in: International Studies Quarterly, 63:1, 139–152
Why do intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) that espouse democratic commitments suspend the membership of some states that backslide on those commitments, while leaving that of others intact? We argue that a combination of geopolitical factors and institutional rules help explain this inconsistent pattern. Remaining member states insulate geopolitically important states—particularly those with large endowments of oil resources—from suspension. Institutional factors, such as voting rules and the size of the IGO, create veto points that reduce suspensions.
Using an original global data set of IGO suspensions and charter commitments from 1980 to 2010, we find strong support for our argument. We test a key assumption of existing scholarship that claims IGOs serve as credible-commitment devices for political reform and democratization. We show that once a state becomes an IGO member, it can often remain in the IGO even after violating its democratic commitments.