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Non-Governmental Organizations Around the World Research Paper

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Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) play a crucial role in world politics and social development of the nations. Nongovernmental organizations, such as transnational corporations and environmental interest groups, are major actors in global environmental politics. The relationship between these two sets of institutions and the Third World is generally reflective of the global economic power structure. Public–private partnerships exist beyond the nation-state as well as within it, with intergovernmental organizations contracting with think-tanks for policy advice, and with NGOs for the delivery of services. At one end of our spectrum lie companies and organizations the activities of which meet with full approval and support from one or more national governments; at the other groups and movements seen by the governments of most territories in which they seek to operate as threats to established order (Bennett, p. 74). Even here there are intermediate categories, with states sponsoring subversive groups (including ‘state-sponsored terrorism’) to undermine other governments. The aim of the paper is to discuss and analyze the role and impact of NGOs and their main activities in the Third world countries.

Role of NGOs on the Global Scale

It is known that the parallel development in transnational elite networks, advocacy groups and social movements partly reflected the impact of technological development: in raising new issues of nuclear safety, ethics or environmental degradation; and in creating new opportunities for transnational networking through the spread of new means of communication and transportation. It also partly reflected, in its turn, the loss of faith in state direction and state action throughout the advanced industrial democracies – and to some extent beyond (Bennett 66). First, there are the quintessential NGOs themselves, groups of liberal and cosmopolitan intent, who have, from the l960s onwards, come to occupy an increasingly important international role: OXFAM, Amnesty International, Greenpeace and other groups concerned with ‘good’ causes – development, human rights, women’s rights, anti-racism and so forth. Some are explicitly organized transnationally, some are located within specific national polities but have clear transnational agendas. All seek, be it noted, not to supplant states, but to influence their activities (Bebbington, p. 25).

Such relational, morally compelling, and even openly religious help is not the province of government’s own programs. It is, however, the natural mode of operation of nongovernmental groups, from nonprofit organizations and neighborhood clubs to congregations and ethnic associations. Thus the search is on to find ways to expand the role of nongovernmental organizations in the societal effort to come to the aid of the poor and needy (Bennett, p. 99). In the United States, as elsewhere, despite much disillusionment with government social programs and an upsurge of interest in voluntary action and religious charities, the actual movement is not to dismantle the “nanny state” and to turn the poor over to private charities and the churches. Rather the search is to find or create greater cooperation between government’s welfare efforts and the programs offered by the nongovernmental sector, including its many faith-based organizations (Hailey and Smillie, p. 43). NGOs have performed a number of functions. They have been outspoken national and international critics of government, TNC, and intergovernmental organization policies; they have worked in concert with IGOs; they have been important components of epistemic communities; and they have worked as independent monitors of agreements. NGO strategies vary: Some focus on traditional lobbying, and others use confrontational tactics (Bennett, p. 88). The more traditional approach includes working with intergovernmental organizations such as UNEP in developing and implementing international environmental arrangements. For example, environmental NGOs were able to influence the structure and policy of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) by convincing nonwhaling states to join the IWC. Because these new members were more susceptible to conservationist arguments, it was then possible to get the three-quarters majority necessary for a moratorium (Black, p. 31)

In what could be an attempt either to address NGO concerns or to co-opt these organizations, the World Bank is encouraging greater NGO participation in Bank-financed projects. Although the relationship between the NGOs and the World Bank is still largely adversarial, the two sides have established a working relationship. In 1982 an NGO— World Bank Committee was established; it is composed of senior bank managers and 26 NGO leaders from a variety of countries. Environmental interest groups also provide forums for networking and the gathering and dissemination of data (Bennett, p. 87). At both Stockholm and Rio, the NGOs’ parallel conferences offered a wider spectrum of information and viewpoints than did the formal UN-sponsored meetings. The credibility of some major NGOs is enhanced by the fact that they are usually perceived as being independent of any particular nation-state. Environmental NGOs can affect environmental behavior by initiating formal legal proceedings against states they perceive to be out of compliance with environmental law. One well-publicized instance involved the Earth Island Institute. A 1990 suit by the institute asked the U.S. District Court to compel the executive branch of the U.S. government to comply with the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) (Abdel 103). The MMPA’s objective was to address the problem of dolphins being harmed when purse-seine nets were used for tuna fishing (Billis, p. 54). The court ruled in the Earth Island Institute’s favor, banning U.S. imports of tuna from offenders. Mexico, one of the offending states, claimed the ban was a violation of GATT, and GATT’s three-member panel agreed that the court’s action was in conflict with GATT’s trade principles (Batsleer et al, p. 98).

Two environmental organizations that have activist international agendas are Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, both of which have primarily targeted issues related to the activities of the industrialized countries. Friends of the Earth believes the focus of environmental policy should be on fundamental social change rather than on temporary remedies. Its strategy is to draw maximum publicity to activities that are inimical to the environment. Over the years, Friends of the Earth has addressed the issues of alternative energy sources, wildlife, ozone depletion, transportation, and pollution (Billis and Harris, p. 33). Greenpeace has been the most confrontational of the direct action groups. Its creation was spurred by the atmospheric nuclear tests conducted after World War II. In the 1970s, activists began sailing fishing boats into the testing areas in an effort to force postponement of the tests. These interventions sometimes led to physical confrontations, as was the case in 1973 when French commandos roughed up Greenpeace volunteers. Twelve years later, members of the French intelligence service blew up the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior in the harbor at Auckland, New Zealand. One crew member died during the incident. Greenpeace campaigns have also targeted whaling and hazardous waste disposal (Billis and Harris, p. 88). The organization tracks the toxic waste trade and publishes an inventory. Since 1987, several environmental NGOs have begun to invest in conservation in the Third World. Conservation International, the Nature Conservancy, Rainforest International, and the World Wildlife Fund are among the institutions that have used debt-for-nature swaps to encourage conservation in developing countries. Creditor banks doubt they will ever recover all the money owed to them by developing countries; therefore, they sell some of these debts at a discount (Arellano- and Petras, p. 556). This has allowed Western conservation NGOs to purchase some of these discounted debts and then write them off in exchange for the debtor country putting local currency and effort into conservation. Many such swaps have involved countries in Central and South America. Some see this plan as a novel way of dealing with two problems: the massive Third World debt and the need for conservation of natural resources (Batsleer et al, p.98).

Third World Countries

Critics consider the industrialized countries’ banks to be the only beneficiaries of these transactions since they manage to get some of their money back. In this scenario, a developed country environmental group gives money to a developed country bank, and a Third World country provides money to its environmental groups or institutions to manage the protected area (Bebbington, p. 24). The environmentalists use the money to create or enlarge national parks, and rangers are assigned to protect the areas. But this method of imposed conservation is apt to fail in the long term unless other societal and political changes are made to support it. Government policies that would be productive include ending policies that subsidize destructive activities, discouraging the predation of some of the economic elite, and addressing the basic needs of the poor (Billis and Harris, p. 76). The case of Ecuador is instructive. Several parks have been established there, but the rangers have to contend with poachers, illegal loggers, foreign oil companies, large-scale plantation owners, and landless farmers (Van Rooy, p. 65).

Although Third World countries are constrained by their position in the world-system, this constraint is not the only determinant of their environ-mental politics. Their environmental agenda is also influenced by a variety of domestic factors, including tax and subsidy instruments, distribution of wealth and income, population pressure, the status of women, and the political power structure. Agricultural or natural resource pricing policies are intended to encourage specific behaviors. Governments sometimes intervene in agricultural markets in order to keep prices low, which can reduce agricultural incomes and investment in conservation. Subsidies can also have negative consequences for the environment; for example, they can encourage increased pesticide use, with all its negative impacts on human health and long-term agricultural well-being (Van Rooy, p. 77). They can also encourage a level of agricultural production that is not justified in economic or environmental terms. In the case of forest resources, the provision of government subsidies can result in overexploitation. Because of the decision=making structures in developing countries, this situation is difficult to change. Relevant decisions are frequently made by a small elite. This group, or its close associates, might have interests in commercial logging, ranching, plantation cropping, and large-scale irrigated farming operations. Consequently, investment incentives, tax provisions, credit and land concessions, and agricultural pricing policies are likely to favor this elite (Bebbington, p. 23).

The results are often disastrous for the economy and the environment. Also relevant to resource policymaking in developing countries is the fact that the elites of those countries often have more interests in common with the elites of the industrialized core than with the masses of the people within their own countries. Because of their attachment to core values, these groups’ policy decisions do not necessarily reflect the interests of the majority of the country’s population (Van Rooy 88). A related factor is the way in which power is reflected in private and public institutions, which can affect the way the costs and benefits of development projects are distributed. For example, indigenous peoples may bear the majority of the costs of a hydroelectric scheme that benefits another group. These people might lose their homes, farms, and fishing grounds; yet little or no effort might be made to mitigate the environmental and social impacts of the project. The environment has become a political issue in the Third World as a result of both internal and external pressures. Within Third World countries, citizens are becoming aware of the damage being done to the environment as a result of internally and externally initiated policies. Environmental NGOs have sprung up in developing countries, and women have become a significant force in some of these groups (Staudt, p. 55).

Major environmental problems include both environmental pollution and degradation of the natural resource base. The latter includes declining water supplies in the north; the loss of ecosystems such as forests, coastal wetlands, and wildlife habitats; the loss of arable land; and the degradation of cropland. In spite of the scope of the country’s natural resource problems (Van Rooy, p. 98). Chinese officials believe environmental pollution is a more pressing concern, with the major problems related to urban air and water quality, rural industrial pollution, and noise. Although China has an Environmental Protection Law and a network of institutions and organizations that address environmental protection, this circumstance does not necessarily result in environmental protection (Staudt, p. 55). Obstacles preventing adequate policy implementation include an emphasis on economic growth, limited resources, and a lack of skilled personnel. India has been a major beneficiary of World Bank funding for large dam projects, and the Indian government has drawn domestic and international criticism because of the way the projects have been administered. For example, the Sardar Sarovar Project was allowed to go forward without proper environmental or engineering appraisals (Riddell and Robinson, p. 96). These enormous projects displace local population and destroy ecosystems. Of particular concern to some domestic constituents is the distribution of the projects’ costs and benefits (Bryman, p. 32)Costs are being borne disproportionately by those least likely to benefit from the projects; additionally, local people have been excluded from the planning process. Local organizations have been developed to address such problems. India has a wide range of NGOs, with an estimated 10,000 organizations involved in development and environmental issues. As did China, India made its presence felt at Stockholm (Riddell and Robinson, p. 98). One reason was the presence of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi at a conference that had few heads of state or government in attendance. As the environmental regimes have evolved, India has been a strong supporter of the linkage strategy and was also one of the countries blocking the formulation of a forestry convention. For Rio, the UNCED planners had envisioned a forestry convention, along with the biodiversity and climate conventions.But India, as well as Malaysia and Indonesia, opposed this. Kamal Nath, India’s minister of environment and forests, spoke out in opposition to what he perceived as the globalization of India’s forest resources (Bebbington, p. 24).

The Third World is made up of a diverse group of actors. In the domestic sphere, they have moved toward formalizing environmental policies with new laws and organizations. The tension between development strategy and environmental policy is sometimes reflected in the contrast between the leaders’ rhetoric and environmental reality in these countries (Riddell and Robinson, p. 88). As the cases of India and China show, for these nations the linkage of treaty accession to financial and technical assistance is not merely political posturing; it is a pragmatic move that is necessary in helping these countries manage the demands of both growing populations and growing economies (Billis and MacKeith, p. 32). Their position at the periphery of economic power constrains the actions of Third World countries. A realist perspective of international relations focuses on the relations between the Third World countries and the industrialized world, and the asymmetry is apparent. However, this would present only a partial picture. Asymmetry is also reflected in the relations of other international actors, both governmental and nongovernmental, with the Third World. For the most part, these actors are closely identified with the developed world, yet none can be said to have an identical set of interests with any state or group of states. Rather, they can be described as having interests that overlap those of the states (Riddell and Robinson, p. 43). The governments of industrialized countries have sometimes been described as proxies for transnational corporations, but that is too facile a description. There are large areas of overlap, but these TNCs often have interests and options that conflict with those of their home countries. Some of the actors discussed do have significant interests in common with the Third World states (Hailey and Smillie, p. 86). An NGO like Greenpeace, which is involved in tracking the movements of toxic wastes, finds that this interest supports the objectives of some Third World states. On average, however, the interests of the NGOs and IGOs discussed are more consistent with those of the industrialized state governments than they are with those of the developing state governments. They reflect the interests of the core rather than those of the periphery (Bennett, p. 54).


A dilemma of common aversions requires a different response—a regime of coordination rather than collaboration. The only purpose of this type of regime is to avoid certain outcomes. If there is great conflict of interest, coordination can be difficult. Once a regime of coordination is established, it is usually self-enforcing; there is no need for strong mechanisms for surveillance and enforcement. The regime can provide an efficient means of collecting and distributing information, but it will not make provisions for monitoring. Because states would have little incentive to cheat, there is no need to devote resources to the prevention of defection. However, formal institution building is still useful under these circumstances because of the transaction-cost savings on the collection of information No matter how widely supported and carefully matched to international conditions, no international regime is perfect, and none operates in a static environment. Global conditions, the interests of individual states and other actors, and policymakers’ ideas about proper conduct and organization all change. In time, the issue around which the regime was created is likely to regain salience as problems arise. These changes put pressure on the regime that, if great enough, can threaten the regime’s survival. Regime transformation can occur in several ways. Internal contradictions can spur regime change; these contradictions may be built into the regime, or they may develop over time. In either case, they can threaten the success of the regime and create pressure for change or modification. Sometimes change results from exogenous factors, including shifts in the distribution of power away from states whose interests are served by regime prescriptions to states whose interests are frustrated by these prescriptions. In such cases, modifying the regime through amendments that better serve the rising states’ interests, replacing it with a new regime, or simply overturning it all seem possible. Problems may also arise because participating states redefine their interests. The parochial interests and ideologies of domestic elites sometimes act as modifying influences in the regime formation process. In addition, the state is just one of the institutions used by classes to represent their interests in the world-economy. Other dominant actors, such as transnational corporations and environmental NGOs, establish their own networks of power and influence and have interests that transcend those of the home state.

Works Cited

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