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Dossiers and Documents : Discussion Papers : Non-state Actors and World Governance

Non-state Actors and World Governance

Non-state actors, due to their vocation, size, flexibility, methods of organization and action, interact with states on a level playing field

Non-state Actors and World Governance


Pierre Calame ¤ 2 June 2008 ¤
Translations: français (original) . Español . 中文 .

Some non-state actors have an international vocation

It is unrealistic to suggest that states have become, at international scale, entities without importance. Their strategies of power or defense, their capacity to build stable international agreements, their role in regulation enactment by adopting international norms, their capacity to invest in infrastructures and research, make them first-rate international players. However, in my opinion, it would be a mistake to consider non-state actors as second-rate players due to their size or influence.

First of all, non-state actors, in contrast to states, are first-rate players on an international scale. The first examples are the enterprises which are not only multinational or international but really transnational. This complicates the idea of economic patriotism. This was seen during the fusion of Mittal and Arcelor. The fact that Mr. Mittal is Indian did not impede him from taking over the jewel of French industry by his Indian Enterprise. The social seed of Mittal, if I remember well, is in England. And as for the French jewel Arcelor, its social seed was in Luxembourg.

A very interesting sign of the biggest enterprises’ transnational resolve concerns training of workers and executives. We have examined which were the institutions that have developed intercultural dialogue seminars. Enterprises have implemented training courses before states have, although we may have thought that states having embassies in different countries throughout the world would have established real dialogue between interlocutors. None of this has been done: diplomats are trained to understand other societies through the prism of their own. Diplomats are not trained to listen to other societies, while transnational enterprises, to be successful, need to have excellent relations with a great number of public administrations, any intercultural mistake would mean billions in economic losses! Therefore, it is more a necessity than philanthropy to listen, but it is revealing to see that their field of action is fundamentally international.

Enterprises are not the best entities to use in analyzing the global economic reality of the 21st Century. Their legal delimitations, as well as legal and accountancy manipulations, which lead to false parameters, do not give us an exact picture of the globalisation of these entities in the world economy. The real parameter of analysis is production: cars, electronics, software, chemicals, agriculture, aeronautic industry, etc...
It is the same for a certain number of philanthropic actors and other associative entities (in the widest sense of the term). Some of associations such as Greenpeace, Amnesty International, Oxfam, Caritas or the Bill Gates Foundation have international action as their social objective.

The size of non-state actors is similar to those of many states

Size is the second parameter of importance and influence. As we know, business output figures or even the consolidated added value of the biggest enterprises can make them comparable, in terms of billions of euros, to the biggest states on the planet. In December 2000 Sarah Andersen and John Cavanagh of the Washington Institute for Policy Studies published a report that has gone around the world: “51 of the biggest economies in the world belong to enterprises and 49 to states”. These figures are contested for comparing enterprises’ consolidated business data with the GDP of states, though the order of importance is still true. The same is true of NGOs. Oxfam, with six hundred people working for them, is a real multinational of solidarity. Oxfam works on equal terms with public agencies. The new or big old-time foundations represent a strong force superior to the majority of ministries of foreign affairs or UN agencies. Each of the ten biggest American foundations allocate more than 300 million dollars per year, of which the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which distributed 1.4 billion dollars in 2005 (2), is the biggest donor. In the financial field, the big retirement trust funds can do and undo financial markets as much as states or big banks. The international importance of sovereign funds was revealed during the subprime crisis, which began in autumn 2007. These are funds comparable to pension trust funds. They have had an important long-term role in the Middle East and in Asia in maintaining international financial equilibriums, although they have generally been involved in the American financial market by buying American Treasury Bonds (especially China and Japan) or confiding their management to Western institutions (recycling petrodollars from the Gulf). In the field of research, the Welcome Trust in the United Kingdom is as important as state subsidised research, as is true in other fields. If it were necessary to establish a hierarchy by financial importance of the players on the international scene, non-state actors would be as important as state actors.

Recently, the March/April 2008 edition of OECD’s “Financing Development” compared the international solidarity action of the big NGOs with state action: the most important NGOs compete in equal terms with the European states.

Comparing selected NGO and official donor budgets in 2006 (US$ bn)

Non-state actors have more flexibility than states

The third reason for their importance and influence has to do with their flexibility. I remember a conversation with the President of the Development Bank of Chile. We compared our budgets. The comparison was 1 to 10,000. But if we compared the margin of manoeuvre of our capacity to redeploy funds, the Development Bank had grossly 1% annual margin and our foundation 100%. Comparing the capacity of action of the two institutions, the difference was not 1 to 10,000 but 1 to 100! The same can be said of state action at an international scale. States are also very restrained in their forms of action, as in their capacity to reallocate funds. In their forms of action, states are hampered by the fact that they can only interact with representatives of other states, which singularly limit the nature of action and interlocutors. States are also restrained by the exercise of parliamentary control, which is normal in democratic countries, based on public accountancy. In international institutions controls not only make decisions, but also the management of personnel, more complicated: the concern of balance between states prevails over the professional quality in the election of their leaders.

I frequently bring up the matter of the responsibility of non-state actors. The possibility of a foundation, for example, acting in the long-term and freely choosing its interlocutors, its means of action and its scales of action must contrast, with its having an acute awareness of its responsibilities towards the whole of the planet. However, to recapture the beautiful concept of La Boëtie, the number of those institutions placed in a state of voluntary servitude: being scared of their own degree of freedom and of the responsibility resulting from that freedom, they hasten to invent artificial rules in order to reduce both.

Non-state actors’ organization is better suited for the new realities of the world

The way non-state actors are organized is the fourth reason for their importance and influence. Where states and international institutions are prisoners of a model of hierarchy, non-state actors are more capable of adopting systems of organization applicable to the diversity of situations, to the complexity of problems and to the opportunities offered by the revolution of information technologies.

First of all, the example of cities: in 2005, the founding congress of the UCLG, United Cities and Local Government, association took place. Its creation resulted from the fusion of the previously existing city networks. The history of the UCLG is particularly interesting. The UCLG was founded in the beginning to become a leading player in the international scene, and claimed a seat in different entities such as the United Nations Human Settlements Program. But, as soon as the organization was founded, this objective became secondary and the UCLG turned into an international forum for co-operation among cities. In fact, in a global economy which has become an economy of partner and competitor cities and regions, the big cities take part in the international scenario, more so than the bureaucratic states. Hence, even if this movement is in its preliminaries, the city network proposes a different model of international regulations, as they have a different link between local and global scenarios. The distance between local and global is not measured in degrees and filtered, especially by state filters which claim monopoly over international relations (this was the case in France, less than 20 years ago), but through short cuts between local and global.

Another significant player is the phenomenon of immigration: Chinese immigrants throughout the world, Latin-Americans in the United States or Sub-Saharan Africans, North Africans and Turks in Europe. Migrants are, by definition, actors on an international scale. They play, as we know, a fundamental economic role with their transfers of funds, their know-how and their models of organization. There is an anecdote which explains this latter: I was in China 3 or 4 years ago and I was surprised by the scarce presence of freeware. They answered me with a smile: “in China, all software is free”, explaining that, through their network of students and professionals living in the United States, they had access to new technological developments very soon after they first appeared.

Even members of the mafia and terrorists have shown they have superior and more flexible organization systems, combining archaic methods such as oral commitments, that do not leave traces and cannot be betrayed, and the most modern electronic means.

Enterprises and NGOs offer different models of organization which are geometrically variable and forms of alliances that are necessary to act in this complex world. I remember a conversation I had with professor Schwab, the founder of the Davos Forum. I asked him about the insights that led him and Raymond Borne to create the World Economic Forum. He made the following observation: 50 or 100 years ago dialogue between a national economy and another entity was carried out by professional chambers or by states. Now, due to the size and concentration of economic power, dialogue is taken on directly by partners with the same size but different natures, such as a ministry of finance and a large enterprise.

Another example is Oxfam, a huge non-governmental organization of British origin, which plays a very important role in the debates of the World Trade Organisation on agriculture. Oxfam has revealed the negative impacts of North American and European agriculture subsidies, something of which not even the states themselves were aware. This capacity emerges from the short cuts that this Organisation can take between on-the-ground contacts, peasants and village communities, and the international scene. Systems based on hierarchy are not capable of implementing these short cuts due to mediations and censorships (voluntary or unconscious); therefore what comes through international circuits usually becomes insipid.

They have a better command of the Internet

In the usage of new technologies, an important development was made at the end of the 90s by the successful campaign of “Social Movements” as they were called, against the Multilateral Agreement on Investment. What was this about? Backed by the OECD, the developed countries were finishing, very discreetly in their circles of experts, the terms for an international agreement that would offer reasonable guarantees for international investors. They wanted to have an agreement on foreseeable control over the proceeds of their investments and they wished to have a guarantee that in the years to come, after an investment in a foreign country, that the national regulations, especially environmental ones, would not change in a certain manner making the investment non-profitable. The objective of the negotiations was legitimate, to a certain extent, and the methods of negotiation were traditional. If I remember correctly, an e-mail from a Canadian mail-server to a mail list, alerting people to the scandalous form and contents of the Agreement, and reporting the lack of democracy, all this created a movement of opinion strong enough to make the OECD stop the negotiations. I shall not dwell on the final effects of this citizen campaign, which was rather perverse: the Agreement was substituted by bilateral agreements which benefited dictatorships. But as for the methodology, the action was collective and rather efficient.

The same can be said about global social forums. I shall not discuss their contents; I am only interested in their methods. Their huge gatherings have been accomplished with very few means following the method of new collective self-organization, mainly based on the Internet. Future displays of power, organized by billions of dollars, will be very important, but not necessarily more so than self-organization. The recent example of the film “The World According to Monsanto” is very interesting: a small number of people defy the company that controls 90% of genetically controlled plants, which tried in the past to use billions of dollars to convince national administrations of their ideas. The company was weakened by the various usages of videos, by Google, and by methods of network organization.

Non-state actors are in a good position to be influential

Another characteristic of non-state actors is that they do not take over power but rather, they influence it. This is the case with big non-governmental and international organizations in commercial negotiations: no one argues the fact that the agreements shall be implemented between states, but the big NGO’s expertise and capacity to mobilize people have had a strong influence on negotiations. This is due to the fact that the NGOs were able to feed the arguments of the poorer countries that compared to the richer countries, would have been victims of the dysfunctional access to information.

Another example is the America Neocons, at the other end of the political arena. Neocons have never wanted to take power; they simply try to influence it: “in strategic terms, their approach is indirect strategy”1. Neocons are inspired in the methodology used by Trotsky and his followers to impose their creed In this case, Neocons are trying to impose American style democracy on a global scale, by force if necessary. To achieve this goal, they use modern technologies, traditional media, the development of ideas by think tanks and the Internet. Private institutions, such as the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Hudson Institute and more recently the Project for the New American Century have played and will play a considerable role in influencing political events. As Arnaud Blin states: “the small size of the movement is precisely its strength. Neocons, as an intellectual organization or if you prefer ideology, are extremely coherent, incredibly well organized, undoubtedly efficient and of an extreme susceptibility.”

Finally, if we focus less on the functional character of governance - who signs and who decides the norms – than the reality of how regulations are established as treaties and norms are only the final result. Non-state actors, owing to their wide scope of organization and action, are a very decisive power. I mentioned the example of the neocons as per the important role that the United States plays in world regulations. Being the prime economic power and, most of all, a leader in creating cultural references, it is not possible to treat the United States on the same scale as other countries: their national politics and their interior debates are key elements in world governance and development.

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