Specialists in the field of international organization have noted with some alarm a decline of interest among students and foundations in the study of the United Nations system. There has been a shift toward the study of regionalism and the theory of integration. The former shift reflects one reality of postwar world politics—the division of a huge and heterogeneous international system into subsystems in which patterns of cooperation and ways of controlling conflicts are either more intense or less elusive than in the global system. The interest in integration reflects both the persistence and the transformation of the kind of idealism that originally pervaded, guided, and at times distorted the study of international organization. We have come to understand that integration, in the sense of a process that devalues sovereignty, gradually brings about the demise of the nation-state, and leads to the emergence of new foci of loyalty and authority, is only one, and by no means the most important, of the many functions performed by global international organizations. This has led only in part to a more sober and searching assessment of these functions. It has resulted primarily in a displacement of interest toward those geographically more restricted institutions (like the European Communities) whose main task seems to be to promote integration.
Stanley Hoffmann is a professor in the Government Department and a faculty associate at the Center for International Affairs, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.