Find this publication at:
Ellen Ravndal, ‘International Organisations, Authority, and the First Permanent Secretariats in the 19th Century’, STANCE Working Paper 2017:5, Lund: Lund University, 2017.
International organisations (IOs) play increasingly important roles in world politics. As states face more complex challenges they have joined together in IOs to solve their common problems. Yet once an IO has been created it may take on a life of its own, and it becomes difficult for its state founders to control what it does. Permanent secretariats populated by experts are one of the most important sources of IO authority. Why do some organisations gain authority and influence while others remain loyal servants? When did the first autonomous secretariats emerge? Most scholars would argue that the League of Nations secretariat was the first ‘true’ international secretariat, yet this was not the first permanent IO secretariat in existence. How much autonomy and influence did the first permanent secretariats formed in the 19th century possess? What can the experience of these institutions tell us about how IOs in general gain authority? Through a study focusing on the secretariat of the International Telegraph Union, created in 1868 as the first permanent secretariat, this paper will seek to answer these questions.