- For the political science journal, see: International Organization
An international organization (also called intergovernmental organization) is an organization of international scope or character. There are two main types of international organizations: international intergovernmental organizations, whose members are sovereign states; and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which are private organizations. Generally the term international organization is used to mean international governmental organizations only. It is in this sense that the term is used in the remainder of this article.
Legally speaking, an international organization must be established by a treaty providing it with legal recognition for it to be an international organization. International organizations so established are subjects of international law, capable of entering into agreements among themselves or with states. Thus international organizations in a legal sense are distinguished from mere groupings of states, such as the G-8 and the G-77, neither of which have been founded by treaty, though in non-legal contexts these are sometimes referred to as international organizations as well. International organizations must also be distinguished from treaties; while all international organizations are founded on a treaty, many treaties (e.g., the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)) do not establish an international organization and rely purely on the parties for their administration.
International organizations can be categorised in two main ways: by their membership, and by their function.
International organizations differ in who their members are and in who is permitted to join them. Membership of some organizations (global organizations) is open to all the nations of the world. This category includes the United Nations and its specialized agencies, as well as the World Trade Organization.
Some specialized agencies predate all other types. In the nineteenth century, France was the fons et origo of many of them. By this it is meant that much of the driving force to form such bodies (such as those which maintain the metric system) came from the French, and that their headquarters is in France, often in Paris. Under the Third Republic, the International Exposition of 1878 in that city held a great number of meetings of such international organizations - as opposed to the preceding regimes. The motivation was that to keep France a republic and not slip back into either a monarchist or Bonapartist regime, the republicans would underscore their inheritance of the crusading nature of the French Revolution against feudal cultural remnants within France, which had been generalized to the rest of feudal Europe, eventually to the world. Some conclude from this example that internationalism often has national origins, at the difference of globalism.
Other organizations are only open to members from a particular region of the world. Finally, some organizations base their membership on other criteria: cultural or historical links (the Commonwealth of Nations, La Francophonie), level of economic development or type of economy (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Organization of Petroleum-Exporting Countries (OPEC)), or religion (Organization of the Islamic Conference).
Were it to come about, the ultimate international organization would be a federal world government.
Examples of global organizations
Examples of regional organizations
- Europe: European Union (EU), Council of Europe, European Space Agency, European Free Trade Association, European Patent Organisation
- America: Organization of American States (OAS), South American Community of Nations, Mercosur, Andean Community, Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), Rio Group, Central American Parliament
- Africa: the African Union (formerly the Organization for African Unity), Conseil de l'Entente, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Southern African Development Community (SADC)
- Asia: Asian Cooperation Dialogue (ACD), Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), Gulf Cooperation Council
Organizations formed on miscellaneous membership criteria
International organizations can also be considered functionally, based on the areas and fields in which they operate.
Financial international organizations
The Union of International Associations provides information on international organizations.