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PSC 124.200: International Relations
Hans Peter Schmitz, Spring 2008
Actors in IR
What is a state?
A state is a legal entity with a permanent population (1), a defined territory (2), and a government (3). A state
has sovereignty, meaning that it controls its own borders, controls domestic affairs (monopoly of violence),
and solely represents the territory/population internationally. Under international law, all states are equal in
their rights.
What is an intergovernmental organization (IGOs)?
An intergovernmental organization is always based on a treaty among two or more states. IGOs differ in their
mandates (broad or specialized) and membership (universal or limited).
What is a non-state actor?
Non-state actors are private organizations and always based on the initiative of private citizens. There are
three basic types: 1. non-governmental organizations (not-for-profit), 2. multinational corporations (for
profit), and 3. violent non-state actors (terrorists, drug cartels, traffickers).
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs)
Non-governmental organizations are usually not driven by profit or narrow political aims (attain
office), but by shared principles and norms. NGOs fall into two broad categories – advocacy and
service. Advocacy NGOs primarily lobby for certain principles (human rights) on behalf of others
(Amnesty International); while service NGOs primarily deliver certain goods and services to needy
populations (CARE, OXFAM). They are usually tax-exempt.
Multinational corporations (MNCs)
A for profit organization which holds assets in more than one country. Multinational corporations
primarily yield economic power and the largest ones have greater assets than mid-sized or even some
developed nation states.
Violent non-state actors
There are many types of violent non-state actors. Their signature is the use of violence to further
their financial or political goals. Terrorists use violence to intimidate, drug cartels use violence to
assert their control over growers and to eliminate competitors, and traffickers use violence to extort
money from families and victims.
What are transnational relations?
Transnational relations are regular social interactions across boundaries when at least one actor is a non-state
The role of transnationalism
Transnational relations help non-state actors to increase their power and influence change across the world.
Domestic groups can appeal for international support from other NGOs and from intergovernmental
organizations. Transnational relations undermine state sovereignty by making border more porous and
compromising the control states have domestically and internationally. Transnationalism does not fit neatly
into the different levels of analysis, because it connects the domestic and the international.
What is the European Union? (EU)
The EU is both an intergovernmental organization, and a supranational entity. Everything the EU does goes
ultimately back to treaties among nation states (intergovernmentalism), but the powers the EU has are no
longer fully controlled by the member states. EU members have to give up parts of their sovereignty and be
willing to be governed by a supranational bureaucracy.