Non-state actors and world governance Pierre Calame May 2008 Summary



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Non-state actors and world governance

Pierre Calame

May 2008

Summary

A- Non-state actors have always played an essential role in global regulation, but their role will grow considerably in this, the beginning of the twenty-first Century.


1) Non-state actors have always been important in world governance.
2) Developments in the theory of governance places growing importance on the role of non-state actors at every level of regulation.

3) In the modern-day world, non-state actors face ever-increasing opportunities, which are often difficult for them to assume.

4) Non-state actors, due to their vocation, size, flexibility, methods of organisation and action, interact with states in an equal manner; however this does not mean that their action is better adapted.


  • 4.1. Some non-state actors have an international vocation.

  • 4.2 The size of non-state actors is similar to that of many states.

  • 4.3 Non-state actors have more flexibility than states.

  • 4.4 Non-state actors’ organisation is better suited for the realities of the world.

  • 4.5 They have a better command of the Internet.

  • 4.6 Non-state actors are in a good situation to be influential.

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

1) Security and defence

2) International co-operation

3) Economy

4) Commerce

5) The Information society

6) Health

7) Environment

C- To better understand and develop the non-state actors’ role, it should be studied in conjunction with the general principles of governance.

1) Legitimacy based on objectives, values, and methods.

2) The elements of democracy and of world citizenship.

3) The ability to design better institutional arrangements.



  • 3.1. A more global approach to governance.

  • 3.2. Contribution to the emergence of a world community.

  • 3.3. The combination of different regulatory modes.

  • 3.4. The ability to get all the different parties around the table.

  • 3.5. An efficient evaluation system.

4) The conception of regimes of governance adapted to the different types of goods and services.

5) The possibility of better articulating scales of governance, from local to global.



A- Non-state actors have always played an essential role in global regulation, but their role will grow considerably in this, the beginning of the twenty-first Century.


  1. 1) Non-state actors have always been important in world governance.

The issue of the role of non-state actors in international regulation is not new, but with growing interdependency it takes on a new dimension. Throughout history, states have been far from being the drivers, and even less so the sole promoters of new international regulation. We could even go as far as to say that the conception of international action is determined and limited by the conception of the state itself.


The model that emerged in Europe after the Renaissance, whose main characteristics were established by the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, was solely based on national interest. Any foray across national borders has always been driven by national interest: whether it be to conquer new territories, to defend existing borders or to acquire new territories to control their natural resources imperialistically. This means that not only do states not have the monopoly on international action and the implementation of the transnational regulations necessary to manage interdependencies, but moreover from the moment they engage in international regulation, they meet a major political and philosophical obstacle.
The genetic characteristics of the Westphalian State, although historically defined to serve more or less absolute monarchies, have been reinforced rather than weakened by the quasi-generalised spread of democratic regimes: To the state's genetic nature we must add the nature of the governed: citizens are concerned by local and national interests; in electing their leaders they find their interests are taken beyond national borders and where this is the case they prefer to act through non-state, not for profit organisations.
The fundamental model of nation-states is based on international agreements on clearly defined objectives of common interest, and not on abandoning sovereignty for the benefit of entities which transcend national interests.
The European Union, whose evolution no doubt benefited from the traumatism born out of the Second World War and the acknowledgement that categorical defence of national interests lead to collective suicide, is at present the only existing historic model that validates the possibility of surpassing sovereignty.
Historically, it is the non-state actors that have doggedly crossed national boundaries: This is true in an economic context, for example the West Indies Companies of the XVIIth and XVIIIth Centuries and Colonial Enterprises of the XIXth Century; it is also true for movements like the Red Cross, the anti-torture movements, the abolition of slavery, or even the promotion of international institutions such as the League of Nations, the UN or even the construction of Europe. (For example, if we think about the role of the Congress of The Hague, celebrating its 60th anniversary this year).
The role of non-governmental organisations in the United Nations’ current activities is so important, whether in lobbying, research, political analysis or in contributions to ideas and new information, that Richard Jolly and his colleagues do not hesitate to talk about “United Nations no 3”. This United Nations is made up of non-governmental organisations, while The General Assembly is the “United Nations no 1” and the agencies secretariat are “The United Nations no 2”.
To think again in historical terms about our societies' capacity to widen their horizons, we must consider both the development of commercial exchanges and the spread of ideas and convictions. Entrepreneurs and traders generally built the first bridges between civilisations: with the route to the Indies and the creation of trading posts. Religions, in particular the Christian religions and Islam were the first international institutions, each bearing an ideology on the world and on humanity according to its structure: The hierarchy of the Catholic Church and the decentralisation of the Protestant Churches and the different Muslim communities.
The model of the Greek city-state expanded following Alexander the Great’s conquests during the development of the Ancient Greek civilisation across vast territories. In Europe, travelling doctors and architects from the Middle Ages and philosophers from the Age of Enlightment promoted the exchange of ideas beyond national borders.
The relationship between state and non-state institutions is always complex. Colonial commercial companies have little benefit from national protection. The relationship between worldly and spiritual powers in Islam and Christian religions has often been very close. It is the combination of the Age of Enlightment and the conquests of Napoleon and then, in the XIXth Century the combination of military conquests and the spread of new ideas and ideologies which interwove international relations.
Closer to our time, the role of large American foundations has always been significant. From the beginning of the XXth Century when Andrew Carnegie and John Rockefeller created the first modern foundations they have had a large impact on the American and international political stages. In the specific case of the context of the United States, relationships between foundations and politics have always been very close, so much so that in 1969 the United States Congress enacted a law restricting the political activities of private foundations. These political activities were in part replaced by think-tanks. In one way or another, American foundations have played an important part in spreading the American model, be it in a positive light particularly during the Cold War or more conflictually as is the case today. Having understood the limits of state action, certain foundations have become more independent and now hold their own international agenda.
From this first point we should retain that the role of non-state actors in the development of international regulation is as old as civilisation and surpasses the role of the state. Cross-border relationships have always been the result of a combination of non-state actors together with state intervention.

  1. B) Developments in the theory of governance places growing importance on the role of non-state actors at every level of regulation.

In analysing regulation implemented by societies to ensure their survival and long-term development – which is the basis of the general definition of governance – is it impossible to isolate what is happening on the world stage from what is happening at other levels. Their development derives from the same changes in social realities and ideologies.


Therefore, no matter what the level of governance, a new vision has gradually come into being in the last fifty years: the co-production of public goods. Moreover, it is this evolution that has largely lead to the use, albeit controversial, of the term “governance”
In many countries, especially those adhering to Protestantism, state intervention has always been considered subsidiary to other forms of intervention. Family responsibility, community commitment and local administration are prioritised before public intervention, the very meaning of the word subsidiary. The latter should only be called upon when other levels of intervention have proved powerless. This is the definition of the confederal model, inspired by Germanic societies, in which the confederal level is theoretically a temporary delegation of power to a superior sphere for functions such as defence or international relations which cannot be addressed at a lower scale. At least… theoretically, similar to permanent taxation, born in Western civilisation from temporary taxes linked to war efforts, and afterwards made permanent.
In monarchies and Catholic countries, mainly of Roman influence, public goods were provided by the King or Church and it was from this monopoly that the areas in which families and local communities could act were defined. The French Revolution did not change the fundamental aspects of this concept of governance. The people replaced the King and the state replaced the Church but in each case, the monopoly of power was maintained. From an absolutist point of view, the implication of non-state actors in public goods has always been seen as subordinate or with suspicion. It is not surprising in these countries to see taxation over voluntary contributions and associative movements being financially dependent on the state or territorial entities. Foundations are considered with suspicion as they may present a competitive threat (a private entity which claims to provide public goods and who, on top of this claims fiscal benefits!) This easily explains the difference in the number of foundations in Protestant and Catholic countries. China, as is demonstrated by its growing number of non governmental associations, is quite close to the French model. The Chinese Government is encouraging development of the tertiary sector to take on functions that neither the State nor the Communist Party can or are willing to assume. These are primarily social functions, but the development of associations is very strictly organised and each association is under the control of a Ministry; in the same way as in France for example, the foundations that are so called ‘for the public good’.
Over time these contrasting models, one that we could label as confederal and the other as centralised, have become more alike than discourse would have us think. As no problem can be addressed at one single level of governance confederate and federal states have therefore seen their central administration strengthened. At the same time, the majority of centralised regimes have undergone policies of decentralisation. The co production of public goods using different actors is becoming increasingly favoured and clearly co-operation between different actors is essential to this objective. This model based on the co production of public goods has substituted the dualist model of a public sector in charge of public goods and a private sector interested only in its own profit.
This is particularly valid when the state is seeking a presence in the international arena. For example, the United States think tanks, officially private organisations, hold an important role in the international diffusion of political doctrines and tend to feel a sense of patriotism to defend American interests. International co-operation cannot be reduced simply to the actions of Ministries of Foreign Affairs who liase only with their counterparts in other countries; Foundations, in particular, the big American foundations and the associative networks, the European international charitable NGOs have played a major role in the conception and implementation of policies.
Awareness regarding the provision of common goods has evolved in roundabout way. The more sophisticated a society becomes, the more the quality of its public services (transport, health and education) impacts on its economic efficiency and its social cohesion, the more the conditions of economic efficiency themselves require a co-operation between public and private actors and between public and private management systems. It is interesting to note therefore that the Lisbon Treaty promotes entirely the idea of Services d'Intérêt Général (Services of Public Interest or SIG) within the EU. The EU recognises that all needs cannot be satisfied by commercial exchanges but does not consider either that there should be a monopoly of state actors providing public services.
There is no reason why global governance should not too follow this theory.

    1. 3) In the modern-day world, non-state actors face ever-increasing opportunities, which are often difficult for them to assume.

Theories and institutions develop more slowly than economic, social and cultural realities. The implication of non-state actors such as companies, churches, associations and foundations, in the area of international regulations, is also forged from the diachrony between the evolution of ideas and institutions on the one hand, and the evolution of economic, cultural, social and ecological realities on the other. Our mind-set, in particular concerning politics and economics, is still based on certain intellectual frameworks and debates which have been held for centuries and which are very distant from the challenges of the 21st Century.

In the case of institutions, they remain, on paper at least, as they were conceived between the XVIIth and XIXth Centuries. The result is that humanity now must address new kinds of interdependencies that exist between societies themselves and the biosphere, and must do so with mind-sets and institutions that are truly adapted to these challenges.

This situation creates for the non-state actor an historical challenge for which they are sadly ill-prepared. They are, perhaps, more supple in their mentality and institutional frameworks than the state, but will they be able to implement change as quickly as is needed in order to meet the challenges required?

The main historical issue at hand is how to manage these interdependencies without the existence of a world political power. It is when this void exists that conflicts, plundering of natural resources, power plays between countries with oil reserves and those without, dumping, flags of convenience, tax havens, mafias, international terrorism, and all sorts of trafficking become possible. In this scenario, the priority of non-state actors should be to contribute to the emergence of a world community consciousness, as it is preliminary for the rest. The non-state actor’s role is to shed light on the major agenda topics of our societies, in an etymological sense, stating what should be done and to propose a strategy or strategies capable of meeting such challenges. We cannot hide the fact that, although there are some exceptions, we are still very far away from meeting this objective.

When studying enterprises, we can see that they are legally an association of share-holders, who are therefore the owners of the enterprise. Directors therefore, must, in theory, only submit themselves to the will of the owners. The personal ethics of directors, workers and shareholders together with the objective of the enterprise, which is required for its effectiveness, along with the enterprise’s good reputation, which can be distorted in case non-governmental players report its actions, can push enterprises to be socially and environmentally responsible. Although company practices, which are subject to the pressure of international competitors and the market value of shares are analyzed based on the influence of the three elements of economic efficiency, social responsibility and environmental responsibility, it is only the first one, that of economic efficiency, which is really implemented. It is understood that social and environmental responsibilities play less important roles. These two elements fall into the category of what is referred to as “sustainable growth”. This concept is really an oxymoron: an association of the two contradictory terms of “sustainable” and “growth”, although we consider that this contradiction has been solved. In reality, among the need to assure social cohesion through indefinite growth, the need to profoundly transform the model of economic development with the way societies function to protect the Biosphere, it is by far and away the issue of “growth” which wins the upper hand on a national and international scale.

As for foundations, they have been inspired by such traditions as Greek Evergetism, the Protestant tradition of what one owes to society and the Buddhist tradition of duty once success is acquired and then turning oneself to the true essential, which means spirituality.

A certain number of foundations have engaged in international activities: big foundations such as the Ford or Rockefeller Foundations or the smaller ones, such as ours, the Charles Léopold Mayer Foundation for the Progress of Humankind. However, this cannot be extended to all foundations. Foundations are above all associations, which carry out certain actions for the local public good. This is not in itself illegitimate that is the idea of giving back to society some of the prosperity one has received. However, this idea of maintaining economic efficiency, gives the majority of foundations a narrow field of movement in the field of philanthropy, which does not prepare foundations to take on the great challenges of the modern world. Notwithstanding, American foundations, based on the 2006 Foundation Centre Report, have significantly increased the funds allocated to international programs to a total of 4.2 billion dollars, of which 22% of the funds go to foreign allocations. Are foundations more innovative and efficient than state action? Is private generosity, by nature, nobler than tax redistribution? Foundations usually try to give us that idea. However, this is not clear. Foundations usually present themselves as the promoters of social innovation. Yet, studies show that this is rarely true, as foundations hardly ever study their own governance. As for the juxtaposition of separate actions implemented by foundations, this trait is not so favourable in regards to a coherent construction of public goods.

Non-governmental organisations, in the same way as foundations, are focused almost exclusively on local or national activities. Only large organisations emerge onto the international scene, and which have had from the beginning an international vocation in the fields of solidarity, human rights and the environment. These well-known organisations are Oxfam, Greenpeace, Amnesty International, Handicap International, Caritas, etc. Their vocation is often very specific and their form of action when addressing international regulations is basically that of lobbying rather than trying to establish a new world order. Nevertheless, the advantages of the non-governmental organisation are still decisive. Now we are experiencing the arrival of new foundations linked to the computer revolution, such as The Bill Gates and The Hewlett Packard Foundations, and of those of the large, emerging nations, such as India and China, in particular, which are still typically modelled on the great old foundations, but which may adopt original positions in the international scene, due to the pressures arising from the wide range of challenges inherent to their countries.



4) Non-state actors, due to their vocation, size, flexibility, methods of organisation and action, interact with states in an equal manner.

    1. 4.1. 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 defence, 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 analysing 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.

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