 2007, p. 25). This resulted in the creation of a new private organization, l’Agence des
Cafés Robustas d’Afrique et de Madagascar (ACRAM), which would continue with the overall
mission to promote robusta coffee (GabonEco, 2008). Ivory Coast is not part of ACRAM and
ACRAM is based in Gabon rather than Paris. The mandate, membership and headquarters location
is therefore different.
Arab Maghreb Union
The Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) was founded in 1989 as a community-type institution to
"reinforcing the bonds of fraternity" (Hooghe et al., 2017), focusing on establishing a customs
union between the five Maghreb countries. The AMU has, however, suffered from the not-directly-
related Algerian-Moroccan rivalry going back to the Sand Wars of 1963 (Hernando de Larramendi,
2019), most notably over the situation over the Western Sahara where Algeria has supported the
Polisario liberation movement. While the Heads of State met regularly in the initial years, the 1994
terrorist attacks for which Morocco blamed Algeria resulted in permanent border closing and
strained diplomatic relations such as the discontinuation of the AMU summit (Brussels
International Center, 2019, p. 3; Zoubir, 2012 list also other reasons including Algerian civil war
and Libya sanctions). The last ministerial meeting took place in 2007, but the AMU Secretariat still
operates in Morocco.
Central American Research Institute for Industry
The ICAITI was created by five Central American states in 1956 for the development of
technologies, standardization, and consultancy related to geology and raw materials. While an
independent institute, it was related to the other institutions in the Central American Common
Market set up from the late-1950s (Wardlaw, 1969, pp. 2-6). The ICAITI derived the large majority
of its budget from contracted services (Blackledge 1985: 75), including to private industry, rather
than its member states. It was based in Guatemala and mostly benefited this host state (ibid.: 75-76;
World Bank 2005: 122). In the mid-1990s, the organization essentially went bankrupt due to
mismanagement, a lack of clientele, and ultimately a lack of political support by the member states
(Remiro Brotons, 2003: 147-148). It was dissolved in 1998.
Central Bureau of the International Map of the World
Towards the end of the 19th century there was an increasing scientific desire for uniform mapping
of the world. While discussions took place at scientific conferences, the British government invited
government representatives in 1909 and adopted resolutions on some of the standards for maps to
be produced. This resulted in the establishment of a Central Bureau in Southampton. The Bureau
could not function during the First World War, but produced a considerable number of maps during
the interbellum even though the United States did not participate (Rugg, 1951; Pearson et al., 2006).
During the Second World War, the work of the bureau came to a standstill and its offices were
bombed (Rugg, 1951; US State Department, 1950, p. 109). The use of world maps increased by
various national military authorities raising the question of what to do with the Central Bureau after
the war. Membership after the war became also "hypothetical" as only four members paid
subscription (US State Department, 1950, p. 100). Furthermore, the organization seemed no longer
fit for purpose. For instance, it was only producing land maps, whereas commercial aviation also
needed maps of the sea. The United Nations Cartographic Office took over the function of mapping
the world (Pearson, 2015).
Commonwealth Air Transport Council
The development of the CATC paralleled the Commonwealth, which became increasingly diverse
and less cohesive from the 1950s (Mackenzie, 1993, p. 119). While it was revived in 1965, but
discussions had moved from what was a British-focused IO to more general concerns on North-
South relations as was also the case in the Commonwealth. By 1987, the UK suggested disbanding
the organization which seemed to have outlived its purpose. Many aviation questions where then
already dealt with in the ICAO (Mackenzie, 1993, p. 120). A committee was set up to consider the
CATC mandate, but members were no longer paying their dues and the UK informed the rest of the
membership that it would close the organization in 1991 (Mackenzie, 1993, p. 121).
Council for Mutual Economic Aid
The Council for Mutual Economic Aid (COMECON) was the Soviet answer to the Marshall Plan.
Besides the Soviet Union and its European satellite states, it also included also non-European
countries: Cuba, Mongolia, and Vietnam. COMECON largely regulated trade, via the planned-
economy model, between the Soviet Union and the other member states. From 1988, under
Perestroika and the liberalization efforts, COMECON member states were allowed to negotiate
alternative trade relations with the European Community. COMECON came, however, to a rapid
end following the 1989 events and the "shock therapy" that included market transformation and
privatization. Furthermore with the German re-unification, it became clear that trade with East
Germany would be in hard currency. Similarly, the Soviet Union announced that from January
1991, it would only accept hard currency for its exports, thereby ending subsidized trading for the
Central and Eastern European member states (Stone, 1997, p. 227). As a result, intra-COMECON
trade dropped by as much as 50% (Greenhouse, 1991). COMECON was dissolved in June 1991.
European Atomic Energy Community
The European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM) was established in 1957. While a separate
IO with its own treaty, its institutions (such as the European Atomic Energy Commission) were
merged with those of the European Economic Community and the European Coal and Steel
Community in the 1967 Merger Treaty resulting in the European Communities. EURATOM is
coded as "dead" (Pevehouse et al., 2020) instead of "replaced" by the European Union in 1992. It is
not clear why.
International Allied Rhineland High Commission
The Rhineland Commission was a temporary civilian body governing the occupied German
Rhineland following the entry into force of the Treaty of Versailles in 1920. The Treaty allowed for
occupation of certain areas for 5, 10 and 15 years (Article 429). The Commission had strong legal
powers (see Ireton, 1923 for legal details) and became an instrument of French influence. In the
early-1920s, for France this included weakening ties between the Rhineland and the rest of the
Germany including by establishing tariffs, evicting Prussian civil servants, and even suggesting a
separate currency (Jeanneson, 2005, p. 482). When Germany defaulted on its reparations, France
and Belgium also occupied the Ruhr region without British consent. The Rhineland Commission
furthermore seized all government property and took over taxation (McDougall, 1978, p. 255). The
United States, being an informal member of the Commission, left in 1923 following the withdrawal
of American troops. The Dawes Plan of 1924, which revisited the German reparation payments,
resulted eventually in the withdrawal of France and Belgium from the Ruhr area and it severely
weakened the Rhineland Commission (Reynolds, 1928, pp. 210-211). By 1929, agreement was
reached on the premature evacuation of armies from the Rhineland, which also resulted in the
Commission wrapping up operations in 1930 (Pawley, 2007).
International Commission for the Decennial Revision of the International Lists of Diseases and
Causes of Death
Increasing statistical work in public health resulted in a French-sponsored international conference
to define diseases and causes of death. The conference met five times between 1900 and 1938 in
Paris in order to revise the list. The conference was administered by the International Statistical
Institute (ISI) in Paris which ceased operations during the Second World War (Campion, 1949, p.
115). During the fifth conference it was suggested that the United States would take the work
forward, which it did during the Second World War. The newly established World Health
Organization (WHO) also became involved and co-hosted the sixth conference in Paris in 1948
during which it was decided that future work on the list would be done by the statistical offices of
the WHO (WHO, n.d.).
International Commission for the Protection of the Moselle Against Pollution
The International Commission for the Protection of the Moselle Against Pollution was created by
France, Germany and Luxembourg in 1963 for the protection against pollution through research,
studies and action (Peaslee, 1976, p. 423). Its activities are now grouped with other treaties on the
Moselle and the Saar. Since 1991, following the 1990 supplementary protocol, a joint secretariat in
Trier supports these Commissions. The Yearbook of International Organizations has not received
an update since 2004, which is probably the reason why Pevehouse et al. (2020) code this IO as
dead, but updates are available for the other IOs and the IO has a functioning secretariat and
website. It is also not clear why this IO is included in COW-IGO, but for instance the Convention
on the Canalization of the Moselle (October 27, 1956), which forms the (institutional) basis for this
particular IO, is not included. In any event, this IO is included in Table 2 only because of its high
level of institutionalization, the coding of which is based on the adjudication procedure (Tribunal)
under the Convention on the Canalization of the Moselle (Articles 58-60).
International Institute for Agriculture
[SEE MAIN ARTICLE]
International Office of Public Hygiene
This international organization was set up in 1907 and based in Paris. Its focus was largely confined
to data collection. It was complemented after the First World War by the League of Nations Health
Organization (LNHO). Both international organizations cooperated in the interbellum. During the
Second World War, the position of the OIHP was compromised due to collaboration with Nazi
Germany, even though the OIHP continued some of its activities. While some staff from the OIHP
advocated after the war for the OIHP to continue next to the WHO (Youde, 2018, pp. 60-61; Sharp,
1947), the United States insisted on dissolving it and replacing it by new institutions (Cueto et al.,
2019, p. 36, 45). This also applied to the LNHO, which "League of Nations" label did not fit with
American priorities (see League of Nations case description in main article). The WHO took over
various functions from the LNHO and absorbed some assets of OIHP such as library and archive
(Cueto et al., 2019, p. 46). It also employed some of the key staff members (Howard-Jones, 1978).
International Refugee Organization
[SEE MAIN ARTICLE]
International Technical Committee of Legal Experts on Air Questions
As aviation developed in the early 20th century various legal questions came up with regard to
private law including liability in case of air accidents. To counter the risk that all states would
develop their own policies, it was recommended by the League of Nations to set up a conference
and subsequently an international organization to deal with this new issue area (Ide, 1932;
Wilberforce, 1947). International Technical Committee of Legal Experts on Air Questions
(CITEJA) organised several conferences until its work got disrupted by the Second World War. The
establishment of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in 1944 put into question
CITEJA, and while CITEJA briefly suggested to remain a separate organization during its first post-
war assembly in January 1946, the creation of a Permanent Committee on International Air Law
within ICAO in 1947 meant the dissolution of CITEJA (ICAO, n.d.).
International Telecommunications Satellite Organization
International Telecommunications Satellite Organization (ITSO) was established in 1964, inspired
by a General Assembly resolution that satellite communication should be available to all countries
on a global and non-discriminatory basis, including the launch and management of commercial
satellites. The initial was very much American and the initial membership included a dozen of
mostly Western member states, but this increased significantly during the early-1970s with many
countries outside the Soviet block joining as well and 140+ members in the 1990s. Following the
end of the Cold War, there was an increased interest in the privatization including pressure by US
operators to end the monopoly position of ITSO (Frieden, 1994). ITSO was privatized in 2001 with
Intelsat (which was the operational branch of ITSO) sold off (Feder, 2001). ITSO remained a
separate IO (contrary to COW-IGO) to provide public oversight of Intelsat, along the established
principles of non-discrimination etc, but it only kept a small secretariat and an annual plenary
meeting (Katkin, 2005).
Intergovernmental Bureau for Informatics
In 1951, UNESCO adopted the Convention for the Establishment of the International Computing
Center. However, as industrialized had their own facilities and developing countries did not see
immediate advantages, it took a long time until the Intergovernmental Bureau for Informatics (IBI)
started operating (Pohle, 2013). While grown out of UNESCO, the IBI had its own membership
consisting mainly of developing countries as well as France, Italy, and Spain, its own institutions,
and its own budget. As informatics grew more important, IBI leadership pushed for IBI to become
an agency for developing countries in the area of informatics (Pohle, 2013). IBI's mission became
even more profound in the early-1980s, inspired by the New International Economic Order, with a
focus on "fighting against Western dominance in the production and utilization of computer
technology" (Pohle, 2013, pp. 8-9). UNESCO, which had in the meantime also carved out a role for
itself in informatics, took a much more moderate stance, also considering the membership of the
United States. There was furthermore fear on the side of UNESCO that IBI would try to increase its
role by becoming a UN agency (Pohle, 2013, pp. 10-11). UNESCO thus launched its own program
in 1986 covered under the UNESCO budget. This program was particularly interesting for France,
which soon took a leadership role and withdrew from IBI. Italy and Spain followed leaving IBI with
little budget. IBI was dissolved in 1988.
League of Nations
[SEE MAIN ARTICLE]
Organization for European Economic Cooperation
The OEEC was established in Paris in 1948 tasked to administer American aid of the Marshall Plan.
While the OEEC only had Western European countries (and Turkey) as members, the United States
closely cooperated with the OEEC. After the Marshall Plan ran out in the early 1950s, the OEEC
continued to play a lead role in European as well as transatlantic economic cooperation. From the
mid-1950s, it increasingly became less clear what the remaining rationale of the OECD was. After
all, the IMF was addressing monetary stability and the GATT trade liberation. But the biggest
challenge came from the European Economic Community established in 1958. Particularly the
Benelux countries considered that trade liberalization within the OEEC did not go fast enough
(Griffiths, 1997, p. 236). The creation of the European Economic Community (EEC) then resulted
in a divide between the six EEC member states and their customs union versus the remaining seven
other OEEC members. Negotiations therefore started on a OEEC free trade agreement. These
negotiations proved complex and ultimately failed, also due to the return of De Gaulle in France
(Griffiths, 1997, pp. 237-240). With the understanding that France wanted to "kill the OEEC
altogether" (as cited in Griffiths, 199 p. 244), the United States led negotiations to repurpose the
OEEC, ultimately into the OECD in charge of coordinating economic aid for underdeveloped
countries (Hahn, 1962).
Organization for the Management and Development of the Kagera River
The Organization for the Management and Development of the Kagera River (KBO) was created in
1977, as a reaction to the collapse of the East African Community, to deal with all activities around
the Kagera River Basin—from hydropower to agriculture, transport, and wildlife conservation
(article 2 of Treaty). The activities of the KBO came to a halt when the Rwandan genocide broke
out resulting in the cancellation of plenary meetings (Mbaziira et al. 2005). Ugandan, Burundian,
and Tanzanian secretariat staff were evacuated from Kigali and did not return ("Tanzania willing to
continue," 1994; "Uganda; Apathy Finally Kills," 2001). This was essentially the end of the IO,
which could no longer recover institutionally and financially. While Rwanda continued to pay its
fees, the other member states refused to continue to pay the Kigali secretariat ("Uganda; Apathy
Finally Kills," 2001). The KBO was dissolved in 2004.
Warsaw Treaty Organization
[SEE MAIN ARTICLE]
Western European Union
[SEE MAIN ARTICLE]
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