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Advanced Introduction to the Law of International Organizations

Jan Klabbers

The Advanced Introduction to the Law of International Organizations gives a nuanced overview of the legal mechanisms behind the operation of international organizations such as the UN, the EU and the World Bank. It offers perceptive insights by placing the law of international organizations in a political context and provides systematic discussion of a variety of relevant legal notions, ranging from the powers of international organizations to mechanisms of accountability. Written by a leading authority on the topic, it provides a concise and accessible examination of this developing facet of international law.
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8 Re-thinking the law of international organizations

Jan Klabbers


The law of international organizations developed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century through the works of scholars like Jellinek, Kazansky, Reinsch and Sayre, and quickly became dominated by the approach they advocated: functionalism. The underlying idea (and justification for organizations) was that organizations were assigned specific functions; this made them worthwhile entities, operating beyond politics, and entailed that a body of legal rules and doctrines could and should be developed so as to facilitate their functioning.

Those halcyon days quickly passed. Already after the First World War, when functionalism had just been established, the most prominent newly created organizations did not fit functionalism’s blueprint. The League of Nations lacked a specific function, instead, it had a large array of functions. And the ILO’s main function was to fend off the communist danger by helping to improve the working man’s plight and implicating him (and to a lesser extent her) in decision-making regarding his own situation.245 Hence, functionalism lived on, but came to be applied to all sorts of actors for whose tasks and structures it was not developed and for whom it was, really, rather inappropriate.

It took a while to notice, but by the 1960s the cracks in functionalism’s edifice started to show. Property owners started to complain about their properties being damaged during UN operations, but functionalism could not provide a satisfactory answer. It could only insist on the functional immunity of the UN and tinkering a bit at the margins by...

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