International Organization

Research Article

Who Is Punished? Regional Intergovernmental Organizations and the Enforcement of Democratic Norms

Daniela Donnoa1

a1 University of Pittsburgh. E-mail:


Scholars have found an association between membership in regional intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) and democracy, and IGO enforcement is often credited as an important factor explaining this link. But empirical evidence reveals great variation in whether these organizations actually respond to violations of democratic norms, even in democratic regions. Why do IGOs punish some norm-violating countries but not others? What does this variation imply for theories about how IGO membership helps states make credible commitments? This article presents a theoretical framework for understanding variation in multilateral norm enforcement. It identifies two obstacles to enforcement—the presence of competing geopolitical interests and uncertainty about the nature and scope of norm violations—and it argues that international monitoring can help mitigate these obstacles by revealing and publicizing information that pressures reluctant member states to support enforcement. An original data set of democracy enforcement in Latin America and postcommunist countries is used to examine regional IGO enforcement in response to one prevalent type of democratic norm violation: electoral misconduct. I find that enforcement is less likely in countries of high geopolitical importance, but the presence of election observers increases the probability of enforcement, and the content of observers' reports influences the type of enforcement that is imposed. These findings suggest that the link between IGO membership, credible commitments, and democracy should be theorized and tested as a conditional relationship, depending on country- and incident-specific factors that influence the likelihood of enforcement.

Daniela Donno is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Pittsburgh. E-mail:


I thank David Bearce, Julia Gray, Ashley Leeds, Nikolay Marinov, Nita Rudra, Bruce Russett, Burcu Savun, Susan Stokes, participants at the University of Pittsburgh Globalization Workshop, and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments. This research was supported by a Peace Scholars Dissertation Fellowship from the United States Institute of Peace, and by a grant from the European Union Studies Center at Yale University.