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  • The Oxford Handbook of International Organizations ed. by Jacob Katz Cogan, Ian Hurd, and Ian Johnstone
  • David Forsythe (bio)
The Oxford Handbook of International Organizations (Jacob Katz Cogan, Ian Hurd, & Ian Johnstone eds., 2016 Oxford University Press), ISBN 9780199672202, 1244 pages.

Jacob Katz Cogan (Law, University of Cincinnati), Ian Hurd (Political Science, Northwestern University), and Ian Johnstone (Law, Fletcher School, Tufts [End Page 752] University) have edited a major resource on international organizations comprising almost 1,250 pages. It belongs in every major research library and on the shelf of every serious scholar who teaches and researches or is otherwise involved on the subject—despite its hefty price tag of $210.

The sixty-six contributors and their essays are organized into several major categories: 1) introductory overviews of the field based on law or politics; 2) history; 3) forms of different organizations—for example, supranational organizations, and private transnational governance; 4) activities or main issue-areas of the organizations; 5) the cross-cutting functions of them—for instance, lawmaking and dispute settlement; 6) relationships with other actors; 7) structure and operations—for example, executive heads and organizational culture; 8) institutional law; and finally 9) principles of governance. An extensive index allows one to locate particular international organizations and subject matter within this densely woven quilt of information.

The contributors are mostly from the fields of law and politics but some are drawn from religion, health, economics, communication studies, and so on. Many contributors are well known senior scholars, educational administrators, or previous diplomats. Most of the authors are based in the Global Northwest but some are from elsewhere such as India or East Asia.

Most of the essays are neutral surveys of the assigned topics. For example, the first one by Jon Pevehouse and Inken von Borzyskowski addresses the question: Why do we have so many international organizations in world affairs today and hence why do states create them? What explains the more than 1,500 international organizations as of 2013? They then nicely discuss several "theoretical traditions" such as realism, liberalism, or Marxism, before moving on to functional and neo-functional theory, hegemonic stability theory, principal-agent theory, constructivism, domestic politics, and so on. However, the authors do not indicate a preference for one approach or theory as against another, or when one might be more useful or applicable. The reader is left to judge for himself or herself. One might even conclude that scholars cannot answer the question raised. Does the United Nations affect state policy on human rights? They cite conflicting possible answers.1 Their ultimate conclusion is general:

The study of international organizations will continue to be fertile ground for many of the key ideas in the study of international politics. Through continued theoretical and empirical progress, scholars can continue to shed light on some of the key questions involving conflict and cooperation in the world.2

By comparison Peter L. Lindseth presents a definite argument about the European Union (EU) as a supranational organization. He argues that a "historically grounded political community" such as traditional nation-states in Europe are "more strongly legitimated" than the EU and other relatively recent international organizations.3 In other words, persons in Europe still identify more strongly with traditional nation-states than with [End Page 753] the EU as the rightful or primary polity. This means that when states delegate "regulatory power" to the EU, there are definite limits on how far the EU can go in exercising those powers. Ultimate legitimacy still resides with the democratic and rule-of-law territorial state, which can retract or reign in regional authority. In other words, "Given the fundamentally administrative character of the European integration, the EU . . . can sustain a great deal of autonomous regulatory power; nevertheless, there are limits to what it can reasonable sustain given the lack of autonomous democratic and constitutional legitimacy."4 Written before Brexit and other manifestations of a resurgence of traditional narrow nationalism in Europe, this essay's specific interpretation seems persuasive.

Readers of this journal may be particularly drawn to the essays on human rights (Dinah Shelton), criminal justice (David J. Scheffer), humanitarian action (Thomas G. Weiss), and refugees (Gil Loescher). Shelton...


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