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There is neither a world government nor a world leader. Instead, each country is responsible for its own affairs within its defined borders. Not having a world government can be frightening, particularly in war time. When sovereign states are at war, there is no higher authority that can stop them.

The response to historical crises such as the 20th century's world wars was the creation of supranational organizations. Supranationalism can be a highly effective though limited way to resolve conflicts between countries.

Supranationalism Definition

While nations may have specific national interests, there are many areas of policy in which the entire world or some grouping of allies can come to an agreement and cooperate.

Supranationalism: States come together on a multinational level in an institutional setting to cooperate on policies and agreements that have authority over the states.

Supranationalism involves loss of a degree of sovereignty. Decisions are legally binding to the members, which means they must act as dictated by the supranational agreement.

This political process offers a break from the Westphalian model that was the cornerstone of the international system from the 1600s AD until the world wars of the 20th century. The havoc these wars unleashed proved there needed to be some governmental alternative to states. The world could not continue with countries in constant conflict, possessing divergent and competing goals.

Supranationalism Examples

Here are a few of the most notable supranational organizations and agreements.

League of Nations

This failed organization was the precursor to the United Nations. It existed from 1920 to 1946. At its peak, it only had fifty-four member states. Though US President Woodrow Wilson was a founding member and advocate, the US never joined out of fear of losing its sovereignty.

The League of Nations was designed to create an international organization that could help the world avoid conflicts. However, due to its impotence in preventing World War II, the League collapsed. Nevertheless, it offered inspiration and an important blueprint for supranational organizations to follow.

United Nations

Even though the League of Nations failed, World War II proved that the international community needed a supranational organization to address and help prevent conflicts. The successor of the League of Nations was the United Nations, founded in 1945, which offered the world a forum for international conflict resolution and decision-making.

Headquartered in New York City with offices in Switzerland and elsewhere, the UN has 193 member states, and as such is the supranational organization with the largest membership. It has executive, judicial, and legislative branches.

Each member nation has a representative in the UN General Assembly. Once a year, the leaders of the states travel to New York City to give speeches in the premier diplomatic event in the world.

The top body of the UN is the UN Security Council, which can condemn or legitimize military actions. The five permanent members of the Security Council, UK, Russia, US, France, and China, can veto any legislation. Due to animosities between states on the Security Council, this body rarely agrees.

The UN is led by a Secretary-General, whose job is to set the organization's agenda as well as implement the decisions made by the numerous UN agencies.

While the UN's charter essential mission is to prevent and resolve conflicts, its scope also includes poverty reduction, sustainability, gender equality, the environment, human rights, and many more issues of global concern.

Not all UN decisions are legally binding, which means the UN is not inherently supranational. It depends on what agreements member states sign on to.

Supranationalism The United Nations Headquarters StudySmarterFig. 1 - United Nations Headquarters in New York City

Paris Climate Accord

An example of a supranational agreement enacted by the UN is the Paris Climate Accord. This 2015 agreement is legally binding on all signatories. It showcases the nations of the world coming together to solve a common issue, in this case, global warming.

The agreement is an ambitious effort to limit global warming to under two Celsius degrees of rise in comparison to pre-industrial levels. It is the first time preventative climate action has become legally binding internationally. The goal is to have a carbon-neutral world by the middle of the 21st century.

The agreement has been successful in inspiring more zero-carbon solutions and technology. Additionally, more countries have established carbon-neutral targets.

European Union

The European Union was a response to the world wars that decimated the European continent. The EU began with the European Coal and Steel Community in 1952. It had six founding member states. In 1957, the Treaty of Rome established the European Economic Community and expanded the original idea of a common economic market to more member states and more economic sectors.

Supranationalism Flag Map of the EU StudySmarterFig. 2 - This map features the countries of the European Union. Not all of the countries of Europe are in the European Union. New members must be accepted and meet certain requirements. Other countries such as Switzerland chose to never apply

The European Union is a powerful organization. Because there is an overlap between where the EU and member states have jurisdiction, there are disagreements between the member states about how much sovereignty ought to be ceded as a condition to join.

The EU has 27 member states. While the organization has control over common policy for its members, member states still have sovereignty in many areas. For instance, the EU has limited capacity to force member states to implement certain policies related to immigration.

As a supranational organization, member states do have to cede some sovereignty to be a member. There are specific requirements and legislation a member state must implement for it to be accepted into the EU. (By contrast, ceding sovereignty is not a requirement for the UN, unless a legally binding agreement, such as the Paris Climate Accord, is agreed upon.)

Supranationalism vs Intergovernmentalism

Supranationalism has already been defined. It involves nations giving up a degree of sovereignty to participate. How does intergovernmentalism differ?

Intergovernmentalism: international cooperation (or not) between states on issues of mutual interest. The state is still the primary actor, and no sovereignty is lost.

In supranational organizations, states agree to certain policies and to be held accountable if they do not uphold the agreement arrangements. In intergovernmental organizations, states retain their sovereignty. There are cross-border issues and other mutual concerns that states benefit from discussing and solving with other countries. However, there is no higher authority than the state itself in this process. The resulting agreements are bilateral or multilateral. It is up to the states to act upon the agreement.

Examples of Intergovernmental Organizations

There are many examples of intergovernmental organizations, as they provide forums for states and world leaders to come together to discuss issues of shared interest.

The EU

While the EU is a pertinent example of a supranational organization, it is also an intergovernmental organization. In some decisions, sovereignty is superseded, and member states have to accommodate a decision. With other decisions, member states get to decide on a national level whether they will implement the policy.


An important intergovernmental organization is NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. This military alliance of thirty nations has created a collective defense pact: if one country is attacked, its allies will join in retaliation and defense. This organization was established during the Cold War to provide a defense against the Soviet Union. Now its main purpose is to defend western Europe from Russia. The backbone of the organization is the US whose nuclear weapons are seen as a deterrent against Russian attacks on any NATO member.

Supranationalism NATO map StudySmarterFig. 3 - A map of NATO member states (highlighted in navy)

World Trade Organization (WTO)

International trade is a common activity in the global arena, because it involves the exchange of goods and currency. The World Trade Organization is the intergovernmental organization that establishes, updates, and enforces rules on international trade. It has 168 member states, that together comprise 98% of global GDP and trade volume. The WTO also serves as a mediator for trade disputes between countries. However, the WTO has many critics who argue that the WTO's promotion of "free trade" has actually harmed developing countries and industries.

G7 and G20

The G7 is not a formal organization, but rather a summit and forum for the leaders of the world's seven most advanced economies and democracies to meet. The annual summits allow member states and their leaders to work together on an intergovernmental level to discuss important issues of concern.

Supranationalism G8 2022 Summit StudySmarterFig. 4 - 2022's G8 meeting occurred in June in Germany. Depicted here are the leaders of the US, Germany, France, Canada, Italy, EU Council, EU Commission, Japan, and the UK

The G20 is a similar intergovernmental organization that includes the world's twenty largest economies.

IMF and World Bank

Examples of financial intergovernmental organizations include the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. The IMF seeks to improve the economies of member states; the World Bank invests in developing countries through loans. These are international economic forums and do not require the loss of sovereignty to participate. Nearly every country of the world is a member of these organizations.

It is recommended to check out StudySmarter's explanation of Neocolonialism so you can understand why critics charge that these intergovernmental organizations perpetuate the unequal relationships inherited from colonialism.

Supranationalism vs Internationalism

First, a word from Prof. Einstein:

My consciousness of belonging to the invisible community of those who strive for truth, beauty, and justice has preserved me from feeling isolated.4

- Albert Einstein

Supranationalism is a practice that involves governments cooperating in formal institutions. Meanwhile, internationalism is a philosophy.

Internationalism: the philosophy that nations should work together to promote the common good.

Internationalism creates a cosmopolitan outlook that promotes and respects other cultures and customs. It also seeks world peace. Internationalists are aware of a "global consciousness" that defies national borders. Internationalists usually refer to themselves as "citizens of the world" rather than just citizens of their country.

While some internationalists seek a shared world government, others are hesitant to support this because they fear a world government could become authoritarian or even totalitarian.

Internationalism does not mean the abolition of sovereign states, but rather greater cooperation between existing states. Internationalism stands in contrast to nationalism, which sees the promotion of a nation's national interest and people above all else.

Benefits of Supranationalism

Supranationalism allows states to cooperate on international issues. This is beneficial and necessary when international conflicts or challenges arise, such as a war or pandemic.

It is also beneficial to have international rules and organizations. This allows the ability to better handle disputes and to enforce international agreements such as the Paris Climate Accord.

Proponents of supranationalism have said that it has improved the global economy and made the world safer. While supranationalism has allowed states to cooperate on issues, it has not alleviated conflict and equitably spread wealth. If you read the news, you will see that the world is highly unstable. There are wars, economic difficulties, and pandemics. Supranationalism does not prevent problems, but it does allow states to gather and attempt to solve these difficult challenges together.

Supranationalism - Key takeaways

  • Supranationalism involves countries working together by ceding a degree of sovereignty to be a member of an international organization.
  • Examples of supranational organizations include the UN, EU, and the former League of Nations.
  • Intergovernmental organizations are different because states do not need to give up any sovereignty to participate. Examples include WTO, NATO, and the World Bank.
  • Internationalism is the philosophy that individuals are "citizens of the world" rather than just citizens of one nation. This philosophy seeks humanity working together across borders to promote the common good.


  1. Fig. 2 - the EU Flag Map (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Flag-map_of_the_European_Union_(2013-2020).svg) by Janitoalevic licensed by CC-BY SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)
  2. Fig. 3 - NATO Members Map (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:NATO_members_(blue).svg) by Alketii licensed by CC-BY SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en)
  3. Fig. 4 - G7 Picture (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fumio_Kishida_attended_a_roundtable_meeting_on_Day_3_of_the_G7_Schloss_Elmau_Summit_(1).jpg) by 内閣官房内閣広報室 licensed by CC-BY SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/deed.en)
  4. My Credo by Albert Einstein, 1932.

Final Supranationalism Quiz


Which is the top body of the United Nations?

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The Security Council.

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Supranationalism involves countries ceding a bit of ____ to be involved, while intergovernmentalism recognizes each state's authority.

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Show question


Is the EU intergovernmental or supranational?

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Show question


The decisions of the UN are usually legally binding.

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Show question


The UN Security Council legitimizes military actions.

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Show question


Is NATO supranational or intergovernmental?

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Show question


____ is the opposite of internationalism.

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Show question


What is the precursor to the United Nations?

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The League of Nations.

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What are benefits of supranationalism?

Show answer


A safer world.

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An Internationalist would say: I am not a citizen of ___ but rather of  ____.

Show answer


my country, the world.

Show question


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