Do International Organizations Play Favorites? An Impartialist Account

40 Pages Posted: 8 May 2007

See all articles by Steven Ratner

Steven Ratner

University of Michigan Law School

Date Written: April 27, 2007


Claims of inequity, partiality, and unfairness are central to contemporary philosophical treatments of international law as not meeting a certain vision of a just world order. In particular, criticism from political and moral philosophers of international organizations is based on the observation that they do not treat all actors or situations the same way and so therefore are morally suspect. This paper considers whether international organizations act impartially in the sense of not playing favorites in the way they treat certain actors and situations. It views organizations and the states in them as having various rights and duties toward other actors and asks whether rights possessed by or duties owed to only some actors - special rights and duties - can be justified. It focusses on three aspects of international organizations: membership, decisionmaking processes, and choices of targets for action, and concludes that certain institutional characteristics can be justified as impartial while others fall short. Although impartiality with respect to these three aspects does not equate with a just international organization, an appraisal of their impartiality is a prerequisite to understanding the institutions that we have and proposing ideas to reconstruct them.

Keywords: international law, moral philosophy, international organizations, international justice

Suggested Citation

Ratner, Steven, Do International Organizations Play Favorites? An Impartialist Account (April 27, 2007). Available at SSRN: or

Steven Ratner (Contact Author)

University of Michigan Law School ( email )

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Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1215
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