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Ellen Ravndal, ‘From an Inclusive to an Exclusive International Order: Membership of International Organisations from the 19th to the 20th Century’, STANCE Working Paper 2016:8, Lund: Department of Political Science, Lund University, 2016.
Recent scholarship in International Relations (IR) has increasingly focused on the ‘global transformation’ of the nineteenth century. Many of the defining features of modern IR first emerged in the nineteenth century, among them a new group of actors – international organisations. Yet the intergovernmental organisations (IGO) of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were not identical to the IGOs of the post-1945 period. Nineteenth century IGOs included semi-sovereigns and colonies as individual members alongside sovereign states, and they therefore represent ‘an alternative mode of international order’, a more inclusive one. By the mid-twentieth century, as represented by the formation of the United Nations and its confirmation of the principle of sovereign equality of all its members, this earlier inclusive order had been replaced by a more exclusive one. How did this transformation from an inclusive to an exclusive international order play out? How did the IGOs established in the nineteenth century with an inclusive membership policy deal with the shift to an international order based on the primacy of the sovereign state? This paper traces the changes in membership in the International Telegraph (Telecommunications) Union (ITU) and the Universal Postal Union (UPU), both among the very first IGOs of the nineteenth century and both still alive and well in the twenty-first century. The paper examines debates about membership and membership categories in these organisations and the arguments used on either side of the debate.