The seeds of Global Governance

International Governmental Organizations (IGOs) can be thought of as the seeds for a new mechanisms of Global Governance. They represent deals between countries to try to solve diverse issues. Some of them are formed by few countries, and others by most of them. Some IGOs are general, and others focused on very specific topics. Some of them only accept regional members, while others are open to all the international community. But giving all those differences, they serve a purpose individually. And if we consider them together, we can think about them as the seeds of a kind of new “international government”.

How to measure an IGO

The classical approximation which dates back to the 1970’s on a seminal article by Michael Wallace and David Singer titled “International Governmental Organization in the Global System, 1815-1964” is to consider an organization to be an International Governmental Organization if it has the following three characteristics:

  • membership at least three members from the system of states
  • life it must hold one plenary session at least every ten years
  • formal it must have a permanent secretariat and headquarters

This excludes treaties between states and legal agreements, and all the , but it also excludes “objects” such as the G20, which is usually regarded as a leading institution in the international arena.

The evolution of IGO

The following figure shows the number of IGOs that were formed by many members (high values in the x-axis) or few (low values in the x-axis). And it does so for 4 different points in time: in 1870, in 1930, in 1970 and in 2005. The data is based on the “full members” of IGO according to the latest version (2.3) of the International Governmental Organizations database maintained by Timothy Nordstrom (University of Mississippi), Jon Pevehouse (University of Wisconsin) and Megan Shannon (University of Mississippi) and hosted at the Correlates of War Program and described at an article on “Conflict Management and Peace Science”

Few points are important from this figure:

  • With no doubt, the number of IGO in the international arena has increased, as shown by the increasing area painted black.
  • It is also worth mentioning that the process hasn’t been linear, but it has exploted in recent years.
  • The plot also shows a somewhat bimodal distribution in 2005, suggesting that IGO are either formed by less than 50 members or by more than 150. There are not many IGOs with an intermediate number of members.
  • The fact that most of the IGOs have less that 20 members also suggests that although the seeds for global governance can be found in IGOs, the majority of them are so small (with respect to their representativity in terms of current members of the international system), that it is hard to imagine that have a “global” impact beyond the reduced number of full members.
  • Another way to see the process is with the following video, which shows year by year (5-years until 1960) evolution of the number of full members in the IGOs. In addition to the previous points, it is also interesting to visualize the impact in the membership of IGOs of two different processes of country formation: the decolonization in the 1960s, and the fall of the USSR and the creation of new countries in the 90s (the hunch aroud 150 moves towards 190 in the 1990s).

    Do more IGO mean that we live in a better world?

    Not necessarily. But it may happen that the seeds for a global Governance mechanisms are yet in the international arena. Countries have generated a myriad of institutions to try to solve sometimes very specific problems. We know that the tendency is to have more and more countries joining those arrangementts. So it is not very strange to think of those solutions as a rudimentary set of tools ready to be used to arrive to a more depth agreemens between societies.

    Code to generate the plots

    The following code imports the IGO COW dataset, does some basic processing and arranges the data in a way that is easy to manage. The code that generates the 2005 snapshot is also provided. The process to generate the video is equal than in a previous post.

    require(ggplot2)
    
    # Read data
    d <- read.table("IGO_stateunit_v2.3.csv", head=TRUE, sep=",")
    igo <- d[,-c(1, 3)]
    
    # Generate status factors
    migo <- melt(igo, id=c("country", "year"))
    names(migo)[3:4] <- c("igo", "status")
    table(migo$status)
    migo$status <- factor(migo$status,
      levels=c(0, 1, 2, 3, -9, -1),
      labels=c("no membership", "full membership", "associate membership",
        "observer", "NA", "IGO not in existence"))
    migo <- cbind(migo, fm=ifelse(migo$status=="full membership", 1, 0))
    
    # Full membership
    migo.fm <- tapply(migo$fm, list(migo$year, migo$igo), sum)
    migo.fm <- melt(migo.fm)
    names(migo.fm) <- c("year", "igo", "fm")
    migo.fm <- subset(migo.fm, fm>0)               # only when IGOs have at least some members
    
    # Do the plot
    t <- subset(migo.fm, year=="1880")
    p1 <- ggplot(t, aes(x=fm)) + xlim(0, 200) + ylim(0, 70) + geom_histogram(binwidth=5) +
      xlab("Number of full membership countries") + ylab("Number of IGO") + opts(title="1880")
    t <- subset(migo.fm, year=="1930")
    p2 <- ggplot(t, aes(x=fm)) + xlim(0, 200) + ylim(0, 70) + geom_histogram(binwidth=5) +
      xlab("Number of full membership countries") + ylab("Number of IGO") + opts(title="1930")
    t <- subset(migo.fm, year=="1970")
    p3 <- ggplot(t, aes(x=fm)) + xlim(0, 200) + ylim(0, 70) + geom_histogram(binwidth=5) +
      xlab("Number of full membership countries") + ylab("Number of IGO") + opts(title="1970")
    t <- subset(migo.fm, year=="2005")
    p4 <- ggplot(t, aes(x=fm)) + xlim(0, 200) + ylim(0, 70) + geom_histogram(binwidth=5) +
      xlab("Number of full membership countries") + ylab("Number of IGO") + opts(title="2005")
    grid.arrange(p1, p2, p3, p4, ncol=2, nrow=2)
    
    
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