International Organizations

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Related to International Organizations: NATO, World Health Organization, United Nations
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

International Organizations


associations of states or of nongovernmental national societies for the achievement of common goals in politics, economics, society, science and technology, and culture; one of the most important forms of multilateral cooperation among states.

Even in antiquity there were attempts to create international organizations, but the formation of international organizations in the modern sense dates to the second half of the 19th century. International organizations were established as important elements in international relations in response to the need to develop economic ties and strengthen multilateral relations between states and peoples by means of various forms of cooperation. Because the first international organizations—international administrative unions—were founded when capitalist international relations completely dominated the world arena, their activities reflected the most typical features of that epoch of international relations. There was a fierce struggle for markets and spheres of influence, the weak were subordinated to the will of the strong, and colonial and dependent peoples were completely without rights. Multilateral international cooperation on a regular basis developed chiefly in transportation and communications. The establishment of the League of Nations in 1919 was the first attempt at cooperation on political issues within an international organization.

The formation of the Soviet state, and later of the world socialist system, was of great significance in the organization and development of contemporary international organizations. The founding of the UN under the fundamental principle of equal cooperation among states with different socioeconomic systems was an important stage in the establishment of international organizations. However, the participation of the USSR in drafting the principles of the UN was of decisive importance for the inclusion in the UN Charter of the basic democratic principles of modern international relations, including those concerning the activities of international organizations. From the standpoint of the development of international organizations, the formation of international organizations of socialist states (for example, the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance [COMECON]) was the most important phenomenon of the postwar period.

There are more than 2,500 international organizations devoted to a wide variety of causes. They fall into two basic groups: interstate and nongovernmental organizations. Only states may be members of interstate organizations. The membership of non-governmental international organizations consists of national associations, societies, nongovernmental organizations, and even individuals. Depending on the number of members, international organizations are classified as universal (including members from all or almost all the states in the world), regional (including the states of a particular geographic region), and subregional (including states from part of a geographic region). There are international organizations that have an even narrower membership base than the subregional bodies. In terms of their composition, international organizations are referred to as general organizations, which have representatives from states with different sociopolitical systems, and unitype organizations. International organizations are also categorized according to the scope of their activities. Thus, a distinction is drawn between organizations whose competence includes a number of areas of international cooperation (for example, peace and security and economic and social issues) and international organizations devoted to a particular purpose (various economic, social, and scientific and technological questions, or problems in education, culture, transportation, communications, and public health).

A constituent act (charter), which is a type of international treaty, is the basis for the creation and activities of each international organization. The charter, which usually establishes an organization’s goals, principles, structure, and activities, is the highest law for an international organization and its members. Its provisions must accord with and must not contradict the norms and principles of modern international law.

Although the internal structures of international organizations vary, many of them have a number of features in common. For instance, the highest body of most international organizations is the general assembly (conference) of all members, which meets periodically (either annually or once every few years). The competence of the general assembly usually includes the adoption, review, amendment, and alteration of the constituent act. In addition, the general assembly handles the admission of new members, the establishment of a dues scale, and the adoption of a budget. Between conferences the activities of most international organizations are governed by an executive council (for example, an executive committee or presidium). As a rule, each international organization has a standing secretariat headed by a secretary-general or director. In addition, auxiliary consultative bodies are usually established (commissions, committees, working groups, and councils, for example). A number of international organizations, particularly interstate ones (the UN, many of its specialized institutions, COMECON, the Common Market, and the Organization of African Unity, for example), have complex subsystems of auxiliary bodies. As the activities of the large interstate international organizations have become more complex, specialized research institutes have been established to make projections, work out models, investigate developmental trends, and develop the most effective means of implementing planned programs. The UN, UNESCO, and COMECON are among the international organizations that have established such research institutions.

The decisions of an overwhelming majority of international organizations are recommendations; that is, in a strictly legal sense, they are not binding on their members. Only certain inter-state international organizations have the right to adopt decisions that their members are obliged to support. For example, resolutions of the UN Security Council on international peace and security, health regulations of the World Health Organization (providing they meet certain specific conditions), and COMECON recommendations are binding on member states. Among the activities of international organizations are the convocation of international conferences, the compilation of research and reports, and the preparation of drafts of international conventions, treaties, and agreements. UN organizations conduct joint research, various projects, and aid programs for developing countries. Many nongovernmental international organizations have received special, consultative status with the UN, UNESCO, the International Labor Organization (ILO), and the World Health Organization. Consultative status gives nongovernmental international organizations certain rights regarding their participation in the activities of interstate international organizations, including the right to propose additions to the agenda of various bodies, to present oral statements, to conduct special research and prepare documents on questions falling within their competence, and to send observers to sessions of various bodies, as well as to special conferences.

International organizations contribute to the resolution of major international problems. Large interstate international organizations give financial support to nongovernmental international organizations so that they can implement concrete programs or conduct research in which the interstate organizations are interested.

In contemporary international relations a very important role is played by interstate international organizations that are the most representative in terms of the number of member states and the scope of their competence. The UN occupies a special place among interstate organizations, for its membership currently includes almost all the states in the world, and it has jurisdiction over a broad range of problems, from maintaining international peace and security to promoting the development of international cooperation in many different areas of interstate relations. Among the most important international organizations are mass democratic organizations such as the World Peace Movement, the World Federation of Trade Unions, the Women’s International Democratic Federation, and the World Federation of Democratic Youth. Nongovernmental organizations similar to the Interparliamentary Union enjoy considerable international influence.

Allied with all progressive forces, the USSR and the other socialist countries wage an ongoing struggle for the active and effective use of contemporary international organizations in the interest of peace and security of peoples and the development of broad, equitable international cooperation.


Mezhdunarodnye nepravitel’stvennye organizatsii: Spravochnik. Moscow, 1967.
Spetsializirovannye uchrezhdeniia OON v sovremennon mire. Moscow, 1967.
Morozov, G. I. Mezhdunarodnye organizatsii: Nekotorye voprosy teorii. Moscow, 1969.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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