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Not letting ‘bad apples’ spoil the bunch: Democratization and strict international organization accession rules


To solve their domestic and international problems, democratizing states often form new international organizations. In doing so, they face the question of institutional design: what types of rules and provisions should be included in the charter of the new international organization? We analyze this question through the lens of accession rules, with an emphasis on voting rules. We argue that democratizing states have strong incentives to design organizations with strict accession rules. Organizations with strict accession rules allow the founding members to regulate entry. This is particularly useful for transitional democracies, as democratizing states are initially unable to gain entry into the lucrative existing international organizations operated by the established democracies. Using original data on accession voting rules in 324 international organizations, we find strong evidence in support of our claims.

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  1. “Three Visegrad Leaders Discuss Ties,” 14 March 1992, in Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Daily Report: East Europe (hereafter, FBIS-EEU) 25. March 1992: 2–3.

  2. In doing so, Italy argued that Slovenian legislation on the purchase of land by foreigners was not in line with EU law.

  3. Newly created IOs also provide a low cost avenue through which “sponsoring” established democracies can supply resources or advice. For example, when they began the process of democratization, the Baltic states formed the Baltic Peacekeeping Batallion (BALTBAT) in 1994. Besides providing a mechanism by which they could coordinate defense policies and pool their limited materials, many Nordic countries provided basic military equipment and training in civil military relations (Ito 2013). Contributing to BALTBAT was low cost to the established democracies because (1) the established democracies were not fully responsible for designing BALTBAT and (2) the advice and resources were not to the level of that offered to a country joining an IO, such as NATO, to which some of the Nordic democracies were already a members. But while the resources and advice might have been of a lesser quality, they were of immense value to the democratizing states (who require all forms of technical and material assistance).

  4. Joining the newly created IO can be attractive from the perspective of the “bad apples”. The new IO can influence a host of policies, such as regional security and trade cooperation. The efforts by the democratizing states to cooperate on these policies will produce externalities that influence non-members. Hence, non-members will wish to have a say over these policies.

  5. As Downs et al. (1998) argue, the deepening of cooperation in an IO will slow as less and less enthusiastic states join. But see Gilligan (2004) for why the broader-deeper trade-off does not exist for all kinds of organizations and treaties.

  6. “The Agreement on Amendment of and Agreement to the Central European Free Trade Agreement.” Available at Accessed on November 5, 2014.

  7. “Three Visegrad Leaders Discuss Ties,” 14 March 1992, in Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Daily Report: East Europe (hereafter, FBIS-EEU) 25. March 1992: 2–3.

  8. “Three Visegrad Leaders Discuss Ties,” 14 March 1992, in Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Daily Report: East Europe (hereafter, FBIS-EEU) 25. March 1992: 2–3.

  9. Democracy designations based on when country achieved a Polity IV score of 6 or above.

  10. English translation of treaty text available at Accessed on April 30, 2015.

  11. Quoted in “The Expansion of Mercosur” The Economist August 3, 2012. Avail- able at expansion-mercosur. Accessed on April 28, 2015.

  12. Treaty text available at

  13. Translated as “The underlying balance of interests”.

  14. Thereby highlighting how, under particular circumstances, even an established democracy can be considered a “bad apple”.

  15. In a related study, Blake and Payton (2015) measure the voting rules within the decision-making process of an institution, but not specifically the accession rules. They find that a vast majority (97 %) have voting rules, which is the exact opposite of accession rules (where a majority have no rule).

  16. While space does not permit a list of all the relevant treaty articles in the main text, Appendix C provides the accession treaty articles for these 103 IOs.

  17. Article 56 of the European Free Trade Association Convention. Available at Accessed on April 5, 2014.

  18. Article 33 of the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs 1947. Available at Accessed on April 5, 2014.

  19. Article 10 of the North Atlantic Treaty. Available at Accessed on April 5, 2014.

  20. The fact that unanimous voting is the most common of the super-majority categories opens a number of avenues for informal governance procedures since, as described in the introduction, it can allow one intransigent existing member to stop the accession of an otherwise worthy state.

  21. There is no standard in international relations for when a state should be considered a democracy on the Polity scale. For example, some studies use a rather conservative measure of polity ≥ 7 (Mansfield and Pevehouse 2008), while others adopt a more generous coding of polity ≥ 5 (Lai and Reiter 2000; Gibler 2008). We follow Jaggers and Gurr (1995); Marshall et al. (2010) by using the middle of these two options.

  22. In many respects, Table 2, due to strict adherence to our coding rules, provides a conservative depiction of the relationship between democratization and the formation of IOs with strict accession voting rules. For example, MERCOSUR’s creation in 1991 is not included on this list because, according our coding rules for democratization, Paraguay was one year away from democratization (1992), and Brazil and Uruguay had been democratizing for 6 years (1985).

  23. For this analysis, we have a sample of 304 IOs because several IOs existed for less than 5 years.

  24. The - 6 value results from autocratic states leaving the IO over the first 5 years of the IO’s existence.

  25. Institutionalization data are from Boehmer et al. (2004) and Ingram et al. (2005), while IO function data are based on the authors' own modifications to the membership data from Mansfield and Pevehouse (2008, 290).

  26. This removes 18 observations from the group of IOs where at least one democratizing state was involved in the IOs' creation and 26 observations from the group of IOs where no democratizing states were involved in the IOs' creation.


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Kaoutzanis, C., Poast, P. & Urpelainen, J. Not letting ‘bad apples’ spoil the bunch: Democratization and strict international organization accession rules. Rev Int Organ 11, 399–418 (2016).

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  • Democratization
  • International organization
  • Voting rules
  • Accession criteria