International Organization


Inertia and change in the constellation of international governmental organizations, 1981–1992

Cheryl Shanksa1, Harold K. Jacobsona2 and Jeffrey H. Kaplana3

a1 Assistant Professor of Political Science at Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts.

a2 Jesse Siddal Reeves Professor Political Science and Primary Research Scientist, Center for Political Studies, at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

a3 Student at the George Washington University Law School, Washington, D.C.


Hardly anyone expects public institutions to die. Yet a census reveals that fully one-third of the international governmental organizations (IGOs) in existence in 1981 had in fact become defunct by 1992. Most Eastern bloc and many regional developing country organizations vanished or became inactive. During this period a slightly larger number of new organizations was born. Not governments but other IGOs spawned most of the new offspring. Wealthy democratic countries increased their IGO memberships while poor unstable countries increasingly dropped out. This bifurcation was accompanied by greater reliance by all on a set of core universal-membership institutions dominated by Western values. Functionalism, organizational ecology, and realism each partly help us to understand these trends but leave important dynamics unexplained.