Academic journal article International Journal on World Peace

Non-Governmental Organizations: Mostly a Force for Good

Academic journal article International Journal on World Peace

Non-Governmental Organizations: Mostly a Force for Good

Article excerpt

The Treaty of Westphalia ended the Thirty Years' War in 1648, a war between Protestants and Catholics at the heart of Europe. The Westphalian settlement signified the beginning of modern international relations and the "plenipotentiaries creatively fused diverse ideas to put international order on a new footing."1 This new international system is often referred to as the Westphalian order and dominated world politics for the next 350 years. The Westphalian order was based on two main principles; the principle of statehood and the principle of sovereignty. The Westphalian order was a state-centric system and the rulers of Europe agreed that each had the right to govern their territories without outside interference.2 The Westphalian order was a system of governance which set in place the "rules of the game." That is, how states were to relate to and behave toward each other. But during the past few decades, the international system has been transformed in numerous ways including the multiplicity of non-state actors which at times cooperate with the state and at other times challenge the state. Among the plethora of non-state actors are thousands of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). NGOs have gained importance in international relations and politics. In this paper, I will explore the reasons for the growth of NGOs, the functions of NGOs, and attempt to assess NGOs. In assessing NGOs, I will also show that, despite their many deficiencies, NGOs are a force for good.

Before such an undertaking begins it is necessary to define an acceptable NGO (as opposed to an unacceptable NGO, i.e., Al-Qaeda, ISIS, etc.) because NGOs are often defined to fit the research agendas of scholars. Craig Warkentin defines an NGO as "private, voluntary, nonprofit associations whose membership and organizational activities cross national borders."3 Shamina Ahmed and David M. Porter define an NGO as "any international organization which is not established by inter-governmental agreement..." According to them, an NGO cannot be for profit, it cannot advocate violence, and it cannot be a political party, a school, or a university.4 Cornelia Beyer defines NGOs as "non-state, non-profit, non-violent organizations with the main objective of pursuing political and/or social change without striving for governmental power."5 Kerstin Martens provides a comprehensive definition of NGOs by stating that they possess the following characteristics:

NGOs are formal (professionalized) independent societal organizations whose primary aim is to promote common goals at the national or the international level.

NGOs are societal actors because they originate from the private sphere. Their members are individuals, or local, regional, national branches of an association.. .and usually do not (or only to a limited extent) include official members, such as governments, governmental representatives, or governmental institutions. NGOs promote common goals because they work for the promotion of public goods, from which their members profit and/or the public gains. NGOs can be professionalized because they may have paid staff with specifically trained skills, but they are not profit-oriented. NGOs are independent because they are primarily sponsored by membership fees and private donations. They may receive financial funding from official institutions, but only to a limited extent, so that they are not under the control of governmental institutions. NGOs are formal organizations because NGOs have-at the least-a minimal organizational structure which allows them to provide for continuous work. This includes a headquarters, permanent staff, and constitution (and also a distinct recognized legal status in at least one state).6

The United Nations definition of an NGO encompasses six principles: an NGO should support the mission of the United Nations; an NGO should be a representative body; an NGO cannot be a profitmaking organization; an NGO cannot advocate violence; an NGO must not interfere in the domestic affairs of states; and an NGO must not be established by an intergovernmental agreement. …

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