The Review of International Organizations

, Volume 12, Issue 4, pp 559–583 | Cite as

Control, soft information, and the politics of international organizations staffing

  • Michal ParízekEmail author


This article offers insights into the aggregate patterns of the geographical distribution of professional staff in some of the major international organizations (IOs). Building on the principal-agent framework, I argue that powerful member states seek dominant positions in IOs’ secretariats, in an effort to increase their ability to control them. At the same time, it is often the weakest low-income countries that are the IOs’ primary clients. Over-representation of the most powerful states is likely to lead to functional and legitimation problems for the IOs, in particular with regard to the IOs’ lack of access to ‘soft’ information about the countries in which they operate. Using a newly created dataset covering 19 major bodies of the United Nations family, I identify two aggregate patterns in the geographical distribution of their professional staff. First, the most powerful states dominate IOs’ secretariats. Second, however, many IOs systematically deviate in their staffing practices from this overall pattern, as well as from the existing rules that formalize it, and relatively over-represent also low-income countries. What results is a curvilinear (U-shaped) pattern where both powerful and very poor states are over-represented in many IOs’ professional staff.


International organizations International secretariats United Nations Representation Control Soft information 



This research was supported by the Czech Science Foundation (GA CR) Grant GA15-12533S “Member states in the WTO - preferences, compliance, and monitoring”. Previous versions of this paper have been presented at ECPR Joint Sessions workshop on “Authority and Control in International Organizations” in Salamanca, at a workshop on “Explaining Authority of International Organizations” in Brussels, and at the colloquium of The German Research Institute on Public Administration in Speyer (all 2014). I would like to thank the participants of all these events, in particular Thomas Conzelman, Hylke Dijkstra, and Michael W. Bauer, as well as Benjamin Faude and Jan Karlas, for their very important and helpful comments.

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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Political Studies, Faculty of Social SciencesCharles University in PraguePragueCzech Republic

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