. . . for with freedom come responsibilities. Nelson Mandela Henceforth, our country should be the universe. Flora Tristan Do what is right. Rosa Parks True peace is not merely the absence of tension, it is the presence of justice. Martin Luther King, Jr. *

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

Non-state Actors and World Governance

Non-state actors play a key role in governance in different domains

Non-state Actors and World Governance


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

There are relatively few areas where non-state actors do not play an important role in international regulations.

1) Security and Defense

At first glance, the fields of defense and security would not include non-state actors. Is this not a domain reserved for states? No, it is also a field for non-state actors; Al-Qaeda after September 11, despite their limited territorial sanctuaries, has imposed the terms for the new world defense policies. After the terrorist attacks in London 2005, the question of Muslim immigration in Europe has taken a new dimension. Al-Qaeda has perfect command of the asymmetric methods of combat. When we observe the enormous war effort made in Iraq and Afghanistan and we study the United States public debt, with its geostrategic consequences appearing every day. We can understand Al-Qaeda is using the same policy with the United States that President Reagan used on the Soviet Union with the Star Wars project: proving the unsustainable effects that military expenditure had on the Soviet Union’s economy.

International interventions in security do not only have to do with terrorism. Non-state actors have been able to arrive at the quasi-general prohibition of land mines. Another example is given by the Sant’Egidio Community, a Catholic organization founded in 1968 in Rome, which has played a significant role in the negotiation process which reached the 1992 peace accords in Mozambique or having mediated in Kosovo or Central Africa. At the beginning of 2008, this Organisation played a significant role in the cease fire between Uganda and the Lord Resistance Army, based in Southern Sudan, after 20 years of civil war. Michel Rocard explaining the concept of “soft power” which represents Europe, has underlined that in today’s world, few conflicts can be solved with the sole use of force.

These examples show that for better of for worse, for peace or for war, non-state actors are sometimes better equipped than the states, to facilitate mediations, to ignite or calm spirits, to build conditions for long lasting organic violence or durable peace.

2) International Cooperation

The role of non-state actors is particularly present in international cooperation. This is important as underdevelopment is a result of among other things, inability to adapt, weakness, inefficiency or corrupt state organization. State international cooperation supposes that the problem is solved, since it’s mostly based on state structures, where quality is often the result of the development process in itself. International solidarity NGOs are the main promoters of issues such as the role of civil society, decentralization or even progressive moralization of enterprise behavior in occupied countries.

The role of non-state actors is particularly present in international cooperation. This is important as underdevelopement is a result of among other things, inadaptation, weakness, inefficiency or corrupt state administration. In this regard, state international cooperation supposes that the problem is solved as states work with national administrations in which part of the problem is the process in itself. Non governmental organisations dedicated to international solidarity which have promoted matters such as the role of social society, decentralisation or evolution of enterprise behaviour in dominated countries (third world countries).

3) The Economy

In economy, for reasons already mentioned having to do with the size and power of the big transnational enterprises, the essential element is the enterprise itself. In an open global market, enterprises are the only players capable of mediating between research and final market products. Policy making at a state or regional level in the United States or Europe are essential in regulations, but the process of enacting laws should studied closely. The degree of liberty which the big states have or consider they have in different economic areas, assuring country and continent prosperity are sometimes very limited. The example of genetic manipulation, disclosed in all its crudeness by the recent book, Le monde selon Monsato [1] shows the synchronization between enterprises and their interests and the Foods and Drugs Administration (FDA) and their duties on the other.

If we admit that the rules applied to enterprises are an essential dimension of international regulations; do states play an important role in the moralization of the economic field? It is doubtful. It is so common to see states competing among them to draw investments and they are very sensitive to blackmail when jobs are at stake. It is not enough to say that states dispose of legal tools to state they are powerful actors.

The facts are the following: the social campaign against Nestle, in which the promotion of artificial baby milk had serious health consequences in poor countries, has driven the Enterprise to thoroughly revise their strategies. More recently, the campaign on how sport equipment companies, Nike in particular, had subcontracted their production to local companies that did not respect human rights. This led to the fact that a big enterprise could not deny its obligation with the workers of these subcontracted companies even though there was only a commercial agreement with them. Therefore it was through a non governmental action that the concept of “responsibility of dominant actors in the production of goods” has taken shape.

The same can be said of the campaign against Total in Burma, where this enterprise was accused of accepting forced labor. This Campaign changed the behavior of the enterprise and led it to generously recompensing the communities which were victims. It is through non governmental organizations, that sooner or later, international law pertaining to enterprises shall be defined.

New private labels are essential in making production branches develop towards sustainable practices: sustainable forest exploitation at the moment and in the future sustainable fishing. Even the label “biological agriculture” is not a state label. This is of voluntary subscription.

For a big enterprise in the age of Internet, the greatest risk is not to be sanctioned by a state but to lose one’s good reputation due to a consumer campaign. The story of the Shell platform, some 15 years ago, is similar to the campaign taken on against the Multilateral Investment Accord (AMI). Shell had sunk in the Northern Sea an out-of-service oil platform. A citizen campaign was struck against the Enterprise. The data, in which the campaign was based on, was incorrect but nevertheless it significantly contributed to modifying the Enterprise’s policies.

A closer analysis suggests that the efficiency of citizen initiatives are so strong, because they find allies inside the enterprises: workers and executives, who are drawn between what they have to do professionally and what their conscience dictates them to do.

4) Trade

In the field of commerce, I have already mentioned the example of the big international solidarity NGOs in reference to agriculture negotiations. Another important field of debate has been opened: that of intellectual property. International NGOs were the first to pose the problem of the savage usage a property rights on biodiversity. These associations want to put an end to the plundering of genes in poor countries, without any compensation for local societies, which risk one day having to pay royalties for using the products from their own soil.

Non-governmental organizations have helped the big countries of the Southern Hemisphere to recognize the importance of generic medicines and demonstrate the radical immorality of the deaths of thousands of Aid victims through not having access to treatments because of to property rights. Strictly non-governmental initiatives were the players that developed file exchanges on the Internet, especially music files. This has led to the questioning of the economic model of culture industries, especially the music industry.

In domestic biodiversity, non-governmental organizations, such as the Réseau européen des semences paysannes, have questioned the monopoly of the big enterprises in seed selection. Finally, in software, non governmental organizations, following the example of Linux, have promoted freeware with such force that Microsoft, or at least its founder Bill Gates, is conscious of the fact that Windows control of the sector will not last forever.

5) The Information Society

Shall we talk about the Internet revolution? The Internet was created because of the Pentagon’s, and therefore the United States’, fears but the exchange protocol, which has permitted the development of the Internet, has been managed privately by the World Web Consortium. This entity, despite pressure from different states, is still a private organization which is dedicated to giving out domain names. The example of file-exchange protocols shows, as was the case with biological agriculture, which in a global economy policy making, an essential aspect of governance, is far from being a state monopoly.

6) Health

In the field of health, the essential question of generic medicines has already been raised. You only need to visit the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation web site to see that since its creation the Foundation has invested more than 9 billion dollars in health, of which 2.5 billion has been used to fight AIDS. Financing comes through several private and public circles. I had the opportunity twelve years ago to conduct an audit of the WHO (World Health Organisation) and I can say that private donations to these organizations have a lever effect on the orientation of programs. Therefore, the power of initiative, as in other fields, is now the non-state actors’ domain.

In addition to these actions, which appear spectacular due to the billions of dollars involved, there are other actions implemented by much smaller non-state actors that are very successful because they target mentalities. For example, food envisioned from the general view point of health. If this subject is now being promoted by public administrations, this concept was initiated, at least in Europe, by non-governmental organizations. The movement “Slow food”(8) and the network Alimenterra (9), for instance, play a significant role in implementing healthy food practices, where state administrations participate in sophisticated technical platforms and curative care. In particular, Alimenterra plays a big role in promoting new practices in public catering, especially in schools and hospitals.

7) Environment

Environmental protection is one of the favorite domains of NGOs. Together with human rights, this is one of the fields where independent observation structures have permitted the creation of real international regulatory systems. The environment has also been a domain where states had not been very motivated to take the initiative, as many of them were involved with economic lobbies.

A certain number of non-governmental actions have started from international accords: the gradual elimination of chloro-fluoro-carbons (Montreal Protocol 1987); the conservation of biodiversity (Rio Convention 1993 and the Cartagena Protocol). As for climate change, the Giecc IPCC (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) was officially created by the World Meteorological Organization and by the United Nations, but the initiative to commence was non state driven, with a strong involvement from physicians such as Gérard Megie. Afterwards international entities took the baton.

Another interesting case is the Wuppertal Institution. It is a private research institution, even though it collaborates with several German Länder, which began the first serious analysis of production outsourcing. The examples are too numerous to cite in full. To mention just one, however, The World Watch Institute, created by Lester Brown, has exercised a moral and intellectual magistracy to move consciences over the major imbalances appearing between human activities and the biosphere, taking the torch of the Club of Rome and the Meadows Report, published in 1972 pertaining to “the limits of growth”.

These examples demonstrate that in various domains non-state actors have initiated international regulations, have sometimes played a central role in their elaboration and have intervened in the implementation of these regulations.

[1Le monde selon Monsanto (The World According to Monsanto), Marie Monique Robin, Editions La découverte, 2008

  ¤  Previous page   ¤  Next Page  ¤  

World Governance Index
Proposal Papers
Dossiers and Documents
Document Database
Home Page
About Us
Front Page