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International Institutions: When Consent Matters, and When It Does Not

Human Rights
International Relations
Political Theory
UN
NGOs
Normative Theory
Luise Müller
Universität Hamburg
Luise Müller
Universität Hamburg

Abstract

In this paper, I present a tripartite categorisation of international institutions, and argue the conditions for the evaluation of their legitimacy depends on what their function is. I propose that some international institutions exercise morally mandatory functions: they protect important human rights, preserve peace and security, or relieve humanitarian emergencies or natural disasters. For such institutions, I argue, consent is ultimately irrelevant: as long as they in fact do fulfil these functions, they may coerce states even though those states have not consented to their authority. Moreover, they create binding moral obligations for them. An example for such an institution is the UN Security Council, or the International Criminal Court. The second type of international institutions does not serve morally mandatory aims, but are schemes that are mutually advantageous to its participants. These institutions also create moral obligations, but only for those who have consented to them. The International Standards Organisation, the World Trade Organisation, or regional organisations like the EU fall into this category. The third type of institutions consists of organisations that promote values and interests. Those institutions create no obligations, and the standard of their legitimacy is that they do no harm. They are not coercive, but function exclusively by persuasion and pressure. Examples for these types of institutions are transnationally organised religion, Amnesty International, and other NGO’s. I argue that this categorisation can make better sense of legitimacy assessments in the international order than ‘one-size-fits-all’-approaches, which argue that we need one legitimacy standard for all international bodies.