Since the dawn of the twenty-first century, international organizations (IOs) have undergone a monumental period of change, one in which the entirety of their macro and micro roles in business, international relations (IR), and domestic affairs have been scrutinized. Tumultuous change in prevailing sentiment toward international bodies poses one of the greatest threats to post-World War II mainstay IOs since their inception; these changes in sentiment are influenced by the rapid growth in popularity of opposing political theories to the decades dominant ‘liberal-centric’ political establishment. Consequentially, it is now more vital than ever that emerging scholars understand both the benefits and detriments of IOs so that informed multilateral decisions can be made about their role in humanity’s future.
It is within this ever-changing political environment that the book International Organizations, written by Kelly-Kate Pease, is posed. Pease, a Professor of International Relations at Webster University in Missouri, USA, focuses on providing both an idiographic and nomothetic analysis of international governing bodies and organizations. She presents a plethora of perspectives and explores the strengths and weaknesses of a variety of political concepts to provide a basis for emerging scholars to ground their judgements. This book review will examine the main thematic arguments of International Organizations, explore the strengths and weaknesses of the arguments laid out throughout its chapters, anatomize Pease’s aims and conclusions, and then expand upon her work by developing potential avenues for scholastic exploration within the field of IR.
Pease’s admitted focus throughout International Organizations is to provide contrasting viewpoints to traditionally liberal-centric ways of approaching both IR and IOs. Accordingly, the book integrates a plethora of perspectives to give an all-encompassing theoretical base to ground judgements of emerging political science scholars. It is through Pease’s encouragement to wholly examine the applicability of IOs from the perspective of the liberalist, the Marxist, the constructivist, the feminist, and the realist that the book finds its footing as a multidisciplinary interpretation of the core elements of IOs, examining all its facets, successes, failures, and future. Beyond organization and structure, Pease utilizes succinct and accurate sources to give examples within each chapter. From case studies to direct quotes from highly esteemed IR scholars, Pease manages to provide a level of supporting evidence in her bipartisan narrative that presents an image of a scholar well-rehearsed in both the topic and topical literature of IOs, adding to the hyper-factual undercurrent of the book.
Pease’s signature arguments in each chapter converge around three underlying concepts in which she broaches her successive topics: to create a theoretical base for scholars to ground judgements, to demonstrate that IOs are a symbiosis of opposing forces, and to present IOs in the most impartial and multifaceted way possible. In keeping with her focus on interrogating a plethora of political perspectives to create a theoretical base for scholars, Pease carefully analyzes IOs through a non-traditional lens—that is to say, a non-liberal lens—while still expressing liberal viewpoints. Accordingly, Pease successfully presents a plurality of viewpoints on the roles of IOs in each topic, using them as “mental maps” through which the actions and consequences of IOs are viewed. It is through these varying political perspectives that Pease also poses her criticisms of both the shortcomings of the political theories—most notably, traditional liberalist and realist theories—and concomitantly of IOs. In her eyes, both theories promote inherent issues with the stance that liberalist theory struggles to identify the downsides of IOs and conversely that realist theory identifies problems that may not be fully realized.
Pease also takes care to continuously comment on IOs as a symbiosis of opposing forces and relations among a multitude of partners, not simply nation states under the Westphalian system but also multinational corporations, individuals, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). She consistently reminds the reader throughout her successive topics that IOs serve not as overarching and all-powerful governing bodies, but as fluid organizations and are thus inherently human; they are not necessarily flawed, but also not simply “black or white.” This is not to say that she does not make valid critiques of IOs throughout the book. Many of her criticisms stem from the systematic biases that many IOs have toward their founding members, oftentimes ignoring the greater good for the needs of the few. Accordingly, on the rare occasions that Pease offers her opinion, IOs—notably the United Nations—are depicted through a realist lens as organizations not immune to failure, lacking in impartiality, and heavily bureaucratic.
Finally, Pease focuses on presenting IOs in the most impartial and multifaceted way possible, specifically on issues where there is a significant polarity of viewpoints. Through her unbiased and comprehensive style, Pease carefully weighs up the assortment of theoretical views in each chapter, presenting the elements of each argument wholly and allowing the reader to examine their own political opinion in the process. Within this, Pease stresses the intersectionality of all these views, consistently suggesting that the reality of international engagement means that all views are simultaneously correct and incorrect, all with valid criticisms and all with valid points. This adds to the hyper-factual and relatively unbiased tone of the book, which significantly adds to both its appeal and its accuracy as a learning resource.
The focal strength of International Organizations is that there is little topical literature that adequately converges theoretical viewpoints on IOs as appropriately and complexly as this book does. To this extent, Pease positively delineates her work from that of her authorial colleagues by allowing the reader to examine the Brobdingnagian amount of well-referenced evidence at their disposal and inform their own opinions on the matter discussed. Concomitantly, Pease provides useful case studies that support her arguments, often of scenarios in which IOs have excelled or areas in which they have fallen behind. Pease’s bipartisan stylistic preferences allow the reader not to feel confronted by evidence that may be contrary to their political opinion. Through this, Pease pushes the idea of IOs as a symbiosis of multilaterally opposing forces among a multitude of partners, instead of a singular static entity. It can, therefore, be stated that Pease achieves what she set out to do in providing an all-encompassing and multifaceted book on IOs that provides a theoretical backing for rising IR scholars.
The principal weakness of International Organizations is the lack of exploration regarding the role IOs play in promoting neocolonialism in lower economically developed countries (LEDCs). Although indirectly mentioned in case studies, Pease consistently fails to provide fully fleshed-out arguments, resulting in an analysis that touches on the impacts of IOs in LEDCs in a wholly nomothetic sense. Accordingly, there is little analysis of the roles that UN-run IOs play in promoting neocolonial interests in geopolitically disadvantaged countries, driving them to alternative IOs by placing significant barriers on global inter-country activity and “attaching strings” to international aid. It is here that a well-developed case study could have examined how the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation—one of the PRC’s increasing forays into state multilateralism—serves a duality of purposes, enticing new countries to join by posing itself as a viable alternative to UN-based organizations, while allowing the PRC to strengthen regional ties through arguably neocolonial tactics and thus expanding its power base through a bandwagon effect.
The weaknesses identified in International Organizations—specifically regarding the role that modern IOs play in promoting detrimental neocolonialism in developing countries—present a potential avenue for scholastic exploration within the field of IR. International aid coming through IOs has traditionally come with “strings attached,” with critics pointing to the preferential hiring of workers over local labor forces, intellectual property violations within LEDCs, and distressed government debt purchases to bargain for land and resource rights in a process called debt-trap diplomacy. This has helped paint a picture of developed countries using IOs to disguise their desire for natural resources and possession of geopolitically strategic land. Dr. Maria D. Bermudez argued at a University of California colloquium in 2017 that “within international and non-governmental aid organization, there is a fundamental form of corruption due to the culture of impunity in these organizations and in the market of ‘fetishized altruism’” (Mandagi, 2017). Accordingly, further inquiry should focus on expanding literary-based explanations for this process and, beyond that, posing ways in which IOs can act without bias while still receiving monetary support from member states.
International Organizations is a meritorious and constructive piece of IR literature that is well-worth reading. By succinctly challenging liberal-centric approaches to IOs through the presentation of a plethora of theoretical perspectives, Pease excellently creates an all-encompassing theoretical base to ground judgements—all catered to advancing the knowledge of emerging political science scholars. International Organizations has something for every scholar, catering to all skill levels within academia, and allowing both scholars and students to enhance and challenge their understanding of the IOs within our world.
Bowen Damask is an undergraduate student at the University of Auckland, currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in History, Political Science and International Relations, and a Bachelor of Commerce in Economics and Finance. His research interests lie at the scholastic intersection of Political Economy and Finance.