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State & Non-State Actors in International Politics

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  • 0:45 Intergovernmental…
  • 1:50 Nongovernmental Organizations
  • 2:25 Multinational Enterprises
  • 3:30 Other Actors
  • 4:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shawn Grimsley
While states still reign supreme on the world stage, they are by no means the only significant actors playing the game of international politics. In this lesson, you'll learn about state and non-state actors on the world stage.

State Actors

As the great English bard William Shakespeare wrote, 'All the world's a stage.' And the world stage has many players upon it engaged in the great game of international affairs. One of the oldest and universally acknowledged actors on the modern world stage is the state. A state is a political unit that has sovereignty over an area of territory and the people within it. Sovereignty is the legitimate and ultimate authority over a polity (i.e., a political unit). Examples of states include the United States, Germany, and China. Some states are very small, such as the city-states of Singapore and Vatican City.

Intergovernmental Organizations

While states are still the dominant actors on the world stage, they are by no means the only ones. Another group of important players is the intergovernmental organizations, or IGOs. Intergovernmental organizations are established by states, usually through a treaty. The most well-known IGO is the United Nations. Some other IGOs include the International Atomic Energy Agency, International Monetary Fund, International Criminal Police Organization, World Bank Group, and World Trade Organization.

Since IGOs only operate by the consent of states, states maintain their sovereignty. Moreover, most IGOs really don't have a means to enforce state compliance with their decisions, at least without the help of powerful states. For example, since the United States is a permanent member of the UN's Security Council, along with China, Russia, France, and the United Kingdom, it can veto any substantive UN resolution.

Nongovernmental Organizations

Not all actors on the world's stage play governmental roles. Nongovernmental organizations, also called NGOs, are nonprofit voluntary organizations that advocate or otherwise pursue the public good. NGOs are engaged in human rights issues, humanitarian aid, economic development, and social welfare, among other things. Some well-known NGOs include the Red Cross, Greenpeace, Oxfam, and Amnesty International.

Multinational Enterprises

Another important group of actors on the international stage are multinational enterprises (MNEs) -- sometimes referred to as multinational corporations (MNCs). Multinational enterprises are for-profit companies whose business interests span more than one state. Oftentimes, these MNEs command vast amounts of resources that rival, and even surpass, the resources of smaller states. Examples of MNEs include IBM, Volvo, General Electric, Exxon Mobile, Bank of America, Credit Suisse Group, Samsung, and Boeing.

It's important to note that the interests of MNEs do not necessarily coincide with the interests of the states in which they operate, or even with their home state where the MNE was formed and is headquartered. For example, an MNE may be opposed to trade sanctions on another state, even if its home state wants the sanctions to punish bad behavior, because the sanctions are bad for its business.

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