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Workshop on NGOs in World Politics
Convened by Dr Thomas Davies, at City University, London
Presentation Notes for Keynote Address
By Peter Willetts, Friday 18 October 2013
I am now retired and an Emeritus Professor. This year I have been working on the Falklands/Malvinas question and my main project is to write a book on the UN. I last did serious research on NGOs three years ago. I have been pleased to see judging by the papers for this workshop the subject has moved on in that time.
My first book, 1982, Pressure Groups in the Global System, explored how domestic groups became transnational
Second book, 1996, The Conscience of the World, covered case-studies of NGO lobbying in six issue-areas
Third, nominally 2011 actually 2010, NGOs in World Politics, but note the sub-title The Construction of Global Governance, provided an overview of the structures for NGO influence and how we may theorise about their ability to exercise influence.
Ambiguity in world politics
- Does it involve NGOs in many countries, studied at the country-level, or NGOs in global politics?
- We need both a comparative approach and a global approach.
- A global approach implies a distinct political system that is analytically separate from, but linked to, politics at the country level.Global involves both study of politics in the UN and the concept of global governance.
- I concluded in my more recent book that, for global governance to be a meaningful distinct concept, it has to be defined as the inclusion of governments and NGOs in a common political system.
What is an NGO?
- Do not assume they are solely those organisations that are familiar to you. It is agreed they are non-profit-making, non-criminal and non-violent. These other groups are transnational actors, but not NGOs. However, NGOs still display immense diversity.
- Not the good guys. In response to Jutta, no, we cannot support all NGOs. It is logically impossible, as there are deep political divisions within the NGO community for example, between faith groups and women's groups over birth control.
If we are to restrict NGOs to those who act in the public interest, who will set the criteria? John Keane implies that to proclaim superior and inferior groups is the beginning of fascism (Global Civil Society, Cambridge University Press, 2003, p. 142).
- NGOs are not necessarily formal, highly-structured organisations.
In response to Erla, yesterday, they do not have to be registered as legal entities.
- NGOs operate at multiple levels, from the very local (my town's nature group is a local NGO), via regions within countries obscured when just the capital city to the whole country and beyond that to a regional groups of countries and to the world as a whole.
- Members people, a set of branches with a centralised structure, a federation of NGOs, an INGO composed of NGOs, an INGO with other INGOs as members, a mix of these or no members
- Not just Northern or Western. Putin in Russia is trying to label NGOs as foreign interference, defined by the receipt of foreign funds. Actually, the bureaucratic constraints are so tight that they inhibit the development of local Russian NGOs. African nationalists sometimes label NGOs as colonial interference. In the South, CSOs and CBOs are NGOs. The label Northern/Western is usually used to attempt to delegitimise critical voices.
- Beware of attempts to classify the distinction between operational and advocacy groups is not sufficient
I have been working with the South Atlantic Council, which decided to limit itself to 50 members, with expertise and concerns about the relations between Britain, Argentina and the Falklands (see www.staff.city.ac.uk/p.willetts/SAC/INDEX.HTM). This group has no operational programme and is not a standard advocacy group. It has never done any public campaigning but it has affected Argentine policy at times and changed UNGA resolutions.
NGOs engage in a much wider range of activities:-
harmonisation of technical standards, (Christophe's work on ISO); maintenance of communication systems, (AlterNex and the Internet in Brazil); provision of information, (Clare's work); professional collaboration (BISA and ISA); transnational co-operation, for its own sake, (United Towns Agency); sustaining shared values or a common identity, (diaspora groups) I could go on.
It is more appropriate to classify the activities of each group than to classify groups by their specific activities that may change over the years.
- In global governance it is easy to say NGOs are those that can be accredited at the UN, but it is more problematic in world politics as a whole, particularly when we consider whether networks are sufficiently organised to be considered as non-governmental organisations
What is a network?
- Need to consider the differences between NGOs and networks
Start of my Voice of Which People? (see www.staff.city.ac.uk/p.willetts/NGOS/VOICE.PDF) networks in sociology formal scientific work
a network is defined as a set of channels along which there are flows of materials, people, energy, finance or data between nodes that receive, process or further transmit the flows. A social network is then a network in which the nodes are people or organisations and the flows are predominantly information, including arguments about values. A social network may also transmit finance or even on occasions energy, materials or people.
This is difficult to apply in the modern electronic world. It needs analyse and research.
- We need to avoid describing simple hierarchies as networks. A list server sending out e-mails is not necessarily a network, even if there can be replies to the list-server manager. The crucial feature of networks is feed-back, including indirect feed-back, so that the network becomes a collective entity, a system.
- Difference types of networks not just advocacy; also information, (including list servers, but only when they generate interactive debates); and governance networks
- Outline and explain governance networks groups that do not share any common values other than maintaining the right of NGOs to participate in an intergovernmental forum.
The distinction is crucial because the attempt by some NGOs to use a governance network as an advocacy network can cause a major crisis as with the NGOs in the UN Commission on Sustainable Development and the Durban conference on racism. (For more details, see www.staff.city.ac.uk/p.willetts/NGOS/VOICE.PDF)
- Welcome Maria's work on intra-network relations much more is needed
The relations between NGOs and TNCs
- In all fora in the UN system, profit-making bodies are denied access.
Story about the Commission on Sustainable Development three companies were listed as NGOs by the PrepCom for the World Summit for Sustainable Development. I informed a leading delegate and he ensured they were struck off at PrepCom-IV.
One exception, Global Compact designed to influence company behaviour
- Commercial interests do form non-profit-making sector associations
- Commercial interests do form issue-based INGOs
- Some may be openly designed as lobbies to counter NGO campaigns
eg the International Council of Infant Food Industries to counter the International Baby Foods Action Network
- Some may pursue their interests in a manner that is compatible with NGO campaigns
eg Oil Companies International Maritime Forum
and Global Investor Coalition on Climate Change
- Some may collaborate well as lobbyists with the main NGO community
eg the Business Council for Sustainable Development
- Some networks include both NGOs and TNCS
eg Forest Stewardship Council and Marine Stewardship Council
- Major change the development of corporate social responsibility
- Need more research on NGO-TNC relations
Alejandro's paper on civil society business relations in Brazil is of great interest
The relations between NGOs and governments,
including NGOs and intergovernmental organisations
- Why do NGOs exist? Partly at least because governments fail to act
- Problems of GONGOs
- Problems of co-option
- Deeper question of working in common structures both consultative status and hybrid international organisations the latter are defined as IOs that have both governments and NGOs as members (see Conscience, pp. 72-80). The fact that these hybrids exist is a challenge to conventional thinking about states and international relations.
- The Report of the Panel of Eminent Persons on United NationsCivil Society Relations was published in June 2004, known as the Cardoso Report
three competing theoretical frameworks: functionalism, neo-corporatism, and democratic pluralism, (see www.staff.city.ac.uk/p.willetts/NGOS/GG-2006.HTM, uploaded 21/10/2013)
- The anti-authority idealism and a global people's assembly an assembly of NGOs or an elected assembly ???
- At a promotion interview, I was asked NGOs only matter in as much as they influence governments, don't they?. My reply should have been, Yes, and governments only matter, in as much as they influence NGOs.
- Tendency to underestimate NGOs - across time (Tom's work corrects that reference to St John St). Rhetoric about Henri Dunant creating the Red Cross in the 1860s. Not just since the end of the Cold War. NGOs and transnational relations have existed as long as governments have existed, [omitted in the actual presentation].
- Tendency to underestimate NGO impact and overestimate governments
NGOs and the creation of the Internet: work by NGOs has been wrongly attributed to the US military, [omitted in the actual presentation, see NGOs in WP, Chp. 4].
- Conclusion can only understand NGOs and governments as having interdependent relations
Questions of legitimacy and accountability
- Legitimacy of which activities? Illustrate the following re recent discussion of euthanasia
- Right of association the right to form a lobby and/or an advocacy group
- Right to participate in public debate the right to argue in favour of illegal acts
- Right to act in October 1981, two leaders of the NGO, Exit, were sentenced for criminal acts, for assisting others to commit suicide
- Deserve support for their values on euthanasia attitudes vary, there is great controversy
- So, in Britain, Exit is legitimate by the first two criteria, but not by the last two criteria
- Legitimacy with whom and accountable to whom? (As Erla asked)
- The NGO's own supporters
- Those affected by the NGO's proposals
- Those affected by the NGO's actions
- Those with whom they co-operate and network
- The general public
- The government
- Intergovernmental organisations
- In practice, the answer to this question is they are mainly accountable to governments.
- Much talk about co-option.
- Also a major impact is bureaucratisation, which results in deprofessionalisation
Oscar Wilde an economist is someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing
I would claim A bureaucrat can organise anything without any thought to the consequences amoral, whereas a professional is partially defined by moral standards
- The impact of bureaucratisation on NGOs, which undermines professionalism
- SAP software, financial control centralisation, loss of flexibility, loss of trust
- Fund-raising becomes a process of public relations, which promote simple messages and the trivialisation of issues also the loss of moral integrity
- Expansion in size leads to a human resources bureaucracy the words objectify people the practices deny the subjectivity of personal and personnel relations
for example, standard anti-discrimination practices actually discriminate against women
- Development of websites promotes technical design and PR reduction in attention to content creation of the Internet originally was empowering but now it is disempowering as campaigners can so easily lose control over content
- Accountability policies are demoralising as Angela reported but they are worse than this. By encouraging cover up of mistakes and by promoting desired replies, they promote dishonesty and hence are corrupting.
- Tangles about legitimacy mentioned earlier over advocacy versus governance networks (Voice paper, cited above)
- The overall summary of an NGO's legitimacy is its status note that all these factors interact and that status is not a constant. A high status actor may advocate something that is unpopular and hence lose status.
The Absence of NGOs from International Relations theory
- Ironic that feminist theorists do not discuss women's issues in the sense of the issues that women actually address in global politics nor do they discuss women's NGOs
- Work on NGOs is generally restricted to development, environment, human rights (including women's rights). This implicitly accepts the distinction between high politics and low politics that dismissed NGOs as influencing less important questions. However, we can equally well add NGOs to core Realist issues Cold War, arms control, international conflict. This can been more obvious in recent years, with the landmines and cluster bombs campaigns, but peace groups, religious groups, medical practitioners, physicists and geologists were crucial in making the Test-Ban Treaty possible.
- It should always be the question to ask about any issue-area to which NGOs is this issue salient?
Need to mainstream NGOs in all International Relations theory
- It is done in the study of British or US politics as pressure groups
- Done in comparative government
- Not done in international relations, but, if we are in a world of global governance, it is necessary by definition
The basis for further theoretical development
- We need more work on what is an NGO, especially with respect to the analysis of networks. Need to make progress on the relationship between NGOs, civil society and global governance.
- From sociology, need to bring social movements into study of NGOs especially concepts of resource mobilisation, opportunity structures and framing. This is done in the work derived from Keck and Sikkink, but there are two reasons it needs extending.
(a) It is focused mainly on the country-level it is neither transnational nor global.
There can be transnational mobilisation, notably when NGOs promote the creation of NGOs in other countries. There can be global framing that comes more from the top downwards than from the bottom upwards. For example, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights has transferred human rights to Eastern Europe via the Helsinki Declaration and to Latin America via the UN's work on torture and on disappearances. Contrary to the perceptions of activists, environmental issues have largely been framed by the UN. On the other hand, women's issues have mainly been promoted from the grass-roots.
(b) It is concerned with campaigning and not lobbying. This is a feature of the academic literature. It is also an ideological bias of some activists. When I addressed the Anti-Apartheid Movement, I was angrily denounced for referring to them as a pressure group. In April 2001, I was shocked to hear chants in a Washington demonstration change from World Bank No, No, No to NGOs No, No, No.
- From political science, need to bring pressure groups and interest groups in government to the global level, as is being done by the Stockholm group. NGOs can be primarily lobbyists, as with the South Atlantic Council, or primarily campaigning groups, as with the Anti-Apartheid Movement, or both, as with WWF.
Lobbying and campaigning are not mutually exclusive. They are mutually supportive. Equally, within civil society, different groups working on the same issue may chose different priorities. Insider groups and outsider groups can play the good-cop, bad-cop routine.
- From political science, we need to draw on the policy-networks literature. It discusses NGOs, commercial companies, government bureaucracies and politicians communicating about policy formulation and implementation. The work is not rigorous and clear, but it can be adapted and developed to apply to global politics.
- Need to formally recognise the level of analysis question. Hence we need research that locates country-level NGOs within the culture and the politics of the specific country. NGOs are a product of their civil society and their political system. For example, there are clear differences between Britain and France. In political science, use comparative government. Also we need comparative work on civil societies.
- If we take NGOs and civil society seriously, we need to stop talking about states and instead talk about governments. Even Keck and Sikkink are state-centric. They talk of norms cascading through states. Why cannot norms first cascade through global civil society?
The word states is ambiguous is it a legal or a political term and does it include or exclude civil society? The word states is static (but governments change, sometimes in fundamental ways); it implies coherence (but governments are often divided politically and always divided into multiple bureaucracies); it emphasises top-down control (but governments are influenced by civil society); and crucially for us it privileges governments over non-state actors, including NGOs. On some issues NGOs may be dominant.
I have concluded I will only refer to states in the context of international law.
- There is a rich literature on bureaucratic politics and organisational processes that is used primarily in the study of US politics. It has been applied to foreign policy analysis most notably in Essence of Decision (by Allison and Zelikow, Longman, 1999). It could also be applied to the politics of IGOs.
A very important article by Keohane and Nye, on transgovernmental relations needs to be combined with transnational relations as a starting point for all analysis of global politics. (See World Politics, Vol. 27, No. 1, 1974 at www.jstor.org/stable/2009925)
The two literatures, from domestic politics and global politics, need to be integrated.
- Consequently, in the study of global politics, we need to relate both campaigning and lobbying, to the operations of policy-networks, taking into account different levels of analysis (from the local to the country to the global). We need to disaggregate both governments and civil societies and hence recognise pluralism explicitly.
Emphasise diverse types of actors government departments, NGOs, TNCs, other transnational actors, IGOs, INGOs and hybrids.
- Then integrate social movements, pluralism and constructivism.
- Linking social movement concept of framing to constructivism in International Relations theory. The link is the movement of ideas. I started some way down this road with Chps. 5-6 of my third book.
- One simple question I cannot begin to answer. What is a value? The difference between moral philosophy asserting liberty, equity, equality, etc as universal values and behaviouralism investigating what people say they value.
With both approaches we may distinguish intrinsic from instrumental values.
We need work on how the two approaches of moral philosophy and behaviouralism can be reconciled.
- The difference between general abstract values and specific applied norms.
- Campaigning and lobbying is in order to mobilise support for values/norms. Operational and other activities are engaged in by NGOs to implement values/norms.
- This emphasis on politics as contention over values and norms shifts the emphasis in the study of power from the possession of capabilities to the ability to exercise influence. We cannot assume the possession of military and economic resources automatically translates into governments having more influence than NGOs.
- The nature of contention we need clearer understanding of what is an issue.
- The goal of this theoretical integration is to understand how and why values change what are the contributions of NGOs to the dynamics of change? We need new understandings of both the structures and the processes of world politics.
When using the ideas from this presentation, please cite
Peter Willetts , "Notes for a Keynote Presentation", 18 October 2013 at the Workshop on NGOs in World Politics, City University, London, available at http://www.staff.city.ac.uk/p.willetts/NGOS/TALK1013.HTM
Copyright Peter Willetts, 2013.
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Emeritus Professor of Global Politics, City University, London