Why International Organization (IO) fails

We have witnessed many failures of IOs in achieving their own missions and goals. United Nations, World Bank, and International Monetary Funds have been criticized for their self-defeating missions. The UN most of the time failed to maintain peace in conflicting areas (Bosnia, Yugoslavia are some examples).

World Bank has been consistently facing challenges -yet often not managed to succeed- in development fields. Deforestation in Indonesia during Suharto’s era -who just passed away yesterday- was part of World Bank’s policy recommendation to achieve the country’s growth. IMF was always the “perfect example” of “one-size-fits-all” concept which is proven to be a failure, especially during the 1997 Asian crisis.

Why those IOs fail to deliver?

Finnemore and Barnett’s The Politics, Power, and Pathologies of International Organizations (International Organization, Vol. 53, No. 4. (Autumn, 1999) pp. 699-732)), the former name is my Professor’s -Ann Florini- constructivism guru in the George Washington University, state that the failure is because of the bureaucratic culture in the IOs which leads to their pathologies.

The culture consists of 5 things. One, the irrationality of rationality. It is the tendency of organization to be reversing the means as its ends. For example, to bring stability in Bosnia, the UN promoted democracy by having elections. It turned out that elections only served to be a vehicle for ethnic cleansing.

Two, bureaucratic universalism. It is about organization’s behavior of foregoing local context to achieve its always universal claim. For instance, IMF’s fiscal and monetary policy in handling the crisis in Latin America has been used elsewhere in Asia and Africa. Results: Failure and worsening the crisis.

Three, normalization of deviance. It “transformed” exception in organization to become the rules. Example, UNHCR lowered voluntary repatriation principle to achieve nation building in war-torn areas.

Four, insulation. It is about an organization’s worldview which is in contrast with the its surrounding environment. Take a look at how World Bank always has imposed concept of development regardless of the countries it is handling.

Last, cultural contestation. It is the inherent pathology within bureaucracy in almost every organization whereby the division of labor only makes the organization as a whole collapse because of the “fighting” among the divisions. I guess this one we can take any example in the organization we have ever joined 🙂


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