Intergovernmental organizations are an important aspect of public international law. IGOs are established by a treaty that acts as a charter creating the group. Treaties are formed when lawful representatives (governments) of several states go through a ratification process, providing the IGO with an international legal personality.
Intergovernmental organizations in a legal sense should be distinguished from simple groupings or coalitions of states, such as the G8 or the Quartet. Such groups or associations have not been founded by a constituent document and exist only as task groups.
Intergovernmental organizations must also be distinguished from treaties. Many treaties (such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, or the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade before the establishment of the World Trade Organization) do not establish an organization and instead rely purely on the parties for their administration becoming legally recognized as an ad hoc commission. Other treaties have established an administrative apparatus which was not deemed to have been granted international legal personality.
Intergovernmental organizations differ in function, membership and membership criteria. They have various goals and scopes, often outlined in the treaty or charter. Some IGOs developed to fulfill a need for a neutral forum for debate or negotiation to resolve disputes. Others developed to carry out mutual interests with unified aims to preserve peace through conflict resolution and better international relations, promote international cooperation on matters such as environmental protection, to promote human rights, to promote social development (education, health care), to render humanitarian aid, and to economic development. Some are more general in scope (the United Nations) while others may have subject-specific missions (such as Interpol or the International Organization for Standardization and other standards organizations). Common types include: