The Final Few: Completing the Universal Membership of the IMF

CIGI Papers No. 89

February 1, 2016

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has 188 member countries. The United Nations has 193. The difference is not economically or politically trivial. Although none of the members missing from the IMF is a large country, two of the five are potentially important in their regions: Cuba and North Korea. What would it take to complete the process to have both countries included as IMF member countries? What are the obstacles to becoming members, and how can they be overcome?

For three years, 1997 to 2000, tentative moves toward membership for North Korea were encouraged by South Korea and were tolerated by most Western powers. The détente did not last, but the episode offers a model for a resumption of progress if conditions improve. Notably, the IMF could provide technical assistance and training, collect economic data and provide information on its membership requirements and obligations. Cuban membership faces additional hurdles because of US laws that were targeted specifically at the government of Fidel Castro. Moreover, to this date, neither country has applied to join the IMF. Because every other country in the world, aside from the very smallest and those not generally recognized as states, has joined the IMF, it is virtually certain that Cuba will apply eventually, as will North Korea, unless that prospect is preempted by reunification of the Korean Peninsula. When they do apply, a concerted political commitment will be needed to overcome the remaining technical obstacles.

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CIGI Papers present in-depth analysis and discussion on governance-related subjects. They include policy papers that present CIGI experts' positions or contributions to policy debates, and background papers that contain research findings, insights and data that contribute to the development of policy positions.

About the Author

James M. Boughton is a CIGI senior fellow. James’s research focuses on the evolution of Canada’s role in international governance since the 1940s and the potential for further evolution in the near future.