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Donald Trump and the survival strategies of international organisations: when can institutional actors counter existential challenges?


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The Trump administration posed an unprecedented challenge to many international organisations (IOs). This article analyses the ability of IOs to respond and explains variation in the survival strategies pursued by their institutional actors. It argues that leadership, organisational structure, competences and external networks affect whether institutional actors can formulate and implement responses to existential challenges. Providing evidence from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and World Trade Organisation (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 United States withdrawal from the Paris Agreement to be inevitable and focused on preventing further withdrawals through coalitions with non-state actors. WTO officials lacked the leadership and organisational structure to formulate a strategic response.
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Donald Trump and the survival strategies of
international organisations: when can institutional
actors counter existential challenges?
Hylke Dijkstra, Laura von Allwörden, Leonard A. Schuette & Giuseppe
To cite this article: Hylke Dijkstra, Laura von Allwörden, Leonard A. Schuette & Giuseppe
Zaccaria (2022): Donald Trump and the survival strategies of international organisations: when can
institutional actors counter existential challenges?, Cambridge Review of International Affairs, DOI:
To link to this article:
© 2022 The Author(s). Published by Informa
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Donald Trump and the survival strategies of
international organisations: when can institutional actors
counter existential challenges?
Hylke Dijkstra , Laura von Allw
orden , Leonard A. Schuette
and Giuseppe Zaccaria
Maastricht University
Abstract The Trump administration posed an unprecedented challenge to many
international organisations (IOs). This article analyses the ability of IOs to respond
and explains variation in the survival strategies pursued by their institutional actors. It
argues that leadership, organisational structure, competences and external networks
affect whether institutional actors can formulate and implement responses to existential
challenges. Providing evidence from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO),
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and World
Trade Organisation (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 United States withdrawal from
the Paris Agreement to be inevitable and focused on preventing further withdrawals
through coalitions with non-state actors. WTO officials lacked the leadership and
organisational structure to formulate a strategic response.
Donald TrumpsAmerica Firstapproach was one of the biggest challenges to
the liberal international order since the end of the Cold War. Under his administra-
tion, the United States (US) left the Paris Agreement on climate change, reneged on
the Iran nuclear deal, quit the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural
Organisation (UNESCO), set in motion a process of exiting the World Health
Organisation (WHO), obstructed the appointment of the new Director-General
for the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and blocked judges for its Appellate
Body, sanctioned the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and
put the future of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in serious doubt.
There is no shortage of scholarship discussing this populist assault on the
liberal international order and international organisations (IOs) in particular
We would like to thank Thomas Conzelmann, Maria Debre, Andrea Liese, Sophie Vanhoonacker,
Esther Versluis, the participants in the Final Conference of the DFG Research Group on International
Public Administration (1819 March 2021) and the anonymous reviewers and editors of the Cambridge
Review of International Affairs for important feedback which has made our article stronger.
#2022 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution
License (, which permits unrestricted use,
distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 2022
(Copelovitch and Pevehouse 2019;Lake,Martin,andRisse2021;DeVries,
Hobolt, and Walter 2021). America First presented an acute crisis for IOs as
the most powerful state questioned both the need for international cooper-
ation and the capability of IOs to supply it. In contrast, we know less about
how IOs and their institutional actorsIO leaders and their bureaucracies
have tried to cope with and counter existential challenges. This is surprising
as IOs are typically considered long-lasting institutions and their bureauc-
racies have a key interest in their survival (Keohane 1984;Strange1998;
Ikenberry 1999;Chorev2012; Jupille, Mattli, and Snidal 2013). To better
understand the state of the crisis of the liberal international order and IOs,
we should therefore not only consider the challengers but also their defend-
ers. This article therefore analyses to what extent the institutional actors of
IOs had the ability to formulate a response and fend off the challenge posed
by Trump.
This article argues that not all IOs have similar abilities to respond to con-
testation. Institutional actors within IOs may not recognise the challenge and
the corresponding need to formulate a strategy, or have the prowess to imple-
ment a response. Even if they have considerable resources, much depends on
the strength of their leadership, organisational structure, formal competences
and external networks. Providing evidence from three IOs and 67 interviews,
this article shows that different IOs varied in their ability to pursue survival
strategies during the Trump administration. NATO officials publicly leveraged
the challenge to increase burden-sharing among allies while quietly shielding
the alliance from Trumps position on Russia. Officials from the United
Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) considered US
withdrawal from the Paris Agreement to be inevitable and focused on prevent-
ing further withdrawals through coalitions with non-state actors. WTO officials
lacked leadership and organisational structure to formulate a response and did
little to save the Appellate Body from becoming defunct.
These findings provide new insights on the resilience of IOs. At a theoret-
ical level, we are only starting to understand IO responses to existential chal-
lenges (cf. Strange 1998; Gray 2018; Debre and Dijkstra 2021; Morais de Sa e
Silva 2021; Hirschmann 2021; Dijkstra and Debre 2022). This article opens up
the black boxof IO responses to contestation by paying careful attention to
the varying abilities of institutional actors to stand up for the survival of their
organisations. As such, this article adds to the literature on international public
administration (Knill and Bauer 2016; Eckhard and Ege 2016), which is thus far
restricted to IO responses to external pressures on policy questions (Chorev
2012; see also Barnett and Coleman 2005; Weaver 2008) rather than existential
challenges. Empirically, the article contributes to how IOs have responded to
contestation by the US. Most research on IO responses to contestation, includ-
ing by the American president, remains based on single case studies.
Hopewell (2021a,2021b) and Zaccaria (2022), for instance, focus on the WTO,
while Sperling and Webber (2019) and Schuette (2021a) gauge NATO
responses. Comparative analyses, however, are rare (Heinkelmann-Wild and
Jankauskas 2022; Kruck et al. 2022).
This article starts by outlining why institutional actors are important to the
survival of IOs and may have the ability to strategically respond. It continues
with three case studies on burden-sharing and Russia policy in NATO, the
2Hylke Dijkstra et al.
Paris Agreement of the UNFCCC and the appointment of judges to the WTO
Appellate Body. The conclusion compares the findings and reflects on their
implications for the study of IOs more broadly.
Ability of IO actors to respond to existential challenges
It has long been established that IO institutional actorsIO leaders and their
bureaucracieshave agency. Most research tends to distinguish between
executive heads of IOs such as Secretary-Generals or Director-Generals, whose
agency is based on political leadership (e.g. Kille and Scully 2003; Hall and
Woods 2018; Heinzel 2022), and the agency of civil servants as part of the
international public administration (e.g. Barnett and Finnemore 2004; Biermann
and Siebenh
uner 2009; Eckhard and Ege 2016). When we speak of institutional
actors, we therefore combine both strands of literature on political leadership
and bureaucratic agency. We know in this respect how institutional actors
develop their IOs over time, expand their scope, engage in policy-making, but
also how they sometimes implement policies at odds with their mandates. In
this article, we focus instead on existential challenges, which potentially trigger
different IO behaviours. We define existential challenges as challenges that put
IOs at risk of no longer being able to effectively carry out some of their core func-
tions. Existential challenges may result in dissolution (Eilstrup-Sangiovanni
2020; Debre and Dijkstra 2021), but may also turn IOs into zombiesby ren-
dering core function(s) obsolete and/or limiting their relevance to international
relations (Gray 2018; Debre and Dijkstra 2022).
Existential challenges to IOs come in many different shapes and forms and
Donald Trump and his administration posed a particular kind of challenge.
Uniquely, he questioned both the demand for cooperation (with his focus on
America Firstand his general denial of cross-border cooperation problems)
and the supply of cooperation by IOs (by accusing them of inefficiencies) (cf.
Keohane 1982; Dijkstra and Debre 2022). This was more fundamental than
other types of contestations that focus on either the demand or supply sides of
cooperation, for instance states demanding stronger representation or pressure
groups demanding different policy outcomes. Furthermore, while the origins
of Trumpism remain a matter of debate and while international cooperation
has long said to be in gridlock (Hale, Held, and Young 2013) and left behind
the era of permissive consensus(Hooghe and Marks 2009), the challenge
posed by Donald Trump to IOs posed an acute crisis rather than a creeping cri-
sis with a long incubation time(t Hart and Boin 2001; Boin, Ekengren, and
Rhinard 2021). America First triggered a sense of emergency for IOs which
opened opportunities for exceptional behaviour (cf. Kreuder-Sonnen 2019).
The most striking aspect of the existential challenge posed by Donald
Trump and his administration was the fact that it came from the country
which had been most important in setting up the postwar international institu-
tions and had supported them throughout the decades as a hegemon, but was
now challenging the foundations of liberal international order. This challenge
from within(Heinkelmann-Wild, Kruck, and Daßler 2021; cf. Kruck et al.
2022) was not just a surprise when considering how international institutions
are generally seen as a continuation of American power (Ikenberry 2001), but
being openly contested by the most powerful state in the international system
Donald Trump and the survival strategies of international organisations 3
also presents a formidable challenge for any IO. In other words, Donald
Trump was a unique character, but his policy of America First presented a key
assault on IOs by a hegemonic power and challenged both the need for
cooperation and the ability of IOs to supply it.
This challenge by Donald Trump and the general crisis of liberal order is
well-documented in the literature, but we also know that international institu-
tions (including IOs) tend to be sticky despite existential challenges (Keohane
1984; Strange 1998; Ikenberry 1999; Chorev 2012; Jupille, Mattli, and Snidal
2013; Dijkstra and Debre 2022). Some member states benefit from the cooper-
ation facilitated by IOs and risk losses as a result of the challenges posed by
Trump. In addition institutional actors are likely to fight for survival (Strange
1998). The combination of institutional actors and supporting member states
can present a powerful coalition.
As Kaufman (1976, 9) notes about public
agencies facing termination, [t]hey are not helpless, passive pawns in the
game of politics as it affects their lives; they are active, energetic, persistent
participants. Indeed, Gray (2018) and Debre and Dijkstra (2021) show that the
autonomy and staff size of institutional actors affect the longevity of IOs. Yet
even with such latent resources, a strategic response is not a given (Chorev
2012,2841). Institutional actors should be able to recognise the challenge on
time, pick an appropriate strategic response out of a range of available options,
and implement the response. This is a tall order as bureaucracies often incline
towards inertia (Barnett and Finnemore 2004; Weaver 2008; Bayerlein, Knill,
and Steinebach 2020). It is thus important to further investigate the ability of
institutional actors to change their fortunes.
There are many potential response options. As a starting point it is critical
to distinguish between the responses by IOs as a whole and the responses by
the institutional actors within those IOs. With regard to the level of IOs,
Hirschmann (2021) usefully notes that IOs can try to adapt and give in to the
demands of contesting actors or try to resist these pressures and increase their
resilience (or do nothing due to inertia). Adaptation and resistance can be
done through behavioural and discursive strategies (Hirschmann 2021; Tallberg
and Z
urn 2019; Heinkelmann-Wild and Jankauskas 2022). When we combine
adaptation and resistance with the behavioural and discursive strategies, we
can usefully identify four types of survival strategies. Importantly, these differ-
ent survival strategies are however not mutually exclusive. IOs can be accom-
modating and sympathetic in public but quietly resist meaningful behavioural
change. Furthermore, IOs can adapt in some issue areas, while resisting pres-
sures for change in other issue areas.
It is worth presenting the tools that underpin these four types of survival
strategies at the level of the institutional actors themselves. Institutional actors
can initiate reforms and facilitate compromise between the contesting state and
the rest of the member states (adapt;behavioural). They can use their formal
competences, such as agenda management and policy implementation, and/or
build coalitions with like-minded member states and non-state actors (resist;
Responses by other member states are important, but they often take their cues from the
institutional actors and work in tandem with institutional actors (see also further below on
networks). See for instance Walter (2021), Jurado, Le
on, and Walter (2022) and Schuette (2021b)on
Brexit, and particularly the NATO and UNFCCC empirical case studies later.
4Hylke Dijkstra et al.
behavioural). They can use discursive strategies, including through public rela-
tions (PR) departments, to placate contesting states (adapt;discursive) or frame
issues and engage in public relations (resist;discursive). Institutional actors thus
play a central role in IO responses (Hirschmann 2021; Tallberg and Z
urn 2019;
Heinkelmann-Wild and Jankauskas 2022; Ecker-Ehrhardt 2018; Dellmuth and
Tallberg 2021). Among these options, there are trade-offs that need to be
weighed. Walter and her co-authors (De Vries, Hobolt, and Walter 2021;
Jurado, Le
on, and Walter 2022), for instance, suggest an accommodation
dilemmawhere IOs need to be considerate to demands by powerful member
states while attending to contradictory demands by other member states and
ensuring that cooperation does not erode.
While the existing literature has usefully pointed at the range of potential
response options for institutional actors within IOs, it has insufficiently consid-
ered that not all options may be available to all institutional actors. This article
indeed argues that institutional actors vary in their ability to pursue survival
strategies. We need to consider the strengths and characteristics of the institu-
tional actors themselves to understand different responses to the Trump chal-
lenge. We rely, in this respect, on key explanations that are widely present in
the literature (cf. Biermann and Siebenh
uner 2009; Abbott et al. 2015; Tallberg
et al. 2013; Hooghe et al. 2017). We consider the institutional actors and their
structure, their position within their IOs, and their position outside IOs. We
study four variables: the strength of leadership of institutional actors (cross-cut-
ting), the degree of centralisation in the organisational structure (within institu-
tional actors), formal competences of institutional actors (within the IO), and the
strength of external networks of institutional actors (outside the IO). These four
variables provide a comprehensive picture of the ability of institutional actors
to respond: in the absence of all four, a strategic response is unlikely; with
their presence, institutional actors are likely to craft a survival strategy. If insti-
tutional actors score high on some variables and low on others, they are likely
to have a limited range of available survival strategies.
Institutional actors need leadership to recognise challenges and formulate
and implement responses. Leaders fulfil multiple roles: within the institutional
actors themselves, within their IO and toward the external world (Mathiason
2007,7682). Biermann and Siebenh
uner (2009, 344) find that strong leaders,
defined as charismatic, visionary, and popular, as well as flexible and reflex-
ivecorrelate with autonomous external influence across nine environmental
case studies. Leadership is not guaranteed and institutional actors across virtu-
ally all IOs have seen stronger and weaker leadership (e.g. Kille and Scully
2003; Hendrickson 2006; Chesterman 2007; Park and Weaver 2012; see also
Moravcsik 1999). Hall and Woods (2018) show that IO leaders face consider-
able constraints, including legal-political, bureaucratic and resources con-
straints. IO leaders also vary in how they maintain external relations (Gronau
and Schmidtke 2016, 542546). With strong leadership therefore, institutional
actors are more likely to make pro-active choices about survival strategies.
Leadership also allows for behavioural strategies, such as creating compromise
among the membership to adapt or resist challenges, as well as discursive
strategies through public responses and framing. Without strong leadership,
survival strategies by institutional actors are more likely post hoc and inconsist-
ent, if at all present.
Donald Trump and the survival strategies of international organisations 5
The organisational structure concerns the bureaucracies of institutional actors
themselves. Only when institutional actors can strategically leverage the full
weight of their resources (including budgets and staff) are they able to with-
stand existential pressures. Institutional actors are oftentimes complex agents
(Elsig 2011). Graham (2014), for instance, shows that fragmentation within the
WHO helps to explain performance: the WHO headquarters in Geneva did
not control its regional or country office hinterlands(p. 367; cf. Bayerlein,
Knill, and Steinebach 2020). At the same time, organisational structures can
also be designed to promote responsiveness. Schuette (2021b) details how the
European Commission set up a high-level task force on top of its regular bur-
eaucracy to provide a strong response to Brexit. Biermann and Siebenh
(2009, 341342) highlight hierarchical flexibility and structures for institutional
learning. It thus matters whether institutional actors have integrated bureauc-
racies with clear reporting lines or a fragmented collection of autonomous
units. Particularly in crisis situations, command and control is important. We
expect that a responsive organisational structure enables survival strategies,
whereas a fragmented structure will limit strategies due to internal resistance.
The organisational structure can, in this respect, facilitate or inhibit behavioural
adaptation strategies and also affect the effectiveness of bureaucratic resist-
ance strategies.
Formal competences are a starting point to understand what institutional
actors can achieve within the IO (e.g. Hooghe et al. 2017). While various schol-
ars have shown that institutional actors also develop authority beyond formal
competences (Barnett and Finnemore 2004; see also Hurd 1999; Liese et al.
2021), formal competences are important for institutional actors when address-
ing existential challenges. If institutional actors have agenda-setting powers
(Tallberg 2003,2010), they cannot only put forward proposals for behavioural
adaptation, but are also more likely expected to spearhead responses to chal-
lengers. Not all competences are relevant. Of interest are the opportunities that
institutional actors have in the policy-process to pursue their survival strat-
egies; whether they have institutional ways to help the organisation adapt to
new realities or resisting pressures on the IO. In the case of limited formal
competences however, we expect that institutional actors will develop a more
muted survival strategy or no strategy at all, since they have not been given
the authority to respond for the IO.
The embeddedness of institutional actors in external networks affects their
ability to mobilise support in the environment surrounding IOs.
(2017) notes that institutional actors rarely have sufficient authority to take on
major member states, such as the US and Trump. Yet they can rely on support
beyond the immediate walls of their institutions. They have a central position
and are often the main contact point for external actors, which they may
orchestrate into supporting their survival strategies (Abbott et al. 2015; Hale
and Roger 2014; Hickmann and Els
asser 2020). There are a variety of different
actors that institutional actors can potentially rely on. First, they can engage
the help of other (major) states which can be co-opted into a united front.
The boundaries of IOs are not always clear as many actors surround IOs. We focus here on
mobilizing support from actors outside the context of the plenary meetings and executive bodies
of IOs.
6Hylke Dijkstra et al.
Second, they can engage with domestic actors within the US itself, including
like-minded actors in the government, Congress and sub-state actors. Third,
they can make strategic use of non-governmental organisations which have
increasing access to IOs (Sending and Neumann 2006; Tallberg et al. 2013). IOs
and their institutional actors do vary in their degree of permeability (Hawkins
and Jacoby 2006). We expect that institutional actors with a strong external net-
work will focus on building a coalition in the surroundings of the IO, whereas
IOs lacking a network will be more constrained and circumspect in their sur-
vival strategies.
Institutional actors have considerable agency when dealing with existential
challenges. While the key role played by international actors is recognised, it is
less clear when these institutional actors can craft convincing survival strat-
egies. Institutional actors need to strategically choose within the range of avail-
able options. This section has highlighted four variables, including the strength
and characteristics of the leadership, organisational structure, formal compe-
tences and options to mobilise support, all of which are likely to affect the IOs
available survival strategies. The remainder of this article analyses how these
variables affected the ability of institutional actors to respond to the America
First challenge by Trump.
Research design and methodology
As noted in the introduction, Trump and his administration represented a
challenge to many IOs. This article studies and compares three case studies.
NATO, UNFCCC and WTO are prominent and task-specific IOs with relatively
narrow scopes (collective defence, climate action and free trade, respectively)
(Hooghe et al. 2017).
This makes it straightforward to identify existential chal-
lenges that put core functions at risk. All three IOs faced an existential chal-
lenge, the outcomes of which were not predetermined. Indeed, the challenges
posed by Trump against these three IOs were among the strongest against any
IO. He repeatedly threatened to pull out of them, actively questioned their
rationale, and undermined their operations. Trump was close to leaving
NATO and refused to endorse Article 5 on collective defence, withdrew the
US from the Paris Agreement, and rendered the WTO Appellate Body inoper-
able. Against the definition of existential challenge, there was clearly a risk for
all three IOs to the extent that they could no longer carry out some of their
core functions. By comparing these case studies, we seek to come to more gen-
eralisable insights because as noted, Trump also challenged other IOs such as
the ICC, UNESCO and the WHO.
For each case study, we first identify the challenge posed by Trump and
his administration before analysing how (if at all) the institutional actors
responded to the existential challenges. Subsequently, we discuss the four vari-
ables (leadership, organisational structure, formal competences and external
Hooghe et al. (2017) distinguish between task-specific IOs with a narrow scope and general
purpose IOs with a wide scope. NATO and the WTO have a mandate that covers, respectively 2/
25 and 3/25 coded policy areas, which makes them very narrow in scope. Hooghe et al. (2017)do
not include the UNFCCC, but the UNFCCC likewise only covers 3/25 coded policies
(environment; development; research).
Donald Trump and the survival strategies of international organisations 7
network) to see how they affected the menu of options that institutional actors
had at their disposal for formulating and implementing a survival strategy.
We show, in this respect, significant variation across the cases: While NATO
institutional actors score high on each of the variables, the institutional actors
of the WTO score low, with the institutional actors of the UNFCCC scoring
somewhere in the middle. The comparative analysis therefore allows us to
highlight variation in the ability of institutional actors to formulate and imple-
ment responses to Trump.
Data for the four variables are available from official documents and pub-
licly available sources as well as the secondary literature. To analyse precisely
how institutional actors responded to Trump and how responses were condi-
tioned by these four variables, our empirical analysis is based on 67 interviews
with staff from the secretariats of these IOs, key member state officials (includ-
ing from the Trump administration) and experts (conducted between March
2020 and April 2021). The list of interviews is included in the online appendix.
Interviewees were selected largely on the basis of their official functions.
Interviews were semi-structured in that respondents were asked to revisit the
existential challenge posed by Trump and subsequently provide a step-by-step
account of the response by the institutional actors. These interview data were
triangulated with official documents, newspaper articles, policy reports and
the secondary literature. From the interview data we also link the different
variables to the survival strategies chosen.
The purpose is thus to highlight variation in the ability of institutional
actors to respond, not to link responses by institutional actors to eventual out-
comes for IOs. While we witness a strong correlation between the actions of
the institutional actors and the fate of their IOs (NATO has survived Trump;
the UNFCCC has contained the damage; the WTO Appellate Body remains
defunct), it is not always straightforward to measure the exact causal influence
of institutional actors. After all, they may use indirect channels via their exter-
nal networks or opt for subtle influence. The analysis therefore focuses on the
variation in the ability of institutional actors to formulate and implement sur-
vival strategies.
Institutional actors and IO responses to Donald Trump
NATO: burden-sharing and Russia
Trumps contestation of NATO posed an existential challenge questioning both
the demand for NATO and the supply of collective defence by NATO. First,
Trump advocated rapprochement with Russia under President Putin, while
NATO had recently undergone significant reforms to implement a more robust
defence and deterrence policy (Tardy 2021). Essentially, he therefore chal-
lenged the very rationale of the alliance and stressed that China should rather
be the target. Second, he questioned NATOs and the alliesabilities to deliver
collective defence due to their lack of defence spending and freeriding on the
US. He demanded that allies pay up, including for past deficiencies, or they
have to get out. And if that breaks up NATO, it breaks up NATO(Trump
2016) and was indeed close to announcing withdrawal in 2018. Faced with
these twin challenges, NATO institutional actors, including Secretary-General
8Hylke Dijkstra et al.
Jens Stoltenberg (2014), implemented an astute survival strategy. NATO
institutional actors offered overt support for Trumps demands for greater bur-
den-sharing (behavioural and discursive adaptation), while resisting his calls for
rapprochement with Russia (behavioural resistance). These strategies succeeded
in eventually winning over Trump on burden-sharing and helped prevent
Trump from diluting NATOs posture toward Russia (Table 1).
In terms of leadership, NATO benefitted from Secretary-General Jens
Stoltenberg as a former Norwegian Prime Minister (Hendrickson 2014;
Schuette 2021a). He was well-connected, with greater authority than the usual
IO leaders and also widely perceived as a trusted broker without a personal
agenda (Interviews #A2, #A7, #A11, #A12, #A18). Stoltenbergs deputy, Rose
Gottemoeller (20162019) was a former US Under Secretary in the State
Department with extensive connections in Washington. The NATO
International Staff, which employs around 1000 officials and has a dedicated
Public Diplomacy Division and Policy Planning Unit, furthermore presents a
hierarchical organisational structure that answers to the political leadership. The
Secretary-General possesses furthermore important agenda-setting powers as he
chairs the North Atlantic Council and organises NATO summits (NATO 2011,
70). As the increasingly prominent public face of the alliance, the Secretary
General also tends to receive significant media attention and can therefore
shape public debates.
While NATO is not known for its openness to non-state actors, it is the cen-
tral organisation for the collective defence of most allies. As a result, NATO
institutional actors are well-connected and have strong external networks. The
view among non-White House actors in the US and other allies toward NATO
was also favourable. Powerful member states such as Germany or the United
Kingdom viewed Trumps attacks on NATO in dismay and supported
Stoltenbergs survival strategy, even when he publicly criticised some
European allies for underspending on defence (Interviews #A5, #A15).
Furthermore, NATO could rely on strong support from within the US
Congress, State Department, Congress, National Security Council as well as
non-governmental actors such as influential think tanks (Interviews #A3, #A7,
#A17, #A20). The US public also remained in favour of continued US member-
ship of the alliance (Pew 2020).
On the challenge of burden-sharing, which related directly to the delivery
of collective defence by NATO, institutional actors had to walk the fine line of
simultaneously pushing allies to invest more while selling even moderate
increases in defence budgets as success back to Trump. The Secretary-General
adopted, in this respect, a strategy that pushed for behavioural adaptation by the
other allies while using a simultaneous strategy of discursive adaptation to pla-
cate Trump. The Secretary-General tailored his simplistic and servile communi-
cation style to flatter the egocentric Trump. Prior to Trumps inauguration,
Stoltenberg lauded Trump for his strong messageon defence spending,
pledging to work with President Trump on how to adapt NATO(Stoltenberg
2017a). Appeasing Trump seemed to be the purpose of Stoltenbergs visit to
the White House in May 2018, when he thanked the US President for his
leadership on the issue of defence spending [which] has really helped to
make a difference(Stoltenberg 2018a). In 2019, the Secretary-General repeat-
edly noted that [b]efore they were cutting billions. Now they are adding
Donald Trump and the survival strategies of international organisations 9
Table 1. Variation in leadership, organisational structure, competences and external networks of institutional actors (variables), and
survival strategies (outcome) across the cases
Strength of leadership of the
institutional actor
Secretary General is a former
prime minister
Executive Secretary is a
career diplomat
Director-General was a career
diplomat (resigned in 2020)
Organizational structure of the
institutional actor
Hierarchical secretariat under
the full authority of the
Secretary-General with
different substantive divisions
Treaty secretariat with an
original focus on conference
management, but also
programme divisions
Supportive secretariat for the
Councils. Appellate Body
secretariat not integrated in
main secretariat
Competences of the
institutional actor
Strong agenda-setting
Facilitating the Conferences of
the Parties and act as a hub
for information and expertise
Facilitating decision-making
Strength of the external network of
the institutional actor
Strong network to key
personalities from both US
political parties in State and
Defence Departments and
US Congress
Strong network with sub- and
non-state actors in the US
developed after first failure of
Kyoto protocol and
Copenhagen summit
Limited support in US
Survival strategies Pro-active response by
institutional actors through
adaptation (behavioural and
discursive) on burden-sharing
and resistance (behavioural)
on Russia
Indirect response by relying on
pre-existing external network
with focus on resistance
(behavioural and discursive)
No purposeful response
10 Hylke Dijkstra et al.
billions. By the end of next year, that figure will rise to one hundred billion
(Stoltenberg 2019a). He appeared on Trumps favourite US news channel, Fox,
crediting Trump for an extra $100 billionallies will have added to their
defence spending (Fox 2019).
The Secretary-General also used agenda-setting tactics as summit chair to,
for instance, turn a working meeting on Ukraine and Georgia during the 2018
summit into an impromptu crisis meeting on burden-sharing to appease
Trump. The NATO leadership also used backroom diplomacy and their good
connections to Germany to agree on a new funding formula for NATOs
budget that saw Germany match the US contributions. This was largely sym-
bolic, but it allowed Stoltenberg to publicly tout another victory for Trump. In
sum, Stoltenbergs astute leadership aided by important procedural powers
and support from other allies proved critical in placating Trump (Interviews
#A5, #A6, #A13), who eventually reversed his position and expressed satisfac-
tion with the way NATO had responded to his demands (Trump 2019). There
were limits to behavioural adaptation by the other allies, but Stoltenberg
worked tirelessly to facilitate the cooperation between Trump and the allies
and used strong discursive strategies.
NATO institutional actors could not support Trumps demands for rap-
prochement with Russia, which would have subverted the very purpose of the
alliance. To elude frustrating Trump, the NATO leadership set out to subtly
resist his demands by means of shielding Russia policy from him and building
coalitions with supportive third parties. This strategy of behavioural resistance
was not matched with discursive resistance. Indeed, the Secretary-General
avoided talking about Russia in Trumps presence. In the press conferences or
remarks following their six bilateral meetings between April 2017 and
December 2019, Stoltenberg always emphasised the need for greater defence
spending, but he did not mention Russia policy in three of the press conferen-
ces, while in the others he only addressed Russia cursorily (see White House
2019; Stoltenberg 2017b,2018b,2019b,2019c). Drawing on the power as sum-
mit organisers, NATO actors together with US diplomats also pressured allies
to agree on the 2018 summit declaration, which featured several initiatives on
Russia, prior to the actual summit to prevent Trump from derailing the agree-
ment (Interviews #A3, #A9, #A10, #A17, #A19).
NATO actors also cultivated relations with like-minded actors to generate
domestic pressure on Trump and to circumvent his direct involvement on
Russia policy. One interviewee confirms that there were consistent backchan-
nels between Stoltenbergs office and supportive US officials in the Pentagon
and National Security Council coordinate policy and shield NATO (Russia pol-
icy) from Trump as much as possible (Interview #A17). Defense Secretary
Mattis was a particularly strong supporter of NATOs Russia policy and
became the institutional actors main point of contact (Interviews #A3, #A7,
#A20). Throughout Trumps term in office, the Secretary General also culti-
vated relations with US parliamentarians, regularly hosting them in Brussels,
and speaking in front of both Houses of Congress. In January 2019, Congress
went as far as to pass the NATO Support Act, prohibiting Trump to use fed-
eral funds to withdraw the US from NATO, and also steadily increased the US
budgetary allocation for the US defence posture in Europe (the European
Deterrence Initiative).
Donald Trump and the survival strategies of international organisations 11
NATO institutional actors benefited from strong leadership, a clear organisa-
tional structure, agenda-setting competences and networks with external actors.
This provided them the ability to craft and implement a successful survival
strategy tailored to the specific challenges on Trump of specific issues. By the
end of his tenure, Trump had embraced NATO as serving a great purpose
(White House 2019). NATO thus came out of the Trump presidency relatively
unshattered. President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken further-
more went to great lengths at the beginning of their terms to stress the import-
ance of the transatlantic partnership. The transatlantic unity and response to
the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022 with strong NATO coordination,
weapons deliveries, increased defence spending and various deterrence meas-
ures presents in this respect also a good benchmark to consider the counterfac-
tual of what could have happened if either Trump had followed through on
NATO, or even if he had been elected a two-term President.
UNFCCC: the Paris Agreement
The US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement took no one by surprise. After
all, Trump had called global warming a hoax, announcing that he would
cancelthe Paris Agreement during the election campaign (Betsill 2017;
Bomberg 2017). Trumps America First policy, in this respect, objected to both
the rationale for cooperation as well as the compromise of the Paris
Agreement with an unfaireconomic burden placed on the US while impos-
ing no meaningful obligations on the worlds [other] leading polluters(Trump
2017). When Trump announced withdrawal in June 2017, supporters of climate
change action expected further member withdrawal and as such, US with-
drawal thus posed an existential challenge to the climate change regime.
Contrary to NATO, UNFCCC institutional actors were more circumspect.
Rather than pleading with Trump directly, they focused instead on preventing
further withdrawals and strengthening coalitions with non-state actors, thereby
employing a strategy of behavioural and discursive resistance. The UNFCCC had
more limited competences and leadership capacity than NATO, but could build
on strategies developed since the US non-ratification of the Kyoto protocol and
the failed Copenhagen summit. It had worked toward widening its own man-
date and establishing climate change action as norm through building up exter-
nal networks and non-state actor orchestration (Hale and Roger 2014; Hickmann
and Els
asser 2020).
It is important to pay attention to the previous experiences with the US as
the UNFCCC had seen this movie before(Interview #B7). In 2001, the Bush
administration receded from the Kyoto Protocol, which still needed to be rati-
fied by the US Senate (Pickering et al. 2018, 820). This experience affected the
entire set up of global climate change governance. The Paris Agreement was,
for instance, not conceived as a treaty to avoid the need for ratification (Kemp
2017, 87; Pickering et al. 2018). This also meant that withdrawal and import-
antly re-joining would be easier (Jotzo, Depledge, and Winkler 2018, 813;
Pickering et al. 2018, 822). Furthermore, the UNFCCC increasingly developed
an external network by engaging with non-state actors (e.g. Saerbeck et al. 2020),
particularly after the breakdown of the COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009. The
Paris Agreement incorporates, in this respect, non-state actors via the
12 Hylke Dijkstra et al.
possibility to join the Non-State Actor Zone for Climate Action(NAZCA)
(Pickering et al. 2018). This built-in trajectory provided a contingency plan in
case the Paris agreement would fail(Interview #B11).
Interviewees uniformly agreed that US withdrawal was inevitableafter
the election (Interviews #B1, #B5, #B8, #B11, #B1524). The UNFCCC thus had
some time to reflect on the appropriate response and provided a diplomatic
statement emphasising the rules of the process of exiting the Paris Agreement
(Interviews #B5, #B6). This was a rather factual discursive approach. Public
opposition to US withdrawal was taken instead by the other member states,
US local governments and non-state actors, all of which launched various ini-
tiatives facilitated by the UNFCCC. This is a case of the orchestration of behav-
ioural and discursive resistance through the mobilisation of like-minded actors.
It is indeed clear that the strength of UNFCCC officials lies with their exter-
nal networks and the legitimacy of the climate change action norm. The
Executive Secretary, Patricia Espinosa (20162022) has been a skilled operator
but lacks, in terms of leadership, the political profile of NATOs Stoltenberg
who had previously been Prime Minister and is also less outspoken than her
predecessor Christiana Figueres (20102016) (King 2016). Indeed, there is a
considerable contrast with Figueres, who Time Magazine called a force for
nature(Redford 2016). Espinosa, in contrast, was even refused a meeting with
Secretary of State Tillerson in 2017 (Milman 2017). The UNFCCC secretariat
itself consists of about 450 staff. Its formal competences have, however, tradition-
ally been limited with its main tasks to organise the Conferences of the Parties
and to act as an information hub (Article 9 of the Convention; see also Busch
2009; Depledge 2007). Officials also tried to remain impartial, avoided initiative
and agenda-setting, and steered away from pro-active leadership to avoid step-
ping on the toes of the parties (Interview #B1, #B5). The UNFCCC, however,
has considerably developed since Copenhagen and has adopted a much stron-
ger entrepreneurial style prioritising communication, networking and position-
ing itself as a central informational actor (Saerbeck et al. 2020; Well et al. 2020).
The UNFCCC secretariat has thus tried to overcome its straitjacket
(Hickmann et al. 2021) by focusing on a role in the broader climate change
regime, supporting more inclusive cooperation, replacing the legally binding
Kyoto Protocol with a decentralised climate policy architecture, and including
more non-state actors (B
ackstrand et al. 2017, 563). The UNFCCC has continu-
ously enforced deeper engagement with non-state and sub-national actors by
launching initiatives, such as the Momentum for Change Initiative, the
LimaParis Action Agenda (LPAA), and NAZCA (Hickmann et al. 2021;
Schroeder and Lovell 2012; Widerberg 2017; Aykut, Morena, and Foyer 2021).
The UNFCCC initiates, moderates and negotiates this engagement and main-
tains it outside of the Conferences of the Parties by administering side-events
by all kinds of actors (Hickmann and Els
asser 2020). The UNFCCC thus had a
considerable support system in place by the time that Trump got elected. This
network has been activated, and has largely activated itself, to oppose Trumps
contestation and to re-legitimate the Paris Agreement. Support in favour of the
Paris Agreement has come from various UNFCCC member states, but also US
local governments, and many non-state actors.
For example, the other UNFCCC member states appeared as a cohesive
front. Germany, Italy and France made a joint statement, saying the
Donald Trump and the survival strategies of international organisations 13
momentum generated in Paris in December 2015 [is] irreversible and we firmly
believe that the Paris Agreement cannot be renegotiated, since it is a vital
instrument for our planet(as cited in Walsh 2017). Chinese President Xi
Jinping claimed to take a leadership role, which was significant given that
China had become the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide (CO
) emissions. In
the US itself, several initiatives were launched, evidence of behavioural and dis-
cursive resistance by the network of like-minded actors (Aykut, Morena, and
Foyer 2021). Several US corporations, including for example Apple, Google
and Unilever issued full-page advertisements in leading newspapers in May
2007 (Betsill 2017, 190). In June 2017, mayors from the Mayors National
Climate Action Agendasigned an open letter (US Mayors 2017). The Global
Climate Action Summit was initiated by the California governor Jerry Brown
in September 2018, yet another instance of local support (Interview #B11).
To prevent the UNFCCC from long-term financial issues, the coalition of
Americas pledge offered not only to pay some of the contributions of the
US budget (Interview #B1). This coalition also kept meeting the targets of
the climate change agenda within the Paris Agreement (Hermwille 2018,
458). At the COP23 in November 2017 in Bonn, 1200 governors, mayors,
business leaders, investors and college and university presidents created the
movement Were still in(Betsill 2017,190;Interviews#B1,#B4,#B6).This
movement collectively took opposition to the US governments decision, call-
ing the US withdrawal out of step with what is happening in the United
Statesand declaring that they will continue to support climate action to
meet the Paris Agreement(Betsill 2017, 190). In other words, the US
announcement to withdraw from the Paris Agreement caused considerable
domestic contestation, which was a direct result of the UNFCCC previously
developing external networks.
Compared to NATO, UNFCCC officials could not rely on competences or
benefit from publicly strong leadership. Based on the previous experiences,
however, the UNFCCC had become a more purposeful actor with an organisa-
tional structure that did not just facilitate conference management, but also
strongly engaged in external networking. Indeed, where NATO could rely on
traditional diplomatic networks, the UNFCCC built alliances with many non-
state actors as well as following the experience with the Copenhagen summit.
The more purposeful organisation and the newly built network conditioned
the range of options available against the lack of competences and limited pub-
lic leadership. The secretariat opted to remain resilient against US contestation.
Rather it focused on the orchestration of behavioural and discursive resistance.
This strategy worked. On his very first day in office, President Biden rejoined
the Paris Agreement. While valuable time for climate action had been lost due
to the Trump years, the relative ease with which the US could rejoin and the
UNFCCC could continue implementing its mandate ultimately highlights that
the UNFCCC did not fall apart due to the challenge posed by the Trump
WTO: Appellate Body
For Trump, after decades of trade liberalisation, there was no demand for fur-
ther multilateral cooperation on trade, and the WTO regime was viewed as
14 Hylke Dijkstra et al.
having essentially failed to deliver its expected goals (Bown and Keynes 2020).
His main target became the WTO Appellate Body, a key feature of the Dispute
Settlement Understanding (DSU), which had long been subject to criticism of
judicial overreach. He claimed that the WTO benefits everybody but usadd-
ing that we lose the lawsuits, almost all of the lawsuits in the WTOand
threatening that if they dont shape up, I would withdraw from the WTO
(BBC News 2018). The Appellate Body normally consists of seven members.
Under Trump, however, the US blocked the (re)appointment of members
resulting in an Appellate Body that, by 2019, lacked the required number of
three arbiters to function. This has effectively rendered the crown jewelof
the WTO inoperable (Bown and Keynes 2020; Hopewell 2021a; Zaccaria 2022).
The WTO continues to exist, but without a working arbitration mechanism it
is no longer able to carry out all of its core functions. WTO actors did not
respond to this challenge and no reforms were made. This final case shows a
lack of leadership, a decentralised organisational structure, limited competences
and no external network.
The WTO had strong leadership in the past. Renato Ruggiero (19951999)
and Pascal Lamy (20052013) are generally acknowledged to have played a
key role in world trade. At the time of Trump, the Director-General was
Roberto Azev^
edo (20132020), a career diplomat. While his background was
not unsimilar to Espinosa at the UNFCCC, Azev^
edo did little to address the
assault on the Appellate Body and suddenly resigned during the COVID-19
crisis. His leadership style was hands-off, following the membership and
refraining from activism (Interviews #C6, #C13, #C14, #C16). WTO officials
also hold limited competences, with their influence mainly perceptible during
trade negotiation rounds (Elsig 2011; Interviews #C1, #C11, #C16). The
Secretariats staff are often described as operating behind the scenes as active
facilitatorsduring negotiations (Bohne 2010; Buterbaugh and Fulton 2007; Yi-
Chong and Weller 2008, 43; Interview #C17). However, their role in other oper-
ational domains of the organisation remains rather limited (Interview #C16).
The institutional rules and norms of the organisations effectively constrain the
Director-General and the WTO officials (Bohne 2010; Buterbaugh and Fulton
2007; Interviews #C16, #C17).
Particularly important for the WTO is its decentralised structure in which
the Appellate Body and its own secretariat are quite insulated from the WTO
Secretariat (Pauwelyn and Pelc 2019). It is, of course, natural for international
courts to have autonomy from the political principals over which they need to
adjudicate, and this is no different for the WTO Appellate Body (Abbott et al.
2015; Elsig 2011; Interviews #C5, #C6, #C8). The General Council has the
authority to influence and control the Appellate Bodys internal operations
(Interviews #C9, #C11), yet its consensus rule makes this difficult to achieve
(Interviews #C4, #C5). The relative insulation of the Appellate Body made it
also difficult for the Director-General to shield the Appellate Body, let alone
put pressure on the Appellate Body to behaviourally adapt. The Appellate
Body essentially followed its own reality in refusing to change course.
This is not to say that the Director-General does not hold informal influence
within the WTO Secretariat. The Directors-General have tools at their disposal,
such as meetings with a restricted group of memberships representations in
Geneva, and direct lines of communication with officials in member-state
Donald Trump and the survival strategies of international organisations 15
capitals (Interview #C14). The Director-Generals personality and leadership
style however play a big role in how much influence they are willing to exert
(Interviews #C14, #C17). Some Directors-General in the past have shown the
influence their office can exert, having held a more assertive role during nego-
tiations and even recently during the Appellate Body crisis by picking up the
phone and calling presidents and prime ministers directly (Interview #C18). In
response to US concerns, for instance, Pascal Lamy attempted to play a role in
the Appellate Body secretariats organisation by reshuffling staff and imposing
restrictions on the number of assistants working at the Body (Interview #C12).
This strategic move was intended to decrease the allocation of resources to
pressure the Body to consider the concerns raised regarding the drafting pro-
cess of case reports (Interview #C12).
His successor, Azevedo, adopted a neutral stance toward both the
Appellate Body staff and the membership (Interviews #C12, #C17, #C18). He
stayed on the sidelines, for instance, when in 2018, the Trump administration
wanted to fire the director of the Appellate Body secretariat (Interviews #C9,
#C12). As US contestation began to manifest itself, it became clear that the
WTO leadership could not play any role in producing a cohesive and effective
response strategy. Throughout the crisis, the WTO leadership consistently kept
a conciliatory stance in public, and refrained from engaging directly
(Interviews #C7, C#14). To provide an image of organisational unity, and in
conscious avoidance of adopting an activist role, the WTO Secretariat and
Director-General did not make references in their public statements to the
Appellate Body or the issue of over-judicialisation of the organisation
(Interview #C16).
The neutral stance came even though many staff within the WTO and
across various divisions (including the Appellate Body) raised similar concerns
regarding the Appellate Body and its Secretariat (Interviews #C1, #C9, #C16).
As one interviewee noted, the only thing the WTO Secretariat can do is rec-
ommend, take minutes, and publish reports they cannot give direction to,
or in any way influence, the internal workings of the division [Appellate
Body](Interview #C7). In other words, the fragmented organisational struc-
ture within the WTO and the complicated relationship with the Appellate
Body secretariat, the limited competences and the lack of direction by the lead-
ership heavily constrained the WTO response.
The WTO Secretariat also did not have a developed external network, par-
ticularly not within the US. Throughout the Appellate Body crisis, the Trump
administration enjoyed support from the US public with regard to world trade
(Kim and Durkin 2020). Furthermore, trade officials in the US, both during the
Trump administration and the preceding administration, have increasingly
held negative views regarding the WTO (Interview #C1), which is essentially
the opposite of the case of NATO or the more positive norm of climate action.
More recently there has also been bipartisan alignment in the US Congress
regarding the WTO, reflected by the fact that, as of May 2020, both the House
of Representatives and the Senate had resolutions and proposals introduced at
their sessions proposing the US withdrawal from the WTO (Levy and
Brown 2020).
The WTO ranks low on the four variables. Despite some initial engagement
by Lamy, leadership by Azev^
edo was lacking during the crisis of the Appellate
16 Hylke Dijkstra et al.
Body. The organisational structure of the WTO Secretariat is fragmented, and
this inhibited a strategic response. The formal competences are weak and the
WTO Secretariat did not have an external network, particularly not in the US. In
the case of the Appellate Body, the range of available options was not just lim-
ited; the WTO Secretariat did not strategically respond, perhaps hoping for
better days. Those better days did not come. In contrast to NATO and the
UNFCCC which have moved on, the WTO Appellate Body is still not oper-
ational. The US under President Biden has not moved much to restore support
for multilateral trade, also because of domestic support from either political
party. The Appellate Body is, in this respect, an instance of lasting damage to
international institutions from the Trump administration.
Donald TrumpsAmerica Firstapproach has put many IOs on the defensive.
Trump and his administration posed an acute challenge, by the most powerful
state in the system, questioning both the very need for international cooper-
ation as well as the ability of IOs to effectively supply it. While scholars
increasingly detail such populist assaults, little remains known about whether
IOs can cope with and counter these existential challenges. This is surprising
as we know that international institutions tend to be sticky. Using case stud-
ies of NATO, the UNFCCCs Paris Agreement and the WTOs Appellate Body,
this article has shown that institutional actors vary in their ability to formulate
and implement appropriate survival strategies. In particular, it has shown that
the institutional actors in these IOs differ in terms of their leadership, organisa-
tional structure, competences and external networks. This has affected their
response options. Institutional actors need to proactively engage and some do
not have such abilities.
NATO officials publicly leveraged the Trump challenge to increase burden-
sharing among allies while quietly undermining Trumps position on Russia.
UNFCCC officials considered US withdrawal as inevitable and focused on
indirectly preventing further withdrawals. WTO officials did little to save the
Appellate Body. Such variation in responses cannot be simply explained by
the difference in policy area or the specific approach that Donald Trump took
toward these institutions. Rather the cases highlight variation in the ability of
IO actors to formulate survival strategies from the available range of alterna-
tives. NATO scored strong on leadership, structure, competences and external
networks. This allowed for a tailored response. UNFCCC staff relied on their
support network that they had developed previously, as their options to dir-
ectly engage Trump were limited. The WTO Secretariat was very constrained.
The comparative approach also highlights the relevance of the four varia-
bles used in this article. Strong and weak leadership was on display in NATO
and the WTO. The fragmented organisational structure inhibited the WTO,
whereas formal competences played a role for NATO. Previously established
external networks were centrally important for the UNFCCC, as were the links
between NATO and the US foreign policy establishment. NATO scored high
on all four variables, the WTO low and for the UNFCCC we can observe a
medium score across variables. In this respect, the four variables are also
mutually reinforcing. The NATO Secretary-General was not just a former
Donald Trump and the survival strategies of international organisations 17
prime minister but the formal chair of Council meetings, which put him two
steps ahead of his counterparts in the UNFCCC and WTO. It is furthermore
interesting that much of the action to counter such existential challenges took
place outside the boundaries of the IOs themselves. For NATO, this was at
least as much about bilateral meetings in the Oval Office, a speech to US
Congress and an appearance on Fox News as it was about closed-door negotia-
tions in Brussels between diplomats in IO committees.
The purpose of this article has not been to causally link responses by insti-
tutional actors with eventual outcomes for IOs. The ability of institutional
actors to respond is one factor, and not the only one. It is important to con-
sider, in this respect, the constraints and opportunities that institutional actors
face. With Trump out of office, and President Joe Biden repairing some of the
damage done to international institutions, it is tempting to once again raise the
flag of the liberal international order. Even though the future of the WTO
remains uncertain, the Paris Agreement was saved and NATO has come out
unshattered. At the same time, with an increasingly dense global governance
landscape and power transitions still underway, it remains likely that some of
the larger IOs will face further contestations and existential challenges. The
demand for cooperation will evolve as power transitions continue, and actors
will likely further challenge IOs on the ability to supply and facilitate inter-
national cooperation. In this respect we also need further research on the
mechanisms that help IOs craft appropriate responses beyond the existential
challenges posed by Donald Trump. Furthermore, policy-makers are well-
advised to continue to invest in IOs and particularly their leadership and
bureaucracies to make them more robust to further challenges.
Disclosure statement
No potential conflict of interest has been reported by the authors.
Supplemental data for this article in an Appendix can be accessed at https://
This article is part of a project that has received funding from the European
Research Council (ERC) under the European Unions Horizon 2020 research
and innovation programme (grant agreement No 802568).
Notes on contributors
Hylke Dijkstra is an Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science
of Maastricht University, The Netherlands, and the Principal Investigator of
the NestIOr research project on the decline and death of international
18 Hylke Dijkstra et al.
organisations funded by the European Research Council (ERC). He has
published widely on international organisations including in Cooperation and
Conflict,European Journal of International Relations,Global Governance,Global
Policy and the Review of International Organizations.
Laura von Allw
orden is a PhD candidate at the Department of Political
Science of Maastricht University, The Netherlands, within the NestIOr research
project on the decline and death of international organisations funded by the
European Research Council (ERC). Laura studies legitimation and contestation
in the global climate regime and related norms.
Leonard A. Schuette a PhD candidate at the Department of Political Science of
Maastricht University, The Netherlands, and member of the NestIOr research
project on the decline and death of international organisations funded by the
European Research Council (ERC). He is also a senior researcher at the
Munich Security Conference and has published on international security
organisations in International Affairs, the British Journal of Politics and
International Relations and the Journal of Common Market Studies.
Giuseppe Zaccaria is a PhD candidate at the Department of Political Science
of Maastricht University, The Netherlands, within the NestIOr research project
on the decline and death of international organisations funded by the
European Research Council (ERC). His research explores the role of
institutional leadership in international organisations during times of
challenge. His work has been recently published at Global Policy.
Hylke Dijkstra
Laura von Allw
Leonard A. Schuette
Giuseppe Zaccaria
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... Indeed, various scholars show that many IOs have responded to crises of legitimacy by engaging in (re)legitimation practices and other strategic responses (e.g. Chorev 2012;B