Global Pluralism: States, NGOs and MNCs Around International Organizations

Research Note: Global Governance as Interest Group Pluralism for the World

States, nongovernmental organizations and multinational corporations now circle international organizations and international regimes in pursuit of their interests in reasonably coherent global public policy process. To be sure, that process is still dominated by large and powerful states, but democratization and instantaneous communication have opened the process other actors – small states, as well as private and non-profit actors.

Realism has no account of non-state actors. To do so, would threaten its sense of identity. State-centricity is such fundamental assumption, that it has nothing really to say about my project.

Constructivism overreads NGOs as successful norm entrepreneurs. While they are norm or identitarian entrepreneurs, this does not mean they succeed in that entrepreneurship. It is a major flaw in the literature on NGOs and affiliated social movements, that it focuses so heavily on the conditions necessary for the successful impact on world politics. This selects on the dependent variable and ‘overprivileges’ constructivist readings of NGOs.

A far simpler explanation of NGOs’ role comes from liberal, or more precisely, rationalist institutionalism. Here NGOs are separate discrete actors, pursuing their goals against IGOs, and deploying various resources against them in rather standard bargaining environments and negotiating tactics. So NGOs protest on the street, write op-ed pieces in the press, attend conferences with representatives of the institutions, hire researchers and consultants to generate position papers, etc.

Hence it is far easier to understand NGO activity around IGOs as a global analogue to that of national interest groups around national governments. Much of the literature on NGOs is from a constructivist vein that focuses on them as ideational actors transforming the world order, compelling states, MNCs, and IGOs to ‘re-think’ themselves, or potential democratizers of an elite-dominated global governance. These large order claims are not wrong in that NGOs like to see themselves in these ways, but the empirical evidence to support a successful prosecution of these strategies is thin. In my work, liberal rationalist explanations of inter-organizational conflict and negotiation explain far more NGO-driven change at the BWI, than any expansive, macro-level claim that the NGOs have successful gotten the BWI to ‘re-think’ themselves.

Therefore, liberals need to intervene more here. I want to build a theory of global pluralism that scales up domestic theories of interest group pluralism. As globalization is increasing the need and efficacy of global governance, NGOs and other private actors are following the power. So as the WTO and BWI have gained in influence and authority in recent decades, so they have increasingly attracted NGOs and other private actors to them. In the same way we think of interest groups swirling about state governments in image of moons around a planet, so the same satellite model can explain the clutch of private actors now revolving around instances of GG.

INGOs as Transnational Interest Groups: After Social Movement Theory

INGOs are settling into a comfortable bureaucratic life around IGOs and International Regimes. As Weber noted, movements that began as charismatic, flamboyant, and spontaneous calcify into structures and institutions over time. NGOs are maturing in this vein. They are leaving the realm of social movement and becoming full institutionalized, expected, participants in global governance. Indeed, the regularity and ‘expectedness’ of NGO participation in global governance is strong evidence that GG exists. But the exciting, street-protesting days of social movements are passing. The fringe of dangerous anarchists de-legitimized the AG movement in the eyes of many in the major IOs of global governance, and more mature, cooperative, and better informed NGOs are stepping into the global non-profit space. While this heralds a more expertise-driven dialogue between NGOs, and states and IOs, it also foresees the ‘bureaucratization’ of NGOs into world politics.’ As the free-spiritedness of NGOs at the UN has been drained by the tedium of ECOSOC bureaucracy, so the World Bank, WTO and IMF are doing as well. Gone are the open ended parallel conferences of the 1990s. Now NGO participants at the BWI Annual Meetings register with the BWI to attend proto-typical policy seminars inside the buildings.

1 thought on “Global Pluralism: States, NGOs and MNCs Around International Organizations

  1. Hey, great points. However could I ask where you got your information on in terms of NGOs and Constructivism, curious to know!




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