The Death of Major International Organizations: When Institutional Stickiness is not Enough

Hylke Dijkstra*, Maria Debre

*Corresponding author for this work

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Major international organizations (IOs) are heavily contested, but they are rarely dissolved. Scholars have focused on their longevity, making institutional arguments about replacement costs and institutional assets as well as IO agency to adapt and resist challenges. This article analyzes the limits of institutional stickiness by focusing on outlier cases. While major IOs are dissolved at considerably lower rates than minor IOs, the article nevertheless identifies twenty-one cases where major IOs have died since 1815. These are tough cases as they do not conform to our institutionalist expectations. To better understand these rare but important events, the article provides case illustrations from the League of Nations and International Refugee Organization, which were dissolved due to their perceived underperformance and a disappearing demand for cooperation. These cases show the limits of the institutional theories of IO stickiness: sometimes member states find high replacement costs justified or consider assets as sunk costs, and IOs may lack agency to strategically respond. This article refines theories of institutional stickiness and contributes to the institutional theory of the life and death of IOs.
Original languageEnglish
JournalGlobal Studies Quarterly
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 6 Oct 2022

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