Non-state actor


A non-state actor (NSA) is an individual or organization that has significant political influence but is not allied to any particular country or state.[1]

The interests, structure, and influence of NSAs vary widely. For example, among NSAs are non-profit organizations, labor unions, non-governmental organizations, banks, corporations, media organizations, business magnates, people's liberation movements, lobby groups, religious groups, aid agencies, and violent non-state actors such as paramilitary forces.



Some common and influential classes of NSAs are listed here in alphabetical order:

Effects on the Westphalian state model


The proliferation of non-state actors since the Cold War ended has been one of the factors leading to the Cobweb Paradigm in international politics.[5] Under this paradigm, the traditional Westphalian nation-state experiences an erosion of power and sovereignty, and non-state actors are part of the cause. Facilitated by globalization, NSAs challenge nation-state borders and sovereignty claims. MNCs are not always sympathetic to national interests but are loyal to the corporation's interests instead. NSAs challenge the nation-state's sovereignty over internal matters through advocacy for societal issues, such as human rights and the environment.[4]

Armed non-state actors operate without state control and are involved in internal and trans-border conflicts. The activity of such groups in armed conflicts adds layers of complexity to traditional conflict management and resolution. The conflicts are often fought not only between non-state actors and states but also between multiple NSA groups. Interventions in such conflicts is particularly challenging since international law and the norms governing the use of force for intervention or peacekeeping purposes were written primarily in the context of the nation-state.

Additionally, armed non-state actors have recently been held accountable to international law with the United Nations Security Council’s decision to allow the self-defense principle to be applied against an NSA. After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the US and the UN debated whether the right of self-defense, as protected by the UN Charter's Article 51, was applicable to armed non-state actors, in this case Al-Qaeda. Article 51 allows member states to pursue a preemptive self-defense if they know that an imminent attack is coming. Many issues still remain on the extent to which the potential victim state could retaliate against the armed NSA since most armed non-state actors often reside on the territory of a sovereign state, which thus may also endure a retaliatory or preemptive attack. The 9/11 attacks had a significant impact in demonstrating that non-state actors may be held accountable to international law and may contend in the political and the military arenas, alongside states.[6]

Example: Cotonou Agreement


The term Non State Actors is widely used in development cooperation, particularly under the Cotonou Agreement[7] between the European Union (EU) and African, Caribbean and Pacific ACP countries. The agreement uses the term to refer to a wide range of nongovernmental development actors whose participation in ACP-EU development cooperation is now formally recognized. According to Article 6, non-state actors include:

  • civil society in all its diversity, according to national characteristics;
  • economic and social partners, including trade union organisations and;
  • the private sector.

In practice, it means that participation is open to all kind of actors, such as community-based organisations, women's groups, human rights associations, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), religious organizations, farmers' cooperatives, trade unions, universities and research institutes, the media and the private sector. Also included in this definition are informal groups such as grassroots organizations, informal private sector associations, etc. The private sector, however, is considered only insofar as it is involved in non-profit activities (e.g. private sector associations, chambers of commerce, etc.)



Non-state actors can aid in opinion building in international affairs, such as the Human Rights Council. Formal international organizations may also rely on non-state actors, particularly NGOs in the form of implementing partners in the national context. An example is the contribution of COHRE (Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions), to the protection of land and property (HLP) rights in Kosovo by conceptualizing the Housing and Property Directorate (now Kosovo Property Agency) within the framework of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo.[8]

Non-state actors are fundamental agents in helping to achieve both national and international development goals, such as those around climate change. Actions by non-state actors contribute significantly towards filling the greenhouse gas emissions gap left by unambitious or poorly executed national climate policies, Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs).[9]

Another example that shows the importance of non-state actors in peace-building is the contribution of ICBL (International Campaign to Ban Landmines) to the international prohibition on the use of landmines. ICBL is a global network of NGOs that has operated in over 90 countries since 1992. Its primary goal is to make a world free of anti-personnel landmines. Their passionate advertising appealing for global cooperation drew Diana, Princess of Wales to become an ardent advocate. Together, they brought the issue to the United Nations General Assembly. ICBL's efforts led the international community to urge states to ratify the Ottawa Treaty (Mine Ban Treaty) in 1997, and its contribution was recognized and praised as it was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in the same year.[10]

Non-state actors also have a role in governance. While NSAs are incredibly useful in advancing international peace, monitoring human rights violations, and lobbying for socio-political issues like climate change, they also play a role in non-traditional governance. Many fragile states rely on non-state actors for protection and administration.[11] More traditional methods of governance include local courts and clans, on the other end, non-traditional NSA groups govern as paramilitaries or rebel groups. The importance of this is that in the last 20 years non-state actors have acquired legal recognition due to their heavy involvement in the international order. Their growing presence as an alternative governmental presence also holds them accountable to international law.[12]

See also



  1. ^ "non-state actor | Definition of non-state actor in English by Oxford Dictionaries". Oxford Dictionaries | English. Archived from the original on July 6, 2018. Retrieved 2018-07-06.
  2. ^ The Decentralized Autonomous Organization and Governance Issues. Regulation of Financial Institutions Journal: Social Science Research Network (SSRN). 5 December 2017.
  3. ^ "QUNO | Quaker United Nations Office". Retrieved 2018-01-18.
  4. ^ a b Rochester, Martin J. Between Two Epochs: What’s Ahead for America, the World, and Global Politics in the Twenty-First Century. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2002.
  5. ^ "The Impact of Non-State Actors on World Politics: A Challenge to Nation States". Muhittin Ataman. Retrieved 12 October 2018.
  6. ^ Weller, Marc (2010-09-02). Iraq and the Use of Force in International Law. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199595303.003.0005. ISBN 978-0-19-959530-3.
  7. ^ "Overview, The Cotonou Agreement". The Cotonou Agreement. European Commission. 10 May 2012. Archived from the original on 14 February 2014. Retrieved 11 June 2012.
  8. ^ K. Hassine, Regularizing Property Rights in Kosovo and Elsewhere, 2010, ISBN 978-3-86553-340-1
  9. ^ "Coordinating climate action: From the national to the local". Low Emission Development Strategies Global Partnership (LEDS GP). Retrieved 15 March 2016.
  10. ^ "Timeline of the international campaign to ban landmines" (PDF). The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL). Retrieved 15 January 2020.
  11. ^ Cheng, Christine (2018-06-21). "Extralegal Groups in Post-Conflict Liberia". Oxford Scholarship Online. doi:10.1093/oso/9780199673346.001.0001. ISBN 978-0-19-967334-6.
  12. ^ Non-state actors as standard setters. Peters, Anne, 1964-. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2009. ISBN 978-0-511-63551-9. OCLC 667016755.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)

Further reading

  • Chickering, Lawrence A., et al. Strategic Foreign Assistance: Civil Society in International Security. Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 2006.
  • Keck, Margaret E. and Kathryn Sikkink. Activists beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics. London: Cornell University Press, 1998.
  • San-Akca, Belgin. "States in Disguise: Causes of State Support for Rebel Groups." New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.
  • Sobelman, Daniel. "Four Years After the Withdrawal from Lebanon: Refining the Rules of the Game", Strategic Assessment, Vol. 7 No. 2, August 2004.
  • Warkentin, Craig. Reshaping World Politics: NGOs, the Internet, and Global Civil Society. New York: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2001.
  • Wagner, Markus. Non-State Actors. The Max Encyclopedia of Public International Law, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.
  • San-Akca, Belgin. "International Support for Nonstate Armed Groups", New York: Oxford Bibliographies. September 28, 2016.
  • "Non-State Actors and Their Significance"—Article on terrorists as NSAs, see section titled "Non-State Actors (NSAs): Who Are They?"