Non-State Actors in International Relations
(Aldershot: Ashgate, 2001, 318pp.)
There is a growing interest in the role of non-governmental organizations (NGO) in the making and the implementation of policies at the international level. Building on such path making studies as P. Willets (Ed.) The Consciences of the World: the Influence of Non-Governmental Organizations in the UN system (London: Hurst, 1996), T. Princen and M. Finger (Eds.) Environmental NGOs in World Politics. Linking the Global and the Local (London: Routledge, 1994), and M.Keck and K. Sikkink Activists without Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998), a group of international relations scholars from the Netherlands look at the increasing role of NGOs in day-to-day politics at the United Nations and the European Union.
There has always been something of a problem in defining institutions in a negative way. NGOs are not governments and are not usually created by governments. Thus, profit-oriented corporate actors or crime networks can be considered NGOs, and there are some interesting comments on the role of transnational businesses and the Russian Mafia in this collection of studies. However, there are more detailed studies of transnational business elsewhere, and the role of crime networks is still very under-analysed even by governments. Thus, while the term NGO is likely to continue to be widely used, the term "transnational advocacy networks" would be a better analytical term and covers the bulk of the new information in this book.
Transnational advocacy networks are most active at the United Nations, where, through time and persistent effort, NGO representatives have developed a structured role for themselves, especially in such fields as human rights, ecology and humanitarian relief. NGOs are starting to play a role in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and there are close links between the European Union and NGOs, especially in the field of development cooperation.
The role of NGO representatives is to influence policies through participation in the entire policy-making process. What distinguishes the NGO representative's role at the UN from lobbying at the national level is that one may appeal to and discuss with the representatives of many different governments. While some governments may be unwilling to consider the ideas of anyone other than the mandate they receive from the Foreign Ministry, others are more open. Out of the more than 100 States usually present at most UN meetings, the NGO representatives will always find some which are "on the same wave length" or who are looking for additional information on which to take a decision.
As with all diplomacy in multilateral forums such as the UN, much depends upon the skill and knowledge of the NGO representatives and on the close working relations which they are able to develop with some government representatives and some members of the UN Secretariat. NGO representatives have little power - that is, a permanent ability to influence policy outcomes, but on specific issues where they have expert knowledge, they can have a real impact - though this is always difficult to measure objectively since only government representatives can vote.
Bas Arts does propose some techniques for the objective study of NGO influence in his useful presentation of "The Impact of Environmental NGOs on International Conventions". This is more easily done in the environmental field as each convention - biological diversity, global warming, etc - was negotiated separately, but with many of the same NGOs present. It is more difficult to measure the NGO role in disarmament and security questions. It is certain that NGO mobilization for an end to nuclear testing and for a ban on land mines played a role in the conventions which were steps forward for humanity. However on other arms issues, NGO input is more difficult to analyze.
NGOs can work more easily and more effectively in a structured forum. The International Labour Organisation is the best example of an officially structured role for certain types of non-governmental organizations: labour unions and employers associations which have an equal vote with government representatives. Gerda van Roozendaal's analysis of "The Influence of Trade Unions on the Social Clause Controversy in the International Labour Organisation and its Working Party" is useful in showing how these three actors interact when faced with a new issue.
"Transnational advocacy networks" is also the best term to cover most of the recent mobilization efforts at the United Nations such as the landmine campaign, that for an International Criminal Court, or for increased protection from violence for women and children. The groups working on these issues are found in many different countries but have learned to work trans-nationally, both through face-to-face meetings and on the internet. The groups in the campaigns share a certain number of values and ideas but may differ on others. Thus, they come together on an ad hoc basis around one project or a small number of related issues. Yet their effectiveness is based on their being able to function over a relatively long period of time - at least a decade - in rather complex networks even when direct success or influence is limited.
These campaigns are based on networks which combine actors of different types across various levels of government. The campaigns are alliances among different types of organizations - membership groups, academic institutes, religious bodies, ad hoc local groupings, etc. Some groups are well known, most are not.
However, it is difficult for new actors to enter the field and for new issues to be put on the agenda. Therefore, it is necessary for the campaigns to work with NGO representatives who are already known in the UN milieu and who are trusted by government representatives and the UN Secretariat. Such NGO representatives can serve as mediators between the new advocacy coalitions and policy makers.
There is a need to be able to work at the local, the national, and the UN level all at the same time. Advocacy movements need to be able to contact key decision makers in national parliaments, government administrations and intergovernmental secretariats. Such mobilization is difficult, and for each "success story" there are many failed efforts which were unable to build the necessary momentum.
While this is not a handbook for transnational advocacy campaigns but an academic analysis, the study will be of help to activists as well as a contribution to techniques of analysis on decision-making in international organizations.