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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Non-state actors, in international relations, are actors on the international level which are not states. The admission of non-state actors into international relations theory is inherently a rebuke to 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.


Types of non-state actors

These groups are typically considered a part of civil society.
  • Multinational Corporations (MNCs)
Multinational corporations are for profit organizations that operate in three or more sovereign states.
The Quakers are quite active in their international advocacy efforts and their supportive role at international conferences. [1] They have in part founded other non-state actors such as Amnesty International, Greenpeace, and OXFAM.

Most types of non-state actors would be considered part of civil society, though some function within the international market (e.g. MNCs and organized crime).

The effects of non-state actors 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 theorizing of the Cobweb Paradigm in International Politics. Under this paradigm, the traditional Westphalian nation-state is experiencing an erosion of power and sovereignty, and non-state actors are part of the cause. Facilitated by Globalization, NSAs have challenged nation-state borders and claims to sovereignty. MNCs are not always sympathetic to home-country's or host-country's national interests, but instead loyalty is given to the corporation's interests. NGOs are challenging the nation-state's sovereignty over internal matters through advocacy for societal issues, e.g. human rights and the environment. [1]

There exist many armed non-state actors, e.g. opposition groups, that operate without state control and are involved in trans-border conflicts. The prevalence of these groups in armed conflicts has added 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 non-state actors. Any attempts at intervention in such conflicts has been particularly challenging given the fact that international law and norms governing the use of force for intervention or peacekeeping purposes has been primarily written in the context of the nation-state. [2] So, the demands of non-state actors at the local and international level have further complicated international relations.

Definition under the Cotonou Agreement

The term Non State Actors (NSA) is also widely used in development cooperation, particularly under the Cotonou Agreement[3] between the European Union (EU) and the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific ACP countries. In the formal language of the Cotonou Agreement, the term is used to refer to a wide range of nongovernmental development actors whose participation in ACP-EU cooperation is now formally recognized. According to Article 6 of the Cotonou Agreement, 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, the private sector, etc.

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.)

See also

Further reading

  • Chickering, Lawrence A., et. all. Strategic Foreign Assistance: Civil Society in International Security. Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 2006.
  • Keck, Margaret E. and Kathryn Sikkink. Activists beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics. London: Cornell University Press, 1998.
  • Rochester, Martin J. Between Two Epochs: What’s Ahead for America, the World, and Global Politics in the Twenty-First Century. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2002.
  • Daniel Sobelman. Four Years After the Withdrawal from Lebanon: Refining the Rules of the Game, Strategic Assessment, Vol. 7 No.2, August 2004.
  • Warkentin, Craig. Reshaping World Politics: NGOs, the Internet, and Global Civil Society. New York: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2001.


  1. ^ a b Rochester, Martin J. Between Two Epochs: What’s Ahead for America, the World, and Global Politics in the Twenty-First Century. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2002.
  2. ^ Non-State Actors in Conflict
  3. ^ European Commission - Development - The Cotonou Agreement

External links

Article on terrorists as NSAs, see section titled "Non-State Actors (NSAs): Who Are They?"


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