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II. Introduction: Evolving History and Nomenclature
III. Theories That Bind the NSA and NGO Community
IV. Applications and Agency of NSAs in International Relations
A. Nongovernmental Organization Actions
V. Critical Issues of NGO Performance
VI. Policy Implications
VII. Future Directions
Few could doubt that the number of organizations active in international affairs has grown sharply and that today’s international relations have become more complex. These organizations go by many names—nonstate actors (NSAs), nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), private voluntary organizations (PVOs), grassroots organizations (GSOs), civil society organizations (CSOs)—sometimes used interchangeably or meant by others to signal differences of activity, structure, or purpose. Today’s increasingly networked set of associations and institutions produce profound changes in the global political and economic orders.
This research paper reviews the importance of NSAs in today’s international relations. Because NGOs, as an NSA, capture significant political and academic attention, they will be highlighted and discussed separately. Following an introduction that raises historical issues of NSAs and NGOs, the research paper moves through a discussion of theories for the study of NSAs, an overview of the work of some NSAs and NGOs in today’s world, common critiques of the NGO sector in society, and closes with thoughts on future directions for study.
II. Introduction: Evolving History and Nomenclature
The decade from which we have just emerged, the 1980’s, was a time of growing recognition that we live in a world in profound crisis a world of dehumanizing poverty, collapsing ecological systems, and deeply stressed social structures. An awareness is dawning that these are not isolated problems. Many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) became increasingly aware during the 1980’s that the leadership needed to deal with the underlying causes of the human tragedy was not being provided by governments. Governments and international agencies themselves came to acknowledge the ability of NGOs to do what governments have proven unable to do, i.e., to get a range of essential goods and services to the poor. Yet growing numbers of NGOs also recognized that their own efforts were too meager, and too often focused on the consequences of system failure rather than the underlying causes of this failure . . . In their attempts to deal with the reality some NGOs have sought increases in government funding to expand their service delivery capabilities. Others have questioned the nature of their more conventional roles and asked whether they may need to rethink their approaches to development actions to get at the real causes of the human suffering that motivates their action. (Korten, 1990, p. 6)
This statement, written in anticipation of the then new millennium by a scholar of state and civil society interaction, laid out many strands of conventional wisdom regarding NSAs in international relations. The argument runs as follows. A structural change occurred in global politics (the end of the cold war) that opened the door for increased NSA activity, NGO activity, or both. This opportunity widened further when past policies had not removed the specter of human tragedy and want in a world of increasingly interconnected problems leading to a sense of impending urgency and crisis. States and international governmental organizations (IGOs) recognized their limitations in this changing world as well as the capacities of NSAs and NGOs to deliver services, giving them added legitimacy, respect, and prestige. These same organizations experienced not only the systemic transitions that the increased service possibilities provided by states and IGOs afforded them but also the equally challenging internal changes to their organizational missions and networks when confronted with global challenges and a new value-added identity. This internal set of questions challenged core assumptions of NGOs: Whose are they or whom do they represent, and what is the best means for solving global problems for the poorest people?
Nearly 20 years have elapsed since the statement was written. In between, the Soviet Union collapsed; the European Union expanded; the war on terrorism and the attacks of September 11, 2001, are nearly a decade old; climate change and globalization have become almost household words; information technology encircles the planet; and China and India have become economic giants. Even with all this, many of the aforementioned assumptions and thoughts are still in place and readily repeated by scholars and practitioners alike.
Defining which are NSAs and agreeing on terms has been difficult for international relations. One broadly inclusive text on the work of NSAs in international politics describes them as the organizations that come from civil society, the market economy, or from a political impulse, largely independent from government for funding and control, who operate across the boundaries of two or more states, and who act to affect political outcomes (Josselin & Wallace, 2001). In this way, the Roman Catholic Church, an organized crime syndicate involved in narco-terrorism, a public-policy think tank, Ford Motor Company, CARE, and even political parties that engage democratization training all fall under the umbrella of being NSAs engaged in international relations. Al Qaeda also finds a home in this definition. The breadth of this definition makes generalization difficult.
Two interrelated yet different concepts within this discussion are civil society or the civil society organization, and NGO, which is often interchanged with PVO. This is the case, for instance, for registry with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Civil society is the older of the terms, bringing such historical antecedents as the works of Alexis de Tocqueville and earlier voices of the Enlightenment. More current reflections of civil society embrace much of the category of the NSA while separating outmarket, governmental, and family institutions and organizations. Civil society generally involves some form of collective action anchored by common or shared values and interests and may be observed through formalized institutions as well as less formal and transient social movements. In this case, the civil society universe is shared by all of the street protestors and antiglobalization movements at the 1999World Trade Organization meetings in Seattle, as well as a labor union, a nonprofit organization, a foundation, a cooperative, or again the NGO.
Nongovernmental organization is a more self-limiting term and is often the first agent thought of as an NSA. NGOs are important since much of the research available on NSAs in international relations does not track narcotics organizations, think tanks, or local agricultural cooperatives. A vast amount of literature follows the political work and relevance of NGOs. But even here there are difficulties on account of the ubiquitous success of the NGO. The growing lexicon includes large international NGOs (INGOs), government sponsored or organized NGOs (GONGOs), and local and indigenous grassroots support organizations (GROs and GSOs). CSO is sometimes a synonym with GSO, while other NGOs may be technical aid agencies (TANGOs). Some NGOs are international, private sector, for-profit programs and consulting corporations (ICCs). The ICC is an anomaly in the discussion of NGOs but operates in the same global milieu and competes for funding and programs. In addition to institutional size and the primary level of agency (international, national, or local) in which the NGO participates, an NGO may be an operational service provider, an advocacy NGO that seeks to change public policies or educate constituencies, or a donor of resources to more local NGOs and networks.
The history of NSA involvement in international affairs is almost as complex as the identity of the actors. By tracing the registered start-ups of nonstate and nonprofit organizations, Boli and Thomas (1999) identify three global growth spurts for NSA and NGO development. These included the latter quarter of the 19th century through 1915, the years between the wars, and a steady increase in the number of agencies after 1945. Missionary societies, humanitarian assistance agencies (such as the International Red Cross), and professional and labor-related organizations dominated the first period of growth, while a number of philanthropic organizations (such as the Ford Foundation) and emergency relief organizations (such as Save the Children) began between the war years. Many of today’s INGOs (Catholic Relief Services, Lutheran World Relief, Church World Service, and CARE) started at the end of World War II, leading to an explosion of NGO growth from the late 1960s onward. Though the earliest NGOs tended to be global in scope, the greatest recent growth has been in regional and grassroots NGOs that are linked by transnational networks. The growth of INGOs (or NGOs and any other NSA) is born out by the numbers— 200 organizations in 1900 and nearly 6,000 by the end of the century, most which focus on economic, technical, and scientific programming or regulation.
One conclusion of this research paper is that the evolution of roles and activity for NSAs in international relations continues. These activities have intensified, diversified, and expanded even more than scholars at the end of the cold war imagined. At the same time, there has been continuity of service (humanitarian relief services or development programming), too, in keeping with the optimistic assessment of NGOs when the post–cold war world was young. The next section grapples with the history and emerging identities of NSAs and reviews some of the discussions of these agents in international relations theory. Because of their significance, NGOs will be separated alongside their wide range of capacities and levels of activity in the global system.
III. Theories That Bind the NSA and NGO Community
Interest in the work of NSAs has expanded along with their numbers. Because NSAs do so many things in different spheres of activity, placing them within one theory of international relations also becomes more difficult. NSAs and NGOs complicate the theoretical environment.
Realist theories have dominated international relations, foreign policy, and security studies since the middle of the 20th century. It would be difficult to begin examining the importance of NSAs and NGOs in international relations by relying only on realist theories. The realist presupposition for systemic anarchy where states must act, often violently, to maintain their security and national interests leaves little room for NSA impact in the global order. Neorealists take more account of NSAs and NGOs in the processes of international relations. However, their presence provides new places for the state to regulate, govern, and intervene. This may be especially important since there has been uneven growth in the presence and capacities of NSAs and NGOs in today’s global order (more in the global North than in the global South) that help maintain a traditional hierarchy of states and IGOs (Smith & Wiest, 2005).
International relations liberalism has traditionally described a world order that is less dependent on states to monopolize power. Liberalism makes space for transnational interaction between states and IGOs as well as major economic institutions such as MNCs, thereby redistributing power across the global system. Liberalism highlighted the importance of global norms and human rights in international relations. The theory of complex global interdependence introduced a flattened hierarchy of issues beyond state security; posited a lessening of the importance of militaries for today’s international relations; and developed an argument for multiple channels of political engagement to connect important actors, issues, and global agendas (Keohane & Nye, 1989). Turbulence theories expanded on the reality of a multicentric world (as opposed to a state-centered one) by highlighting multiple centers of authority, how local and subnational agents produce order and disorder, and the importance of skills and capacity development that allow more organizations and individuals to be stakeholders in international affairs. The turbulent world enmeshes macro- and microagents in a cascading process of change where states rely more heavily on private and nongovernmental resources (Rosenau, 1990).
Several theories use the regulative and dialogical relationships between states and nonstates to explain enhanced global cooperation. Regime theories reviewed how the relationships between states and international regulations produced global order and ways that nonstates helped in sustaining these international regimes. Here NSAs, and in particular the increasing presence of NGOs, play important roles in sustaining international issue-specific regimes. Theorists of epistemic communities—global communities of knowledge experts sharing insights and normative commitments from their field of expertise—focus on ways such communities influence states and public policies, especially when states must rely on these communities to better understand complex interlinkages among issues and causes (Haas, 1992).
Another set of theories that investigates the place, role, and expansion of NSAs are the works of authors using world polity, world culture, and transnational theories. Indebted to an international society and rooted in globalization studies, world polity ascribes a long-term trend of an increasing commonality of values that had its origins in European states and European global dominance from the late 18th century forward and intensified in the second half of the 20th century. World polity thinkers identify NSAs, NGOs, and the wider scientific community (epistemic communities, think tanks, and academia) as important conduits of a common world culture that relies on scientific and technologic aptitudes, increased professional organization of activity, rationalism, and individualism for its core values. NGOs become transmitters of this world polity and culture in a system headed by states and IGOs (Boli, 2005). Any evidence of an expanding world culture and an increasing number of NSAs does not remove the presence of competition and conflict with surges toward cooperation and harmony in the global order. Transnational theory builds on an international society model by incorporating NSAs into a more elaborate process for making a less hierarchical and transnational society where NSA and NGO influence augments the world of states and IGOs (Naidoo, 2006).
Constructivism contributes to the understanding of NSAs and NGOs, especially to the importance constructivism places on identities, values, and differences of meaning in the international system. Each international actor’s roles are socially constructed or defined and evolve within the system of global realities and relationships. Constructivist theory accommodates the work of NSAs and NGOs because the international system is not a fixed and unchanging place. Constructivist theory is used to contextualize a wide range of activities and issues for NGOs, identify their places in the global order, and better understand their powers of persuasion, moral authority, and communicative capacity (Ahmed & Potter, 2006).
The idea that NSAs and NGOs operate within an evolving agenda of competition, cooperation, and at times conflict with the work of states leads to theories where the institutions of the state intersect with those of civil society. Complicated relationships are created as states and their societies share characteristics of weakness and strength resulting in both nonviolent and violent change (Migdal, 1988; Ndegwa, 1996).
Discursive theories, building on the communication capacities in the nonstate sector, focus on changes in policy brought by the presence of nonstate agents in public policy debates. Using concepts such as legacy discourses versus new discourses to identify competitive meanings brought by the performance of new actors such as NGOs, discursive theory investigates how existent overlapping discourses alter the way public space is perceived and the resulting new institutions that may result. Much of the work in this area is developing and uses case study analysis to describe and assess results (Maguire & Hardy, 2006).
A useful metaphor for how NGOs work globally might be the bridge or the act of bridging. The NGO acts as a middle agent with several capacities and is therefore able to bridge across levels of society, among population groups, and between issues in order to facilitate transactions, increase networking between global and local actors, or solve problems. Thus, the NGO operates as a facilitator, negotiator, advocate, and sometimes a catalyst for program development and social change (Sikkink, 1993).
Some theories of the international political economy help to understand the operations of NSAs and NGOs. Organizations including MNCs, development NGOs, global crime syndicates, and think tanks such as the International Food Policy Research Institute all contribute to and sustain the global political economy. Susan Strange (1994) provided a complex vision for the political economy that included four interdependent structures that produce competing pressures and influences to sustain global power relationships. For Strange, the forces that structure technology, knowledge, and the world’s productive capacities are highly relevant to a discussion of NSAs, especially the work of NGOs and MNCs.
And finally, the dialogue within globalization as the world’s political economy provides many scholarly and popular theoretical references relevant to the work of NSAs and NGOs. The works of Thomas Friedman and Walden Bello provide two very different vantage points on globalization and the importance of NSAs in the world economy. Friedman’s (2005) flat world is another form of world culture arising in our time. There could be a harmony of interests as globalization progresses. Bello’s (2002) NSAs would better serve all by resisting globalization and the regulations and institutions that uphold hegemonic power.
IV. Applications and Agency of NSAs in International Relations
NSA activities in global politics are legion. NSAs are active, systemically interacting with IGOs and regional organizations; with states, operationally providing services or advocating for public policies; and in grassroots society. The term nonstate actor, as explored earlier, describes a broad set of actors whether providing productive services or engaged in negative and violent behavior. NGOs are the largest component of the NSA community, and their work is highlighted in the next section. Few issues areas do not attract the attention of NSAs or NGOs. States and IGOs have increased their use of NSAs, and texts on globalization (Josselin & Wallace, 2001) speak to their increased importance for the global economy for building capacities and skills and sharing information and technology to the world’s peoples. This section begins by addressing selective activities of lesser-known NSAs, in particular the roles of think tanks, religions, and transnational criminal actors before addressing the work of NGOs. The work of multinational corporations and international terrorist groups also fit the NSA categories, but these are covered more extensively in other research papers.
Although older think tanks such as the Brookings Institution in the United States began before World War II, and other larger think tanks started after the war with the establishment of the UN system and the cold war’s bipolar structure, the largest growth in think tanks emerged after 1970 because of an emerging crisis or in support of an increasingly dominant and global neoliberal economic model. Think tanks provide research, program assessments, expertise, and consultative services on social policy issues, generally to IGOs and governments, but are also sought out by media outlets and other NGOs. Their research is intended for the development of public policy while interacting globally with other think tanks and NSAs. Think tanks may initially have started as centers for general study, innovation, and objective knowledge, but today’s think tanks are more diverse. Think tanks may be highly specialized in their focus (such as the NGO embedded Bread for the World Institute), ideologically conservative (the CATO Institute) or left of center (Institute for Agriculture, Trade, and Development), located in the developing world (Focus on the Global South) for the purposes of challenging Western knowledge and the policy prescriptions of IGOs, linked to a national government (United States Institute for Peace), contribute expertise to the public policy concerns of a region (the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre), or to the global needs of the United Nations (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research).
In addition to creating knowledge, an increasingly important component of think tanks in an interdependent world is their ability to transfer ideas and schemes among recipients, thereby increasing their global outreach. Formal and informal policy networks, epistemic communities, and international conferences aid in this activity.
Think tanks transfer ideas and ideologies, policy proposals and justifications, personnel and expertise, as well as documents for policy discussion and exchange. They are a pool of knowledge, resources, and expertise concerning the policies of other countries, localities, or regions. They help transfer the intellectual matter that underpins policies. Institutes can provide the rhetoric, the language and the scholarly discourse to give substance and legitimacy to preferred policy options. Such arguments can then be used by other actors in govern mental or party political debates involving policy transfer. (Stone, 2001, p. 353)
Think tanks accentuate influence by positioning themselves in relation to significant global actors, providing the language and examples that become established assumptions for solving global problems, and through their evaluation of policy prescriptions and programs.
Religious organizations can also be NSAs. Sometimes identified as “moral-entrepreneurs” (Colonomos, 2001) who are able to mobilize people and organizations for ethical positions of support or protest or viewed through the actions taken by religious elites, religions have been longtime participants in international relations. With their leaders, constituencies, principles and ideological positions, and physical and financial resources, religions may operate like any organized political interest group. With increasing frequency, research devoted to religion(s) in international relations, the political economy, or foreign policy (Cheng & Brown, 2006; Hanson, 2006) recognize the importance of religious communities and leaders in international affairs. Individual case studies of religious activism on issues of conflict, social justice, the economy, women and minorities, or human rights are still more common. Many religions maintain offices of governmental affairs in national capitals or in IGO headquarter cities (New York or Geneva) that provide information to governments while simultaneously advocating their policy positions.
The increasing importance of NSAs in a globalizing world has not always been progressive. The same opportunities that promote NGOs, think tanks, or MNCs to operate—more porous boundaries, increased socioeconomic transactions, and the importance of information technology—assist organizations that may be considered less desirable in today’s world. Much has been written about terrorist groups and violent religious fundamentalist organizations since the tragic events of September 11, 2001, and research is filling gaps on current terrorist analysis and the activities of organized religious fundamentalists. Less well covered is transnational organized crime.
An exception focuses on the structure of narcotics trafficking, narcotics cartels, the global regulations that affect them, and the international system of agencies required for the financing and distribution of narcotics products. In this case, the illegal narcotics industry was analyzed using an international commodity model not unlike those monitoring any MNC product, with one major difference—financial lack of transparency and money laundering (Mares, 2006). Similar research is now becoming available on aspects of global sex trafficking.
A. Nongovernmental Organization Actions
By sheer numbers, NGOs dominate the world of NSAs. Their history is marked by expansion—expanding numbers, responsibilities, issues, and evolving practices due to their successful or failed practices. NGOs operate with the UN, among state governments, in grassroots communities, and transnationally. They include large INGOs whose programs are in dozens of countries, employing thousands of workers, funded by numerous (states, foundations, or IGOs) donors, and whose budgets run into the millions of dollars. NGOs can be as small as a single project in a village staffed by few employees and supported by one donor. NGOs divide functionally among agencies that provide humanitarian emergency services, those that are operational in program delivery for economic development, and those that focus on influencing public policy or broadening human rights applications through advocacy and education. Many (such as Church World Service) provide all three services—humanitarian relief, operational and technical services, and public policy work. When viewed holistically, NGO presence and program application in international affairs are as impressive as they are confounding for easy analysis.
Some of the earliest NGOs were extensions of religious communities (such as the Mennonite Central Committee and the Mennonite church, Catholic Relief Services, or Lutheran World Relief) offering voluntary humanitarian assistance to war or famine victims, refugees, or displaced persons and originating around a major war of the 20th century (Lutz, 1994). They never relinquished these services even though their programs would expand across time. These same early NGOs moved their attention away from postwar Europe to the developing and newly independent states of Asia and Africa as colonialism ended. Religious agency still commands a significant part in NGO activities, but these, too, have diversified beyond any European, North American, or Judeo-Christian roots (Bond, 2004; Sullivan, 1994).
The 1990s onward have been decades of growth for NGOs and GROs. Several events and trends converged to catapult NGOs into greater prominence. These included the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, where thousands of NGOs came and showed the strength of transnational civil society and the end of the cold war, general disillusionment with World Bank and International Monetary Fund structural adjustment programs of the 1980s, a return to poverty alleviation models, increased interest in democratization by civil society, a diminishing pool of foreign assistance, and the greater willingness among states to involve NGOs in issues where they had been less prominent.
Development NGOs turned to interventions that would increase indigenous participation in sustainable development programs by increasing the capacities of local GROs. Complaints that this had not been achieved after decades of modernization-directed development assistance were the poignant cry of poor people from around the world (Narayan, 2000).
Several directions consumed donor NGOs in their efforts to increase participation, skills, and social capacity through sustainable grassroots networks as the best means for poverty alleviation. The first was that agriculture and the performance of smallholder farmers needed sustained technical improvements, access to credit and markets, and cooperative arrangements that could assist against the problems of access and scale in the global economy. NGOs would target women—another traditionally ignored population for state-centric industrialization projects— especially in programs of health care and literacy, agriculture, and human rights (Edwards & Gaventa, 2001; Kevane, 2004). The success stories of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh raised interest for microfinance, credit, and enterprise programs. And last, NGO activism in environmental sustainability has influenced policy agendas; provided research; monitored treaties; and encouraged conservation, sustainable land use, and appropriate technology (Ahmed & Potter, 2006).
Global security became a new investment area for NGO activity (Mbabazi & Shaw, 2000), prompting inter-NGO dialogue on how to resolve security challenges while at the same time creating safe spaces for NGO personnel (Avant, 2007). As service providers, NGOs would remove forgotten landmines and become involved in the reintegration and psychosocial trauma realities of returning child soldiers and the village victims of civil conflicts (Kumar, 1997). NGOs led global advocacy and education during the highly successful international campaign to ban landmines while others became active to mediate violent conflict (Yarrow, 1978).
V. Critical Issues of NGO Performance
Since much has been written praising NGO performance and capacity (Korten, 1990), it is not surprising that they have become open for critical evaluation. The issues include accountability, representation, legitimacy, and in some cases their politicization.
Some debates have been longstanding within the NGO assessment literature. An early voice from the 1970s preceded the future growth of NGOs. The analyst used a rational choice methodology to examine how multiple influences (mission statements, boards, agency worldview, leaders, and audience) impact choices of agency behavior. The research suggested that internal concerns (such as leadership, board influence, budget, and funding) mattered more than mission beliefs and service audience. The research uncovered that NGO advocacy was often directed toward the maintenance concerns of the agency. The early critique offered a comparison on whether NGOs were more idealistic or interested in income maximization and whether they tended to be active in relief programs or liberation. Conclusions favored income maximization and the relief agenda over idealism and long-term sustainability (Lisner, 1977).
Obviously, NGO roles and information have expanded. But the early study elicited questions regarding the legitimacy of NGO claims, whether the NGO is accountable to its mission, and whether they represented their internal constituencies and funders more or spoke for the poorest of the poor. This latter criticism over linkage between donors and the poor was significant since it reflected on the basic assumption of the NGO’s place in the global system (Carroll, 1992).
A thorough examination of relationships among governments, donors, and NGOs was necessary, especially following the cold war and the expanded presence of NSAs and NGOs. One important set of cases of Western and non-Western NGOs concluded that donor influence was greater on NGOs than vice versa and that NGOs would have to return to their roots if they were to maintain their effectiveness in the fields of poverty alleviation and development. The conclusions reflected the concern that the supply side of new resources did not always match well with a less articulated demand side of needs and capacities. Though not without successes, a cautious conclusion for the northern NGO that became increasingly linked to governments and donors was the necessity to understand the risks of getting larger, the accountability issues between the NGO and grassroots CSOs, and the NGO’s purpose as an intermediary (Hulme & Edwards, 1997).
Accountability and legitimacy are inseparable for NGOs. What they do, who they are, and the norms they espouse intersect with their various stakeholders. They are vertically accountable to their funders and horizontally accountable to their mission. Thus, NGOs must be measured by their performance and the meaning they give to performance criteria. Performance accountability gets related to the transparency of the agency, the cost-effectiveness of the programming, the ability to reach the world’s poorest, the ability to increase participation and assist in global democratization, and the empowerment of local capacities in the developing world, among others. Discussions about accountability often center on the functional concerns of how funds are used and short-term impacts sustained by the NGO’s program, while a more interpreted and strategic accountability relates to long-term objectives, any enhanced on-the-ground capacities, as well as impact on wider development-actor relationships. Functional and strategic criteria are both essential for intermediary NGOs that connect systemic agents (states, donors, and IGOs) and the stakeholders of grassroots communities through their normative claims.
NGOs have engaged in a spirited dialogue about improving accountability. Enhanced accountability might be achieved by using learning assessments, since the process of development can never be fully achieved and is unique to every set of programs and actors; the use of social audits; the formation of citizen oversight groups within programs; or regular forums for dialogue that reform and create better international institutions (Ebrahim & Weisband, 2007; Edwards & Hulme, 1996).
A last set of issues that have dogged NGOs has been questions over their neutrality and politicization. Neutrality has been essential for humanitarian service organizations such as the International Red Cross during and after violent conflict. Clearly, an organization may express norms (such as use the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights), maintain a privileged position of the poor in discussions about economic growth, or choose behaviors (participate in global advocacy campaigns) that may shift their work toward favored standards or constituencies (and away from a strict neutrality). NGOs that proclaim neutrality and yet are committed to specific ideological claims are criticized. One such study reviewed the programs of a respected development NGO, Oxfam UK, and provided a history of Oxfam shifting positions about sustainable development during the Ujamaa campaigns of then Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere. Citing policy statements, leader positions, and campaigns, the research argued that a bias toward Nyerere’s views and an ongoing Tanzanian project became Oxfam’s ideology for programs worldwide (Jennings, 2002). More acerbic was David Rieff’s (2002) commentary arguing that NGOs lose their usefulness by abandoning neutrality and that the cause of independent humanitarianism standing outside of political processes had been irreparably harmed for the NGO community, world society, and people in need.
VI. Policy Implications
When so many different political actors work in overlapping issues, serve multiple constituencies, and operate at every social level and everywhere, policy coordination has been and will continue to be a concern. How does one bring about institutional and programmatic efficiencies and leverage resources and agency interrelationships at the same time? What institutions need to be built or reformed to provide and monitor economic and political development, encourage trade while overseeing global financial flows, or contain conflicts enmeshed with issues of identity that spill across boundaries? Should new regional and global institutions be crafted, or should informal and decentralized approaches dominate?
The discussions on challenges to NGOs brought out the concerns of legitimacy, accountability, and the representative quality of the agencies. The fact that this assessment dialogue was taking place in house (a form of self-regulation) might be applauded, while others would challenge the objectivity of the results. Similar intra- and interagency policy questions can be raised about the performance of MNCs and think tanks. Where studies emerge about illegal NSAs, such as worldwide narcotics trafficking, current policy cases focus on issues of production or consumption and degrees of punishment or tolerance, while global dialogues about results are less prevalent.
The collaborations between different NGOs are just one of many emerging partnership models in the evolving work of NSAs. The discussions in the United States about faith-based initiatives and agencies indicated how heated and ambiguous the nature of these emerging partnerships might be. In recent years, these collaborating partnerships have included one of the world’s largest bilateral development organizations, United States Agency for International Development, with individual religious communities working overseas on local development projects. Wondering about the policies required to monitor the collaboration and assessment of thousands of small organizations engaged in the global mission of international development that do not hinder innovation, entrepreneurship, human rights, and privacy concerns stretches the imagination even more.
VII. Future Directions
In many ways, future research on NSAs of all types, and NGOs in particular, has never been more diverse and fertile. Several questions have been raised along the way where more work should be done—on NSAs and international relations theory or the increased importance of assessment and comparative studies of NSA and NGO accountability and legitimacy after they have become a growth factor in international politics. Organizations that were overlooked in the past by international relations, such as religious organizations, other cultural identity agencies, even the place and roles of individuals with significantly demanded skills, require further research. The efficacy of NGOs in issues traditionally handled by states or IGOs— such as conflict, security, and peace building—continues to demand attention even as definitions of security and threat analysis evolve. Work on transnational relations and the global networks that tie organizations together across state and systemic boundaries to pursue common causes has begun and provides ample room for growth. As the work of NSAs evolves and diversifies, so do the partnerships that bring them together. Understanding the multiple collaborations possible between public, nonprofit, and private sector actors in the ongoing needs of a public good, such as global environmental protections and policies, is just one blended area of research that challenges available models and concepts to analyze the collaborations’ effect. These thoughts suggest that understanding the work of NSAs will demand greater attention to interdisciplinary approaches and the hybridity of analysis and theoretical modeling that makes the modern world, perhaps, postmodern.
Though NSAs have been involved in international relations for many years, they have seldom been as involved or entrusted with the range and depth of the world’s challenges as they have today. They provide resources, employment, and improve social capacities while engaged as donors, partners, operational service providers, public policy advocates, and to a lesser degree, violent, criminal components of a global civil society. They have had remarkable resilience and an ability to evolve into new or different organizations, in pursuit of changing missions. NSAs will continue to be vital and necessary agents among global systems, in collaboration with states, among grassroots communities, and linked together as transnational networks forming triangular relationships with sovereign states and IGOs yet blending with local communities and peoples.
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