in: International Affairs 97(6), 2021, pp. 1963-1981, https://doi.org/10.1093/ia/iiab169.
International organizations (IOs) play a key role in promoting multilateral cooperation on critical transnational issues. Yet, their authority has increasingly been contested by member states that cut financial contributions or even withdraw their membership. How do IOs respond to such contestation? While the existing literature has mostly focused on reactions by other member states, I argue in this article that our understanding of IOs' responses to contestation remains incomplete without an analysis of IO bureaucracies. I propose a conceptual framework to analyse three types of bureaucratic responses: inertia, i.e. no immediate response; adaptation, i.e. institutional changes to maintain the support of the challenging member state(s); and resilience-building, i.e. developing organizational capacities to limit contestation. I argue that each of these responses is shaped by specific bureaucratic mechanisms, namely hunkering, negotiation, framing, coalition-building, shaming and professionalization. Based on a comparative within-case study analysing the reactions of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to budget cuts by the Reagan, Bush and Trump administrations, I further theorize that the organization's threat perception, the position of other member states and bureaucratic leadership are relevant factors that need to be considered to explain the variation in IO responses to contestation.