Non-State Actors Explained: Types and Roles

Non-State Actors Explained: Types and Roles

The global affairs after the Second World War and the end of the Cold War saw increased global integration through the process of globalization and a shift of international relations theories from the state-centric realist theory to less state-centric theories such as the liberal and constructivist theories of international relations.

Liberalism contradicts realism. It posits that states are not the only actors in international politics. Organizations or entities have played a role in shaping global affairs and international relations. It also argues about the necessity of interdependence and cooperation.

Nevertheless, following the emergence of these entities on the international stage and their impact on global affairs, so-called non-state actors have been recognized as influential parties in international politics. These actors do not have the powers and authority of states or governments but their actions and decisions influence domestic policy and foreign policy.

Types of Non-State Actors: From NGOs and IGOs to MNCs and DAOs

1. Non-Governmental Organizations

A non-governmental or NGO is an organization formed by volunteers. NGOs are independent of government and are non-profit entities. Most of them are formed to pursue social causes and other advocacies. Some pursue specific political objectives.

There are instances in which NGOs become important agents in resolving international conflicts or addressing global issues. Some conflicts between states have been negotiated and resolved through the influence of a non-governmental organization.

Note that the term “non-governmental organization” was first introduced in Article 71 of the Charter of the United Nations. The U.N. Department of Global Communications defines NGOs as not-for-profit entities organized to address issues in support of public good.

Some examples of NGOs considered as non-state actors include the Red Cross, International Negotiation Network, Doctors Without Borders, Council on Foreign Relations, the Brookings Institution, Economic Policy Institute, and Pew Research Center, among others.

2. Multinational Corporations

The process of globalization and the more specific economic globalization has enabled business organizations to expand the borders of their home countries and toward the global stage. This expansion has granted them access to foreign markets.

However, aside from opening income-earning and other value-adding opportunities through participation in the global economy and international trade, globalization has resulted in the creation of multinational corporations or MNCs.

An MNC is fundamentally a business organization with operations, transactions, and assets in different states or countries. Some MNCs have grown bigger to become wealthier than small and underdeveloped countries. Some are even wealthier than developing countries.

The activities and corporate strategies of MNCs are centered on profitmaking. However, in some instances, these businesses pursue actions and decisions that influence global affairs, especially if the particular issue or situation affects their profit-oriented goals and objectives.

3. Intergovernmental Organizations

States also form associations with one another. These are called intergovernmental organizations. Others have established powers and authorities that supersede the powers and authorities of individual states. These are supranational organizations.

Examples of intergovernmental organizations are the United Nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, among others.

The formation of these non-state actors is generally based on formal treaties. The rationale for creating one centers on meeting common interests among its members. These organizations are also governed by international laws and conventions.

Some international organizations are purely political. The U.N. is a prime example. Others such as the World Trade Organization and the World Bank focus on the economic interest of its members or beneficiaries. Others are defense-related. NATO is an example.

4. Violent Non-State Actors

There are groups or organizations formed to pursue their goals using violence or armed struggle, as well as unlawful and harmful conduct. They are called violent non-state actors or VNSAs. Some also refer to them as non-state armed actors or non-state armed groups.

Examples of VNSAs vary. The most notable ones are terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, and the Resistance Army of the Lord. These VNSAs can either be considered as militias or paramilitary groups.

Some insurgencies and social movements may be considered as terrorist organizations. Note that insurgents use violence to wave a rebellion against a government. Some social movements also resort to violent rebellion to advance their causes.

Other examples of VNSAs are international criminal organizations such as narcotics or cartels, illegal arms trade dealers, and networks of human traffickers. Underground economy and black markets result from the operation of these criminal organizations.

5. Decentralized Autonomous Organizations

The rise of blockchain technology has also resulted in the creation of a new type of non-state actors called decentralization autonomous organizations or DAOs. These organizations are member-owned and tech-dependent communities free from state influence.

Governing DAOs include the use of specific blockchain applications. The rules of a particular decentralized autonomous organization are encoded as a computer program. This program is transparent. It is also controlled by the members of this particular DAO.

Voting is coordinated using non-fungible tokens or NFTs. Ownership of these NFTs also translates to admission and membership Financial transactions transpire using cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and the Ether of the Ethereum platform.

The impact and influence of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin have made DAOs influential non-state actors in the international community. Users of these cryptocurrencies or other blockchain applications have considerable power to influence global affairs.

6. Other Types of Non-State Actors

Transnational diaspora communities are also one of the types of non-state actors. These are ethnics or national communities that pursue social and political change in their originating or ancestral countries and their adoptive countries.

Note that these communities do not have substantial influence over global affairs but their causes have been supported and advanced by states and other non-state actors. Their participation in sociopolitical affairs has resulted in the rise of diaspora politics.

Unrepresented nations and people are also non-state actors who abide by their own norms and standards. These include indigenous people unbothered by modern social and political order, as well as so-called Fourth World societies that remain unattached to the modern world.

Influential individuals can also be considered non-state actors. These include non-political individuals such as business magnates who use their wealth and connections to influence national and international affairs. Examples include Warren Buffet and Bill Gates.

Roles of Non-State Actors: Influence and Impacts on Global Affairs

The roles of non-state actors depend on the level of their influence they have, the scope of their power, and the degree of their involvement in the greater society. Furthermore, different types of state actors have demonstrated different roles and impacts.

Note that non-governmental organizations have participated in negotiations aimed at resolving conflicts. These transpired during the conflicts in the Middle East in 1955 and 1967, the issues in Germany during the 1960s, and the India-Pakistan War in 1965.

The humanitarian efforts of NGOs such as the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders have helped conflict-ridden areas at the community level. These non-state actors coordinate with state actors and IGOs to provide all forms of needed assistance to the affected public.

Some NGOs can also exert political pressure or influence decision-making. Organizations involved in environmental advocacy pursue research to provide information support to policymakers or offer assistance to uphold environmental justice.

Multinational corporations can also exert pressure on specific decision-makers in a particular state. Their access to resources is enough to support their objectives and ensure that the policies of states are aligned with their profit-oriented interests.

Not all MNCs are driven by profit alone. Several organizations have corporate social responsibility programs aimed at addressing specific issues. Apple has an environmental conservation program. The same is true for Nike and McDonald’s.

There are also situations in which MNCs exercise influence over global affairs. The Russia-Ukraine War resulted in several countries ceasing their operations in Russia. The US-Libya conflict in the 1980s prompted MNCs to oppose the U.S. government.

Of course, the role and impact of intergovernmental organizations are evident. Some of these non-state actors supersede the authority of individual state actors. They can also work together to develop and enforce policies aimed at shaping rules-based norms.

Fundamentally, the role or more specifically the influence and impacts of non-state actors revolve around some aspects of governance or decision-making, promoting social and political causes, advancing peace and order, and promoting human rights.

Some countries and communities even depend on the assistance provided by these non-state actors. In some instances, some organizations such as violent non-state actors influence the direction and even the domestic and foreign policy of state actors.