An intergovernmental organization (IGO) or international organization is an organization composed primarily of sovereign states (referred to as member states), or of other intergovernmental organizations. IGOs are established by a treaty that acts as a charter creating the group. Treaties are formed when lawful representatives (governments) of several states go through a ratification process, providing the IGO with an international legal personality. Intergovernmental organizations are an important aspect of public international law.
Intergovernmental organizations in a legal sense should be distinguished from simple groupings or coalitions of states, such as the G7 or the Quartet. Such groups or associations have not been founded by a constituent document and exist only as task groups. Intergovernmental organizations must also be distinguished from treaties. Many treaties (such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, or the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade before the establishment of the World Trade Organization) do not establish an organization and instead rely purely on the parties for their administration becoming legally recognized as an ad hoc commission. Other treaties have established an administrative apparatus which was not deemed to have been granted international legal personality.
Types and purpose
Intergovernmental organizations differ in function, membership, and membership criteria. They have various goals and scopes, often outlined in the treaty or charter. Some IGOs developed to fulfill a need for a neutral forum for debate or negotiation to resolve disputes. Others developed to carry out mutual interests with unified aims to preserve peace through conflict resolution and better international relations, promote international cooperation on matters such as environmental protection, to promote human rights, to promote social development (education, health care), to render humanitarian aid, and to economic development. Some are more general in scope (the United Nations) while others may have subject-specific missions (such as Interpol or the International Telecommunication Union and other standards organizations). Common types include:
- Cultural, linguistic, ethnic, religious, or historical organizations — open to members based on some cultural, linguistic, ethnic, religious, or historical link: Examples include the Commonwealth of Nations, Arab League, Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, , Turkic Council, International Organization of Turkic Culture, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, and Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
- Economic organizations — based on macro-economic policy goals: Some are dedicated to free trade and reduction of trade barriers, e.g. World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund. Others are focused on international development. International cartels, such as OPEC, also exist. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) was founded as an economic-policy-focused organization. An example of a recently formed economic IGO is the Bank of the South.
- Educational organizations — centered around tertiary-level study. EUCLID University was chartered as a university and umbrella organization dedicated to sustainable development in signatory countries; United Nations University researches pressing global problems that are the concern of the United Nations, its Peoples and Member States.
- Health and Population Organizations — based on common perceived health and population goals. These are formed to address those challenges collectively, for example the intergovernmental partnership for population and development Partners in Population and Development.
- Regional organizations — open to members from a particular continent or other specific region of the world. This category includes the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CLACS), Council of Europe (CoE), European Union (EU), Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), , North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), (ECOWAS), Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, African Union (AU), Organization of American States (OAS), Association of Caribbean States (ACS), Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Islamic Development Bank, Union of South American Nations, Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD), Pacific Islands Forum, South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation Asian-African Legal Consultative Organization (AALCO) and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).