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New international actors

States have lost their monopoly as subjects of international law. Today, international organizations and other entities are recognized as agents under international law. In addition, a host of other international actors, irrespective of their legal status are relevant for our observations: business is active across national and international borders; multinational enterprises can boast balance sheet numbers that, individually, leave the GNPs of smaller and medium sized countries far behind. More than 15.000 NGOs (non-governmental organizations) directly involve themselves in international affairs.

Institutions like the International Red Cross, Amnesty International, Médecins sans Frontières, Greenpeace, Human Rights Watch and also religious organizations can look upon strong international public support for their activities. They act through staffs that today no doubt also fulfill many functions similar to those of diplomats. Indeed, they probably would qualify as diplomats, if they wanted to. The UN-organized world conferences held at Rio, Vienna, Beijing, Cairo, Kyoto, Monterrey and Johannesburg have become examples for the active engagement of NGOs in international affairs. Many important areas of today’s international relations (human rights, development cooperation, environmental politics, sustainable development and others) would be unthinkable without the active contribution of the NGO community.

Their activities are enforced by new phenomena such as international ”movements” comprising individuals, NGOs, interested States and individual representatives of public opinion which, acting jointly, pursue important international agendas: the Landmine Convention (Ottawa convention) would never have been concluded without such an international movement. The same holds true for the Rome Statute on the International Criminal Court.

All in all we see a multitude of different actors engaged in international affairs. To a considerable extent the lines between them tend to become blurred; they share common tasks and interests, they are interconnected, they initiate action and reaction. Attempts by traditional diplomacy to shut out NGO activities are short sighted. More often than not NGOs help to advance causes, which will shape the future of international relations or help to address future global challenges. In addition they can represent a democratic element much needed for diplomacy to retain its legitimacy. Of course, their participation on the international arena also raises a number of important questions, in particular as to their accountability and representativeness. But the fact remains that to a large extent NGOs indeed represent international civil society and move issues forward. The same goes for important international enterprises that have started to acknowledge corporate social responsibility (CSR) and have joined the UN’s global compact initiated by Secretary General Kofi Annan. In his study on ”Polylateralism and New Modes of Global Dialogue” Geoffrey Wiseman proposes that ”traditional state-centered bilateral and multilateral diplomatic concepts and practices need to be complemented with explicit awareness of a further layer of diplomatic interaction and relationships. Accordingly, the diplomat of the future will need to operate at the bilateral level, the multilateral level and, increasingly, the polylateral level (relations between states and other entities).”

In addition it can well be argued that we soon will enter a phase in which the “monopoly” of states in the conduct of foreign affairs will be further reduced to the extent that more and more actors will no longer depend on states to represent them or their interests abroad.[11] Many entities other than states already today conduct their own “foreign policy”. The agents helping them to do so will need many of the skills usually associated with “traditional diplomats”. “Post-modern” diplomacy might therefore become a profession, which also includes agents not engaged in the service of a state but of international organizations, NGOs, business, sport federations and other entities operating on the international level.

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