Sunday 01 September 2013

Today’s complex world is evolving to include an ever greater number of powerbrokers. Traditionally, analysts considered the nation-state as the fundamental element in global security, but since the end of World War II, non-state actors have taken on an expanding role in international affairs. This is important because most people trust that nation-states can be rational actors on the world scene; non-state actors add a significant element of uncertainty in an already complicated world.

Non-state actors are organizations with sufficient power to influence, or even change world events, even though they are not controlled by any state. According to Muhittin Ataman in Alternatives: Turkish Journal of International Relations, “the growth of so many kinds of non-state actors challenges and even weakens the ‘state-centric’ concept of international politics and replaces it with a ‘transnational’ system in which relationships are more complex.”

Some international organizations were created by agreement among sovereign states; these include the UN, the League of Arab States and the GCC. Many others, including the International Atomic Energy Agency and Médecins Sans Frontières, are at least officially documented by governments. However, other international actors are established not by nation-states, but by individuals; they have no legal bonds with nations, and therefore, are effectively beyond most national controls. Some terrorist organizations are examples of this brand of non-state actor, and this category should also include transnational corporations, such as Exxon, Microsoft, or Google, and individuals, such as Carlos Slim Helu and Bill Gates; some of whom have more economic assets than the GDPs of many states, and thus similar power.

Thus, the underlying assumption that states are the dominant actors in international relations is now contested; and, there is every reason to suppose that both states and non-state actors will vie for influence in the world to come. In some cases, states will undoubtedly be affected by non-state actors in ways they have not anticipated. Most people assume that international organizations will be the next most rational actors after states themselves, but they could also be far less civil; some could be focused simply on profit or could even work against states and other international organizations for other self-interested reasons. Nationstates may continue to receive most of our attention, but this new, more complex, transnational system will increasingly influence global security affairs.

Many questions remain to be answered. We do not yet know how international law will be affected by such organizations. Could the future see a convergence of interests and power by transnational organizations against states? Could international finance replace social structures as the primary basis of global power? We have few answers, but regardless of how things evolve, it is certain that non-state actors will remain influential and will add risk to the maintenance of security. For every instance when a transnational organization helps keep a rogue state from proliferating weapons, there may well be another incident when international affairs are influenced by a cooperate board or CFO, with very different ideals. These non-state actors will impact national security, and thus they bear close watching.