Institutions

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Do institutions really matter? What are their consequences? Can they restrain states or get them to do something they otherwise would not do?

The terms International Institutions and International Organizations are said to be interchangeable in the legal and formal sense in the study of International Relations. However, defining institutions in international relations is seen as quite fuzzy as it can include both International Organizations such as the United Nations and the World Trade Organization or International Regimes, for example, the International Monetary Regime and the International Trade Regime. Nicholas Onuf in his essay makes an attempt to define the term institution. He describes institutions as ‘persistent and connected sets of rules, formal and informal, that prescribe behavioral roles, constrain activity and shape expectations’. He also noted that interstate relations encompass international regimes and international organizations.

The term International Organization is a formal continuous structure established by an agreement between members whether governmental or nongovernmental form two (2) or more sovereign states with the aim of pursuing the common interest of the of the membership. International Regimes in contrast, are specific rules, norms as well as decision making procedures. A key characteristic of international regimes is that they each focus in a specific area. Regimes focus on areas such as trade, telecommunications, environment, Food aid among others. International regimes may be both formal and or informal agreements. Examples of regimes are the Kyoto Protocol (environment) and the Intellectual Property Regulation (trade).

According to Realist, states are the primary actors in an anarchic international system and in the absence of an international authority, there are few norms or rules that can restrain them. Realist, Hans Morgenthau, believes that aspects such as International Law and Government, which are also described as institutions by Hedley Bull (1977) are weak and ineffective. Morgenthau defines international organizations as a tool of states to be used when desired. He noted that they were no more than a sum of their states thus they have no effect on state behavior and so will not change the international system. John Mearsheimer stated.” Most powerful states in the system create and shape institutions so that the can maintain their share of world power or increase it.” (Karns and Mints 2004) Therefore, it is the belief of Realist that international institutions have little or no independent impact on state behavior as well as the international system. Gurber 2000, states have no authority hence they have no power. Classical Realist does not see Nongovernmental Organizations or Multinational Cooperation as important and noted that International Governmental Organization is not an independent actor. They see the Balance of Power mechanism as maintaining international peace and security better than international institutions. Neorealist even though they have customary the emergence of a large variety of international regimes and institutions, also agree with classical realist that institutions have zero effect on state behavior and the international system. They suggest that dependence on institutions will lead to failure and not worthy of studying.

Opposite to the theory of Realism is that of Liberalism. The liberalist theory focuses on human nature and the belief that the state is at the will of its citizens and it is the job of the state to protect the liberty of its citizens from harm, that is, threat to their sovereign rights. Liberalist states that human nature is inherently good and war and aggression are products of inadequate social institutions. Liberal Institutionalism, a new theory of liberalism, in late twentieth century turn to International Organizations to carry out functions which states couldn’t. According to Woodrow Wilson and his Fourteen (14) Point...
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