At the most general level, an actor in world politics has been defined as ‘any entity which plays an identifiable role in international relation’ (Evans and Nenham 1990, p.6)

This definition is so broad as even to encompass individuals. Although this inclusion is open to debate (Rossenau, 1990: Girrad, 1994), most authors reject it because the influence of individuals in international politics is most often incidental and tend to diminish over time (Taylor, 1984, p.20). In his seminal essay ‘The Actors in World Politics’, Oran Young (1972, p.140) offers a way out to refine the above general definition by defining an actor as: “any organized entity that is composed, at least indirectly, of human beings, is not wholly subordinate to any other actor in the world system in effective terms, and participate in power relationships with other actors.”

This definition suggests that to be considered an actor in world politics the entity under consideration needs to possess a degree of autonomy.


Non-state actors are non-sovereign entities that exercise significant economic, political, or social power and influence at a national, and in some cases international level.

  1. Non-Governmental Organization (NGOs). These groups are typically considered a part of civil society. A non-governmental organization is a legally constituted organization created by private organizations or people with no participation or representation of any government. In the cases in which NGOs are funded totally or partially by governments, the NGO maintains its non-governmental status in so far as it excludes government representative from membership in the organization. Example: Red Cross, Green Peace, etc.
  2. Multinational Corporation (MNCs). Multinational corporations are for profit organizations that operate in three or more sovereign states. The traditional multinational is a private company headquartered in one country and with subsidiaries in others, all operating in accordance with a coordinated global strategy to win market share and achieve cost efficiencies. A significant portion of the discussion, however, centered on the relatively recent “multi-nationalization” of state-owned enterprises, such as Russia’s arms-export monopoly Rosonboron export or Chinese oil company CNPC, which as state entities may or may not share the same incentives and goals as their private counterpart.
  3. The International Media. Example: BBC
  4. Armed Groups. Armed groups include for example rebel opposition forces, military, and warlords.
  5. Terrorist Organization. Including groups, such as Al-Qaeda. In addition to inflicting pain and damage and weakening the existing political order, terrorism, writes Hoffman, “is designed to create power where there is none or to consolidate power where there is very little. Through the publicity generated by their violence, terrorist seek to obtain the leverage, influence and power they otherwise lack to effect political change on either a local or an international scale.

As a ‘weapon weak’, terrorism is deployed by groups to gain media attention and visibility as the first step in gaining “name recognition” within the international community.

Even if acts of terrorism are universally commended, they can stimulate media coverage of an issue and provide an opening for the more moderate cause is being promotes. In this regard one must note that one of the observable outcomes of 9/ 11 has indeed been a spotlight of media attention on the Middle East and Isla, and an opening  for more moderate voices to have their grievances at least publicly considered and deliberated, to a much greater extent than had been possible prior to 9/ 10.

  1. Criminal Organization. Example of the criminal organizations is drug cartels such as the Gulf Cartel.
  2. Religious Groups. Politically active organization based on strong religious conviction.

The Quaker is quite active in their international advocacy effort and their supportive role at International conference.

  1. Transnational Diaspora communities. A Diaspora is a transnational community that defined itself as a singular ethnic group based upon its shared identity. Ethno-political groups: common nationality, language, cultural tradition, kinship ties.
  2. Certain Individuals/ Super-empowered individuals is a person who have overcome constraints, conventions, and rules to wield unique political, economic, intellectual, or cultural influence over the course of human events. They generated the most wide-raging discussion. “Archetypes” include industrialists, criminals, financiers, media moguls, celebrity activists, religious leaders, and terrorists. The ways in which they exert their influence (money, moral authority, expertise) are as varied as their fields of endeavor. As bounded by seminar participants, this category excludes political office holders (although some super empowered individuals eventually attain political office), those with heredity power, or the merely rich or famous. This includes an individual such as Victor Bout.


The realist perspective acknowledges the existence of non-state actors, but argues that they are peripheral to the international security environment as compared to states. Security threats emanate primarily from states and are responded to primarily by states. Power is treated as an attribute that is distributed across unitary state actors who must each prioritize their own security interest. When realist does look explicitly at the activities of non-state actors, they often view them as being mere extensions of existing configurations of state power and capabilities. The realist lens suggests a particular response is to either refocus attention on threats from states, treat violent non-state actors as proxies for state interest, or to view non-state actors as being “state-like”. The overall policy response is therefore to combat terrorism as one would combat security threats emanating from state through a military response.

In the Liberal Perspective, non-state actors have figured much more prominently in their view of the international security environment. Liberals view power as being distributed not just across state, but also embedded in other entities such as international institution and NGOs. Their view of power is multidimensional, with an emphasis on the “soft power” of economic factors or the power of ideas, in addition to military power. In this world-view, non-state actors have been largely assumed to play a stabilizing role in the international system as extensions of domestic interest groups, or as members of a global civil society that can contribute to international stability by performing tasks such as monitoring human rights violations and assisting in post-conflict reconstruction and development.


The proliferation of non-state actors in the post-Cold War era has been one of the factors leading to the theorizing of the Cobweb paradigm in international Politics. Under this paradigm, the traditional Westphalian non-state is experiencing an erosion of power and sovereignty, and non-state actors are part of the cause. Facilitated by globalization, NSAs have challenged nation-state borders and claims to sovereignty. MNCs are not always sympathetic to home country’s or host country’s national interests, but instead loyalty is given to the corporation’s interest. NGOs are challenging the nation-state’s sovereignty over internal matters through advocacy for societal issues, human right, and the environment.

Many armed non-state actors, opposition group, that operate without state control and are involved in trans-border conflicts. The prevalence of these groups in armed conflicts has added layers of complexity to traditional conflict management and resolution. These conflicts are often fought not only between non-state actors and states, but also between non-state actors. Any attempts at intervention in such conflicts has been particularly challenging given the fact that international law and norms governing the use of force for intervention or peacekeeping purposes has been primarily written in the context of nation-state. So, the demands of non-state actors at the local and international level have further complicated international relations.


–          Rochester, Martin. J. 2002. Between Two Epochs: What’s Ahead for America, the World, and Global Politics in the Twenty First Century. NJ: Prentice Hall

–          Davies, Thomas Richard. 2007. The Possibilities of Transnational Activism: the Campaign for Disarmament between the two World War. ISBN 9789004162587

–          Stone, Diane. 2004. Transfer Agents and Global Networks in Trans-nationalization of Policy. Journal of European Public Policy, 11 (3) 2004: 545-66

–          Glasius, M; Kaldor, M; Anheier, H. 2006. Global Civil Society. London: Sage

–          Rossenau, JN. 1990. Turbulence in World Politics. New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf

–          Smith, S. 1989. Paradigm Dominance in International Relation: The Development of International Relation as a Social Science, in H. C. Dyer & l. Mangaserian (eds) The Study of International Relation: The State of the Art. London: Mc Millan