International Organizations: Past, Present, Future

Graduate Program (& Advanced Certificate) Status

Course Level: 
Course Open to: 
Students on-site
Academic Year: 
US Credits: 
ECTS Credits: 
Course Description: 

Mandatory/Elective course for Year 1 MPA and One-year MAPP students (M/E with Introduction to Global Governance and Public Policy)

Governance specialization 

International relations theories often characterize the international system as anarchic and focus on interactions between nation-states. In the absence of a higher authority and to manage these interactions, international organizations (IOs) are said to have become prominent players in the international system. The primary purpose of such intergovernmental arrangements is the realization of collective goals through cooperation.

This course critically examines the role and performance of IOs while also looking at their future prospects. Part one offers a survey of the key events in the history of IOs. Part two analyzes the incentives for states to establish IOs. It examines major conceptual debates related to the motivation, formation and effectiveness of IOs. Schools of thought are not just theoretical, rather they often influence the perception of policymakers engaged in foreign policy making and shape their views about what IOs can/should and cannot/should not do. You will apply different theoretical frameworks by debating a concrete policy case.

Part three looks at the future prospects of IOs. Against the background of changing global power dynamics and ever more pressing cross-border challenges, there have been urgent calls on policymakers for an institutional and substantive review and redesign of multilateral organizations. Three trends stand out and are being analysed. First, the accountability, legitimacy as well as the performance and effectiveness of IOs. Second, rising powers such as the BRICS have called for changes in the governance and management of IOs. Third, the globalization of production and the associated changing balance between “private” and “public” has led to calls for IOs to provide global public goods (GPG).

Learning Outcomes: 

By the end of the course students should:

  • be broadly familiar with the history of IOs;
  • critically asses the existing logics, theories and functions of IOs;
  • be able to debate the major theoretical principles and concepts used to study IOs;
  • be familiar with the major challenges and efforts for reform facing IOs at the beginning of the 21st century;

Participation: 10%
Reflection sheets/quizzes: 15%
Presentation (individual/teams): 20%
The precise nature of the group work will be decided and announced once the total number of course participants is known.
Policy paper: 55%
Students will write a policy paper (3,000 words) discussing the history of an IO of her/his choice; the problem(s) they were designed to solve; the concepts that underlie their organization; governance and management principles; financing; and the responses –if any-- to the challenges discussed in the seminar.


Though not necessary, it is helpful to have taken the elective mandatory course: Introduction to Global Governance and Public Policy.