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Abstract

Contested claims of sovereignty are common occurrences for modern states. Whether over a section of uninhabited territory or an island home to millions, states often dispute the right of other governments to exercise control. Although many such disputes are managed through direct negotiations between states, some, such as Taiwan’s status, require the involvement of international organizations. What role do those organizations play in those disputes and what does that role say about the function of international organizations more generally? I propose that international organizations are particularly valuable to states’ credibility. Because international organizations represent a large community of states and provide a regulated platform for states to issue statements of policy, they allow states to bolster their credibility. Through an analysis of US government documents, I demonstrate the importance of credibility to US decision makers as they navigated the sovereignty dispute between the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China in the early 1970s. I also conclude, however, that decisions made by UN represented a community decision that put pressure on the US officials to accept the PRC’s sovereignty claim, thereby limiting the options available to the US. This dual role makes international organizations undeniably valuable to a state ability to maintain credibility but also a potential liability.

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