NestIOr at 18 months

NestIOr at 18 months

The NestIOr project on the decline and death of international organizations started in January 2019. Now at 18 months, the European Research Council requires us to submit our first financial report. Just before the summer break, it is however also a good moment to look briefly back at what has been achieved so far.

A key task has been to further develop the concepts and theories underpinning the project. I am, in particular, keen for the project to speak to related academic research on governance life-cycles in political philosophy, history, and public administration. I therefore wrote a concept paper for the project. In addition, there was a need to better operationalise key variables for the quantitative part of the project led by Maria Debre. Furthermore, Laura von Allwoerden, Leonard Schuette and Giuseppe Zaccaria wrote elaborate research plans for their case studies as part of their PhD trajectories that started in September. Finally, it was inspiring to get external feedback during a kick-off workshop in Brussels.

Maria and I also worked on the first quantitative paper on institutional theory and the death of IOs. It was beneficial that Jon Pevehouse, Timothy Nordstrom, Roseanne McManus, and Anne Spencer Jamison has just finished their COW-IGO v3.0 dataset and generously provided us access. At the same time, we wanted to do more original data-gathering than originally intended, which resulted in us coding 150 treaties of IOs and finding data on IO secretariat staff including in old yearbooks kept at libraries in Brussels and Leuven. This paper confirmed one of key institutional hypothesis of the project (that a large secretariat results in longevity) yet we found no evidence for our hypothesis that flexibility in treaties results in longevity.

These findings triggered research for a second paper, in which we study the causes of death of major IOs. We wondered “what does it take” particularly because the death of major IOs potentially leaves large gaps in global governance? Taking an inclusive view on what constitutes a major IO, we identified 22 major IOs which have died and have not been formally replaced. The causes of death in these relatively rare events differ widely and we provided five case illustrations: League of Nations, Warsaw Treaty Organization, International Refugee Organization, Western European Union, and International Institute of Agriculture.

Then COVID-19 struck. While this obviously had an effect on how we could operate as a team, we also felt that we should actually study its effects on IOs. We therefore wrote a third paper on IO responses to COVID-19. In particular, we were interested why some IOs appear gridlocked, others maintain operations, and yet others use this crisis as an opportunity to expand their scope and instruments. We coded the immediate policy responses of 75 IOs and we combined this data with the Hooghe et al. dataset and our own work on bureaucratic capacity. We were quite surprised to find that, once again, secretariat size is significant in explaining IO responses under this exogenous shock.

Apart from the quantitative work, we also made progress on the case studies. Giuseppe, Laura and Leonard decided that they will respectively study the World Bank, World Trade Organization, UNFCCC, International Energy Agency, NATO and OSCE. These are six major IOs that have been challenged considerably and we are interested to know how they have responded to these challenges. While COVID-19 interrupted plans for initial fieldwork, Giuseppe, Laura and Leonard have still been able to do more than 50 interviews, largely via videoconference. This went really well and undoubtedly will become a new tool in the arsenal of qualitative scholars.

Looking forward to the next 12 months, we want to do more work on the decline of IOs. The death of IOs is a significant yet rare event, but it remains relatively easy to conceptualize and measure. The decline of IOs, a stage in the life-cycle that normally precedes death, is much more difficult to make sense of. By some of the conventional indicators (decline in output, resources or membership), we cannot identify too many IOs experiencing a stage of decline. Nevertheless, we know that many IOs are obviously under pressures. We hope to get more insight on this point through the case studies and additional quantitative work.

Hylke Dijkstra