We use our own and third-party cookies to perform an analysis of use and measurement of our website, to improve our services, as well as to facilitate personalized advertising by analysing your browsing habits and preferences. You can change the settings of cookies or get more information, see cookies policy. I understand and accept the use of cookies.

icono de curso

Politics of International Organizations


Credits: 4 ECTS

Second semester

Elective Courses




This course investigates the politics of international organizations (IOs). In recent years, there has been a resurgence of theoretically and empirically innovative research offering new insights into the way that IOs work. This growing body of research has addressed several critical questions: Why do states rely on IOs? How are decisions made within IOs? How do IOs evolve over time? And what impacts do they have?

Corresponding with these questions, the course is divided into four main parts. After introducing IOs, providing an overview of their history within the global system, and reflecting on their place within the discipline of International Relations, Part I discusses the design of IOs. It develops insights into why states rely on IOs, why states grant some IOs greater autonomy than others, why the decision-making rules of IOs are different, and why some IOs are more “legalized” than others.

In Part II we turn our attention to policymaking within IOs. We consider how states exert control over IOs, the role of secretariats and staff, and their interactions with non-state actors. During this time, we will also be looking at several specific IOs to understanding their unique characteristics in more detail. In addition to advancing our theoretical understanding of these bodies, this part of the course provides an empirical overview of the key issues that particular IOs have faced.

Part III then looks at IOs in “action,” providing insights into their ability to provide of information and legitimacy, promote compliance and cooperation, and their role in shaping the behaviour and identities of states. Finally, Part IV examines how states use IOs, how IOs evolve and change over time, and how they ultimately “die”—if they do. The very last class of the course provides us with an opportunity to reflect on what we have learned and speculate about whether IOs are able to respond to current global challenges.


A. Class participation: 10%

You are expected to attend all classes, come prepared, and participate meaningfully in class discussions. Your participation grade will be based on your attendance and the quality of your in-class participation in lectures, in-class assignments, and group activities.

B. Reading Response: 20%

Write a 3-page (double spaced) summary and critical response to the readings covered in Week 2. In this summary, you will be expected to clearly explain the arguments in the articles and offer comparative critical reflections upon the strengths and weaknesses of the papers.

C. Group Presentations: 30%

Groups of students will prepare a short (maximum 15-minute) group presentation that presents a case study of a particular IO. The presentation will provide a brief history of the IO, review its structure and rules, and highlight successes and failures. Detailed instructions will be provided, explaining what will be expected. This will offer you an opportunity to deepen your understanding of an IO that interests you and can serve as a starting point for the research that you will do in the subsequent research project. All group members should be involved in putting together the material and conducting the presentation.

D. Final Policy Brief: 40%

The final assignment will involve writing a 10-page (double spaced) policy brief offering a recommendation about how you would “fix” an IO, assessing the challenges that you might face in doing so. To do this, you will need to find a recent newspaper or magazine article from a reputable publication (e.g. Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, The Economist, BBC, New York Times) that discusses a current challenge that an IO is facing. You will then prepare a policy brief that introduces the IO, explains the challenge the IO currently faces, offers a potential solution to this problem (a “reform” of some kind), and, most important, reflects upon the problems that a policymaker might encounter in trying to implement this reform. In doing this, you will be expected to draw on the articles and lectures as well as readings that are not on the syllabus (these may be academic articles directly related to the IO you choose) and at four three original sources (such as newspaper articles, interviews, or relevant policy documents). The IO that you choose should be selected from the list appended to the end of the syllabus, although other possibilities are possible with instructor approval. Part of this project will also involve drawing up a short 1-page memo outlining your plan, which will be discussed during office hours at least two weeks prior to final submission.

Competences, learning outcomes and teaching activities (PDF)