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Types of International Organization

Classification categories (Part #1)


Updated version of an article which first appeared in the Yearbook of International Organizations in 1978. That version was reproduced, with minor alterations, by permission of the publisher and editors of: International Organizations; a conceptual approach edited by Paul Taylor and A J M Groom (London, Frances Pinter, 1977; New York, Nichols Publishing Company, 1978). The article appeared there under the title: "International institutions: diversity, borderline cases, functional substitutes and possible alternatives". Annex of Types of International Organization: Detailed overview (1978)
4.1 Organization terminology
2 Structural characteristics
3 Characteristic modes of action
4 Preoccupational character
5 Geographic characteristics
6 Other special characteristics

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4.1 Organization terminology

International organizations, whether governmental or non-governmental, use any of an extensive range of terms in their official titles. These may include terms such as union, association, office, agency, centre, or alliance. There is a great deal of confusion associated with the meanings to be attached to such terms in practice. It is therefore not usual to attempt to classify an organization on the basis of whether it is a "union", a "confederation", a "committee", or a "league", for example. A "centre" may in fact resemble an "association" more than it resembles most other "centres"; equally an "association" can be more like what is commonly understood to be a "centre". The range of terms can be usefully ordered by relating the organizations in question to the meetings by which they were established or through which they work. This brings out the strengths and limitations of this seemingly obvious approach to classifying organizations.

4.1.1 General: The greatest confusion lies in the use of terms such as

  • association, fellowship *, federation, academy, society, college, confederation, brotherhood *
  • organization, solidarity*, union, guild*, alliance, order *, foundation, chamber *
  • club, brigade *, league, movement

In each case this may mean an organization of individuals, an organization of national organizations, or any possible variation on these. Inter-governmental bodies only use those terms without an asterisk. Examples of use of these terms include:

  • International Chamber of Shipping

  • Association of South East Asian Nations

  • International College of Surgeons

  • World Assembly of Youth

  • Brotherhood of Asian Trade Unionists

  • Rosicrucian Order

  • European Broadcasting Union

  • Confederation of Asian Chambers of Commerce and

    Industry

  • Society for International Development

  • League of Arab States

An important variant in the case of some inter-governmental bodies

stresses the domain for which the body is responsible

  • West African Economic Community
  • East Caribbean Common Market

Other interesting variants are illustrated by the following:

  • Baha 'i International Community
  • Boys Brigade
  • Salvation Army
  • Apostleship of the Sea
  • Church of Christ Scientist
  • World Citizen Party
  • European Parliament

4.1.2 Treaty-Related: Inter-government organizations are, by definition, centred on an international treaty or agreement. In some cases the name of the treaty may be embodied into the name of the organization:

  • General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade
  • North Atlantic Treaty Organization

Another group intimately linked to international legal questions is that of courts and tribunals:

  • International Court of Justice
  • European Court of Human Rights
  • Permanent Court of Arbitration
  • Nuclear Energy Tribunal

A final group, specially governed by treaty provision, is that of military and control authorities:

  • Allied Control Authority for Germany
  • United Nations Security Council
  • International Authority for the Ruhr
  • East Caribbean Central Bank

4.1.3 Conference: There are many bodies which take their names from the principal (statutory) meeting in which their members participate:

  • conference, congress, assembly, forum

A fully representative and sovereign body may thus meet periodically and take decisions defining the policy of the organization which binds its subsidiary organs. The procedure and composition of such a meeting may be defined by the constitution of the body or the original treaty.

  • Standing Conference of Rectors and Vice-Chancellors of
  • European Universities
  • European Conference of Ministers of Transport
  • Conference for the Regions of North West Europe
  • World Assembly of Youth
  • European Atomic Forum

4.1.3.1 Conference commissions: Such general conferences when they occur may give rise to commissions of the conference which meet in the intervening months or years between sessions of the conference and possibly during it. In practice such commissions are either given or acquire a fair degree of autonomy. It may therefore happen that although the (periodical) conference does not constitute an organization in its own right, the commission may take on a more or less permanent organizational form. The number of members is generally limited and their selection is made according to rules established by the conference (or body) by which it was created and to which it reports. In some cases the commission may be created by a conference which is not held again.

  • International Commission for Bee Botany
  • International Commission for Northwest Atlantic Fisheries
  • Permanent Commission of International Congresses of
  • Home Hygiene

4.1.3.2 Conference committees: A general conference may establish working bodies charged with examination of certain points on the agenda during sessions. Such ad hoc bodies, by definition, would not constitute permanent organizations. The confusion of terminology may be such that "committee" may replace "commission" in the previous case.

4.1.3.3 Joint bodies: A General conference may establish a joint body with some external body:

  • Joint FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission

4.1.3.4 Regional and specialized bodies: Each of the above types of body may also be created regionally, or in terms of some special concern, by the general conference or as a specialized regional body by a regional conference.

4.1.4 Council: A general conference may elect or appoint a:

  • governing council, governing body

This is a body which tends to be large (relative to the executive body) because it is fairly representative of the general conference and is able to exercise certain of its powers. Again the conference itself may or may not be held periodically or constitute a permanent organization.

  • World Council of Churches
  • Council of Europe
  • Council for Mutual Economic Assistance
  • Consultative Council of Jewish Organizations
  • International Social Science Council
  • United Nations Economic and Social Council

In complex organizations, the council may create its own commissions, committees, and joint bodies with external organizations. This may also occur regionally, or in terms of some social concern of the council. There is some confusion between the use of "council" and "commission" or "committee" as defined in the previous and following sections. The limitations of this approach are illustrated by the presence of the Council of Europe and COMECON in the examples cited.

4.1.5 Executive committee: A conference may elect an executive body of comparatively restricted membership (or it may be appointed by the council) with such names as:

  • executive committee, administrative board, steering committee
  • standing committee, administrative council, permanent committee

Even though the conference may not constitute an organization in its own right, such bodies may take on permanent organizational form.

  • Executive Committee of Non-governmental Organizations associated with the United Office of Public Information
  • Standing Committee of the International Embryological Conference

Again, as the last example indicates, regional specialized and joint bodies of this kind may be created.

4.1.6 Secretariat: The permanent body may take on a name derived from an operational rather than a policy-making or decision-making unit.

  • Commonwealth Secretariat
  • European Space Agency
  • International Bureau for Declarations of Death
  • Secretariat for Tourism Integration in Central America

Again, regional, specialized and joint bodies may be created.

4.1.7 Department: Departments of an organization do not, by definition, constitute autonomous organizations in the sense of interest here, although some bodies of this type may acquire special significance as international actors.

  • Specialized Section of the Committee of the Professional
  • Farming Organizations of the EEC for Fruit and Vegetables

A section of a large organization may however, participate in inter-departmental bodies involving several agencies.

  • United Nations Inter-Agency Working Group on Indexing and Documentation

Such bodies are, however, difficult to distinguish from those discussed in the following section.

4.1.8 Terms which refer to types of activity: A (periodic) conference, or even a conventional organization, may establish one or more activities which themselves take on permanent autonomous organizational form, whatever the continuing status of the body by which they were established. The emphasis given to a particular mode of action may even be reflected in the actual name of the organization, thus distinguishing it from conventional organizations (possibly to the point of raising the question as to whether it really should be considered as an organization). Three groups may be usefully distinguished: meeting-type events, programmes/projects, and organizations.

4.1.8.1 Meeting-type events: A single meeting held under the auspices of an international body tends (if it is especially large) to take on the form of an organization. Since the duration of such "organizations" is never more than 1 to 5 years, depending on the preparatory and follow-up period required, it is not usual to consider such bodies as organizations in their own right, although from a social, political, budgetary and legal point of view this could well be hard to establish. Even a meeting of (rather than "under the auspices of") an organization can be considered an independent organization.

"Certain people do not agree that a Congress is an independent entity existing only for the duration of the Congress. They consider that a Congress is more often an organ or an activity of a permanent international organization. Nevertheless, it is necessary to bear in mind the legal question - the problem of the responsibility of the promoters of the congress in case of accident, fire and liability for damages. In order to clearly define the limits of responsibility as regards the meeting-place, the time and those in charge, both locally and internationally, it seems necessary to consider a congress as an independent legal entity which exists for a determined length of time." (17)

Events of this type include:

  • meetings, exhibitions, shows, contests
  • games, trade fairs, events

Examples worth considering are:

  • World Youth Forum (organized as an activity of the United Nations)
  • Olympic Games
  • International trade fairs

and their relations, in some cases, to such bodies as:

  • Commonwealth Games Federation
  • International Olympic Committee
  • World Ploughing Organization and contests
  • Federation of International Music Competitions
  • European Association of Music Festivals
  • International Exhibition Bureau
  • Union of International Fairs

4.1.8.2 Programmes/projects: There are many examples of organizations which can be considered as programme-bound in some way, possibly because of special political or funding problems. These can be grouped as follows:

1. Programme

  • World Food Programme
  • United Nations Development Programme
  • United Nations Environment programme
  • Special Committee for the International Biological
  • Programme
  • Colombo Plan for Cooperative Economic and Social
  • Development in Asia and the Pacific

2. Campaign

  • Motamer International Peace Advancement Campaign
  • Campaign for a World Constituent Assembly

3. Project

  • OECD High Temperature (Dragon) Reactor Project
  • OECD (Halden) Reactor Project
  • Project Concern
  • JET Joint Undertaking

4. Survey

  • World Fertility Survey
  • Association of African Geological Surveys

5. Fund

  • International Monetary Fund
  • United Nations Children's Fund
  • International Defence and Aid Fund for Southern Africa
  • World Wildlife Fund

6. Emblem

  • Association of International Cotton Emblem

7. Register

  • International Registry of World Citizens
  • International Association for the Rhine Ships Register
  • Permanent Inventory of Musical Sources

8. Prize

  • International Lenin Peace Prize Committee
  • International Commission for the Eriksson Prize Fund
  • Standing Committee for Nobel Prize Winners' Congresses

9. System

  • Suez Canal Users Association
  • Taurus Conference
  • Honeywell Large Systems Users Association (Europe)
  • World Science Information System
  • Southern European Pipeline Company
  • Intelsat
  • Intersputnik
  • Eurovision
  • Intervision

10. Periodical

  • International Ursigram World Days Service
  • International Union for the Publication of Customs Tariffs

11. Exchange

  • European Commodities Exchange
  • European Association for the Exchange of Technical
  • Literature in the Field of Ferrous Metallurgy

12. Stocks

  • Permanent Committee for the Commonwealth Collection of Micro-organisms
  • International Eye Bank
  • International Board for Plant Genetic Resources
  • Nordic Gene Bank for Agricultural and Horticultural Plants

13. Orchestra

  • Symphony for United Nations
  • Chamber Orchestra of Europe
  • European Community Youth Orchestra
  • Choirs of the European Communities

4.1.8.3 Organization:A large organization may create bodies to undertake specific activities. The political, legal, and financial circumstances under which such bodies are established may render them relatively autonomous even though links to the parent body are maintained.

Typical activities include:

centre training college

library laboratory

advisory service research institute

museum educational academy

Other bodies, with the same level of preoccupation, may be created under a variety of circumstances such that the relation to the creating body or bodies becomes tenuous or of limited significance. Such organizations, particularly when active at one physical location only, differ somewhat (especially in terms of the status of membership) from conventional international bodies.

1. Information

  • International Tsunami Information Centre
  • International Time Bureau
  • International Food Information Service
  • Commonwealth Legal Advisory Service
  • Afro-Asian Employment Service
  • International Soil Museum
  • Nordic Museum
  • International Tracing Service

2. Research

  • International Rice Research Institute
  • European Southern Observatory
  • JET Joint Undertaking
  • Jungfraujoch Scientific Station
  • International Centre for Theoretical Physics
  • International Computing Centre

3. Education

  • Asian Trade Union College
  • International Centre for Advanced Technical and Vocational
  • Training
  • International Diplomatic Academy
  • European University Institute
  • College of Europe
lomatic Academy
  • European University Institute
  • College of Europe

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