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How Membership of Intergovernmental Organisations Gives Some Countries Political and Economic Power

Updated on May 26, 2016

Intergovernmental organisations are groups of countries that work together to achieve common goals. The United Nations General Assembly consists of all but three countries, but has no official judicial influence, whereas the United Nations Security Council permanently consists of five of the largest economies, and has primary responsibility for global peacekeeping plans. These economies are the US, Russia, China, France, and the UK – coincidently, the five nuclear weapon states. It could be argued that their dominant coalition allows them to harbour nuclear weapons without consequences; less influential countries, i.e. those without the support from others that IGOs provide, often receive sanctions for the production of nuclear weapons, such as Pakistan, which received “a cutoff of US economic and military assistance”. The possession of nuclear weapons allows countries to threaten others, and membership of a significant IGO justifies this, and reduces repercussions. The Security Council has the authority to place members under economic sanctions, and send UN peacekeeping forces into areas, both of which demonstrate political power being exerted.

OPEC (Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) is another IGO, whose members control over 80% of the world’s oil reserves. It is a cartel; the countries agree to fix a price for their products, thereby reducing sales from non-member states. Their power became most evident in 1973, when they created an oil embargo against countries including the UK and the US. Their unified dominance over natural resources created massive economic control, which was used as political leverage – the oil embargo was in response to American involvement in the Yom Kippur War.

The IMF (International Monetary Fund) is an IGO that collects money from rich governments and redistributes it to countries with extremely poor balance of payments (high debt). It has 188 members, including the US; each member receives a voting right, the power of which is proportional to the money invested by the country. Therefore MEDCs control most of the voting power, as they can contribute the most money – the US has around 17% of the voting power, whereas the poorest African nations, who receive most of the money, have <1%; this allows the richer countries to decide where the money goes. Their voting power becomes more significant when the IMF implements structural adjustment programmes (SAPs), which include forced government spending cuts in the aided nations. This is a form of economic imperialism; the economically developed countries are able exert their influence. The cuts to government spending, which frequently affects healthcare and education, further hinder the development in such nations, thereby keeping the MEDCs ahead.

IGOs tend to be founded by MEDCs, and are used to put pressure on ‘outsider’ nations, such as NATO planning to distribute troops in countries bordering Russia. IGOs allow countries to exert a greater global influence than they would be able to alone.

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