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The Role of Non-state Actors in International Relations



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    The Role of Non-state Actors in International Relations

    International relations (IR) is like a stage where actors are needed to put on a show. Actors are any person or entity which plays a role that is attributable in international relations. There are two kind of actors in the world of International Relations which are states and non-state actors. States are territories run by a government and have a permanent population. Although states are the most important actors in IR, they are strongly influence by non-state actors. Non-state actors will be discuss in more detail in the following section.

    Definition & Characteristics
    Non-state actors are individuals or organizations that have powerful economic, political or social power and are able to influence at a national and sometimes international level but do not belong to or allied themselves to any particular country or state. According to Pearlman and Cunningham, non-state actors are define as “an organized political actor not directly connected to the state but pursing aims that affect vital state interests” . Other than having characteristics such as having power and the ability to influence, non-state actors have a base or headquarter in a certain state but their activities will not only be operating in the state itself but will also be operating beyond the borders of the state.

    Types of Non-state Actors and Their Roles
    Sub-state Actors
    Sub-state actors are groups of people or individuals with similar interests not beyond the states that are able to effect the state’s foreign policy. They are also known as domestic actors. An example of sub-state actors is the automobile industry and the tobacco industry in America. These industries have unmistakable interests in the American foreign economic policy so that these industries are able to sell cars or cigarettes abroad and reduce imports of competing products made abroad. They are politically assembled to influence policies through interest groups, lobbying, donating to political candidates or parties, swaying public opinion on certain
    issues, and other means. Some examples of sub-state actors are the trade union (British English) / labour union (Canadian English) labor union (American English). Trade union is an organization of workers who have banded together to achieve common goals such as protecting the integrity of its trade, achieving higher pay, increasing the number of employees an employer hires, and better working conditions. They are able to influence the decisions made regarding their state’s laws in order to protect the rights of employees.

    Intergovernmental Organizations (IGOs)
    Intergovernmental Organizations (IGOs) are one of the International Organizations (IOs). IGOs are organizations whose members consist of three or more nations-states. IGOs are created and joined by states to solve shared problems which give them authority to make collective decisions to manage problems on the global agenda. In these organizations, the states’ representatives gather to discuss issues that are of mutual interests to the member states. There are two main types of IGOs, the global IGOs and the regional IGOs. Global IGOs are organizations having universal or nearly universal membership which means every state is a member like the United Nations (UN), World Trade Organization (WTO), International Monetary Fund (IMF) and many more. Regional IGOs are a subset of states as members based on a particular interest or region, such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), European Union (EU) and many others. Why do states form IGOs and work through them? According to liberal institutionalism, states form IGOs because it is in their interest to do so. With IGOs, certain problems can be solved easily and cheaper than without them. Liberal institutionalism particularly focuses on collective problems, such as the security dilemma, the appeal to execute competitive tariffs, and the difficulty in agreeing to protect the environment.

    States need to correspond with each other and oversee other states to ensure that they are honouring their commitments to acknowledge many of the problems. As an example, in the case of free trade, the World Trade Organization (WTO) was formed to coordinate the negotiation of tariffs and to provide a mechanism for resolving disputes. Some of these tasks might be
    more complicated and expensive to execute without the IGOs. There are times where IGOs are not only created to solve problems but to provide a platform for discussion. The UN General Assembly has no predetermined agenda but provides a forum for states to discuss and debate issues that surfaced. Similarly, one of WTO’s goal is to organize meetings at which states will negotiate to solve problems. Some examples of IGOs and their purposes:

    United Nations (UN)
    Maintain international peace and security.
    Develop friendly relations among nations.
    Achieve international cooperation in solving international problems. Function as a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations. World Trade Organization (WTO)
    Manage disputes arising from trading partners.
    Monitoring trade in agriculture and manufacture commodities. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)
    Promote regional economic, social and culture cooperation among the state in Southeast Asia. North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)
    Military alliance.
    A system of collective defence where its member states agree to mutual defence in response to an attack by any external party.

    Transnational Actors
    Transnational actors are actors that function below the state level but functioning across the state borders. There are two types of transnational actors which are the transnational corporations (TNCs) or multinational corporations (MNCs) and the nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

    Transnational Corporations (TNCs) / Multinational Corporations (MNCs) Multinational corporations (MNCs) are companies that have headquarter in one state but invest and operate extensively in other states. MNCs are based in one state but have branches or subsidiaries operating in other states. In other words, MNC is a large corporation operating on a worldwide basis in
    many countries at the same time, with fixed facilities and employees in each.

    The types of MNCs are:

    Industrial corporations makes goods in factories in many countries and sell them to business and consumers in various countries. The largest MNCs are automobile, oil, and electronic industries. Almost all of the MNCS are based in the G7 states. Examples of this MNCs are Sony, Honda, Toyota, Petronas and more.

    Financial corporations such as banks. They operate multinationally with more restrictions than industrial corporations. Examples are Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation Limited (OCBC Bank) and others.

    Services such as McDonald’s fast-food chain, international airlines like MAS, Asiana Airlines and more, Hilton Hotels & Resorts and many others.

    MNCs are increasingly powerful as independent actors. Many of the industrial MNCs have annual sales of tens of billions of dollars each (hundreds of billions of dollars for top corporations such as Wal-Mart). MNCs are able to match to most international organizations (IOs) in size and financial resources. The largest IGO (UN) has about 2 billion dollars a year in revenue, compare to more than 250 billion dollars for the largest MNC. The largest state (United States) has government revenues of 2 trillion dollars. Therefore this shows that the power of MNCs does not rival the largest states but exceeds many poorer states and many IOs. MNCs are view as citizens of the world beholden to no government. Head of Dow Chemical once dreamed to buy an island to build Dow’s headquarters. In such view, MNCs act globally in the interests of their (international) stockholders and owe no loyalty to no state. MNCs are motivated by the need to maximize profits. MNCs’ operations support a global business infrastructure connecting a transnational community of businesspeople. An example is that a U.S. manager arriving in Seoul, South Korea, does not find a bewildering scene of unfamiliar languages, locations, and customs. Rather, he/she will be able to move through a familiar sequence of airport lounges, telephone calls and
    faxes, international hotels, business conference rooms, and CNN broadcasts – most likely hearing English spoken in all.

    MNCs also contribute to their host country’s development. As MNCs operate in other states, it will provide job opportunities for the locals in that state and thus, helped to stabilize the economy in that state.

    Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs)
    In today’s world, many people found that by joining nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), they could participate in the global system and lobby to influence international organizations. Most have joined as members of one or more NGOs, which have about almost thirty thousand now in the worldwide. NGOs are private international actors whose members are not states, but are volunteers from populations of 2 or more states who have formed organizations to promote their shared interests and ideals in order to influence the policies of state governments and intergovernmental organizations (IGOs). NGOs tackle many global problems and seek changes in the world for causes such as disarmament, environmental protection, human rights and many more. Most pursue objectives that are highly respected and constructive, and therefore do not provoke any controversy or arouse much opposition.

    NGOs interact with states, sub-state actors, MNCs, and other NGOs. NGOs are increasingly being recognized in the UN and other forums, as legitimate actors along with states but is not equal to them. Some of the groups have a political purpose, some a humanitarian one, some an economic or a technical one. There are times where NGOs combine efforts through transnational advocacy networks. By joining NGOs, many people found that they could participate in the global system and lobby to influence international organizations. Some examples of NGOs:

    One of the NGOs that fight for human rights is Amnesty International. Amnesty International is a worldwide movement of people who campaign for internationally recognized human rights for all. They conduct research and generate action to prevent and end grave abuses of human rights and to
    demand justice for those whose rights have been violated. Some of the issues that has been campaign are armed conflict issues and protection of civilians, basic welfare of children, LGBT rights, rights of people with AIDS, women’s rights, disability rights, human impact of pollution and environmental degradation, freedom of the press and many more. Another kind of NGO is the religious movement. Religious movement is a set of beliefs and ideas administered politically by a religious group to promote the principles of conduct. They are a politically active organizations based on strong religious convictions. Although religious movement have a strong influence in politics in the older days such as able to cause a war between people with different religions, nowadays, religious movement act as a peacemaker between states. For example, the late Pope John Paul II of Catholic Church had addresses bishops from North and South America at the Vatican in 1997 to help end the Cold War.

    Other kinds of NGOs are AIESEC (which links students worldwide), World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF which works on issues regarding the conservation, research and restoration of the environment) and hundreds and thousands more of NGOs to go.

    Political Groups that Advocate Violence (Terrorists)
    Terrorists or rather political groups that advocate violence might not call themselves NGOs, but they operate in the same manner which are by interacting both with states and with relevant populations and institutions through violence and planning attacks.

    These groups held great power and are able to influence the international relations between states. A group that is currently active now is the Al-Qaeda. The incidence of the spectacularly destructive attack of September 11, 2001 by members of Al-Qaeda, has demonstrated the increasing power that technology gives terrorists as non-state actors. Other than that, the Al Qaeda also placed suicide bombers in U.S. cities, coordinate their operations and finances through Internet and global banking system, and reach a global audience with the videotaped exhortations of Osama bin Laden.

    International Criminal Groups
    These actors are considered as transnational actors but they act in an illegitimate manner. Most of these groups have a great capacity of financial resources and thus, are able to influence the state’s policies. Some of them are even capable to threaten the state’s security. Most operated secretly which makes it hard for the authorities to track them down. Most of these groups are involved in drugs, prostitution, human trafficking, firearms and many other crimes.

    Some examples of international criminal groups would be the Yakuza in Japan, the Sicilian Mafia in Italy and also Triads in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and also in countries with significant Chinese population.

    Although states remains as the most important actors in the global system, the non-state actors in today’s world have an increasing influence and power in IR. One of the largest MNCs has revenues that even surpasses some of the poorer states shows their increasing influences. As the world continues to globalize, it will be difficult for us to distinguish corporations, countries and other actors in an era of collapsing states and re-emerging nations. References

    Art, R. J., & Jervis, R. (2011). International Politics: Enduring Concepts and Contemporary Issues (10th ed.). New York: Pearson Education. D’Anieri, P. (2011). International Politics : Power and Purpose in Global Affairs (Brief ed.). Stamford, United States of America: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning. Goldstein, J. S., & Pevehouse, J. C. (2006). International Relations (7th ed.). New York, United States of America: Pearson Education. Kegley Jr., C. W., & Wittkopf, E. R. (2004). World Politics : Trend & Transformation (9th ed.). Belmont, United States of America: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning. Rourke, J. T., & Boyer, M. A. (2000). World Politics : International Politics on the World Stage, Brief (3rd ed.). New York, United States of America: Dushkin/McGraw-Hill.

    The Role of Non-state Actors in International Relations. (2017, Feb 06). Retrieved from

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