The customary prescription for handling “problems without passports” is to work through international intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), act collectively for humanity's future, and build up specialized knowledge. But around the world, patterns from the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic defied the prescription. IGOs were blamed, narrow or short-term interests were prioritized, and divided reactions to experts were on display. International Relations (IR) scholarship helps explain why: (1) research on bureaucracy and institutional design examines the challenge of making IGOs accountable to member-states but also insulated from them; (2) research on delegation and socialization explores commonplace problems involving time-inconsistency and credible commitments; and (3) research on epistemic communities and anti-elitism describes the rationale and fears of permitting public policy to be guided by unelected experts. The initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic reflect how the world can look when it lacks resolute leadership to overcome commonplace aversions to IGOs, to broader or longer-term interests, and to experts. Yet while IR scholarship makes sense of these patterns, it does not say enough about why resolute leadership wanes, or what to do about IGO performance when it does. Answers to such questions are crucial not only for recovering from the COVID-19 crisis, but for dealing with whatever global crises lie ahead.