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date: 22 April 2018

Summary and Keywords

The rise of non-state (international, private, and transnational) actors in global politics has far-reaching consequences for foreign policy theory and practice. In order to be able to explain foreign policy in the 21st century, foreign policy research needs to take into account the growing importance of nonstate actorss. A good way to do this would be to engage the literature on globalization and global governance. Both fields would benefit from such an exchange of ideas because their respective strengths could cancel out each other’s weaknesses. Foreign policy research, on the one hand, has a strong track record explaining foreign policy outcomes, using a broad range of theoretical concepts, but almost completely ignores non-state actors. This is highly problematic for at least two reasons: first, foreign policy is increasingly made in international organizations and intergovernmental and transnational governance networks instead of national institutions like foreign ministries. Second, the latter increasingly open up to, and involve, non-state actors in their policymaking procedures. Thus, if foreign policy research wants to avoid becoming marginalized in the future, it needs to take into account this change. However, systemic approaches like neorealism or constructivism have difficulties adapting to the new reality of foreign policy. They stress the importance of states at the expense of non-state actors, which are only of marginal interest to them, as is global governance. Moreover, they also conceptualize states as unitary actors, which forecloses the possibility of examining the involvement of non-state actors in states’ decision-making processes. Agency-based approaches such as foreign policy analysis (FPA) fare much better, at least in principle. FPA scholars stress the importance of disaggregating the state and looking at the individuals and group dynamics that influence their decision-making. However, while this commitment to opening up the state allows for a great deal more flexibility vis-à-vis different types of actors, FPA research has so far remained state-centric and only very recently turned to non-state actors. On the other hand, non-state actors’ involvement in policymaking is the strong suit of the literature on globalization and global governance, which has spent a lot of time and effort analyzing various forms of “hybrid” governance. At the same time, however, this literature has been rather descriptive, so far mainly systematizing different governance arrangements and the conditions under which non-state actors are included in governance arrangements. This literature could profit from foreign policy research’s rich theoretical knowledge in explaining policy outcomes in hybrid governance networks and international organizations (IOs).

Foreign policy researchers should take non-state actors seriously. In this regard, three avenues in particular are relevant for future research: (1) comparative empirical research to establish the extent of non-state actors’ participation in foreign policymaking across different countries and governance arrangements; (2) explanatory studies that analyze the conditions under which non-state actors are involved in states’ foreign policymaking processes; and (3) the normative implications of increased hybrid foreign policymaking for democratic legitimacy.

Keywords: foreign policy analysis, non-state actors, globalization, global governance, international organizations, non-governmental organizations, multinational corporations, IR theory, hybrid governance, democratic legitimacy

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