International organization

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International Organization
Intergovernmental Organization
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Emblem of the United Nations
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AbbreviationIO, IGO
TypeTreaty-based bodies
The offices of the United Nations in Geneva (Switzerland), which is the city that hosts the highest number of international organizations in the world.[1]

An international organization (intergovernmental organization) is an organization established by a treaty or other instrument governed by international law and possessing its own international legal personality, such as the United Nations, the World Health Organization and NATO.[2][3] International organizations are composed of primarily Member states, but may also include other entities, such as other international organizations. Additionally, entities (including, but not limited to states) may hold observer status.[4]

Notable examples include the United Nations (UN), Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Council of Europe (COE), International Labour Organization (ILO) and International Police Organization (INTERPOL).[5]


The first and oldest intergovernmental organization - being established by means of a treaty, and creating a permanent secretariat - is the International Telecommunication Union (founded in 1865). The first general international organization --addressing a variety of issues-- was the League of Nations. The United Nations followed this model after World War II.


The role of international organizations is helping to set the international agenda, mediating political bargaining, providing a place for political initiatives and acting as catalysts for coalition- formation.

Regional Organizations[edit]

International Organizations typically have member states from the whole world, however in some cases organizations have geographic limitations, such as the European Union, African Union and NATO. The United Nations also has regional organizations, such as UNECE and UNECA.

The oldest regional organization is the Central Commission for Navigation on the Rhine, created in 1815 by the Congress of Vienna.

United Nations Agencies[edit]

The United Nations organizes its work into agencies, such as United Nations Relief Works Agency, which are generally considered as international organizations in their own right.

Additionally, the United Nations has specialized agencies which are organizations within the United Nations System, that have their own member states (often nearly identical to the UN Member States) and are governed independently by them, examples include International Organizations that predate the UN, such the International Telecommunication Union, and the Universal Postal Union, as well as organizations that were created after the UN such as the World Health Organization (which was made up of regional organizations such as PAHO that predated the UN).

International NGOs[edit]

International Organizations are sometimes referred to as Intergovernmental Organizations (IGOs), in order to clarify the distinction from International nongovernmental organizations (INGOs), which are non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that operate internationally. These include international non-profit organization such as the World Organization of the Scout Movement, International Committee of the Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières, but also NGOs that that lobby for for-profit companies such as the World Economic Forum.

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ (in French) François Modoux, "La Suisse engagera 300 millions pour rénover le Palais des Nations", Le Temps, Friday 28 June 2013, page 9.
  2. ^ "Articles on the Responsibility of International Organizations". Retrieved 2019-08-21.
  3. ^ Bouwhuis, Stephen (2012-01-01). "The International Law Commission's Definition of International Organizations". International Organizations Law Review. 9 (2): 451–465. doi:10.1163/15723747-00902004. ISSN 1572-3747.
  4. ^ "International Organizations - Research Guide International Law | Peace Palace Library". Retrieved 2019-08-21.
  5. ^ "Intergovernmental organizations having received a standing invitation to participate as observers in the sessions and the work of the General Assembly and maintaining permanent offices at Headquarters." United Nations Department of Public Information, United Nations Secretariat.

External links[edit]