International Institutions in Crisis

New research project: what are the consequences of he dissociation processes of international institutions?

Photo: Flickr, Paul Lloyd, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0,

Brexit, US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement under President Donald Trump and the demise of security cooperation between Russia and the West are reminders that international cooperation is fragile. This lies at the vore of the recent "crisis of the liberal order". States dissociate themselves from international institutions – either by formally withdrawing their membership, by ignoring their commitments or by creating alternative institutions.

Often when states drift away from international institutions, considerable tensions result between these states and those that want to maintain the institution. These tensions can cast a permanent shadow over their relations and lead to permanent patterns of competition and hostility. Thus dissociation from international institutions can have a significant impact on peace and security. But, so far, research has ignored these consequences and instead focused mainly on the causes of institutional crises and on the consequences of these crises for the institutions themselves rather than for interstate relations more broadly conceived.

Starting in April 2019, PRIF scientists explore this academic void in the project "Drifting Apart: International Institutions in Crisis and the Management of Dissociation Processes". It examines how five different dissociation processes unfolded and seeks to identify the factors that created, reinforced or mitigated tensions between the states in question. The interdisciplinary project was developed under PRIF's lead in the Leibniz Research Alliance "Crises in a Globalised World". It brings together four member institutions of the Leibniz Association. Besides PRIF, these are: GIGA - German Institute of Global and Area Studies (Hamburg), the Institute of Contemporrary History (IfZ, Munich) and the Center for Contemporary History (ZZF, Potsdam).

Together, they examine five historical and current cases:

  • the demise of security cooperation between Russia and the West since 2000
  • Brexit, the UK's withdrawal from EU membership
  • the creation of alternative institutions for international financial cooperation by the BRICS
  • the break-up of the Warsaw Treaty Organization
  • and the dissociation of Iran from cooperation with the West since the late 1970s