The Role of NGOs in the public debate and international relations
Elements for a Definition of a “Non Governmental Diplomacy”
The situation of the nearly three-quarters of humankind who live in the continents of the South is inadmissible. There are thus no grounds to accept it. This is the very simple fact shared by international-solidarity organizations. The first manifestation of this refusal of the unacceptable is a determination to act as closely as possible to the realities and the actors involved. This first mission has led to two others: the ambition of bringing the citizens or the organizations of our countries closer to partners of the countries of the South, and the need to analyze the rules of the international game and to make them change to become more equitable.
These three missions—local action, reinforcement of North-South connections, and advocacy for more equitable rules—are closely related. The legitimacy of lobby and advocacy actions is rooted in the involvement of organizations and their partners in a variety of local realities. To become professional, NGOs have become more specialized, but the unity of these three tasks is found today in the collectives to which everyone brings the fruit of their experience and their skill. If advocacy NGOs were cut off from local action, they would run a twofold risk: that of basing their positions, no longer on tangible experiences, but on approaches of an ideological nature, and that of short-circuiting their partners of the South and of considering international issues only from their standpoints as organizations of the North.
In this paper, we will focus on the role of NGOs in international negotiations. Advocacy actions aimed at public opinion, on the one hand, and lobby actions aimed at negotiators on the other hand, are trying to generate an environment that is favorable to the evolution of world regulation toward more fairness and sustainability. Whether at intergovernmental events—United Nations conferences, general assemblies of the Bretton Woods institutions, G8 meetings—or at nongovernmental events—the World Social Forum, for instance—NGOs, in protest as in proposal, are acting in a much more open negotiation space. The time of pure intergovernmentality is over. Diplomats, who have always kept the hand in negotiations, are working today in a field of forces where a huge variety of economic, social, territorial, or scientific actors are operating. Before taking place around a green, feltcovered table, a negotiation is won or lost in the public opinion. Another approach to diplomacy, open to new actors and new forces, is seeing the day.
Before considering the specific action of NGOs in the field of the public debate and that of international negotiations, some issues on contemporary diplomatic action and on the context in which international relations appear today need to be brought up.