Multilateral (or Inter-governmental) Institutions

Multilateral and intergovernmental organizations, many of them part of the United Nations system, are among those that play important roles in contemporary international affairs. Their official status distinguishes them from the nongovernmental organizations treated elsewhere on this site.

African Union (AU)

The African Union (AU), founded in July 2002, is the successor organization to the Organization of African Unity (OAU). Modeled after the European Union (but currently with powers closer to those of the Commonwealth of Nations), it aims to help promote democracy, human rights and development across Africa, especially by increasing foreign investment through the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) program.

top

Andean Community

Founded in 1969, the Andean Community is a subregional organization endowed with international legal status. It is made up of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela, and the bodies and institutions comprising the Andean Integration System (AIS). The Community’s primary objectives are to intensify Andean subregional integration and to promote its external interests.

top

Arab League

The Arab League, or League of Arab States, is an association founded in 1945 that now contains 22 countries whose peoples are mainly Arabic speaking. Its stated purposes are to strengthen ties among the member states, coordinate their policies and promote their common interests. The Arab League has served as a platform for the drafting and conclusion of almost all landmark documents promoting economic integration among member states, such as the creation of the Joint Arab Economic Action Charter, which set out the principles for economic activities of the League. It has also played an important role in shaping school curricula, promoting literacy campaigns, and preserving manuscripts and Arab cultural heritage.

top

Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)

Created in 1989, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum’s 21 member economies in North and South America as well as Asia and the Pacific strive to achieve “free and open trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific by 2010 for developed economies and 2020 for developing economies.” APEC is a consensus-based intergovernmental group, operating on the basis of nonbinding commitments, open dialogue and equal respect for the views of all participants. It implements action plans in which each member nation reports its progress in trade liberalization, and its working groups implement numerous programs in specific areas.

top

Asian Development Bank (ADB)

Established in 1966, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) is a development finance institution engaged in promoting the economic and social progress of developing member countries in the Asian and Pacific region. The ADB provides loans and technical assistance for development projects and programs, promotes investment of public and private capital for development, assists in coordinating development policies and plans for member countries, and supports regional economic cooperation.

top

Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) currently includes all of the nations of Southeast Asia except East Timor. The ASEAN Declaration states that the organization aims to “accelerate economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region” and “promote regional peace and stability.” Though focusing exclusively on economic issues when founded in 1967, it has in recent years placed more emphasis on security concerns, both in internal deliberations and through the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), which promotes dialogue with major nonregional actors such as the United States.

top

Caribbean Community (CARICOM)

Founded in 1973, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has 14 members. Together, they have pledged to promote cooperation and understanding among member states, integrate their economies through the Caribbean Common Market, coordinate their foreign policies, and provide common services and cooperation in such areas as health, education and culture and industrial relations.

top

Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI)


Founded in 1961, the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI) promotes the economic integration of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. It describes itself as the leading source of multilateral financing for the development of Central America;its priorities are poverty alleviation, regional integration and “the competitive insertion of Central America in the global economy.”

top

Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA)

Founded in 1981, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) now has 21 members. The organization works to promote political and economic cooperation in order to facilitate sustainable economic growth in southern and eastern Africa. COMESA maintains free trade areas, customs unions and common visa arrangements. Additionally, it has established a Court of Justice to mediate disputes among its members.

top

Commonwealth of Nations

The Commonwealth of Nations, formerly known as the British Commonwealth, is an association of 53 independent sovereign states, most of which are former colonies once governed by the United Kingdom. The Commonwealth is active in the areas of development, democracy promotion, debt management and trade. It is committed to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, and pursues these objectives through programs implemented by the divisions of the Commonwealth Secretariat.


top

Council of Europe

Founded 1949, the Council of Europe currently has 46 members. It strives to foster greater unity and cooperation among the peoples and countries of Europe, and to safeguard and promote parliamentary democracy and human dignity throughout the region. Its main components are the Committee of Ministers (the organization's decision-making body), the Parliamentary Assembly (with 630 members from the 46 national parliaments), the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities and a 1,800-strong secretariat.

top

European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD)

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) was established in 1991 to provide support to former Soviet countries to nurture their emerging private sectors in a democratic environment. Today, the EBRD uses the tools of investment to help build market economies and democracies in 27 countries from central Europe to central Asia. It invests mainly in private enterprises, but also works with publicly owned companies to support privatization, restructuring and improvement of municipal services.

top

European Union (EU)


The European Union (EU) is a family of democratic European member countries, committed to working together for peace and prosperity. Though not a sovereign entity that has replaced existing states, it seeks a level of integration unlike that of any other international organization. Its member states have set up common institutions to which they delegate some of their sovereignty, so that decisions on specific matters of common interest can be made democratically at the “European” level.

top

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations leads international efforts to defeat hunger. Serving both developed and developing countries, FAO acts as a neutral forum where all nations meet as equals to negotiate agreements and debate policy. It helps developing nations and countries in transition modernize and improve agriculture, forestry and fisheries practices that will help ensure good nutrition for all.

top

Group of 20 (G-20)

There are two groups that call themselves the Group of 20 (G-20). The first, established in 1999, is an informal forum that promotes "an open and constructive dialogue between finance ministers and central bank governors from systemically significant industrial and emerging market economies." The members try to foster internationally recognized standards through leading by example in areas such as implementing transparent fiscal policy, combating money laundering and preventing the financing of terrorism. The second G-20, now with 21 members from developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, was established on August 20, 2003. It focuses on vigorously expounding the interests of developing countries in global negotiations on agricultural issues.

top

Group of 77 (G-77)

As the largest Third World coalition in the United Nations, the Group of 77 (G-77) provides the means for developing countries to articulate and promote their collective economic interests and enhance their joint negotiating capacity on major international economic issues. The G-77 also promotes economic and technical cooperation among member states.

top

Group of 8 (G-8)

The Group of Eight (G-8) comprises eight of the world's leading nations. The six original members were France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States. Canada was added in 1976 and in recent years Russia has joined the group, though it does not participate in all events. The hallmark of the G8 is an annual economic and political summit of the heads of government, in preparation for which many research projects and substantive conferences take place.

 

top

Inter-American Development Bank (IADB)

The Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) helps foster sustainable economic and social development in Latin America and the Caribbean through its lending operations, leadership in regional initiatives, research and knowledge dissemination activities, institutes and programs. The Bank assists its borrowing member countries in formulating development policies and provides financing and technical assistance to achieve environmentally sustainable economic growth, increase competitiveness, enhance social equity, fight poverty, modernize state institutions and foster free trade and regional integration.

top

Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU)

The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), with its 143 members and seven associate members, was established in 1989 as "the focal point for world-wide parliamentary dialogue." Its objectives are to improve the working methods of parliamentary institutions, promote the status of women and women's participation in politics, and defend the human rights of members of parliament. The IPU conducts research and disseminates information on various aspects of the parliamentary process and fosters the objective study of economic, social and cultural problems.

top

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the centerpiece institution for international cooperation in the nuclear field, was initially established in 1957 as the world´s "Atoms for Peace" organization within the United Nations family. The Agency works with its member states and multiple partners worldwide to promote safe, secure and peaceful nuclear technologies. It was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005.

top

International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)

The aims of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), one of the U.N. specialized agencies, include the establishment of international standards, recommended practices and procedures covering the technical fields of aviation; the development of a satellite-based system concept to meet the future communications, navigation, surveillance/air traffic management (CNS/ATM) needs of civil aviation; facilitating air travel by reducing procedural formalities on each end of air travel; the development of safe, regular, efficient and economical air transport; technical cooperation among countries; and a code of international air law.

top

International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL)

Founded 1923, the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) has 179 members. INTERPOL is the intergovernmental organization responsible for promoting the widest possible mutual assistance between law enforcement agencies around the world. Through its computer network and databases, the organization serves as the focal point for coordinating transnational investigations.

top

International Finance Coroporation (IFC)

The International Finance Corporation (IFC) is the private-sector arm of the World Bank Group. Its mission is to promote sustainable private-sector investment in developing countries, helping to reduce poverty and improve people’s lives. IFC provides loans, equity, structured finance and risk management products, and advisory services to build the private sector in developing countries.


top

International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a specialized agency of the United Nations, was established as an international financial institution in 1977 following the 1974 World Food Conference. It is dedicated to eradicating rural poverty in developing countries. Working with rural poor people, governments, donors, nongovernmental organizations and many other partners, IFAD focuses on country-specific solutions that increase rural poor peoples’ access to financial services, markets, technology, land and other natural resources.

top

International Labor Organization (ILO)

The International Labor Organization (ILO) is the U.N. specialized agency that seeks the promotion of social justice and internationally recognized human and labor rights. The ILO formulates international labor standards in the form of Conventions and Recommendations that sett minimum standards of basic labor rights: freedom of association, the right to organize, collective bargaining, abolition of forced labor, equality of opportunity and treatment, and other standards regulating conditions across the entire spectrum of work related issues. Within the U.N. system, the ILO has a unique tripartite structure in which workers and employers participate as equal partners with governments in the work of its governing organs.

top

International Maritime Organization (IMO)

The objectives of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), one of the U.N. specialized agencies, can be summarized by the phrase, "Safe, secure and efficient shipping on clean oceans." The IMO adopts international shipping standards regulations and encourages governments to implement them. Over the years, the IMO has adopted some 40 conventions and protocols and numerous codes and recommendations relating to safety, pollution prevention, security measures, liability and compensation issues, and facilitation of international maritime traffic.

top

International Telecommunication Union (ITU)

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), founded in 1865, is an impartial, international organization within which governments and the private sector work together to coordinate the operation of telecommunication networks and services, and advance the development of communications technology. Its work includes standardization activities to support the global information infrastructure, managing the radio-frequency spectrum, and acting as a catalyst for forging development partnerships between government and private industry in the world’s underdeveloped economies. ITU’s consensus-building approach helps governments and the telecommunication industry confront and deal with a broad range of issues that would be difficult to resolve bilaterally.

top

Islamic Development Bank (IDB)

Consisting of 56 countries, the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) was established in 1975 to enhance the economic and social development of member countries and Muslim communities worldwide in accordance with Islamic law. The Bank provides financial and technical assistance to members by offering equity capital and interest-free loans for projects in member countries and also by operating special funds to aid Muslim communities in nonmember countries. In addition, the IDB conducts research on the application of Islamic law to financial transactions.

top

Mercado Comun del Cono Sur (MERCOSUR)

Founded as a regional trade alliance in 1991, Mercado Comun del Cono Sur (MERCOSUR) created a customs union in 1995. Its official members are Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, and its affiliated members are Chile and Bolivia. MERCOSUR’s objectives are promoting the free circulation of goods, services and factors of production; achieving unified customs; coordinating fiscal, exchange and trade policies; and setting a common external tariff.



top

North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is an alliance of 26 countries from North America and Europe committed to fulfilling the goals of the North Atlantic Treaty signed on April 4, 1949. In accordance with the Treaty, the fundamental role of NATO is to safeguard the freedom and security of its member countries through both political and military means. NATO promotes the Euro-Atlantic values of democracy, individual liberty, rule of law and peaceful resolution of disputes.

top

Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie

Francophonie is a term coined in 1990 to designate the community of French-speaking peoples and countries. The Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie is a France-led international organization comprised primarily of 50 French-speaking countries, most of them in Africa. The organization holds summits every two years and is primarily concerned with the changing nature of linguistics in the modern environment of economic globalization.



top

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an outgrowth of the Organization for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC) set up to coordinate the Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of Europe after World War II, now is comprised of 30 member countries that share a commitment to democratic governance and the market economy. It works actively with some 70 additional countries as well as numerous nongovernmental bodies, and carries out a vigorous program of conferences and publications on economic and social issues.



top

Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)

Founded in 1975 to strengthen the ties between Eastern and Western Europe, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) currently promotes cooperation among its member states in Europe and addresses human, politico-military and economic/environmental aspects of security. OSCE also facilitates political processes and seeks to prevent and settle conflicts. The organization has played a role in bringing greater security to Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania and other areas of conflict.

top

Organization of American States (OAS)

The Organization of American States (OAS), founded in 1948, is a major regional organization with 35 members, including most Latin American states as well as the United States and Canada. The OAS determines common political, defense, economic and social policies and provides for the coordination of various inter-American agencies. The organization is also responsible for implementing the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (Rio Treaty) in the event of a severe security threat to the region.


top

Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC)

The Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) was established in 1968 with permanent headquarters in Kuwait. Unlike OPEC, its membership is limited to Arab countries and its activities are developmental in nature. OAPEC focuses on issues that relate to energy in all member countries of the Arab League.

top

Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC)

Founded in 1960, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) counts as members Algeria, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Venezuela. OPEC’s principal aims are coordinating the petroleum policies of member countries and determining the best means for ensuring strong and stable prices in international oil markets.


top

Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO)

Founded in 1902, the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) consists of Western Hemisphere nations that work together to improve physical and mental health in the Americas. It encourages development in health systems and technology, provides consulting services, conducts educational courses on public health topics and helps maintain the World Health Organization regional office.


top

South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC)

Established in 1985, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) includes Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Through annual summits and ongoing programs, it provides a platform for regional cooperation on economic and social development issues of concern to its member states. At the 2004 summit, the members agreed to work toward establishment of a South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA).



top

The International Monetary Fund (IMF)

The International Monetary Fund (IMF), established in 1945 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., is the central institution of the international monetary system -- the system of international payments and exchange rates among national currencies that enables business to take place between countries. It describes itself as "an organization of 184 countries, working to foster global monetary cooperation, secure financial stability, facilitate international trade, promote high employment and sustainable economic growth, and reduce poverty." As the only international agency whose mandated activities involve active dialogue with virtually every country on economic policies, the IMF is the principal forum for discussing not only national economic policies in a global context, but also issues important to the stability of the international monetary and financial system.

top

United Nations (UN)

Established in 1945, the United Nations (U.N.) currently has 189 members. Its four main purposes are: (1) to maintain international peace and security, (2) to develop friendly relations among nations, (3) to cooperate in solving international problems and promoting respect for human rights and (4) to be a center for harmonizing the actions of nations. There are six main organs of the U.N. - the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Trusteeship Council, the Secretariat and the International Court of Justice -- as well as many affiliated bodies such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Labor Organization (ILO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Bank, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

top

United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)

The United National Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is the world's leading children's organization. It does not take sides in political conflicts, but instead works to draw the world’s attention to the devastating effects of violence and conflict on children. The Convention on the Rights of the Child, which guides UNICEF’s work, clearly states that every child has the right to know and be cared for by his or her own parents, whenever possible. In addition to emphasizing the value and importance of families in children's lives. UNICEF also gives high priority to expanding basic educational opportunities for girls.


top

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is the U.N.'s global development network, an organization advocating for change and connecting countries to knowledge, experience and resources to help people build a better life. UNDP has a presence in 166 countries, working on local solutions to development challenges. UNDP’s network links global and national efforts to reach the Millennium Development Goals of cutting poverty in half by 2015 and addressing other issues of democratic governance, crisis prevention and recovery, energy and environment, and HIV/AIDS. The organization also gives high priority to encouraging protection of human rights and empowerment of women. In each country office, the UNDP Resident Representative normally also serves as the Resident Coordinator of development activities for the United Nations system as a whole.

top

United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

With 191 member states and six associate members, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is the U.N. body with overall responsibility for international attention to education, science and culture. Through its programs and promotion of the free exchange of ideas, it seeks to promote greater understanding and create conditions for genuine dialogue based upon respect for shared values and the dignity of each civilization and culture.

top

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), established by the U.N. in 1950, leads and coordinates international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. It seeks to ensure that everyone in need can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another state, with the option to return home voluntarily, integrate locally or resettle in a third country. In 2006, UNHCR’s staff of about 6,540 people in 116 countries provided continuing assistance to 19.2 million people.



top

United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)

The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), a U.N. specialized agency, helps developing nations and countries with economies in transition in their fight against marginalization in today's globalized world. The group mobilizes knowledge, skills, information and technology to promote productive employment, a competitive economy and a sound environment. Its two areas of concentration are strengthening industrial capacities and working on cleaner and sustainable industrial development. As a global forum, UNIDO generates and disseminates knowledge relating to industrial matters and provides a platform for the various actors in the public and private sectors, civil society organizations and the policy-making community to address common concerns. As a technical cooperation agency, UNIDO designs and implements programs to support the industrial development efforts of its clients, and offers specialized support for program development.



top

Universal Postal Union (UPU)

A U.N specialized agency with 190 member countries, the Universal Postal Union (UPU) is the primary forum for cooperation between postal services, and as such ensures a truly global network of up-to-date products and services. The organization fulfils an advisory, mediating and liaison role, and renders technical assistance where needed. It sets the rules for international mail exchanges and makes recommendations to stimulate growth in mail volumes and quality of service.



top

World Bank

The World Bank is the name that has come to be used for the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and the International Development Association (IDA). Together these organizations provide low-interest loans, interest-free credit and grants to developing countries. Not a bank in the common sense, the World Bank is one of the U.N. specialized agencies and is made up of 184 Member Countries that are jointly responsible for how the institution is financed and how its money is spent. Along with the rest of the development community, the World Bank centers its efforts on reaching the Millennium Development Goals, agreed to by U.N. members in 2000 and aimed at sustainable poverty reduction.


top

World Food Programme (WFP)

The World Food Programme (WFP) is the food aid arm of the United Nations. It began operations in 1992 and has grown steadily. Governed by an executive board consisting of 36 member states, WFP gives rapid response emergency assistance to victims of natural disasters, assists refugees and other displaced persons, and provides direct help to the hungry poor in underdeveloped countries with severe food shortages.



top

World Health Organization (WHO)

The World Health Organization (WHO) is the United Nations specialized agency for health. Its objective, set out in its constitution at the time of its founding in 1948, is the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health. Health is defined as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. WHO deals with a wide variety of health issues, including disease prevention, maternal care, travelers’ health and crisis response. It is governed by the World Health Assembly, which is composed of representatives from its 192 member states.


top

World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)

A United Nations specialized agency, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is dedicated to promoting the use and protection of intellectual property – i.e., works of the human spirit. WIPO administers 23 treaties (two of those jointly with other international organizations) and carries out a rich and varied program of work, through its member states and secretariat, that seeks to: harmonize national intellectual property legislation and procedures, provide services for international applications for industrial property rights, exchange intellectual property information, provide legal and technical assistance to developing and other countries, facilitate the resolution of private intellectual property disputes, and marshal information technology as a tool for storing, accessing and using valuable intellectual property information.

top

World Trade Organization (WTO)

Founded in 1995, the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2006 had 148 members, and is the only global international organization that deals with the rules of trade between nations. WTO attempts to promote greater international trade by lowering barriers and adjudicating disputes. Its agreements, negotiated and signed by a large majority of the world’s trading nations, provide the legal ground rules for international commerce.



top