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Conceptualising Non-State Actors in International Relations

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Mapping Non-State Actors in International Relations

Part of the book series: Non-State Actors in International Relations ((NAIR))

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This introductory chapter attempts to make a theoretical contribution and frame the role of Non-State Actors (NSAs) in International Relations (IR) discipline as an under-examined subject-matter. The study situates its argument within the current debate of the increasing power of NSAs in international relations (ir) and what this means for the theory.

Building on previous work, it offers a conceptualisation of the non-state entities and provides the ground for the book’s rationale. In specific, the chapter offers a definition as to what non-state actors are based on a systematic and coherent analysis and creates a typology (of the nature) of NSAs . A table on NSAs ’ modus operandi illustrates why this is important but not a criterion of distinction among them. Considering the continuum of NSAs , the mainstream literature has mainly separated them according to cases in point. Even though different types of NSAs have been analysed separately, a frame that brings them together is lacking. Therefore, the chapter’s primary objective is to classify them as actors on their own right and justify their existence as intrinsic part of the IR’s ontology.

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  1. 1.

    Capitalised IR implies the discipline, whereas lower-case ir denotes the practice.

  2. 2.

    A consistent approach to the relationship between the ideational and the material that fails to privilege one or other moment and is capable of recognising the causally constitutive role of ideas remains frustratingly elusive.

  3. 3.

    The relationship between non-state actors and treaties is examined in a contemporary perspective.

  4. 4.

    “How non-state actors contribute to the development of international law… in order to ensure a better framework for the protection of those affected”. Both works show further promising developments in the broader literature.

  5. 5.

    The rise of NSAA is not only the result of “opportunities provided by the new regional environment” but also for instance note due to wrong policies. The authors identify four causal mechanisms that explain the rise of NSAA: “(1) privatisation in areas such as defence and security; (2) capital mobilisation and private foreign investment flows; (3) trade liberalisation and its employment consequences; (4) the expanding horizon of multilateral institutions; and (5) the unleashing of civil society”.

  6. 6.

    The Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah has emerged as a first non-state actor processing ‘strategic missile forces’.

  7. 7.

    Thus, states can be funded by other institutions and states. In this case the criterion of the NSA’s separation according to whether or not they receive governmental funding questions the very distinction of these actors into specific kinds. Cultural/ideological international governmental organisations and transnational ethnic groups. See Taylor Ibid., p. 258.

  8. 8.

    Non state actors are now representing the radical challenge and the rivalry is thus not any longer an interstate competition but a cold war between regimes and non-state actors.

  9. 9.

    The continued rise of the non-state actor in twenty-first century international politics issues a potent challenge to state in the area of diplomacy.

  10. 10.

    That is proxy, auxiliary, surrogate, and affiliated forces.

  11. 11.

    According to Buzan, (structural) power can also connote “the way in which the system shapes the behaviour of units” including “the capabilities of units to do things, their relative strengths, their interests [and] the way they define them”.

  12. 12.

    Specifications are related to the example of the typo we refer to. E.g. there is an essential difference between power and authority; power is the ability that is coming from within, whilst authority is some form of ability that is delegated by others.

  13. 13.

    On the contrary state power is but one dimension of power.

  14. 14.

    Non-state actors can be “individuals as well as international organizations, corporations, non-governmental organizations, de facto regimes, trade associations, transnational corporations, terrorist groups and transnational criminal organizations”.

  15. 15.

    E.g. According to Philip Taylor’s typology, the non-state actors can be transnational.

  16. 16.

    IR’s disadvantage: imported theories from other fields natural sciences (statistics), humanities (philosophy), social sciences (law).

  17. 17.

    Taylor still poses conditions: non-state actors can be either transnational sub-state individuals or groups, such as NGOs (non-governmental organisations), residing in two or more states, or formally organised ones like International Governmental Organisations.

  18. 18.

    Students of globalisation also show how increasing transnational flows have empowered non-state actors.

  19. 19.

    There are some NSAs that only work domestically, whilst others work internationally. The latter includes two types: the first are NSAs that act internationally to lobby for a certain state’s agenda or lobby for a certain region’s interests, whilst the second type are those that work on international or transnational agendas. The first includes those working internationally, such as those working on the issue of Palestine and the WANA Institute, which works internationally on West Asian and North African issues.

  20. 20.

    Non state actors are now representing the radical challenge and the rivalry is thus not any longer an interstate competition but a cold war between regimes and non-state actors holding considerable popular support.

  21. 21.

    For instance, they can be individuals or organisations with economic, political, social, or sometimes military power that are able to influence the state, sub-state, and sometimes regional and international levels.

  22. 22.

    Transnational actors can be individuals and groups in international community.

  23. 23.

    One might also argue that influential international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) are members in so far as they give advice to institutions such as the UN and on occasions participate in the drafting of significant multilateral treaties.

  24. 24.

    However, in terms of Social Constructivism, a potential “structuration” is believed to lead “to a less rigid and more dynamic view of the relationship between structure and actors”.

  25. 25.

    Jackson argues that “Ideas must be widely shared to matter; nonetheless they can be held by different groups, such as organizations, policymakers, social groups or society)”.

  26. 26.

    Because the English school has not given any consideration to the regional level there are precedents neither for how to define what would constitute a regional international society nor for how to relate to it to international society at global level.

  27. 27.

    In consequence, an alternative possibility has been forwarded which conceptualises world society in accordance with the contested ideologies in the non-state world that lead individuals to form social relationships in the hopes of influencing the states of international society, ultimately in accordance with their ideology. Such a conception should be a useful tool for English School scholars looking to think outside the international society.

  28. 28.

    There is also much room left for more country studies, looking at how particular states and peoples encounter and adapt to international society.


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Charountaki, M. (2022). Conceptualising Non-State Actors in International Relations. In: Charountaki, M., Irrera, D. (eds) Mapping Non-State Actors in International Relations. Non-State Actors in International Relations. Springer, Cham.

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