Non-Governmental Organizations as Diplomatic Actors

As a result, basing on the previous statement, globalization processes, gaining their power, facilitate the solution of complicated social, political, economic and humanitarian issues; contribute to the development of transnational relations, both at the level of international organizations, and at the level of interpersonal contacts between people.

In recent years, virtually all countries of the world marked a real explosion associated with the emergence of a large number of international NGOs (INGOs). Researchers of international NGOs, noting unusual activity in the creation of private, non-profit, voluntary organizations, associations and foundations, portend a coming of the so-called ‘revolution associative’ in the nearest future. Some researchers of this question also suggest assumption that the changing status of NGOs in the European and global institutions allows to suppose that they will play a dynamic role in various fields related to the reform and various areas of development in politics, education, health care, environment, human rights, and other spheres of social life in the coming years.

Being specific in the question, it becomes obvious that the increasing number of international NGOs and the tendency of their further growth occupy an active place due to several reasons, namely:

  • emergence of global problems;
  • insufficient capacity of individual states and international intergovernmental organizations to address global challenges;
  • strengthening of democratic processes in domestic and international relations, institutional expression of which are international non-governmental organizations;
  • transformation in the national interests of states (the transition from national interests, sovereignty to universal values such as human rights, health and environmental protection);
  • increasing desire of individuals around the world to increase control over decision-making processes on matters that affect their vital interests;
  • extending the capabilities of cross-border relations and the work of the public in different countries, as well as opportunities for technological progress.

The rapid expansion of the international non-governmental organizations, which contribute in many ways the mainstreaming of fundamental rights and freedoms in different areas of the world community’ life, was an important consequence of globalization. In today’s global political realities, a fact that the biggest challenge facing the world community is to ensure the survival of mankind as a society, becomes increasingly apparent.

At present an interpenetration of the main actors involved in globalization, including international non-governmental organizations in such areas of national states that have not previously been the subject to international humanitarian policy, exists (Kelley 286-305). For example, in the international non-governmental organizations in the field of human rights in the Russian Federation, special attention is paid to the protection of the child’s right for life. This can be explained, in particular, by the fact that exactly the health sector has become a key area of application of international NGOs’ forces in the frames of stabilization, since a health care system should be a guarantee of full and healthy lives of children.

In addition to this, there is no exaggeration to say that this and other similar initiatives by NGOs are a good complement to the efforts of international diplomacy to create a favorable climate for European and Asian, and even global cooperation. Often the role of NGOs is particularly noticeable on the background of ‘weak position’ of official state structures. Exactly this has happened during the preparation and holding of the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. It should be said that non-governmental organizations around the world have shown great interest in this event. For instance, the number of representatives of nongovernmental organizations who had participated in the Summit was twice as much as the number of the accredited journalists there (Betsill 38-95).

The relevance of the scientific analysis of NGOs is that there is no consensus about the role of NGOs in world politics, there is no clearly elaborated classification of NGOs; the form and ways of influence on international relations and political processes by NGOs are not studied enough, their potential in solving international issues and prospects for their further development is not fully defined. But, according to Cooper and Hocking, “the significant differences in mindset should not overshadow the fact, nevertheless, that there are solid reasons for bringing governments and NGOs closer together in the application of diplomacy” (Cooper and Hocking 367). Moreover, “one prominent former UK diplomat, in a book entitled Positive Diplomacy, has argued that: Good governance depends increasingly on non-governmental factors” (Cooper and Hocking 367). Thus, taking everything into consideration it will be logically to state that NGOs can be diplomatic actors.

Concerning the question about what advantages NGOs can bring to diplomatic engagement, it will be right to state at the very beginning of observation that NGOs, having a certain degree of their autonomy, are able to exert political influence on the behavior of states in various spheres of their interaction, as well as internationally. In this context, arguing the problem of autonomy, Clark stated that “the experience of the Anti-Slavery Society illustrates the pitfalls of the traditional limitations on NGO autonomy at the UN. In accordance with traditional NGO techniques in support of human rights, the Anti-Slavery Society from 1946 to 1966 operated on the principle that it would not publicize slavery ‘in the hope of securing governmental and international co-operation’ to end it” (Clark 39).

Afterwards, thinking about the definition of international non-governmental organizations, it is obvious that they are permanent associations of national unions, associations, societies of non-governmental character created to achieve common goals in health care, culture, education, science and technology, philanthropy, etc.; it is understandable that these structures generate new ideas that contribute to crisis management, problem solving, form new, innovative approaches to the various foreign policy issues.

One of the really existing, but unused at the global level capacities, is the recognition of the role of the partner states of their own societies in the face of numerous NGOs; these NGOs, working in the international arena, may increase the potential of their own state, raise its prestige in the face of the world public opinion and be favorable to foreign policy of the own government. However, many NGOs developing their foreign connections, believe that their efforts are active dissemination of objective information on the creative efforts of their countries and challenges it faces now, and in this sense they complement the international activities of state structures.

Specifying the advantages which NGOs can bring to diplomatic engagement, it is possible to explore the situation when one or another conflict may have its place in a country or over its borders. It is true that very often NGOs are interested in preventive policy. As a result, general (favorable) initial criteria for the implementation of preventive diplomacy can be reduced to the following general points which show them as advantages of NGOs diplomatic actions.

Firstly, it is the interest of all parties in conflict prevention. It is true that combination of interested parties in each case can be different in their composition, political weight and status, but de facto or/and de jure consensus on the prevention of impending conflict should be formed between them in any case.

Secondly, resolution of impending conflict should be of great importance for the international community and, above all, for the major players of international relations. Peaceful resolution of ethnic issues should be more preferable for conflict parties than military solution; the seriousness of the conflict must be aware at the early stage.

According to Forman and Segaar, the activity of NGOs, in some cases turned out to be really indispensable, especially in today’s conflicts, which are inherently characterized by within the country character and by poor ‘manageability’ of the irrational behavior of the parties, by their desire to shoot the works at any price, and also by a decentralization of power (Forman and Segaar 205-225). In addition, in most internal conflicts, the leaders who had no previous experience of political activity appeared on the stage. The above numerated features of conflicts made it difficult to influence on them by means of traditional, formal diplomacy.

There are several reasons. First of all, traditional diplomacy is focused more on working with formal structures and the political elite, which in this form is rarely involved in internal conflicts. The activity of non-governmental organizations also involves their influence on the mass level, which is a very important component of internal conflicts. They usually set good, extensive contacts among different populations. Working at the mass level, NGOs, compared with the official mediators, have at times more substantial information that reflects the true situation.

Thinking about possible risks NGOs might pose for diplomacy, it is understandable that a notable feature of our times is the growing influence of the masses on international relations and international law. In view of the fact that the world has fundamentally changed, there are a lot of problems and contradictions, both between states and between state parties, on the one hand, and between non-state participants (actors), on the other hand, which are directly reflected in the diplomatic and political practice. These contradictions and problems are the natural result of the objective historical process, and the most important factor that characterizes the current international situation.

The public masses in the faces of NGOs are strongly and actively intervene in solving global problems. Growing awareness of the reality of nuclear war, and, consequently, environmental disaster, the dilemma ‘to survive or die’ unite people, involving the millions of people from different continents in the antiwar and environmental movements, increasing capacity and effectiveness of mass action for the survival of humanity.

At the same time often benefits enjoyed by NGOs, who are representatives of the ‘track two diplomacy’, while the official diplomacy is considered to be ‘track one diplomacy’, can also be their own shortcomings. Thus, the vice-president of one of the largest U.S. non-governmental organization ‘World Vision’, A. S. Natsios said that, acting at the level of individual communities, nongovernmental organizations, in some cases have some difficulties in seeing the whole picture. They do not always have appropriate professional knowledge and skills that are often guided by different principles and operate in an uncoordinated way, which can complicate the situation (Natsios 337-361).

Analyzing the situation, there are several problem areas in relations between states and non-governmental organizations today: claims of NGOs on the role of global actors in international relations, which might compete with the modern states’ leaders; the attempts of the leaders of NGOs to become significant political figures, competing with government officials and institutions of political power.

Official diplomacy, encountering the above described difficulties, and the appearance of ‘track two diplomacy’ put forward the question about the relationship between non-governmental organizations with formal structures; on this base a new direction has appeared – ‘multi-track diplomacy’ (Diamond, L. and McDonald 16). The term implies cooperation of officials (‘track one diplomacy’) with unofficial representatives. Moreover, the ‘multi-track diplomacy’ presents in itself not just merge of the first two tracks, but also connects them to business entities, individuals, research and educational centers, religious leaders, community activists, lawyers and philanthropic organizations, representatives of mass media, and also promote distribution of various functions between them (Rassmussen 23-50).

It is noteworthy that a special interest in this new phenomenon comes from such countries as Sweden, when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs prepared the scientific report. A special place in it was given to the role of NGOs and their interaction with government agencies and international organizations (such as UN, OSCE). The report also contains recommendations aimed at streamlining the activities of intermediaries (Rassmussen 23-50).

The emergence of ‘multi-track diplomacy’ not only in conflict, but also in many other issues of international relations (in particular, within the framework of cooperation of NGOs with UN agencies) fundamentally changes the situation. ‘Multi-track diplomacy’ in the broadest sense is the best variation to fulfill the basic trends that are visible today in the development of the world for the purpose to activate the non-governmental actors, democratization, etc. The existence of ‘multi-track diplomacy ‘ shows that official diplomacy can adapt to new conditions, advancing ideas and proposals for UN reform, for the development of peacekeeping in the framework of international organizations, etc. (which is certainly important). Official diplomacy can do much and is already beginning to shape the future world order, creating a new type of actor, which combines in itself the actors of turbulent ‘transition’ period – formal and informal ones. To sum up, Cooper and Hocking mentioned that “of course, this process of transition presents both challenges as well as opportunities to diplomacy and those engaged in it”, but the world is ready for them and is even waiting them day after day (Cooper and Hocking, 375).

Thus, taking everything into consideration it is possible to conclude that we have observed NGOs as diplomatic actors in this project with many details. We have understood what place NGOs occupy in the range of diplomatic actors, what advantages they can bring to diplomatic engagement, and what risks they might pose for diplomacy. Making a research on the place of NGOs in contemporary world, it became obvious that international non-governmental organizations, being in fact the foundation of a global civil society, develop the basic objectives and principles of humanitarian policy at global, regional and national levels. Social protection of the legitimate rights and interests is currently being implemented in the new political and economic format – ‘state – NGOs’. The development of global network of NGOs and INGOs promotes new forms of international humanitarian policy, capable of providing a significant influence on political decision-making in international relations between states. This gives a foundation to suppose that diplomacy with the involvement of NGOs has the potential to become a tool or the driving force, which carries the active principle and which is able to determine the main outlines of the future development of the world.


Works cited:

Betsill, Michele Merrill. NGO diplomacy: the influence of nongovernmental organizations in international environmental negotiations. MIT Press, 2008. pp. 1-115.

Clark, Ann Marie. Diplomacy of Conscience: Amnesty International and Changing Human Rights Norms. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001. pp. 1-65, 124-141.

Cooper, Andrew F. and Hocking, Brian. Governments, Non-governmental Organisations and the Re-calibration of Diplomacy. Global Society, vol.14, no.3, July 2000, pp.361-376.

Diamond, L. and McDonald, J. Multi-Track Diplomacy: A System Approach to Peace. 2nd ed. Wash., 1993. pp. 10-58.

Forman, Shepard and Segaar, Derk. ‘New Coalitions for Global Governance: The Changing Dynamics of Multilateralism’, Global Governance, vol.12, no.2, April-June 2006. pp.205-225.

Hamilton, and Langhorne, R. The Practice of Diplomacy. Routledge, 1995. pp. 195-237.

Kelley, John Robert. ‘The New Diplomacy: Evolution of a Revolution’, Diplomacy and Statecraft, vol.21, no.2, June 2010. pp.286-305.

Natsios, A.S. An NGO Perspective. Peacemaking in International Conflicts: Methods and Techniques. Ed. by I. W. Zartman and J. L. Rasmussen. Wash., 1997. pp. 337-361.

Rassmussen, J.L. Peacemaking in the Twenty-First Century: New Rules, New Roles, New Actors. Peacemaking in International Conflicts: Methods and Techniques. Ed. by I. W. Zartman and J. L. Rasmussen. Wash., 1997. pp. 23-50.

Sharp, P. Who Needs Diplomats. International Journal, Vol. 52, no. 4, Autumn 1994. pp. 609-634.