Are States the Most Important Actors in World Politics?

Topics: Sovereignty, United States, Sovereign state Pages: 8 (2584 words) Published: September 19, 2006
In 1648 the Peace of Westphalia effectively ended the rule of the Roman Catholic Church replacing it with a system of legal entities with a permanent population, a well-defined territory and governments capable of exercising sovereignty. The modern sovereign state with a supreme authority to manage internal and external affairs was born. For most of its existence the discipline of International Relations was normally presumed to treat the relations between states, the latter viewed as cohesive social actors driven by their desire for power and prestige. International organizations and other non-state actors were allowed an influence of their own in certain areas, but the state remained in ultimate control. Now IR scholars argue that there has been a transition in the system of sovereignty from the free reign power of the states over their political and economic rule, to a more liberal system that seeks to limit the states authority. There is a perception that IGO's and NGO's are replacing states as the dominant actors in the international system.` Idealists often present non-state actors as the vanguard of an emerging global civil society, challenging the instinctive authoritarianism of states and the power of international capital. Hard-line realists see them either as front organizations thinly disguising the interests of particular states, or as potential revolutionaries, seeking to undermine national solidarity and stability of the state system ` (Josselin and Wallace, 2001). None of the theories can now deny that the balance of power between states and non-state actors has shifted. The purpose of this essay is to examine whether this shift has declined the authority of the states or left them as the most important actors in world politics? By comparing the state to other actors in IR the essay hopes to answer this question.

States vs. NGO's.

Globalization is transforming the nature and form of political power today. As Susan Strange argues in her essay "The declining authority of states":

`The need of political authority of some kind, legitimate either by coercion force or by popular consent, or more often by a combination of the two is the fundamental reason for the state's existence. But many states are coming to be deficient in these fundamentals` (Strange, 2003, pp.127-134). That's where NGOs come in. Those private and unofficial bodies whose members are volunteers from a number of states but not states themselves are growing to be more and more important as actors in IR and they are contributing heavily to the erosion of states sovereignty. Their influence has increased dramatically in recent years as their continuous demands have shaken sovereign control of state governments over their foreign and domestic policies. Religious movements often challenge states authority as do groups with causes such as environmental protection, disarmament, human rights which are attacking the state from above and below with constant lobbying and pressuring decision makers of the state to alter their decisions in a particular, the most suitable for those NGOs way. However NGOs are limited to lobbying only and have no real participation in the decision making processes. There are also so many of them with opposing interests and little co-operation with each other that states, especially the most powerful tend to ignore NGOs. At the end of the day` NGOs have participation without real power and involvement without real influence` (Kegley and Wittkopf, 2004, p.179).

States vs. Transnational Corporations.

The most important shift of authority however took place on the economic frontier. The argument here is that states can no longer manage their economy. The power of states has significantly declined over their financial affairs and it happened voluntarily. Democratic states have moved away from the attempt to control significant proportions of their national economies after the Second World War and have gradually...
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