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No one expects public institutions to die. Max Weber described bureaucracies as "practically indestructible," contending that "History shows that wherever bureaucracy gained the upper hand, as in China, Egypt and, to a lesser extent, in the Roman empire and Byzantium, it did not disappear again unless in the course of the total collapse of the supporting culture."(1) Whereas private organizations, such as charitable institutions and firms, might collapse from apathy or competition, many suppose public bureaucracies to endure indefinitely. An organization's presence itself creates a constituency, and even if institutions' creators no longer need them, they would let the institutions slide into obscurity rather than expend resources in a battle to kill them. As Herbert Kaufman pointed out with regard to U.S. bureaucracies, "Even with an extremely low birth rate, a population of immortals would gradually attain immense proportions."(2) Once established, a governmental organization should cling like a barnacle to its niche.
If this were true, international governmental organizations (IGOs) - metabureaucracies even further removed from citizens' calls for accountability and efficiency - should be even more impervious to change. IGOs are those associations established by governments or their representatives that are sufficiently institutionalized to require regular meetings, rules governing decision making, a permanent staff, and a headquarters. From the Congress of Vienna through the 1990s, the population of IGOs has added new members steadily, occasionally plateauing following periodic organizing bursts. In 1981, there were 1,063 IGOs. In 1992, there were 1,147. Since common wisdom holds that organizations do not die, and the scholarship addressing IGOs shares this assumption, one would conclude that countries created 84 new IGOs in this decade.(3) In fact, however, hundreds of IGOs were born and died during this period. Five main dimensions of change have transformed the web of IGOs - the organizations themselves and states' memberships in them - over the last decade.
First, although the total number of organizations grew and many new organizations were created, a significant number were formally set aside. Many others in effect vanished. Only two-thirds of the IGOs that existed in 1981 were still active in 1992. Although slightly more IGOs were created than were cast off (84 more), both sets of organizations number in the hundreds. IGOs, like the domestic bureaucracies that Kaufman studied, do have a mortality rate, and it can be surprisingly high.
Second, not governments but other IGOs created a huge proportion of these new organizations. Emanations - second-order IGOs created through actions of other IGOs - and traditionally created IGOs are not always of equal weight, but both connect states through an overlay of institutional rules and a commitment to shared goals; and both indicate the same sort of assumed obligation. For this reason, we make no judgments about IGOs' relative importance. The number of traditional IGOs, those established through formal international treaties, decreased in absolute as well as relative terms, declining from 394 in 1981 to 339 in 1992. Emanations increased from 669 to 808, jumping from 64 percent of the IGO population to more than 70 percent. This increase in emanations accounts for the apparent growth at the aggregate level.
Third, organizations created during this decade do not mirror the characteristics of the older organizations. IGOs can be classified along two dimensions: membership criteria and mandated function. Membership in some organizations is open to all states, whereas others limit membership according to criteria such as geography, historical association, or shared purpose. Some organizations have broad general mandates, while others limit themselves to specific functions. The new organizations allocate membership differently from those that were abandoned; as a result, the distribution of organizations by type changed fundamentally, although the proportions of IGOs dedicated to a variety of functions did not.
Fourth, states have changed their connections to IGOs. While some have increased the number of their IGO memberships, for others, memberships in IGOs actually declined. The result is a growing polarization between powerful countries - dominated by the literate, wealthy, and democratic - that establish and control IGOs and countries whose populations and governments are badly off and increasingly disengaged from international organizations.
Fifth, IGOs are no longer found primarily in competitive sets, with each geopolitical bloc having its own institutions. The end of the cold war explains part of this change, accounting for about one-eighth of IGO deaths, but it does not explain the changing distribution of organizations by mode of creation, membership, or function. Developing countries' regional strategies also have largely failed. This factor, combined with the end of the cold war, has meant the elimination of a set of IGOs that existed as an alternative to the West. States' resource capacities now better explain the pattern of countries' memberships in IGOs; in addition, more recently formed IGOs are more likely to have purposes that most countries could share.
In order to understand what these changes mean and who or what drives them, we first must describe what the IGO world looked like in 1981 and in 1992 and then assess possible sources of any changes we see. At issue is who determines which institutions will tie governments and their populations together. One source is the IGO population itself. Like biological populations, organizational populations acquire dynamic properties affecting their development; these are related to, but not entirely dependent on, their environments.(4) Another possible source of change lies within the group of states that funds and officially directs the IGOs. Following the series of descriptions, we turn to what influences countries' membership levels in IGOs and assess the degree to which changes in membership account for the different number and types of IGOs present in 1981 and 1992. The analysis concludes by considering two distinct but related questions about the relation between states and IGOs: we examine how countries affect the IGO population and how the IGO population in turn affects the choices that countries make about institutionalizing cooperation. The web of international organizations maps areas in which governments are committed to take others' interests into account. Changes in the web of IGOs reflect struggles about what sorts of governmental decisions will be limited in this way and which states will be bound to such limitations. We concentrate solely on whether IGOs and state memberships exist or do not exist. In this way the picture we present below is less a survey of public opinion, which asks what people think, than a census, which asks how many people are alive to form opinions in the first place. Like a census, we do not differentiate between the weak and the strong.
Data collection and coding rules
The Union of International Associations (UIA) tracks IGOs annually, relying on a variety of reporting mechanisms to create the most comprehensive and reliable catalog of the world's international organizations. Our data set derives from the UIA's Yearbook of International Organizations.(5) Because the presence or absence of an IGO's necessary characteristics is not always clear - for example, the Group of 7 meets regularly to discuss common problems researched by large staffs but does not have a headquarters - and an organization's autonomy is also at times ambiguous, rather than define and hold to an intricate rule of inclusion, the UIA's policy has been to include "many bodies which may be perceived, according to narrower definitions, as not being fully international or as not being of sufficient significance to merit inclusion. Such bodies are nevertheless included, so as to enable users to make their own evaluation in the light of their own criteria."(6) Because the UIA has become more inclusive over the past decade, the number of IGOs it lists in its 1992 yearbook deviates noticeably from our more conservative estimate.
TABLE 1. Comparison of the UIA data set with our own (SJK) data set, by alphabetic code A B C D E F G Missing(a) Total 1981 UIA 1 31 50 255 384 278 40 0 1,039 SJK 1 35 51 267 359 227 28 95 1,063 1992 UIA 1 34 36 215 719 633 52 0 1,690 SJK 1 35 48 245 440 315 4 59 1,147 a Missing codes are those for which the Union of International Associations (UIA) did not supply a category between A and G. Source. UIA data are based on UIA 1982; and 1993.
Our rules for inclusion are more restrictive than those of the UIA. This usually results in smaller IGO totals, though for two categories our figures exceed those of the UIA. Information about the IGOs listed in the yearbooks was coded into exhaustive and mutually exclusive categories. An IGO was either traditional or an emanation; allocated membership either universally or by geography or function; and saw its purpose either as general or as primarily political/military, economic, or social. As Table 1 shows, the degree to which our data depart from the comprehensive list offered by the UIA increases as the organizations in question become further removed from the states that establish them. Traditional organizations, those established by governments through treaties, have UIA alphabetic codes A through D, and G. Type A organizations are federations of international organizations, of which the only IGO is the United Nations (UN). Type B have "widespread, geographically balanced membership and management."(7) Examples include the World Health Organization and Interpol. Type C organizations include countries in more than one geographical area but concentrate their membership in one area. Type D organizations are clearly regional IGOs. The UIA lists type G organizations as "internationally oriented national organizations as well as bilateral intergovernmental bodies."(8) We include only bilateral IGOs, thus reducing drastically the number of type G IGOs in our data set. The number of IGOs in this set of classifications departs substantially from the first UIA count only in the case of this last set of organizations. The four that we included are bilateral IGOs, such as the Mano River Union.
More ambiguity lies in the case of emanations' autonomous existence, so it is not surprising that here we have selected a more limited set of IGOs than the UIA offered for inspection. Eligible were those that the UIA categorized as type E or type F. The UIA lists organizations as type E if they can "be considered an 'emanation' of a particular organization, place, or person." Indications of this criterion include having another IGO's name in its title, having been created by a provision in another IGO's charter, being a joint- or inter-IGO committee, or being an "international centre or institute." Type F organizations are those of special form, including foundations, funds, news agencies, laboratories, libraries, banks, and courts.(9) Our coding rule in all cases was to include an organization only if its members were listed as governments. The effect was to eliminate the many organizations whose members are state banks, public libraries, hospitals, or other nongovernmental entities.
Data on organizational deaths are also derived from the UIA yearbook, which indicates in small type which organizations are defunct or inactive. Because the UIA assigns each organization a unique code number (beginning with the alphabetic code described above, followed by a four-digit identity tag), we were able to follow organizations that changed their names from one year to the next. These codes, rather than English alphabetical listings, were our main form of identification.
Since we used the same coding rules (and coders) to create the 1981 and 1992 data sets, bias appears not in interyear comparisons but in our tendency to understate the number and proportion of emanations relative to traditional IGOs. We have not systematically analyzed the borderline organizations we have excluded, but they most probably are not randomly distributed. Instead they are likely to be associated with one or another parent IGO or regional grouping. For example, European Community organizations are unlikely to present the UIA with unclear descriptions and so are unlikely to be inaccurately represented in our data set.
Four snapshots of the IGO population
Aggregate change over time within the IGO population, and between states and this population, results from several trends that occur at different rates and sometimes even move in different directions. To understand the dynamics within the population, we must first disentangle the individual trends that produced the aggregate results sketched above. Figure 1 illustrates the fate of IGOs by type from 1981 to 1992. In the figure, the bars above the x-axis represent the IGO population in 1992. This includes those IGOs that survived from 1981 and those that were created between 1981 and 1992. The bars below the x-axis show those IGOs that …