There was an explosion of all kinds of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) after the end of the Cold War. Academically during the 1990s, this explosion was understood from the perspective of a new concept: global governance. Let’s unpack what that discussion has been about:
Global Governance and NGOs: Opposing viewpoints
1) Global governance is a mainstream notion developed during the 1990s. It was a response to globalization, which became truly global after the end of the Cold War. The idea is that transnational actors such as international institutions and NGOs, are called on to provide solutions to transnational problems that are global: refugees, the environment, immigration, wars. Global governance implied that the ‘free market’ solution wasn’t working, and another authority had to supply coordination, cooperation, management and altruistic projects that the ‘free market’ couldn’t offer. Academics also believed that terrorism was and popular uprisings were the result of poorly managed economies and poverty. NGOs, it was believed, would step in and start up employment and reduce poverty. I participated in many academic debates on ‘global governance’ during the mid-1990s. This debate has died down somewhat in academia, because high hopes for GG and NGO participation globally, have not been realized.
2) Conservative investigative sites were the first the sound the alarm re: the new concept of global governance. Reporters like Alex Jones said it was nice-sounding term for a behemoth, un-elected, dictatorial ‘one world government’ under the auspices of the United Nations. In this view, NGOs are the well meaning puppets of this ‘one world government’. The puppet masters are considered to be the most elite bankers and multinational corporate leaders, who want stability to ensure good conditions for profit making. I think this view has a lot of validity if we look at it from the point of view of ‘elite theory’ (that a small elite is managing our lives and want to centralize power in fewer and fewer hands). MY CRITIQUE. Conservatives like Alex Jones want to eliminate as much government intervention as possible. I believe that the only a shift of wealth from the rich to the poor, under the management of the state, can effectively make change for the better.
3) On the other hand, left wing thinkers called the proliferation of NGOs ‘the rise of civic society’. The idea was that NGOS, whether under the auspices of the UN or a state, were the spokespeople for the masses, whose voices were going unheard at the state international level. NGOs provided the framework at the UN and other interstate institutions to voice popular concerns and to raise human rights issues. This view also has some validity. I have been a NGO delegate at the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1994,1996 and 1999. I myself have initiated resolutions and surfaced human rights issues that otherwise would have gone ignored (the humanitarian impacts of UN sanctions, for example). My book in 2004, describes my experiences. I saw firsthand the hard ‘human rights’ football that states play. It goes like this: I won’t raise your human rights issues, if you don’t raise mine. So for example, Russia was afraid that the US would accuse them of human rights violations in Chechnya, so didn’t want to raise US violations of Iraqi human rights during the UN sanctions period in Iraq, 1990-2003. But ultimately, I found human rights NGO efforts were productive. MY CRITIQUE: NGOs aren’t elected, and should not take the place of genuine democratic institutions. If funded by a party to a conflict, they cannot be considered neutral.