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Non Governmental Organisations And Their Influence on International Society:

A Review


            Ann Marie Clark’s article “Non-Government Organisations and their influence on International Society” in the 1995 winter volume of Journal of International Affairs, attempts to tell how Non-Governmental organisations affirm their influence in the international society. It explains they have had significant increase over the last one hundred years, with the most prominent causes being Human Rights and Environmental Protection. Clark forwards that the regime theory dictates international governmental bodies create a system of regimes where states can pursue their self-interest on a specific issues and that it stands to reason NGOs would also gravitate towards these “regime-based institutions” (because by nature they are issue specific bodies) in order to influence states. However, Clark does point out that regime theory when applied to Human Rights and Environment groups becomes self-contradictory, because these groups often make demands that go directly against states self-interest, bringing to the forefront issues of the states’ right to assert their sovereignty and self-determination versus humanitarian causes.

            Clarke goes on to argue that NGOs are influential and effective because they tend to champion causes governments and governmental agencies pay little or no attention to. Furthermore, their scope of concern is significantly smaller that state bodies, allowing them to focus more energy and resources on their particular cause. This affords them levels of expertise that governmental agencies can only envy.        

            Clark’s article is free flowing and easy to read and wisely avoids the pitfall of using subject special jargon enabling the layman to understand without having to ruffle brows. Personally the article helped to further comprehend that states are no longer the all mighty entities in the international community they once were and that now, more than ever —particularly with the rapid movement of information—power is being diffused.

            On the other hand there are some faults with her article. The piece is supposedly about NGOs and their influence, yet it does not get into the meat of the matter until the 11th page of the 19 page long essay. This was as a result of the unnecessary time spent giving generic background information. In addition, Clark spoke of influence in too general a term. She tells of NGOs achieving influence (change) via internal and external “pressure”, but at no point does the item give an explanation or an example of “pressure.” She subtly puts forward regime theory to explain NGOs in the international system, but while she acknowledges that it is at best weak, she nevertheless fails to offer another theory in order to account for NGO existence and their roles in the international community. In it simplest form functionalist advocates function specialisation. Considering NGOs usually adopt causes that states and other governmental bodies barely touch, in essence complimenting state practice, it is my opinion that functionalist may be the best theory able to explain NGOs’ existence and their functions.

            In my opinion the piece was not poor and it does take stride to be layman friendly, but it was not the best article that could possible be written, especially given the title. I think a more relevant article would have been to examine the influences that NGOs have on governmental bodies—whether it was positive or negative; if the channels which they choose were legal or legal; and if influence flows the other way as well possibly reducing the NGOs fronts for particular governments. None of the above was mentioned let alone examined in the item.

            As previously mentioned Clark’s essay was written in 1995 and since then there has been an even more pronounced increase in NGOs and NGO activities. Facilitated by the of the Internet’s proliferation, it is easier now, more than ever, to form and operate Non-Governmental Organisations. NGOs are utilising the Internet in order to contact and rally persons who that would have been difficult to reach before the information age. No longer must people be physically together to work and effectively organize internationals bodies.

            Taking everything in consideration the author did not do justice to her title and her opportunity to be heard. Given what she wrote, I believe a better title would have been “Non-Governmental Organisation: Their ways of Influence.”