NGOs play a very important role in the field of international relations. The field of international relations has been mainly concerned with wars, struggles for power, and the efforts of countries to achieve best national interest. In the decisive issues of global politics, non state actors such as NGOs are increasingly becoming involved. Over the past four decades more scholars are suggesting the significance roles of NGOs in promoting international understanding and cooperation. Countries are not only losing sovereignty in a globalized economy, but they are also sharing powers including security, political, and social roles at the core of sovereignty with international, business organizations and NGOs. This results from the increased emphasis on private sector initiatives, declining role of states and the emergence of civil society. This shift among private sectors, states and civil society has brought a lot of challenges, opportunities, and issues for many NGOs. In almost every corner of the world, NGOs have risen to bigger prominence. Many NGOs that consist of nonofficial groups in difference nations have come together with the objective of promoting common interests through global actions. This paper will attempt to comprehend the roles of NGOs in international roles.
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Generally speaking, there is no internationally fitting definition of NGOs yet, therefore, it is important to analyze its functions. Due to information revolution and globalization that has made individuals live in the global village, human activity is less restrained by national borders ( ). For example, the internet has made people communicate, trade, and travel in ever growing numbers. However, this has led to more problems in the global society. Such a phenomenon gives NGOs many chances to exhibit their functions in international relations.
The range of the work of NGOs is nearly as broad as their interests. Because they provide services; implement, shape, enforce, and monitor national and global commitments; do scientific, legal, and political analysis; and change institutions, norms have been raised. Some NGOs are organized in a bid to promote the interests of a particular group. Some of them are also established to perform a particular task and advance a movement. They normally function as agents of global understanding, as pressure groups, and as shapers of public opinion. NGOs differ in various dimensions, which are highlighted in literature. Such dimensions might be used generally to classify them. And such classifications can deem NGOs as global actors.
NGOs as a group are multi-faceted and diverse. The scope of their work is nearly as broad as their interests. Their operations and perspectives might be local, regional, national or global. Some are task oriented or issue oriented; others are driven by ideology. Some NGOs have a broad public interest viewpoint while others have a more narrow and private focus. They range from poorly funded, small, grassroots entities to well supported, large, professionally staffed organizations. Some operate individually and others have formed networks to share tasks and information to enhance their impact. NGOs breed new ideas; protest, advocate and mobilize public support; do scientific, legal, policy and technical analysis; change institutions and norms; and implement, monitor, shape and enforce national and global commitments.
In some issue areas, NGOs have attained notable authority in international relations. For example, Amnesty International is a human rights NGO that is mainly supported by donations from almost one million members in one hundred and sixty two counties. This organization initially garnered global prominence by orchestrating letter writing campaigns in 1961. Another example is CARE International which provides clean water, health care, emergency, relief, food and development assistance the poorest populations in the world. Almost half a million citizens from Canada, Australia, Japan, U.S, and international organizations as well as governments support its efforts.
It has often been assumed that international relations theory is mainly about the study on the relations between countries. However, such a description of global politics has been increasingly challenged as many other actors, particularly NGOs have become more significant, which finds their roles and positions in international relations theory. This brings to mind, the issue of how international relations theory is of interest to NGOs. The answer to this issue might illustrate the important of NGOs in particular ways.
The paradigms of transnationalism, pluralism, international regimes, collective social action, global government and interdependence are compound strands of theory that are related with NGOs. But, these paradigms overlap to a certain extent. To explain the phenomenon of the emerging roles in international relations theory, it is crucial to explain the connection between transnationalism and NGOs.
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In the transnational paradigm, NGOs operate at global level alongside governments increasing more adversity to the process of policymaking, monitoring the gap between governmental practice and governmental eloquence in policy implementation. According to ( ), transnational relation focuses on interactions among non-governmental bodies and on relations between states and among states and non-governmental entities. Simply put, transnational networks have the capacity to become thornier and important that involve inquiring how interactively and independently NGOs and governments seek to realize their objectives and cope with the issues, which challenge them.
In the context of international policy and law, NGOs perform various activities and functions. International policy making is normally characterized by numerous uncertainties. These might include scientific uncertainties about the causes and effects of a problem and potential reactions tactics as well as political and legal uncertainties about the available means and ways to accomplish desired policy goals and their implications ( ). Uncertainty also often exists about the behavioral effects for example, on sub-national actors like consumers and industry, and so forth, as well as the efficiency of implementation of international rules when these rules have been adopted ( ). Even though the precautionary principle might provide an adequate basis to take measures even if full scientific certainty lacks uncertainty is still in numerous cases a significant element that hinders the adoption of effective measures and policies.
NGOs play an imperative role in tackling these uncertainties, thus enhancing the knowledge base for global governance. NGOs compile, gather, and disseminate significant information to the broader public and policy makers. In addition to this, independent research institutes and expert NGOs like the World Watch Institute, World Resources Institute, International Institute for Sustainable Development, Tata Energy Research Institute, World Conservation Monitoring Centre, and others are especially active in this respect. In the area of implementation review, a well known example is the TRAFFIC international that has frequently provided information to Parties in counties where illegal trade in endangered species occurs, and it has been officially recognized as a source of relevant information ( ).
In providing relevant assessments and information, NGOs often play a substantial role in taking up political issues, which need to be addressed in global politics in global politics. Also, in practice, NGOs enhance the knowledge base in global policy making by distributing and organizing information material through conferences and other activities. These channels and activities of influence, are generally recognized under international law, wither implicitly or explicitly through established practice. NGOs also organize seminars, workshops and conferences independently of inter-governmental meetings that are aimed at enhancing relevant knowledge ( ).
Other than providing information, NGOs also partake in and directly influence the global policy making process through advocacy and lobbying. In this context, advocacy refers to the NGOs publicly acting as advocates of their cause by using their formal position in an institution. On the other hand, lobbying can be best understood as the process of unofficially influencing decision makers in meetingsâ€™ corridors. By doing so, they employ various activities as well as both formal and informal channels of influence ( ). Expert conferences or side events during inter-governmental conferences can provide an informal forum for discussion with related government delegates and to create negotiating options that might be taken up by individual delegations. Furthermore, there are other opportunities for informal face-to-face contacts between government representatives and NGOs that exist in numerous settings, for instance, in the corridors of conference buildings during official meetings ( ). Contemporary communication technologies like mobile phones and the internet enable representatives from NGOs to communicate and stay in contact with government delegates even during closed negotiating sessions ( ).
From an analytical perspective, two different bases for advocacy and lobbying by NGOs can be discerned: political expertise and pressure, which in fact often happen in combination. The political pressure PINGOs (Public Interest NGOs) can have an effect on decision makers in global or international institutions and is a function of the size of their membership and their capacity to manage public support for their grounds outside the official negotiations such as through public information campaigns and media, letter writing, protest boycotts and activities, and so on. As a result, in particular big NGOs can use political pressure as a basis for their lobbying activities. In contrast, BINGOs (Business and Industry NGOs) can rely on their general economic influence.
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Expertise as a basis of influence is less reliant on the size of an NGO. It becomes relevant where NGOs and governments widely share the same goals in the political process. Additionally, the examples of the provision of advice by NGOs based on their expertise are inestimable ( ). For example, during negotiations under the Basel Convention, Greenpeace advice to African delegations was decisive in attaining agreement on the prohibition of exports of hazardous wastes to developing nations. The function of NGOs as advisers who aid governments to comprehend and order issues at hand seems to increase with the complexity and number of problems addressed at the global level.
Transparency of political processes is one of the essential principles of good and democratic governance. Transparency is one of the pre-requisites to make certain that political decision makers can be held responsible by the public. Guaranteeing transparency in global policy making poses a significant challenge because inter-governmental negotiations often occur behind closed doors. Global policy making also seems to be remote from public policy discourses, which are nationally organized whilst a global public does not exist. Under such circumstances, NGOs play an imperative role raising the transparency of global political processes and guaranteeing that global policy makers can be held responsible for their decisions. Reports of representatives from NGOs from inside global negotiations help divulge slacker behavior by governments. And, to this end, NGOs employ several channels and activities of influence.
Also, some NGOs have played critical roles in providing order in conflict driven nations such as Rwanda, Bosnia and Somalia. They have forced governments to accept strict rules against the export of banned goods such as ivory and so on. Greenpeace, as mentioned earlier and other NGOs have proved to be more willing than governments to speak out against the violations of the rights of people in critical situations. Such NGOs are a testament that they significantly matter in the global society.
In general, NGOs involved in the issues of human rights have more achievements and influence in their practice. For instance, the International Commission of Jurists, Amnesty International, the Human Rights Watch, and the International Committee of the Red Cross have tried to influence states by applying human rights principles in particular environments. Likewise, other NGOS such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace work hold states responsible of global environmental standards. There is significant evidence which reveals that the functions of NGOs specifically in the practice of international relations have considerably contributed a lot to the global society; they have devoted themselves to benefit mankind. Some of them have even received the notable Nobel Peace Prize such as Amnesty International, Institute of International Law, among others.
Of the many approaches to evaluating the roles of NGOs in the field of international law, some dominant approach can be observed. For instance, the top down approach highlights conventional diplomacy where multilateral and bilateral bargaining is the main instrument ( ). What is more, the distribution of power and national interests are the main determinants of outcomes. Therefore, how NGOs influence governmentsâ€™ behavior is critical to such an approach. Another approach is bottom up that focuses on grassroots movements, community organizing, local decision making and local participation. The strength of such an approach lies in its capacity to encourage locally designed responses to meet local needs. NGOs normally perform very well in such an approach.
Over the last decades, the magnitude of NGOs in international relations has tremendously increased. NGOs fulfill various functions by employing various channels of influence and activities in promoting international understanding and cooperation. Specified functions ascertain NGOs as significant international elements, which have an influence in all stages of the political process though not all activities and functions may be of equal relevance for every political stages. For instance, whilst improving the knowledge base and guaranteeing that transparency appears to be relevant to all policy states. Likewise, lobbying and advocacy in delegations mainly relate to the process of policy making while support for international organizations and secretariats is not entirely limited to any policy stage.