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An international organization is an organization of international scope or character. There are two main types of international organizations: international intergovernmental organizations, whose members are sovereign states; and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which are private organizations. Generally the term international organization is used to mean international governmental organizations only. It is in this sense that the term is used in the remainder of this article.
Legally speaking, an international organization must be established by a treaty providing it with legal personality for it to be an international organization. International organizations so established are subjects of international law, capable of entering into agreements among themselves or with states. Thus international organizations in a legal sense are distinguished from mere groupings of states, such as the G-8 and the G-77, neither of which have been founded by treaty, though in non-legal contexts these are sometimes referred to as international organizations as well. International organizations must also be distinguished from treaties; while all international organizations are founded on a treaty, many treaties (e.g. NAFTA) do not establish an international organization, and rely purely on the parties for their administration.
International organizations can be categorised in two main ways: by their membership, and by their function.
International organizations differ in who their members are, or who is permitted to join them. Some organizations, global organizations, have membership open to all the nations of the world. This includes the United Nations and its specialized agencies. Other organizations are open to membership only within a particular region of the world. Finally, some organizations base their membership on other criteria: cultural or historical links (the Commonwealth, La Francophonie), level of economic development or type of economy (OECD, OPEC), or religion (Organization of the Islamic Conference).
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