The impact of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) on both the processes and machinery of diplomacy


Seminar Paper, 2005

29 Pages, Grade: Merit, 68 %


Excerpt

Introduction

While there are less than 200 governments in the global political system, there are approximately 60.000 major transnational companies (TNCs), about 10.000 single-country Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), 250 Intergovernmental Organizations (IGOs) and approximately 5.800 International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOs).[1] Crucially, the advent of globalization that brought about democratisation of international relations, transnational links and diffusion of power has greatly effected the large proliferation of so-called non-governmental (transnational) actors.[2]

This paper will attempt to give insight into the specific role of (both national as well as international) NGOs as they touch the international diplomatic realm. The paper also seeks to analyse whether this makes a significant difference for both processes and machinery of diplomacy as the particular adopted patterns, techniques and institutions of interaction and communication in the infrastructure of the international arena.

While doing so, we will necessarily touch some controversial views that might claim different truths regarding the same facts that we are about to discuss. Although this is not (yet) the place to engage any deeper conceptual theoretical analysis, it is worthwhile to note shortly, that the state-centric approach of the realist school of thought will inevitably assign other – less important – impacts to the activities of NGOs than the pluralistic understanding of our modern political system, and will prescribe other modi to deal with activities of civil society groups. The foundation for these different biases regarding the importance of NGOs undoubtedly lies within the different theoretical premises into which both poles of thinkers venture. While wishing to allow the reader to explore some evidence that we have gathered, we will leave any further conclusions for a later moment.

For the purpose of our analysis, we suggest to use the – by necessity selective – example of the World Trade Organization (WTO), as the inter-governmental body that deals with the rules of worldwide trade, a “central issue in national, regional and international politics”[3].

Certainly, we should keep in mind that we ought to avoid the temptation of muddying the water of clear analysis by deducing general insights from single cases.[4] However, the WTO seems to epitomise an organisation in which actors of civil society, particularly NGOs, have been able to play an exceptional role in the diplomatic interface and to craft a system that we might call “multi-lobbyist and public-concerns-focussed diplomacy”. Here, we can perceive a distinctive “linkage between governments, business and NGOs”.[5] Finally, we might be able to verify this as a tendency in world politics in the face of an increasingly complex and multilayered manifestation of power, many substantial limits and obstacles that still exist notwithstanding.

In order to be clear about our framework of analysis, we would equally like to point out that we will approach our question from two different “sets of influences”[6]. Firstly, we will highlight some of the approaches undertaken by NGOs towards the WTO, and secondly, we will portray some of the (both reactive and self-initiated) approaches of the WTO towards NGOs. After having revealed some examples of these two factors, we want to engage in a critical stance and attempt to highlight a number of deficits in these relationships and therefore draw attention to the key limits in which changes have been able to occur.

The Analysis

Much has altered in the evolution from the early stages of the so-called GATT during its metamorphose into the WTO, and as Sally points out, far-reaching “structural shifts – economic, political and legal – have been undertaken”[7] to give the GATT-successor, created in 1995, it’s actual physiognomy.[8] Not only the now 148 member states are part of an increasingly extensive diplomatic gathering. Also NGOs are a component of the “mounting degree of complexity”[9]. Whereas in the early GATT-trade rounds, NGOs virtually didn’t appear on the list of conference participators,[10] over 950 civil society associations – among them many NGOs – (with up to three representatives apiece) were eligible to attend the Fifth Ministerial Conference at Cancún in September 2003.[11]

Before engaging in any concrete examination or conceptualisation of NGOs’ activities in the field of diplomacy, we want to briefly state what exactly we mean by this term, NGO. In accordance with the UN definition of an (“acceptable”) NGO[12], we wish to refer to:

- any group of people relating to each other regularly
- in some formal manner and
- engaging in collective action,
- provided that the activities are non-commercial,
- non-violent and are
- not on behalf of a government.

In keeping with this description, we are made to understand that companies, criminals, and guerrillas are literally non-governmental, but that they are indeed not NGOs in the above sense. Companies essentially unfold commercial activities and seek profit. Both criminals and guerrilla organisations are groups of people that are involved in a violent pursuit of their (political or other) goals.[13]

NGOs are impossible to be placed in one single category. Also conceptualisations traditionally used for the different functions of diplomats like “Generalists, Specialists and Managers”[14] are not apt to give a thorough description of what kind of diplomatic personality we are facing here. Essentially, they are engaged in a fairly versatile and stratified field of activities (inter alia issues of humanitarian, environmental, developmental, ethical, and religious concerns as well as working conditions, animal welfare, and human rights issues etc.).[15] The multitude of NGOs exhibit widely differing constituencies, institutional forms, sizes, resource levels, geographical scopes, historical experiences, cultural contexts, agendas, goals and tactics.[16]

Having said this, we firstly want to have a closer look at some of the effects that the approach of NGOs to the WTO has had on the diplomacy being conducted in this field.

Effects of WTO approaches to NGOs

One of the most important shifts in the process of diplomacy has been driven by numerous approaches of NGOs that aim at more direct participation of NGOs in negotiations. In the Doha-meeting of the WTO in 2001, NGOs were increasingly seen to shift their work from “behind the scenes” towards operational mechanisms from the “inside” by working very closely with governments in a tactical alliance.[17] NGOs would try to influence the talks, e.g. by offering research, public relations resources and even help with the detailed drafting of negotiating proposals.[18] Domestic development and other NGOs have been accepted by some developing countries (e.g. Uganda and Kenya) to appear on their national trade delegation. Also, many western governments now tend to include NGOs in their official delegations. The US, for instance, has long taken business lobbyists to trade negotiations, and the UK team in Doha included Digby Jones, the director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, a trade union official and an Oxfam representative.[19]

This active partnership or “joint venture” of governments and non-state actors is indeed a phenomenon in international politics that differs greatly from what we have been able to perceive in diplomacy in preceding decades. It displays a very strong form of participation of non-state-actors in multilateral diplomacy. As a result, NGOs are able to provide channels through which stakeholders may voice their views on trade issues and have those opinions directly relayed to negotiators. When NGOs are admitted to official meetings, it makes a far greater impact on the diplomatic process and the outcome of negotiations. Face-to-face meetings provide the possibility to influence through personal skills of talented characters sent by NGOs. This can produce different outcomes from telephone or written communications or negotiations. With the various inputs from NGO-sources officials can also better measure the political viability of proposed plans or programmes that they want to utter in the WTO.

To be clear, using individuals with specialist knowledge in international negotiations is not particularly new,[20] and moreover government-NGO-alliances do not automatically imply that the latter directly take part in (ministerial) negotiations. However, they are in a position to influence negotiating strategies that governments follow and thus contribute to the output of the talks. An observable precedent in this line of work has been set by some northern (development) NGOs, in active partnership with states from the south, who have addressed the potential for specific injuries to local populations arising from a WTO decision. For example, the campaign of Médecins sans Frontières and Oxfam International (against the lobbying of US drug companies) tried to make sure that weak nations are able to import affordable generic medicines. In this case, NGOs aligned themselves with southern (mostly African) members of the WTO in a largely successful effort of global pressure to waive state licensing obligations under the trade related aspects of the Intellectual Property Rights Agreement.”[21] Again, such efforts would have in no way been successful in earlier stages of the GATT, where NGOs did to have any chance to make their point.

In order to fully appreciate the impacts of the actions driven by the various NGOs on trade diplomacy, we have to consider the “issue-specification” of NGOs. Surely, the capability to alter the diplomatic course of action of governments will differ widely in different policy domains. While an NGO may in one area possess a very highly recognised status, gather a vast amount of information and assume great communication skills and facilities, it might not have them in another field and hence not be able to impact in the same way. A tangible example might be the fact that Greenpeace is rarely involved in human-rights issues (e.g. labour rights that affect the labour costs and hence the competitiveness of national products on the world market) and that Amnesty International is not known to have a great influence on matters of the environment or trade. Nonetheless, both organisations play a vital role in their specific area of influence.

Bearing in mind that in the process of political debating, the “ability to communicate in a manner that commands the attention and respect of other actors”[22] is crucial, we have to remember that NGOs use many different ways of tactical communication that cover an enormous latitude of strategies. While direct television advertising tends to be limited to more traditional development aid NGOs, environmental NGOs like, for instance, Greenpeace as a par-excellence-case of “loud-speaker-diplomacy”[23] prefer the direct action (guaranteed to make the television news and newspapers headlines)[24], combined with sophisticated press briefings, mail shots and networking via the internet and mobile telephones.[25] Especially in recent years, globalization has involved “dramatic advances in information processing and telecommunications technologies”[26] and thus, as a prerequisite for flexibility of information flows, facilitated by the emergence of more dense network interconnections, so that NGOs operating transnationally have much greater opportunities to organize and to propagate their views. Especially the internet allows new groups to form and campaign on international issues, (thereby further undermining the monopoly of the diplomats, both in national as well as in international diplomatic machineries – like for example the WTO).”[27]

Furthermore, we have to bear in mind that some NGOs boast bigger resources than the governments of some poor countries. The conservation group WWF, for example, spends $60m a year on policy research.[28] They also often have the sort of sophisticated public relations machinery and international contact networks that can only be the envy of poor countries. Where, occasionally, for instance domestic environmental NGOs have been invited onto southern state trade delegations, this has been above all in order to make use of their expertise (for example, the Bangladeshi Environmental Lawyers Association)”[29] – an area where NGOs possess a undeniable degree of leverage in the arena of negotiators.

[...]


[1] Willetts, P., 2001 in: The Globalization of World Politics, Baylis, John and Smith, Steve (Oxford University Press, 2nd edition), p. 356. However, as Willetts points out, it is not an easy task to estimate the exact number of existing transnational actors, bearing in mind that these categories are very difficult to define and to monitor.

[2] Compare the suggestions regarding some of the effects of globalization by Held, D., McGrew, D., Goldblatt, D., Perraton, J., 1999: Global Transformations – Politics, Economics and Culture, (Polity Press, Cambridge) p.50.

[3] Hocking, B., McGuire, 2004: Introduction: trade politics: environments, agendas and processes, in Hocking, B., McGuire, Trade politics, (Routledge, London, sec. ed.), p.1. The importance of NGOs has recently been highlighted during the 59th session of the General Assembly’s joint debate on UN reform and revitalisation of the Assembly’s work, on October 4, 2004, when the Assembly responded to the findings of the so-called Cardoso Panel on UN-Civil Society relations, see DiploNews - Issue 64 - October 27, 2004 “General Assembly Debate on Multistakeholder Diplomacy“, http://www.diplomacy.edu/DiploNews/issue64.asp accessed on December, 2nd, 2004.

[4] Compare the warning remarks of George in his methodological instructions in: George, A.L., 1979: Case Studies and Theory Development: The Method of Structured, Focused Comparison, in Lauren, P.G., (ed.): Diplomacy: New Approaches in History, Theory and Policy, (New York: The Free Press,), p.43.

[5] Hocking, B., McGuire, 2004: Introduction: trade politics: environments, agendas and processes, in Hocking, B., McGuire, Trade politics, (Routledge, London, sec. ed.), p.17.

[6] Slaim, A., 1996: Explaining International Relations Since 1945, (Oxford: Oxford University Press), p.221.

[7] Sally, R., 2004: The WTO in perspective, in Hocking, B., McGuire, Trade politics, (Routledge, London, sec. ed.), p.105.

[8] Lawton, T.,C., Rosenau, J.,N., Verdun, A.,C., 2000: Strange Power – Shaping the parameters of international relations and international political economy, (Ashgate, Vermont) p.p.262-269. A good overview on the development of global free trade is also provided by Held, D., McGrew, D., Goldblatt, D., Perraton, J., 1999: Global Transformations – Politics, Economics and Culture, (Polity Press, Cambridge) pp. 164-167.

[9] Sjöstedt, G. in Kremenyuk, Victor A. (ed.), 1991: International Negotiations: Analysis, Approaches, Issues, (Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, California, Oxford), pp. 322.

[10] Donna Lee, for instance, gives a detailed report on the final phase of diplomatic negotiations of the so-called Kennedy Trade Round in the WTO, and the term of NGOs finds no mention at all, see Lee, Donna, 1998, “Multilateral trade negotiations : the final phase of the Kennedy Trade Round”, Series: Discussion papers ; no. 46, p.1-22.

[11] This compared with around 150 groups at the First Ministerial Conference in Singapore seven years earlier.

[12] For some explanatory remarks on this definition and a short demarcation of NGOs as opposed to so-called Networks and Social Movements, see Willetts, P., 2001 in: The Globalization of World Politics, Baylis, John and Smith, Steve (Oxford University Press, 2nd edition), p.370.

[13] Further suggestions in respect to the definition of NGOs and other close bodies of civil societies are put forth by Barkdull, J., Dicke, L.,A., 2004: “Globalization, Civil Society, and Democracy?: An Organizational Assessment”, Seton Hall Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations, Summer/Fall 2004, (retrieved from the website of the Seton Hall University, accessed on the 7th of December, 2004), pp.33-35.

[14] Hamilton, K., Langhorne, R., 1995: The practice of diplomacy, (Routledge, London), p.232.

[15] Indeed, only a fairly small number of NGOs is concerned with WTO-related issues and the far greater amount of NGOs will not come across the area of our analysis. A worldwide list of NGOs (up to date from the 15th of September, 2004) can be observed at the website: http://unpan1.un.org/intradoc/groups/public/documents/un/unpan014562.pdf

[16] Scholte talks more generally about “Civil Society Associations”, but what he says also applies to NGOs. See Scholte, J.A., 2004: ”The WTO and Civil Society”, in Hocking, B., McGuire, Trade politics, (Routledge, London, sec. ed.), p.149; also compare Aviel, J.,A.,F., “NGOs and International Affairs: A new dimension of diplomacy” (chapter 5) in Muldoon, J.Jr., ed., (et alia), 1999: Multilateral diplomacy and the United Nations today, (Westview Press, Boulder, Oxford), p. 156.

[17] Compare the observations of Aviel, J.,A.,F., “NGOs and International Affairs: A new dimension of diplomacy” (chapter 5) in Muldoon, J.Jr., ed., (et alia), 1999: Multilateral diplomacy and the United Nations today, (Westview Press, Boulder, Oxford), p. 160.

[18] Guy de Jonquières, Williams, F., 2001 : “Global activists adopt new tactics”, Financial Times, November 15th, 2001.

[19] Guy de Jonquières, Williams, F., 2001 : “Global activists adopt new tactics”, Financial Times, November 15th, 2001.

[20] Hamilton, K., Langhorne, R., 1995: The practice of diplomacy, (Routledge, London), p.141.

[21] Mason, Michael, 2004: “Representing Transnational Environmental Interests: New Opportunities for

Non-Governmental Organisation Access within the World Trade Organisation?”, Environmental Politics, Vol.13, No.3, Autumn 2004, p.584.

[22] Willetts, P., 2001 in: The Globalization of World Politics, Baylis, John and Smith, Steve (Oxford University Press, 2nd edition), p. 378.

[23] See this notion, used in a different context by Nicolson, H., 1998 (reprint): The evolution of diplomatic method, (Diplomatic Studies Programme, University of Leicester), p.91.

[24] Greenpeace, e.g. persuaded Pascal Lamy, Europe’s trade representative, to visit its boat, Rainbow Warrior, for a photo opportunity during the Doha meeting in 2001, see: “Safety first – High security, low protest”, Economist, November 17th, 2001.

[25] Riordan, S., 2003: The new diplomacy, (Polity Press, Cambridge), p.89.

[26] Keohane, R.,O., Nye, J., S., 2001: Power and Interdependence (Longman, New York et alia, 3rd edition), pp.243.

[27] Riordan, S., 2003: The new diplomacy, (Polity Press, Cambridge), p.67.

[28] Guy de Jonquières, Williams, F., 2001 : “Global activists adopt new tactics”, Financial Times, November 15th, 2001.

[29] Mason, Michael, 2004: Representing Transnational Environmental Interests: New Opportunities for

Non-Governmental Organisation Access within the World Trade Organisation?, Environmental Politics, Vol.13, No.3, Autumn 2004, p. 570.

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Details

Title
The impact of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) on both the processes and machinery of diplomacy
College
Coventry University  (Coventry Business School)
Course
Diplomacy and the International System
Grade
Merit, 68 %
Author
Year
2005
Pages
29
Catalog Number
V66213
ISBN (eBook)
9783638588911
File size
584 KB
Language
English
Tags
Diplomacy, International, System
Quote paper
Master of Arts in Diplomacy, Law and Global Change Gabriel Vockel (Author), 2005, The impact of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) on both the processes and machinery of diplomacy, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/66213

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