International Organisations, States, and Sovereignty in the 19th Century

What kinds of actors are international organisations? How do they gain autonomy? Are international organisations necessarily a threat to state sovereignty or can they help strengthen the state? As part of the STANCE project in the Department of Political Science at Lund University, I embarked on a research project that addresses these questions by focusing on the emergence of the first international organisations and their secretariats in the 19th century.

I study two interrelated aspects of international organisations: (1) what the emergence and development of international organisations can tell us about broader developments of global order, and (2) what kinds of actors such organisations are and how they and their representatives have attained positions of influence in world politics.

Intergovernmental organisations offer an alternative way of measuring membership of the international system. Today such organisations by definition have sovereign states as members, to the extent that membership of the United Nations has become a proxy for sovereign statehood. Yet the first intergovernmental organisations established from the 1860s operated with more inclusive membership policies and allowed both colonies and so-called semi-sovereign states to participate on an equal basis with sovereign states. What was the basis for this more inclusive international order? How did the transition from this inclusive order to the 20th century order based on the sovereign state take place? How did the first intergovernmental organisations established with inclusive membership policies deal with the shift to an order based on the primacy of state sovereignty? How could non-European states take advantage of the new intergovernmental organisations to establish their claim to statehood?

A second strand of my research looks at the question of what kinds of actors international organisations are, and how they gain autonomy. For this project I look at the first permanent secretariats of 19th century IGOs and examine how much autonomy they had from member states and host governments, and their independent relations with each other and established experts in the field.

So far I've published a working paper on IGO membership (available here), a working paper on the ITU Secretariat (available here), and a book chapter on non-European membership of IOs.

'A Force for Peace': Expanding the Role of the UN Secretary-General under Trygve Lie, 1946-1953

“I had no calculated plan for developing the political powers of the office of Secretary-General, but I was determined that the Secretary-General should be a force for peace. How that force would be applied I would find out – in the light of developments.” 
          Trygve Lie, 1954

The UN Charter describes the secretary-general merely as "the chief administrative officer of the Organization," but today it is widely recognised that he plays a number of political and diplomatic roles in world politics. How did this development come about? In the existing literature the dominant explanation focuses on the role played by Dag Hammarskjöld (SG 1953-1961). This dissertation argues that this explanation is flawed for two reasons; because it doesn't consider the contribution of the first UN secretary-general, Trygve Lie (SG 1946-1953), and because if places an inordinate emphasis on the personal role played by Hammarskjöld, thus failing to adequately consider the interplay of individual and institutional factors. This dissertation addresses these shortcomings through an analysis of the development of the role during Trygve Lie's time in office.

Trygve Lie, 1951. Copyright: UN Photo

Trygve Lie, 1951. Copyright: UN Photo

Chapter outline:
1) Introduction
2) Expanding the 'Role' of the UN Secretary-General: A Conceptual Framework
3) Setting the Stage: Expectations for the Role of the UN Secretary-General
4) Exploring the Role: The UN Secretary-General and the Iranian Crisis, 1946
5) Defending the Organisation's Coherence and Prestige: The UN Secretary-General and the Palestine Problem, 1947-1949 (published here)
6) Mediating Member State Conflict: The UN Secretary-General and the Cold War, 1947-1950
7) Pushing the Role Too Far, Or Not Far Enough? 1950-1953
8) Exploring the Development of the UN Secretary-General's Role Beyond Lie, 1953-2015
9) Conclusion

This dissertation is based on primary documents from Trygve Lie’s private archive, the UN archive, the American, British, and Norwegian national archives, as well as the private papers after Andrew Cordier and Ralph Bunche. The conceptual framework develops a model for understanding the ‘role’ of the UN secretary-general inside the UN ‘institution’ based on institutional theory.

I've published three articles based on this research: two case studies on Israel/Palestine, and the Cold War, and a general summary of the argument.