Non-state actors: Multinational corporations and international non-governmental organisations

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An Introduction to International Relations: Australian Perspectives, 2007, pp. 272 - 282
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© Richard Devetak, Anthony Burke, Jim George 2007. Introduction World politics has always had a plurality of players. The key is not so much to determine which have primacy, but how they interact to produce the prevailing order. This chapter is structured around a discussion of multinational corporations (MNCs) and international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) respectively. Each is discussed in terms of first, the degree to which it has transnationalised, second, the extent to which it constitutes a social formation able to exert international agency, and third, the degree to which it is able to marshal political influence and status. It is argued there is no necessary antagonism between state and non-state realms. Instead, relations between state and non-state forces are intermeshed, and shaped by broader systemic conflicts. The chapter charts material class antagonisms that shape the role of MNCs and INGOs, and argues that these generate patterns of transnational contestation within international relations. In the post-Cold War context, globalisation theory made considerable headway. For hyperglobalisationists at least (see chapter 25), newly powerful transnational forces were overwhelming state and interstate incumbents. With US power embedded in a range of interstate frameworks, a model of multilateral unipolarity appeared to be emerging – a model wherein US dominance was embedded in and restrained by a network of multilateral institutions. More recently we have seen the advent of a significantly more unilateralist unipolarity, as the US increasingly disengaged itself from multilateral institutions by adopting exceptionalist and preemptive doctrines. The consequences for globalisation theory have been wide-ranging.
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