An international organization is defined as an organization with an international membership, scope, presence. However when we discuss about them, they are often Intergovernmental Organizations (IGOs). There are of course, International Nongovernmental Organizations (INGOs) too. These include non-profit organizations such as Amnesty International and Doctors without Borders, and multinational corporations like McDonald’s Corporation. Because the role of the state is emphasized in both neoliberal and neorealist assumptions, many studies tend to focus on IGOs and their functions in international relations. However, we need to approach them in the perspectives of social constructivism as well.
One of the most significant aspects of modern global politics was the inter-paradigm debate between neo-liberalism (neoliberal institutionalism to be exact) and neo-realism. Unlike liberalism in its classical sense, neo-liberalism embraces the basic realist assumption about international relations, which is anarchy. Neoliberals recognize the significance of nation states as actors in international relationship nature of which being anarchic. Considering this competitive, anarchic global system, neo-realists simply focus on surviving it, whereas neoliberals try to find a way to create and support international cooperation. Neoliberal institutionalism focuses on the global institutions and their roles. Because the nature of international relationship is anarchic, there is a need for international regimes and institutions to help nation states to cooperate with one another.
In this point of view, IGOs are crucial in achieving international cooperation. Intergovernmental Organization (or International Governmental Organization) is an organization that comprises mainly of sovereign states (or member states), and it is an important aspect of international law. IGOs differ in function, membership, or goals, but common stated aims are to preserve peace through conflict resolution and better international relations, to promote international cooperation on matters like environmental protection, to promote human rights, to promote social and economic development, and to render humanitarian aid. These kinds of functions most neo-realists consider as fantasies. It is ironic, because IGO is one of the solutions based on realist assumption regarding the anarchic nature of international relationship. This is why the neo-neo debate is also called the neo-neo synthesis.
Social constructivism is described as a bridge or middle ground between rationalism and reflectivism. Rationalism is about foundational theoretic assumption based on positivist methods, and it includes both neo-liberalism and neo-realism. Reflectivism on the other hand is in many cases anti-foundational, evolving against the rationalism and positivism. This includes post-modernism, a few feminist theory, normative theory, and etc. Constructivism primarily seeks to demonstrate how many core aspects of international relations are, contrary to the assumptions of neo-realism and neo-liberalism, socially constructed, that is, they are given their form by ongoing processes of social practice and interaction. Alexander Wendt, a core constructivist, argued that the structures of human association are determined primarily by shared ideas rather than material forces, and that the identities and interests of purposive actors are constructed by these shared ideas rather than given by nature.
In the constructivist point of view, we have to consider aspects other than roles of the nation states and so-induced anarchic nature of the international system. Anarchy in international relations is not necessarily a ‘given’ structure as neo-realists believe, but it is a structure constructed by social practice. One must analyze all sorts of social, cultural, and non-state aspects of the world to understand the anarchy appropriately. This brings us to the INGOs. They are not considered as significant as IGOs in terms of institutional cooperation these days, basically because nation states in fact are still playing the most important role in international relationship. However, the global politics also have many other actors (individuals, multinational corporations, human rights institutions, etc.) that construct the whole nature of its system, and one cannot ignore their validity.
International organizations differ in many of their purposes but we all agree that they should be about establishing global governance and institutional cooperation that cannot be achieved spontaneously in the state of anarchy. Because until now the nation states have been the most powerful actors in world politics, they led the role of building these regimes and institutions. They resulted in international law, and by learning-by-doing they eliminated many of the menaces that once swept the international system. However, many non-governmental actors are rising and one should take into account the significance of those phenomena. By considering potentials of the social constructivist ideas, IOs will be able to serve their true purposes in multidimensional way. Of course, it might be much chaotic and undesirable in the sense of public good, because these actors are not reliable or predictable compared to nation states. But it is better to be chaotic than to be overlooked. The term ‘international organization’ is much better when it is written as ‘global organization’ instead.