Non-state actors (NSA) are entities that participate or act in international relations. They are organizations with sufficient power to influence and cause a change even though they do not belong to any established institution of a state.
The admission of non-state actors into international relations theory conflicts with the assumptions of realism and other black box theories of international relations, which argue that interactions between states are the main relationships of interest in studying international events.
- Non-governmental organizations (NGOs)—typically considered a part of civil society.
- Multinational corporations (MNCs)—for-profit organizations that operate in multiple sovereign states.
- The International Media
- Violent non-state actors—Armed groups, including groups such as ISIS or criminal organizations, for example drug cartels.
- Religious Groups—Quakers and other religious sects are quite active in their international advocacy efforts. They have in part founded other non-state actors such as Amnesty International, Greenpeace, and OXFAM.
- Transnational diaspora communities—Ethnic or national communities that try to influence their original and current territories.
- Cities, Provinces and States
Effects on the Westphalian state model
The proliferation of non-state actors in the post–Cold War era has been one of the factors leading to the Cobweb Paradigm in international politics. Under this paradigm, the traditional Westphalian nation-state experiences an erosion of power and sovereignty, and non-state actors are part of the cause. Facilitated by globalization, NSAs challenge nation-state borders and sovereignty claims. MNCs are not always sympathetic to national interests, but instead are loyal to the corporation's interests. NSAs challenge the nation-state's sovereignty over internal matters through advocacy for societal issues, e.g. human rights and the environment.
Armed non-state actors operate without state control and are involved in internal and trans-border conflicts. The activity of such groups in armed conflicts adds layers of complexity to traditional conflict management and resolution. These conflicts are often fought not only between non-state actors and states, but also between multiple NSA groups. Interventions in such conflicts is particularly challenging given the fact that international law and norms governing the use of force for intervention or peacekeeping purposes was primarily written in the context of the nation-state.
The term Non State Actors is widely used in development cooperation, particularly under the Cotonou Agreement between the European Union (EU) and African, Caribbean and Pacific ACP countries. The agreement uses the term to refer to a wide range of nongovernmental development actors whose participation in ACP-EU development cooperation is now formally recognized. According to Article 6, non-state actors include:
- civil society in all its diversity, according to national characteristics;
- economic and social partners, including trade union organisations and;
- the private sector.
In practice, it means that participation is open to all kind of actors, such as community-based organisations, women's groups, human rights associations, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), religious organizations, farmers' cooperatives, trade unions, universities and research institutes, the media and the private sector. Also included in this definition are informal groups such as grassroots organizations, informal private sector associations, etc. The private sector, however, is considered only insofar as it is involved in non-profit activities (e.g. private sector associations, chambers of commerce, etc.)
Non-state actors can aid in opinion building in international affairs, such as the Human Rights Council. Formal international organizations may also rely on non-state actors, particularly NGOs in the form of implementing partners in the national context. An example is the contribution of COHRE (Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions), to the protection of land and property (HLP) rights in Kosovo by conceptualizing the Housing and Property Directorate (now Kosovo Property Agency) within the framework of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo.
Non-state actors are fundamental agents in helping to achieve both national and international development goals, such as those around climate change. Actions by non-state actors contribute significantly towards filling the greenhouse gas emissions gap left by unambitious or poorly executed national climate policies, Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs).
Another example that shows the importance of non-state actors in peace-building is the contribution of ICBL (International Campaign to Ban Landmines) to the international prohibition on the use of landmines. ICBL is a global network of NGOs that has operated in over 90 countries since 1992. Its primary goal is to make a world free of anti-personnel landmines. Their passionate advertising appealing for global cooperation drew Diana, Princess of Wales to become an ardent advocate. Together, they brought the issue to the United Nations General Assembly. ICBL’s efforts led the international community to urge states to ratify the Ottawa Treaty (Mine Ban Treaty) in 1997, and its contribution was recognized and praised as it was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in the same year.
- Civil society
- Violent non-state actor
- Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization
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- "Non-State Actors and Their Significance"—Article on terrorists as NSAs, see section titled "Non-State Actors (NSAs): Who Are They?"