State & Non State Actors in International Relations


Today the doctrine of sovereignty no longer has the empirical basis it had in earlier times. In the contemporary world all state including the superpowers, are subjected to externally induced constraints on their foreign policies. Even their internal political developments are influenced at times more by what happens in some other parts of the world than by local events.

Besides as Geoffrey Goodwin observes, all sovereign state have certain right and duties which derive from the fact of sovereignty. But the critical issue that the state centric view often ignores is that of the capacity of these states to exercise those rights.

This capacity has been sufficiently circumscribed in the contemporary world by all sorts of pressure and by the inter-dependence and interpenetration of states, that sovereignty seems now something of an anachronism.

Moreover, the technological advance, made since the twentieth century has seriously compromised impermeability of the sovereign state. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, major states were self sufficient unit with relatively equal powers. They were capable of protecting themselves against both domestic and external sources of instability and change.

The state then was capable or impenetrable; it was surrounded with what was called “hard-shell” which protect it from foreign penetration. The dominance of the United State in the West and that of the former Soviet Union within the defunct socialist bloc was undisputed.

The hegemonic role of these two giant on vital issues of security and even economy in their respective spheres of influence had in practical terms limited considerably the capacity of the other state to exercise their sovereignty. The realities of the global economy graphically illustrate the limitation of the idea of equality of states. The situation is even more pronounced in Africa and Asia.

Modern technologies, electronics and communication system, the spreading ethos of industrialization and the spread of technologically sophisticated ways of waging war are all eroding the technological, economic and sociological base of national sovereignty.

Most of the countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America are economically and politically dependent upon other actors. Many French speaking African States are totally dependent upon France for their security and economic survival.

Many governments are now dependent upon the goodwill of other actors in order to feed their teeming populations. A refusal by United States and other European Union to export food or give loan or grant to Africa will only result in hunger, starvation and eventual death of millions of Africans. In Latin America, the survival of many regimes lies largely upon continued America military and economic support.

Governmental Non-State Actors

The most notable government non-state actors are international institutions set up by states for the achievement of certain goals which member states believes cannot be met by individual effort. The main distinguishing characteristics of international and supranational institution are their degree of autonomy.

Supranational institutions are institutions with powers to take decision binding on members whether they have participated in, or approved of, the decision or not. The term is often applied to institutions that have been established in Europe since 1950.

The twentieth century, however, witnessed the emergence of international political institution like the League of Nations, the UN and its agencies. The OAU now AU, NATO, European Union, OPEC, etc. in 1972 there were 289 such institutions.

These organizations have developed large bureaucracies and possess substantial funds. They have gained the royalties of civil servants and government who rarely question the legitimacy of their actions as their role is usually institutionalized.

Some of them like the UN, even occasionally assemble military forces. The UN Secretary General had on a number of occasions in the past, appointed commanders and political advisers and dispatched peace-keeping operations as in the Congo, Cyprus, Lebanon etc. statements emanating from such organizations like NATO often carry more weight than similar statements by their individual members.

Non-Governmental Actors

Apart from these government institutions, there are also hundreds of non-governmental transnational organizations that influence the international political system. These organizations consist of individuals from various countries who share common interests and concerns. Their primary aim is the advancement of their particular interests.

They include religious groups such as the World Council of Churches, the International council of Jewish Woman, the World Muslim Congress etc. and also social welfare/humanitarian organization like the International Red Cross, OXFAM, the Catholic Relief Agency (Caritas), Amnesty International, the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation etc. though these institutions are non-political, their activities have on occasions affected the political behaviours of states and other actors in the system.

Red Cross plays the role of negotiating the exchange of war prisoners and in ensuring that prisoners of war are treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war in the Middle East, in Vietnam, in Southern Africa and during the Nigeria-Biafra war.

These organizations do organize international conference and seminars which are aimed at influencing state behaviours. They are sometime consulted as corporate bodies by government and other organizations.

The multinational corporations are also another form of transnational unit that have had a significant impact on the international system. These corporations are corporation of different nationalities that are joined together by a parent company through the bonds of common ownership that respond to common strategy that draw on common pool of financial and human resources.

The massive wealth available to these companies, the magnitude of their operations and their near monopoly of the very sensitive technology, gives them a lot of influence in the world, even more than that exerted by many nation states.

Other transnational actors include terrorist groups, national liberation movement and mercenaries who by hijacking, kidnapping, assassination and participation in war, make their impact felt in the international system.

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