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Have you heard of the United Nations (UN), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the European Union (EU)? They are IGOs! IGOs, or Intergovernmental Organisations, are one of the most important entities created under international law and serve the shared interests of the signing parties. Like any organisation, however, they have strengths and weaknesses. Read on to find out more!

IGO – definition

IGO stands for Intergovernmental Organisation. For the main part, IGOs are composed of sovereign states (also referred to as member states) or of other organisations through formal treaties for handling/serving common interests and governed by international laws. Only governments belong to IGOs, hence the term 'intergovernmental'.

IGOs are created through treaties. Treaties can be thought of as a contract that creates a group, and such treaties are formed when governments of several states go through a so-called ratification process. IGOs are a crucial aspect of public international law.

Ratification process = the final step in the process of approving an agreement by which all parties involved indicate their intention to be bound by that agreement.

A coalition of states, such as the G7, is not the same as an IGO. A constituent document has not founded these associations, and as a result, they only exist as a task force.

IGOs are also different from treaties. Treaties such as the North America Free Trade Agreement do not establish an organisation. They can be legally recognised as an ad hoc commission.

Ad hoc = Latin for 'to this'. An ad hoc activity or organisation is done or formed only because a particular situation has made it necessary; it is not planned in advance.

Strengths and weaknesses of IGOs

Let's look at some strengths and weaknesses of IGOs.

Strengths:

  • They hold state authority.
  • Their institutions are permanent.
  • They provide a forum for discussion.
  • They are issue-specific.
  • They provide information.
  • They allow multilateral co-operation.

Weaknesses:

  • Membership is limited. IGOs' legal basis prohibits the membership of private citizens, making them undemocratic. They also do not allow universal state membership.
  • Lots of IGOs serve the same purpose. Sometimes this is helpful, but more often than not this prevents things from getting done!
  • When a government joins an IGO, this means it must abide by the treaty. This can weaken the states' ability to assert authority as IGOs call state sovereignty into question.
  • Inequality among state members can create biases which, in turn, can lead to powerful states misusing these organisations.

Examples of IGOs

There are many IGOs across the globe; here are three examples.

The United Nations (UN)

The UN, founded in 1946, aims to maintain international peace and security, develop friendly relations among nations, achieve international cooperation, and be a centre for harmonising the actions of nations. The UN is the world's largest and most familiar international organisation.

The UN was founded after World War 2 to try and prevent future wars. It has 193 members, representing almost all of the world's sovereign states (Figure 1).

The UN can be recognised by its emblem/flag (Figure 2).

IGOs Map of UN member states StudySmarterFigure 1: Map of UN member states (blue), Wikimedia

The UN has a complete list of its member states on its website.

IGOs Emblem/flag of the UN StudySmarterFigure 2: Emblem/flag of the UN, Wikimedia

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)

NATO, formed on 4 April 1949, is an intergovernmental military alliance between 27 European countries, two North American countries, and one Eurasian country (figure 3).

NATO is a system of collective security whereby all its independent member states agree to mutual defence in response to an attack by an external party. Its headquarters is located in Brussels, Belgium.

Member states of NATO (in order of joining):

  • 1949: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, United Kingdom, United States.
  • 1952: Greece, Turkey.
  • 1955: Germany.
  • 1982: Spain.
  • 1999: Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland.
  • 2004: Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia.
  • 2009: Albania, Croatia.
  • 2017: Montenegro.
  • 2020: North Macedonia.

NATO partner countries are:

  • Armenia
  • Austria
  • Azerbaijan
  • Belarus
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Finland
  • Georgia
  • Ireland
  • Kazakhstan
  • Kyrghyz Republic (Kirghizia)
  • Malta
  • The Republic of Moldova
  • Russia
  • Serbia
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • Tajikistan
  • Turkmenistan
  • Ukraine
  • Uzbekistan

IGOs Map of NATO showing member states and partner countries StudySmarterFigure 3: Map of NATO showing member states (blue) and partner countries (red) - created with MapChart (2022)

European Union (EU)

The EU, founded in 1992, is a political and economic union of 27 member states (figure 4), most of which are located in Europe. The EU traces its origins to the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and the European Economic Community (EEC).

EU policies allow people and goods to move freely between EU borders. The aim is to improve and maintain the EU market. They enact legislation in justice and home affairs and maintain common policies on trade, agriculture, fisheries, and regional development.

Passport controls for travel within the Schengen Area have been abolished. Furthermore, a monetary union called the Eurozone was established in 1999, and it came into full force in 2002. The Eurozone is composed of 19 member states which have the Euro (€) as their official currency.

The union and EU citizenship were established in the Maastricht Treaty, which came into force in 1993. The original member states, nicknamed the Inner Six, were:

  1. Belgium
  2. France
  3. Italy
  4. Luxembourg
  5. Netherlands
  6. West Germany

The current EU member states are:

  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Bulgaria
  • Croatia
  • Cyprus
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg
  • Malta
  • Netherlands
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Romania
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
  • Sweden

As of 31 January 2020, 23.00 GMT, the United Kingdom has officially left the EU, known as Brexit. Talk of leaving the EU has occurred in other EU member states alongside the recent rise in populism.

IGOs Map of EU member states StudySmarterFigure 4: Map of EU member states - created with MapChart (2022)

IGOs and NGOs

As mentioned above, IGO stands for Intergovernmental Organisations. NGO stands for nongovernmental organisations. NGOs are any non-profit, non-commercial organisations with a common interest. They work independently of government influence. NGOs have international influence as well as local and national influence in the work that they do.

There is a distinction between operational and advocacy NGOs. Donations and, sometimes, subscriptions fund both, but some also receive money from governments and other businesses.

The difference between operational and advocacy NGOs:

  • Operational: they provide frontline support services for those in need. They tend to raise money for each project they undertake. Examples are Oxfam and Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders).
  • Advocacy: they focus on campaigns to raise awareness to gain support for a cause. They derive money from donations and, in some cases, from subscriptions. An example is Greenpeace.

Types

The main goal of NGOs is to improve the lives of people around the world. They push for action against human rights abuses and seek to improve the well-being of those in need. Many NGOs also want to improve the natural environment and the adverse effects of climate change.

NGOs are classified by their:

  1. Orientation: i.e. the type of activities that NGOs undertake, such as activities involving human rights, consumer protection, environmentalism, health, or development
  2. Level of operation: this indicates the scale at which an organisation works, which can be local, regional, national, or international

Orientation

NGOs have different orientations:

  • Charity: an effort with little participation or input from beneficiaries. They include NGOs that are directed at meeting the needs of disadvantaged people and groups.
  • Service: includes NGOs that provide healthcare and education.
  • Participatory: self-help project with local involvement in the form of money, tools, lands, materials, or labour.
  • Empowerment: aims to help poor people understand the social, political, and economic factors affecting their lives. They aim to increase awareness of their power to control their lives. There is maximum involvement by the beneficiaries, the NGOs, and facilitators.

Level of operation

NGOs operate on different levels:

  • Community-based organisations (CBOs): these are popular initiatives that can raise the consciousness of the urban poor. It can help them understand their right to services, and they can also provide such services.
  • City-wide organisations: these include chambers of commerce and industry, coalitions of business, ethnic or educational groups, and community organisations.
  • State NGOs: they include state-level organisations, associations, and groups. National and/or international NGOs guide some state NGOs.
  • National NGOs: This NGO exists in only 1 country, and they are rare. The Young Men's/Women's Christian Association (YMCA or YWCA) is a good example. There are YMCA branches across the United States and many work with local NGOs too.
  • International NGOs (INGOs): these are NGOs that span multiple countries. They are often religious organisations, but can also be secular organisations too, such as Save the Children. Many INGOs are responsible for funding local NGOs.

Examples of NGOs

Here are some well-known NGOs.

Amnesty International

Amnesty International, founded in London in July 1961, is an international NGO that focuses on human rights. They investigate and expose facts about abuses of human rights, lobby governments and other powerful groups, and want to make sure they keep their promises to respect international law. Its headquarters is located in the UK.

Amnesty International claims to have 10 million members in 150 countries.

A complete A-Z list of all countries and regions where Amnesty International operates can be found on its website.

The Salvation Army (TSA)

The Salvation Army, founded on 2 July 1865, is a Protestant Christian church and an international charitable organisation. The Salvation Army operates in the UK and Ireland; however, they are part of a broader international Salvation Army. In total, The Salvation Army works in 132 countries (figure 5), and they report having 3.5 million volunteers all over the world, consisting of soldiers, officers, and adherents, collectively known as Salvationists.

TSA runs charity shops, shelters for the homeless, disaster relief, and humanitarian aid to developing countries.

IGOs, the salvation army, StudySmarterFigure 5: a list of countries where the Salvation Army operates- Franco el estudiante/Wikimedia

Save the Children

Save the Children USA, was founded in 1932. Its aim is to improve the lives of children in the US and abroad, mainly those living in poverty and affected by natural disasters. Their headquarters is located in Fairfield, Connecticut, US.

It was first formed in 1932 to help the children in the Appalachian mountains during the Great Depression. This organisation is modelled on the Save the Children Fund, established in the UK in 1919.

World Trade Organisation (WTO)

The WTO, founded on 1 January 1995, is an IGO. It is an organisation that regulates and facilitates international trade between nations. Its role is to facilitate trade in goods, services, and intellectual property among the participating countries. They provide a framework for negotiating trade agreements, which usually aim to reduce or eliminate tariffs, quotas, and other restrictions.

The WTO is the largest international economic organisation in the world with 164 member states (figure 6) representing over 98% of the global trade and global Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Functions of WTO

The WTO has various functions, and here are two examples:

  1. Once agreed upon and signed, the WTO is in charge of the implementation and operation of those agreements. The exception is that it did not enforce any agreements when China came into the WTO in December 2001.
  2. The WTO is also responsible for holding negotiations and conferences in order to settle disagreements.

The WTO must review and propagate national trade policies and ensure trade policies' coherence and transparency through surveillance in global economic policy-making.

World trade definition

World trade, also known as international or global trade, is the exchange, import, and export of any kind of goods or services between countries or recognised territories.

Global trade allows consumers and countries to be exposed to goods and services unavailable in their own country or more expensive domestically.

Importance of trading

Trade is essential for keeping a competitive global economy, and it lowers the prices of goods internationally because it spurs innovation and encourages markets to become specialised.

The ability to trade also allows access to goods and services of higher quality yet lower costs than alternatives in their own country.

Role of world trade

The WTO is the only organisation in the world that helps to facilitate importers and exporters carrying out their trades on an international scale. They do this by making and laying out clear, specific, international rules and coming up with terms that trading countries agree to and implement.

World trade has an important share in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in different countries. World trade stimulates important sectors of the economies, and therefore world trade can be important for business due to profit growth prospects, reduced dependence on known markets, business expansions, etc. Companies worldwide are looking for new growth opportunities in other countries and territories.

The increase in world trade over the years has resulted from the process of Globalisation, meaning that both consumers and companies have a choice from a wide range of products and services.

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) = a monetary measure of the market value of all final foods and services produced in a specific time.

1993 World Trade Centre (WTC) bombing

On 26 February 1993, the World Trade Centre in New York was attacked by terrorists. A truck bomb was detonated below the North Tower, and the plan was to collapse both the South and North Towers, killing tens of thousands of people. The plan failed, and 'only' 6 people were killed, and 1042 people were injured.

Strengths and weaknesses of IGOs – recap

Earlier in this explanation, it was mentioned that there are both strengths and weaknesses to IGOs, but does one outweigh the other? Use this table below to decide for yourself!

Strengths of IGOsWeaknesses of IGOs
1. They hold state authorityIGOs have the authority of the state behind them. This means that they are very powerful entities with the means to make lasting changes in the world.1. States have to give up certain parts of their authority to IGOs. This weakens the authority of the states themselves. It could be argued that some IGOs are more powerful than some small countries. The problem with this is that IGOs are not elected democratically like (most) state leaders are.
2. They are issue-specific. This makes IGOs highly organised in a way that individual governments may not be. 2. Many IGOs overlap in their interests. For example, NATO and the UN overlap in their desire for peace. The World Trade Organisation and the EU overlap in that they both organise trade agreements.
3. IGOs allow for multi-lateral cooperation. This is a very important aspect of IGOs and is essential in the smooth running of the world's governments. The idea is that every 'voice' is heard. 3. Powerful states tend to misuse IGOs, creating inequality among member states. There does seem to be less motivation for smaller states to join as the interests of larger states tend to take precedence.

IGOs - Key takeaways

  • IGO stands for Intergovernmental Organisations.
  • Examples of IGOs are the UN, NATO, the EU, and the WTO.
  • NGO stands for Nongovernmental Organisations. They are formed independent of governments, although they can receive government funding.
  • Examples of NGOs are Amnesty International, The Salvation Army, and Save the Children.
  • The World Trade Organisation (WTO) is an organisation that regulates and facilitates international trade between nations. Its role is to facilitate trade in goods, services, and intellectual property among the participating countries.
  • Trade is essential for keeping a competitive global economy, and it lowers the prices of goods internationally as it spurs innovation and encourages markets to become specialised.

IGOs

World trade, also known as international or global trade, is the exchange, import and export, of capital, goods, and services across international borders. 


Global trade gives consumers and countries the opportunity to be exposed to goods and services that are not available in their own country, or more expensive domestically.

The World Trade Center was bombed on 26 February 1993. On September 11 2001, the Twin Towers were destroyed in a terrorist attack.

World trade has an important share in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in different countries. Companies from around the world are looking for new growth opportunities in other countries and territories. World trade stimulates important sectors of the economies, and therefore world trade can be important for business, due to profits growths prospects, reduced dependence on known markets, business expansions, etc.


The increase of world trade over the years has been a result of the globalisation process, meaning that both consumers and companies have a choice from a wide range of products and services. 

Trade is essential for keeping a competitive global economy and it lowers the prices of goods internationally as it spurs innovation and encourages markets to become specialised. 


The ability to trade also allows access to goods and services that might be of higher quality and costs less than alternatives in that country. Trade allows countries access to resources they may not be able to produce within their own borders. 

  • The United Nations (UN)
  • The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO)
  • European Union (EU)
  • World Trade Organisation (WTO)

Final IGOs Quiz

Question

What does IGO stand for?

Show answer

Answer

Intergovernmental Organisations

Show question

Question

What are IGOs composed of?

Show answer

Answer

For the main part, IGOs are composed of sovereign states, also referred to as member states, or of other organisations through formal treaties for handling/serving common interests and governed by international laws. 

Show question

Question

What does the term 'intergovernmental' mean within IGOs?


Show answer

Answer

It means that only governments belong to IGOs

Show question

Question

How are IGOs established?


Show answer

Answer

By a treaty that acts as a charter that creates the group, and such treaties are formed when governments of several states go through a so-called 'ratification process'

Show question

Question

Why are coalitions of state different from IGOs?


Show answer

Answer

These associations have not been founded by a constituent document and they only exist as a task force.

Show question

Question

How are treaties different from IGOs?


Show answer

Answer

Treaties such as the North America Free Trade Agreement do not establish an organisation. They only rely on the parties to have their administration to be legally recognised as an ad hoc (unplanned in advance) commission. 

Show question

Question

What are the strengths of IGOs?


Show answer

Answer

  • They hold state authority
  • Their institutions are permanent
  • They provide a forum for discussion
  • They are issue-specific
  • They provide information
  • They allow multilateral co-operation

Show question

Question

What are the weaknesses of IGOs?


Show answer

Answer

  • Membership is limited. IGOs' legal basis prohibits membership of private citizens, making them undemocratic. They also do not allow universal state membership
  • IGOs often overlap, which results in an overly complex network
  • States have to give up part of their sovereignty. This can weakens the states' ability to assert authority
  • Inequality among state members can create biases which, in turn, can lead to powerful states to misuse these organisations

Show question

Question

Name 4 examples of IGOs.


Show answer

Answer

  1. The United Nations (UN)
  2. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO)
  3. The European Union (EU)
  4. World Trade Organisation (WTO)

Show question

Question

When was the UN founded?


Show answer

Answer

1946

Show question

Question

The UN was established after which event and why?


Show answer

Answer

The UN was established after World War II in order to try and prevent future wars.

Show question

Question

How many members does the UN have?


Show answer

Answer

193

Show question

Question

What is NATO?

Show answer

Answer

NATO is a system of collective security, whereby all its independent member states agree to mutual defence in response to an attack by an external party. 

Show question

Question

When was NATO formed?


Show answer

Answer

On 4 April 1949

Show question

Question

When was the EU founded?


Show answer

Answer

1992

Show question

Question

What is the policy aim of the EU?


Show answer

Answer

To ensure the free movement of people, goods, services and capital within the international market. They enact legislation in justice and home affairs, and they maintain common policies on trade, agriculture, fisheries and regional development. 

Show question

Question

What does NGO stand for?


Show answer

Answer

non-governmental organisations

Show question

Question

What is the definition of an NGO?

Show answer

Answer

While there is no fixed definition for what NGOs are, generally speaking they are defined as non-profit entities (organisations) that are fully independent of governmental influence. That being said, they may receive government funding

Show question

Question

Name 3 examples of NGO.


Show answer

Answer

  1. Amnesty International
  2. The Salvation Army
  3. Save the Children

Show question

Question

What is the World Trade Organisation and when was it founded?


Show answer

Answer

It founded on 1 January 1995.


It is an organisation that regulates and facilitates international trade between nations. Its role is to facilitates trade in goods, services and intellectual property among the participating countries. They provide a framework for negotiating trade agreements, which usually aim to reduce or eliminate tariffs, quotas and other restrictions. 

Show question

Question

What are the 2 most important functions of the WTO?


Show answer

Answer

  1. It oversees the implementation, administration and operation of the covered agreements. The exception is that it does not enforce any agreements when China came into the WTO in December 2001
  2. It provides a forum for negotiations and for settling disputes

Show question

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