My intention with A World Beyond Borders: An Introduction to the History of International Organizations was to write an introductory history of international organizations (IOs) that emphasizes the historical and chronological development of IOs rather than the theoretical debates that are the focus of so much of the existing literature. The manuscript follows a rough chronological order and provides a succinct history of IOs, with chapters on the rise and fall of the League of Nations, wartime internationalism and the birth of the United Nations, the UN during and after the Cold War, the evolution of regional and cultural international organizations, and the emergence of NGOs. It is intended for use in courses in international relations – not only history courses but virtually any course that focuses on aspects of the development, role, and history of international organizations.
My aim has been to establish a balance in the book by not trying to list every IO but to instead focus on discussions of the leading organizations, including the League and UN, the financial and technical specialized agencies (such as the IMF, UNESCO, ICAO, and UNRRA), the major regional organizations (including NATO, the EU, the OAS, ASEAN, and the African Union), and the cultural and former-imperial organizations (such as the Commonwealth, La Francophonie, and Lusophonia). I examine the work of international NGOs under four main categories: disarmament, development, environment, and human rights. Of particular interest is the growing relationship between the NGOs and the UN system as private organizations began to have greater influence on the actions of governments through institutions like ECOSOC and UNESCO and through the increasing number of global conferences (on the environment, land mines, women’s rights, human rights, etc.) beginning in the 1990s.
Studying international organizations and their history is more relevant than ever before. At the beginning of the 20th century there were relatively few of them; today they are found everywhere within the international system. There are thousands of IOs and NGOs involved in all aspects of international relations, including peacekeeping, disarmament, peace resolution, human rights, diplomacy, voting supervision, etc., and they have expanded into areas that were previously the sole prerogative of the individual states, including environmental, health, and economic issues. From the travel advisories of the World Health Organization to the trade rules of the World Trade Organization, and from the involvement of the IMF in Ireland to Canada’s recent failure to win a seat on the Security Council, international organizations are in the news and in our lives. They have evolved into major legal, moral, and cultural forces within the international system and today it is hard to imagine any significant international issue unfolding without some contribution or involvement of international organizations.