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In the early 2000s, small “coalitions of the willing,” flexible networks, and nimble private-public partnerships were promoted as alternatives to bureaucratic, consensus-seeking, and slow-moving international organizations. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria was established as an efficient alternative to the lumbering World Health Organization. The Basel Committee, the Financial Stability Forum, and the Financial Action Task Force were lauded as global market regulators. The Pompidou Group, the Dublin Group, and Interpol were touted as effective police networks in the battle against transnational crime.

We systematically reviewed the evolution of these celebrated networks in the ensuing decades by using a broad range of primary legal sources and, to better understand the consequences of institutional design, interviewed a dozen key negotiators and staff members. We document that many networks have pursued paradigmatic international organization features: they have broadened their membership to include dissenting countries and established or expanded independent secretariats. In addition, many networks have secured privileges and immunities agreements to shield their staffs and assets. Some have discussed or made plans to transform into international organizations.

We argue that existing work on international organizations underestimates the benefits of the paradigmatic international organization form. Because international institutions must engage with multiple audiences, including different ministries in diverse countries, other international organizations, and current and future staff members, the tried-and-true package of features international organizations offer retains surprising appeal.


The articles in the Journal may be reproduced and distributed, in whole or in part, by nonprofit institutions for educational purposes including distribution to students, provided that the copies are distributed at or below cost and identify the author, the Harvard National Security Journal, the volume, and the year of the article’s publication. This article was originally published as Daugirdas, Kristina and Katerina Linos. "Back to Basics: The Benefits of Paradigmatic International Organizations." Harvard National Security Journal 14, no. 2 (2023): 181-253.