The global influence of civil society is as never before. (Credit: Max776/Bigstock)
The global influence of civil society is as never before. (Credit: Max776/Bigstock) (via:

The Transatlantic Business Council, the cities of Tokyo, Sao Paulo, and New York, Mafia organization, groups of hacktivists, the anti-death penalty network, and the traditional family values network, as well as the United Cities and Local Government network (UCLG) and Climate Leadership Group (C40), are all newly important actors in today’s international affairs, as either individual actors or aggregated in networks.

In the complex post-international system of global politics, the relationship between governmental and non-state actors is more and more central. In recent decades, global governance has provided non-state actors with new opportunities to influence public decisions at the international level. Non-governmental actors are present in different forms in all phases of the international policy process: agenda setting, policy decisions, implementation, monitoring, and finally in policy evaluation.

Multi-stakeholder initiatives, private-public partnerships, transnational networks, hub cities, and foreign policy by proxy are all new forms of carrying out international politics. Today’s international affairs and global governance are strongly characterised by the interaction between traditional state institutions and non-state actors.

While government-to-government relationships are still very important, an actor who does not take into account the different types of non-state actors is bound to fail, or at least to have harder times, in pursuing its goals. This report intends to be an analysis and a guide both for governmental and non-governmental leaders in shaping their strategies regarding global politics.

The world in which we live is complex and plural. When under pressure, some political actors think that the best response is complete withdrawal inside national boundaries or a retreat into the vernacular. Other actors profess an unconditional faith in complete openness towards a completely integrated world.

The message of this report is that neither complete closure nor complete openness work by default. While there are certainly many opportunities out there in international affairs, there are also many risks. And we need to consider both simultaneously. In global politics, there are many actors and dynamics that exist beyond classic state-based scenarios. In order to be successful, any public action needs to take all of these variables into account.

Most of the time, in order to develop successful political action at the local and national levels, activism at the international and transnational levels is necessary. At other times, more caution is needed in building cross-border bridges and networks.

Without an understanding of the origins, dynamics, and consequences of globalisation it is difficult to analyse present-day political interaction. Moreover, it is not only a matter of analysis. Ignoring the playing-field and the implicit and explicit rules of the increasingly globalised world in which we live makes it impossible for any actor to be effective in public activities, whether political, economic, or social. A politician, business manager, civil servant, activist, or scholar who is unable to interpret globalisation cannot understand in a comprehensive manner the situation in which we live today, and they will be even less able to adequately manage it.

This report is divided into the following sections: Firstly, an account of the main challenges of current world order is provided. Secondly, the characteristics of current forms of global governance are analysed with a special focus on the interaction between state institutions, markets, and civil society actors. Thirdly, the main features of global multi-stakeholder politics are examined, including the key cleavages, mechanisms, and strategies of hybrid actors. In the final section, political considerations are formulated to assess the risks and the opportunities deriving from the new scenario of multi-stakeholder global politics.


  • The global political significance of civil society is increasing and is expected to continue to grow in the forthcoming decades due to the integration of the international system.
  • Civil society actors are powerful engines for social and political change at the national and international levels.
  • All actors in global politics need to take into account the relevance of civil society organisations.
  • Civil society organisations tend to be more effective when they coalesce with like-minded governments, international institutions, local authorities, and the business sector.
  • Engagement with civil society organisations tends to be multilayered and multidimensional, and requires political bargaining and readiness for political compromise.
  • International institutions are increasingly open to establishing formal channels of cooperation with civil society.
  • Governments have numerous opportunities to enhance their foreign policy activity through positive collaboration with civil society organisations.
  • Governments need also to be aware that civil society organisations might likewise enhance the ability of foreign actors to influence domestic politics.

1. The challenges of current world order

This report begins by analysing the major challenges that today’s global politics faces and the subsequent world order that could derive from the fundamental choices that will be taken. These are challenges that touch on both the individual level of citizenship and on the national and international collective sphere. The first challenge concerns the costs and benefits – and particularly who benefits and who pays the costs – of globalisation, i.e., the winners and losers in the era of global transformations. The second challenge concerns the transformations of the global order in coming decades and the progressive de-Westernisation of international politics.

2. Winners and losers

The question of who wins and who loses in a specific social interaction is a classic political question. Applied to the context of globalisation, this question becomes central for the political evaluation of the dynamics that so profoundly influence our lives and change our societies. It is thus important to understand them right from the start (Marchetti, 2016b).

The liberal understanding of the phenomenon of globalisation argues in terms of generalised beneficial results. What globalisation has brought about includes the following: the extension of life-expectancy; the growth of world GDP, which in 2000 was 42,000 billion dollars, seven times that of 1950 (Dreher, 2006); a higher level of economic wellbeing (Dreher, Grassebner, and Siemers, 2012); the spread of liberalism and the market-economy (Dobbin, Simmons, and Garrett, 2007); the bureaucratic rationalisation of administration (Boli and Thomas, 1997); the digital-technological revolution; juridical formalisation (Twining, 2009); the process of secularisation; the affirmation of human rights (Dreher et al., 2012); and finally, a general peace at the international level (Choi, 2010).

However, given that the distribution of these benefits has not been uniform, the question as to who has won or lost, or at least as to who has benefitted most, remains urgent.

The question of winners and losers is as central as it is controversial. Different answers have been formulated in the debate on globalisation. In short, we could argue that, generally speaking, among the winners are members of the international class, i.e., all those actors who have the possibility of exploiting the opportunities that the integration of socio-economic systems on a global scale generates (Wolf, 2004).

Who is part of this class? Many actors with different characteristics. There are the economic actors, the entrepreneurs able to invest abroad and to de-localise their businesses; the financial actors able to move large sums of money between countries; the highly-specialised practitioners able to sell their expertise on a global scale; and there is also an increasingly growing portion of global consumers able to buy goods online from any country. Global MNCs, as well as big INGOs, are also on the winning side of globalisation.

There are also the middle-to-upper classes who trust international institutions, are able to travel, study languages, change residency, invest overseas, and are in a position to enjoy the variety that cosmopolitan life can offer (Hessami, 2011).

But there are also the criminals, from narco-traffickers to cyber-criminals and terrorists that know how to take advantage of the security flaws and subsequent criminal opportunities in between compartmentalised national security systems (Heine and Thakur, 2011). It suffices here to think about the wave of terrorist attacks that have hit several European countries in recent years.

In more economic terms, those benefitting are certainly the upper classes, who have seen their relative wellbeing grow disproportionately over recent decades. The growing rate of inequality within countries remains an important characteristic of the processes of globalisation (Bergh, 2010; Dreher and Gaston, 2008; Milanovic, 2005; Piketty, 2014; Wade, 2003). In the 1970s, the richest 20 percent of the global population possessed income 30 percent higher than the poorest. In 2010, this gap had jumped to 66 percent. The tendency is thus towards a widening of the gap between rich and poor on a national scale (UNDP, 1999).

At the same time, it is necessary to stress also that globalisation has been just as much a process that has shaken the traditional balance of power and the traditional distribution of wealth on a global scale, improving the quality of life of millions of people.

It is, in fact, thanks to globalisation that numerous economies of the global South are today considered emerging economies, some of which are even expected to lead the world economy. It is thanks to globalisation that millions of people in India and China have escaped extreme poverty. As Katzenstein (2013) argues,

The largest beneficiary of globalization has been about 400 hundred million people in the Chinese countryside. World capitalism has never before produced an alleviation of poverty on this scale in so short a time. The greatest support for globalization is therefore to be found in Asia and China. Any reasonable defense of globalization must start here, at this admirable alleviation of appalling poverty. Globalization has affected, less dramatically, the middle class in China and India. The Indian middle class for example now numbers well over 300 million. All this has developed within a matter of [a] few decades. It has been an extraordinary turnaround. There has been an undeniable improvement in the wellbeing of humanity that is unparalleled in history. That seems to me very clear, and yet is often overlooked in public debate. The people of China and India however know this fact very well (Katzenstein, 2013, 226).

Numerous critical perspectives on globalisation have been formulated as well. For instance, it is stressed that global transformations have produced a number of negative socio-economic consequences, including a strong individualism that has disrupted social solidarity, high levels of unemployment, the destabilisation of traditional values, an incumbent ecological crisis, powerful economic-financial turbulence, and an aggravation of human exploitation.

Equally, globalisation is generating benefits to Western MNCs rather than to Western countries, since it is the latter that pay the high costs of unemployment, fiscal instability, rising criminality, and political instability. From this perspective, the relationship between trends opening up towards global integration and trends of political risk and instability is yet to be adequately studied (Marchetti and Vitale, 2014), but it is intuitive that significant costs are associated with the globalising process.

But who specifically are the losers? According to Rodrik, if you have a low level of skills or education and are not ready to move, then free trade represents bad news for you (Rodrik, 2011, 59). Turning upside down the description of the winners, we can argue that all those unable to take advantage of the new opportunities provided by globalisation are damaged by it. In this sense, the socially excluded (Munck, 2004), the exploited (Falk, 1999), and the less skilled (Gorz, 1988) are generally those who are damaged by globalisation.

Supporters of Donald Trump at a campaign rally. (Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Supporters of Donald Trump at a campaign rally. (Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr) (via

The working class with low skills in OECD countries have certainly been harmed by the economic openings associated with the process of globalisation. And along with them, trade unions have been downsized. The high levels of youth unemployment in OECD countries have been a consequence of the global competition in which countries with high production costs are at a disadvantage. But among the losers, we also have to remember the groups with localist identities that have seen their traditional ways of living threatened and have reacted with conservative approaches.

3. Which world order?

A second major challenge today concerns world order (Fabbrini and Marchetti, 2017). In the most fervent hyper-globalist projects the final step of humanity’s evolution coincides with a world system which is perfectly integrated in all of its dimensions: thus, a system that has a single global market, a single law and a supreme world court, and a single political-institutional system.

Analytically, Deutsch had already stressed in 1969 that “societal borders dissolve when there is no more critical reduction in the frequency of social transaction” (Deutsch, 1969, 99). This is the goal that a number of hyper-globalists would like to achieve. Are we on such a path? The answer is not straightforward. Whereas liberals argue that world integration is proceeding gradually but (as at least some argue) inexorably, for realists, the phase of integration that we are witnessing currently is subject to future change in terms of the redistribution of power at global level.

Liberals argue that the world in which we live is increasingly integrated and that this is generating significant benefits for humanity in terms of, in the final analysis, diminishing the probability of armed conflicts. Trade, and more generally, economic interaction, is constantly increasing and with this the irrationality implied by a cost-benefit analysis of war also increases. International institutions – including those which are classically intergovernmental and multi-stakeholder or private institutions of global governance – are increasingly robust and omnipresent.

The intrinsic distrust of international affairs is thus diminishing thanks to repeated interactions in institutional contexts. Finally, the specific form of democratic government is spreading and this, according to the theory of democratic peace, will lead to the pacification of the international environment.

In parallel to progressive economic integration, we are also witnessing the increasing difficulties of national political structures in tackling new global challenges. Interpretations of this phenomenon are numerous: for the most radical, globalisation marks the end of the state itself (Ohmae, 1995) or, at least, the end of the social democratic era (Scharpf, 1997). We are witnessing a retreat of the state (Strange, 1996) that will make it residual (Cerny, 1995, 2010), and an impoverishment of politics (Narr and Schubert, 1994) due to the so-called global trap (Martin and Schumann, 1997).

The logic of the global market thus creates a state which is completely focused on competition (Hirsch, 1997) and which leads to a race to the bottom (Krugman, 1997).

Different understandings of the state have been formulated to contradict these interpretations. Some still recognise a role for the state within the phenomenon of globalisation. Others see global transformations as a by-product of the very governmental action of great powers. According to the former, the state in any case maintains significant functions in terms of deciding and implementing public policies. National politics are thus there to soften the effects of integration (a sort of risk insurance) or at least to mediate external pressures.

Sovereignty is thus spread across many levels and among many institutions, but it is not completely lost, and citizens still have effective tools to determine their own lives. A more accentuated statist understanding is linked to the theory of hegemonic stability, by which current globalisation is the product of the US hegemony of recent decades, just as the period of global integration of the end of the nineteenth century and start of the twentieth century was also linked to the hegemonic power of the British empire.

Globalisation, or globalisations, are thus a product of such hegemony, but which also benefit the other states that decide – more or less freely – to adopt the political direction of the leading country (bandwagoning). Globalisation is thus animated by an open dynamic, which precisely because of this characteristic, tends to create instability, tensions, conflict, and war, because of the ambitions of emerging powers to challenge the leadership of the hegemon. This is the story of Germany before the First and Second World Wars, and this, according to some, is the destiny of the new emerging power, China.

If this interpretation is correct, the signs of the decline of American power would suggest a worrying outlook.

In short, there are six different scenarios on the future of globalisation and world order that animate the contemporary debate.

The first scenario, of a liberal nature, sees globalisation as an unstoppable movement in regard to which the emerging powers too should adopt strategies of adaptation based ultimately on Western liberal-democratic values. Globalisation would thus be destined for constant growth, albeit not necessarily at an increasing pace, which will end only when it has achieved complete integration. At that moment, democracy, the market economy, and liberalism will be spread all over the world and the system will be permanently stabilised, as depicted by Immanuel Kant.

The second scenario, also of a liberal nature, forecasts that once a certain physiological line has been reached, beyond which it is difficult to go, globalisation will slow down or even halt, so as not to risk the results of integration achieved so far. S sort of self-controlling socio-political mechanism would thus be activated, which would impose correction on the integrationist forces in order to temper social costs.

The third scenario, of a critical liberal nature, is based on the idea that the processes of globalisation are not governed and thus cannot be stopped voluntarily: they will continue to accelerate until the social costs become unsustainable and provide political space – in keeping with a dramatic dynamic of self-consumption – for the emergence of nationalist, anti-systemic, or regionalist forces which will overturn the logic of integration in favour of a return to nationalist closure and isolationism.

The fourth scenario, of a realist nature, argues similarly that the future is bound towards compartmentalisation. From a geopolitical viewpoint, if it is true that it has been transatlantic globalisation that has offered opportunities for political growth and economic emancipation to the emerging powers, it is, however, increasingly evident that this imbalance of power between West and East seems to put in doubt the ability of the system to hang together. Will the US be able to preserve its leadership in economic, military, and political terms? Observation suggests, conversely, a return to the compartmentalised logic of a multipolar balance of power on a macro-regional basis, with potential conflictual developments.

The fifth scenario, also of a realist nature, argues that the process of globalisation will go on, as it has always done, in cyclical waves of ups and downs: a phase of global integration will be followed by a phase of nationalist or macro-regional fragmentation, which will probably be ended by a conflict that will set the basis for the construction of a future expansive cycle of globalist integration. Important questions here would include: Will China challenge Western leadership militarily? Is China beginning to build up an alternative institutional system?

The sixth scenario, finally, presents an image, in constructivist tones, with less well-defined contours: it does not point either to the shrinking or to the preservation of global dynamics, but to their transformation. According to this perspective, which is close to the perspective of multiple modernities, the current level of supranational integration will take different paths from those that are today imposed by the West: it will see the formation of new hybrid modalities inspired by previously marginalised non-Western politico-cultural traditions. In this scenario, the consolidation of the emerging powers will not necessarily lead to a phase of conflict over new global hegemony, but rather to the formation of differentiated areas of development, some of them governed according to principles that are alien to us in the West. A world of differentiated capitalism could emerge, with parts of a single, global decentralised system incorporated (Buzan and Lawson, 2014).

4. Bipolarity, pluralisation, and the role of the (declining) hegemon

The relative decline of the US, the crisis of the EU, the consolidation of the BRICS countries, and the diffusion of power to non-state actors all constitute significant elements that characterise today’s political constellation at the international level.

The US has come out of its unipolar moment rather weakened. It is economically downgraded, wounded by 9/11, and diplomatically debilitated by numerous failures, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Ukraine, but it still retains a degree of global leadership.

The EU, after a period of ambitious self-promotion, is now at a serious impasse. The economic crisis has generated a political weakening. Internally, the once solidly permissive consensus has opened up the way for a much more pluralist debate within the EU, but this has also allowed for populist parties to become significant actors in European politics. Externally, the EU is unable to address its crisis areas both to the east and to the south.

In the BRICS camp, China is increasing its economic, military, and political power. Brazil and India are reaffirming their regional, quasi-global power. Russia is proving an obstacle to many Western projects.

Soldiers in Tiananmen Square. (Credit: Dean Jackson/Flickr)

Soldiers in Tiananmen Square. (Credit: Dean Jackson/Flickr) (via

The Islamic world is in turmoil, with the Sunni-Shia cleavage splitting many countries and generating regional instability.

Finally, the context of globalisation has generated many opportunities for non-state actors to play a significant role in international affairs. From classic intergovernmental organisations to standard-setting bodies, from international non-governmental organisations to multinational corporations, from criminal organisations to terrorist networks, the world seems a level playing field for many of them.

With the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, the world entered a period of unrivalled unipolarism that lasted for almost two decades and which was marked by increasing global integration (Marchetti 2017c). The 1990s began with the first Gulf War and were, later on, incisively marked by the two Clinton presidencies.

In this decade, a number of significant events occurred, including the war in Yugoslavia (1991-5) and the NATO bombing of Serbia (1999) on the security front, the creation of the WTO (1995) with – Chinese membership in 2001 – on the economic front, and Russian membership of the Council of Europe on the political front.

All in all, the world moved towards a clear path of global integration under uncontested American leadership. After the end of the Soviet era, Russia was weakened and unable to play an incisive role on the world stage; China was beginning to grow but it was unable to stand independently (this was clearly illustrated by the famous episode of the US bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999, which did not provoke any substantial reaction from the Chinese government).

From 2001, however, the path of global integration began to be questioned. Most acutely, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 posed a challenge to unrivalled American leadership. In a very different format, but equally critical, was the creation of the World Social Forum in Brazil as a place of radical contestation from below. Under George W. Bush, the US entered into two conflicts, in Afghanistan (from 2001) and Iraq (from 2003), which still remain open and have generated many controversies.

From a more institutional perspective, the creation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in 2001 marked the first major institutional divergence from the universal multilateralism guided by the West which dominated the 1990s. Reflecting this trend, in 2007 during the Munich Security Conference, Putin gave a speech demanding the end of unipolarism (Putin, 2007).

The year 2008 can arguably be considered a turning point for the international system. A systematic change seems to have originated in 2008 which is slowly pushing the world order towards a more multipolar or multi-centric model. The American economic crisis, which began in 2007 but erupted in 2008 with the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, contributed to weakening US status at international level. The EU followed a similar pattern a few years later.

Precisely when the West was experiencing these moments of weaknesses, a number of other major powers started to be more assertive and confrontational with the Western international system that had dominated the scene after 1989. As a consequence of the crisis, in 2008, the first heads of state G20 gathering was organised in Washington with the intention of tackling the economic crisis by bringing in the emerging economies. The G8 was no longer considered adequate for properly addressing this major instability. In the same year of this institutional revolution, the re-emerging powers asserted their role in world politics also in other ways. Russia intervened militarily in Georgia to reassert a sphere of influence on its doorstep. China organised the Olympic Games in Beijing to assert its return to the world stage.

The world after 2008 has looked like a world in which the project of global integration in political, economic, and security terms is increasingly distant, and instead a regional fragmentation and a West vs. BRICS tension is being accentuated. Regional blocs have seemed increasingly to be in competition: The Eurasian Customs Union was created in 2010 as a barrier to the European Union’s power of attraction, with Ukraine, Georgia, and Armenia being the points of contention. Inter-regional trade agreements were signed (TTP, 2015) and are being negotiated (TTIP) as substitutes for the universal WTO rounds and as ways of re-establishing Western leadership by systematically excluding the BRICS countries from the negotiating table.

New financial institutions were created and headquartered in China (the New Development Bank/BRICS Development Bank in 2014, and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in 2015) which alter the America-centrism of the world economy. Finally, mega-infrastructure projects have been launched, such as the Chinese One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative that aims to link the entire Eurasian region – excluding the US – within a single platform.

It is clear that a decisive actor for the concretisation of one of the aforementioned scenarios will be the US. The US has always interpreted its hegemonic position as a leverage of power for the creation of a relatively free and integrated market system. It is in such a context that there has been the proliferation of non-governmental actors and also the diffusion of power among private environments. Overall, although not solely responsible, the US is certainly the source of the processes of globalisation which we have witnessed across the past thirty years. The US is the actor who has best interpreted the single most important rule of the global game: preserving and increasing power today entails going global in a multidimensional way.

In this context, however, the US has probably overstretched and its balance of payments has shifted towards profound structural instability. Many would agree that in recent decades the world economy has produced the image of one great consumer (the US) and many producers/exporters (the others).

This has given rise to the so-called dilemma of the hegemon, formulated for the first time in the 1960s by Triffin (Triffin, 1960), according to which a hegemon with a currency that serves as the world currency will be structurally prone to a balance of payments deficit, because of the large demand for its currency. In order to cover its constant expenditures (including military expenditure), the hegemon will have to increase its debts through the sale of treasury bonds, which will go on to constitute capital reserves in foreign countries. In this situation, creditor countries will have an interest in maintaining financing towards their debtor country (up to today, still without any kind of conditionality), in order to make their loans reimbursable in the mid to long term, and to enable the world economy’s continued growth, through the constant injection of capital. At the same time, however, the more the debtor country continues to indebt itself, the less credible it becomes.

In a situation like this, the central question is about the US’ propensity to spend, and to thus increase its debt. If this should not happen, if the US were to decide to renounce its leadership of the world economy, if it was to declare insolvency, what would happen? Could the European Union have a role? Would China do its bit? Would global governance be able to manage the void left by the hegemon? Would the diffusion of power and the strengthening of the non-state actors be enough to stabilise the system without its hegemon? Would globalisation leave the field to waves of mercantilism? Would a new world conflict be more likely?

To answer these crucial questions for the future of globalisation, and hence for the future of world order, it is increasingly necessary to study the role of the US, and to try to understand whether its centrality in the dynamics of economic, political, and security globalisation is destined to endure in the mid-term (Kagan, 2012; Nye, 2012), or whether, as some argue (Ikenberry, 2011; Kennedy, 1987), it really is in a phase of decline. If the latter is true, then the crucial task is to understand how the US and the consolidating powers (be they governmental and non-governmental) are going to manage this new situation, and to understand whether there is going to be a win-win power-sharing compromise, a deepening divide, or indeed, a clash.

Of course, other major powers will also play a role, but this will inevitably remain anchored in or dependent on American decisions. The EU will have to manage its deep economic and political crisis: the political cleavage between European enthusiasts and Euro-sceptics is deepening, the economy is struggling to relaunch itself, the social cement of the EU is being put under pressure by the migration issue, and finally the unity of the Union itself is being questioned by Brexit and other independence movements. China will have to manage its economic performance in a sustainable way.

Increasing pressure is being put on the Chinese government to open up strategic sectors such as public procurement, banks, and services. This will alter the ability of the government to control the economy and will provide an opening for foreign actors. Will the CCP will be able to resist such pressure? Is China really going to be globalised, or is globalisation going to be Sinocised?

Finally, Russia will have to negotiate a compromise with the EU in order to at least re-establish a modus vivendi that could allow for the continuation of the intense interdependence between the two actors. Maintaining economic growth and preserving political stability are two tightly linked goals here.

The scenarios presented above are linked to a number of models for the international system that suggest different distributions of power.

A classic model (in the terms of the last twenty years at least) is that of America’s uni-polarism, by which the world continues to be led by the US as the unchallengeable military, economic, and thus, political power. This kind of interpretation represents a traditional and widely held view across the US government.

From this perspective, the US is destined to guide the rest of the world, given its exceptional nature, the shining ‘city on a hill’, that gives it a role of responsibility towards the rest of the international community. We find this vision embedded in both the Republican (Bush, 2002) and the Democrat (Obama, 2007) readings of US world leadership, but also among many scholars (Kagan, 1998; Krauthammer, 2003) and in many official documents (Department of Defense, 2012).

A second much-discussed model is the so-called G2, between the US and China, whereby the two superpowers of our age confront each other in an atmosphere of increasing rivalry, and the destiny of the international community depends on the resolution of this competition.

According to the most accredited data, in aggregate terms the Chinese economy is destined to become the largest in the world, having already surpassed the Japanese economy in 2010. The US, after a long period of world economic primacy, is thus doomed to relinquish the top position in favour of the (re)emerging power, China, which accounts for around 23% of global GDP, exactly the position it had before European colonial expansion.

According to American liberals, this change in economic leadership will not destabilise the international system because the existing international institutions are sufficiently robust enough to handle the change, while forcing the new leader to accept the current rules (Ikenberry, 2011). According to American realists, however, the United States will continue to be the hegemon, but, if were it to decline, the international system as we know it would also change radically, insofar as it is the byproduct of power distribution (Kagan, 2012). From the perspective of the G2, much will depend on the kind of relationship that will be established between the US and China, i.e., whether it will be cooperative, and win-win, or competitive, and zero-sum.

A third model is a tripolar system led by the US, the EU, and China. According to this perspective, the logic of the old triumvirate of US-EU-Japan would see China take over the Asian role, but the triad would remain substantially unaltered with most of the world’s economic, military, and political interactions taking place among the three macro-regions with imperialistic features (Khanna, 2008). The change would, however, provide a different political perspective that would animate the regions involved. While Japan was aligned with the political vision of the Western world, today’s scenario is unprecedented.

A much-discussed model is that of a multipolar world in which, alongside the US and the EU, emerging countries consolidate their position, especially the BRICS countries, i.e., Brazil, Russia, India, and China, with the addition of South Africa, but also other countries with considerable economic weight such as the MIKTA countries (Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey, and Australia). According to this outlook, the world is thus moving towards a roughly balanced, if unprecedented, model of power, because for the first time in many centuries Western countries will have to share power with other countries from the global South.

There is also a fifth model: the a-polar world (Avant, Finnemore, and Sell, 2010; Haass, 2008; Hale and Held, 2011; Khanna, 2011) – a world in which power is spread across many actors, including non-state actors.

This is a world strongly moulded by globalisation, a model that rejects realist state-centric exclusivity. It is a post-international model insofar as it goes beyond the Westphalia state-centrism to embrace a conceptualisation of global politics as fully pluralist, i.e., including states (and of course great powers), but also intergovernmental organisation, non-governmental organisations, business actors, local authorities, media etc.

From this viewpoint, the best conceptual map to guide our understanding and actions in the global age is much more complex than the previous four maps that we have examined. On the one hand, the state as a unitary actor is seeing its central role wane in favour of a disaggregation into sub-state authorities with increasing transnational agency (Slaughter, 2003, 2004). Transnational governance networks are acquiring ever more importance: courts, public authorities, inter-parliamentary assemblies, and central banks are all increasing their levels of cooperation with international counterparts.

On the other hand, there is an increasing number and range of non-governmental actors demanding inclusion in the international decision-making process, or directly acquiring authority, expertise, and power to influence international affairs in parallel to and regardless of state authority. From international gatherings such as the World Economic Forum to the global terrorist groups Al-Qaeda or Daesh, from philanthropic foundations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to social movements like Movimento Sem Terra, from international NGOs such as Greenpeace and Amnesty International to the Tibetan diaspora, from alternative media such as Wikileaks to the stars of charitable work like U2’s Bono, from think tanks such as the Council on Foreign Relation to investment banks like JP Morgan Chase, from rating agencies such as Standard and Poor’s to major global media powers like CNN and the new media types, Facebook and Twitter, from cities to regions, non-state actors are everywhere in global politics (Khanna, 2011; Naìm, 2013).

It is this a-polar model that underpins the analysis in the present report.

Politics in the era of globalisation is much more complex than in previous eras. Phenomena in one location are often connected with phenomena in other locations. To have political control of a dynamic that develops in multiple dimensions, levels, and locations requires advanced skills in terms of understanding, judgment, and innovation. A major focus of analysis needs to be global interaction and the institutional framework of so-called global governance.

5. Global governance and the interaction between state institutions, markets, and civil society

The current institutional framework is comprised of different elements, including state entities, international and transnational organisations. The international correlate of domestic state institutions is conventionally known as the state system. Arising almost simultaneously with the state itself, the state system was grounded on the classic institutions of sovereignty and international law. Rarely a stable system, a distinct break was marked in the middle of the twentieth century with the establishment of the United Nations.

In the last few decades, a significant change has taken place in the international institutional framework concerning the substantial increase in, and intensification of, the mechanisms of global governance, which have paralleled and at times challenged the United Nations order (Czempiel and Rosenau, 1992; Hale and Held, 2011; Koenig-Archibugi and Zürn, 2006; Risse, 2011; Rosenau, 1997).

The model of embedded liberalism – a combination of free market and national welfare policies (Ruggie, 1982) – has created an increasing need for deeper and wider international cooperation, which has finally led to the establishment of a dense network of multi-stakeholder and mono-functional organisations (Slaughter, 2004; Zürn, 2004). A constant growth of political norms and legal dispositions with a low level of democracy has become increasingly characteristic of the institutional side of present-day society, eroding the legitimacy of both the state and classic international law.

Global governance is distinguished from classic government because it does not require the same level of centralisation, formalisation, and integration. Global governance is based on norms, rules, and procedures designed to solve problems at a global level, but does not require a unique source of power. Among the characteristics of the current system of global governance, the following are the most important.

Firstly, every form of governance covers an ample spectrum of actors, given that it directly relates to a system of multilateral rules at global, transnational, national, or regional level (Held and McGrew, 2002b, 8-13). Rules of governance tend to be much more intrusive when compared with traditional intergovernmental rules, and generate demands for increased legitimacy (Woods, 2000a, 217).

Secondly, notwithstanding its wider spectrum, the system of governance is more limited in terms of inclusiveness and participation, since it concerns only specific issues and the agents involved therein (stakeholders) (Krasner, 1982, 185).

Thirdly, by being multilateral (including three or more actors) it induces generalised principles of behaviour and wide reciprocity (Caporaso, 1993; Keohane, 1986; Ruggie, 1993). Moreover, governance is polyarchic, given that it includes different authorities, often on a formally unequal stage, such as states, sub-national groups, and special transnational interests (Rosenau, 1992, 284-5). Global governance thus implies a change in the concept of international agency, insofar as states and the United Nations become increasingly more integrated with a number of other structures of multilateral governance.

Rosenau and Czmpiel perceive global governance as a totality of regulatory mechanisms not emanating from an official authority, but generated by the proliferation of networks in an increasingly interdependent world (Czempiel and Rosenau, 1992). Global governance is seen not as a result, but as a continuous process that is never fixed and has no single model or form (Koenig-Archibugi and Zürn, 2006). Regulation is not simply a body of established rules, but is the ongoing result of a permanent game of interactions, conflicts, compromises, negotiations, and reciprocal adjustments.

Five tendencies characterise recent forms of global governance: 1) the fusion of the national and the international; 2) the increased role of non-state actors; 3) the emergence of private governance; 4) the move to a new method of compliance; 5) the growing complexity of the institutional horizon (Avant et al., 2010; Hale and Held, 2011). It is necessary to analyse these tendencies one by one.

Firstly, national politics are increasingly influenced by international politics, but these, too, remain strongly dependent on national political dynamics, in a reciprocal link that seems difficult to resolve. The neologism “inter-mestic”, combining international and domestic, is often used in this regard. As far back as the 1970s, Keohane and Nye had begun to study the phenomenon of interdependence (Nye and Keohane, 1971). In the 1980s, Putnam’s famous study marked a milestone in the debate about constantly balancing the two dimensions (Putnam, 1988). More recently, Slaughter has pointed to the importance of transnational networks (Slaughter, 2004).

Secondly, non-state actors have increasingly become protagonists at the international level. Their relevance had already been a subject of study by the 1970s (Keohane and Nye, 1977, 1971). In the 1980s, it was relatively marginalised because of the revival of neoliberal institutionalism. In the 1990s, non-state actors were again the subject of important studies (Keck and Sikkink, 1998; Risse-Kappen, 1995) but remained subordinated to interaction with states. It is only in the last decade that it has become evident that non-state actors are able to influence global politics in an autonomous way.

Thirdly, global governance is increasingly more private (Hall and Biersteker, 2002). While traditional authority at the international level relied on the principle of delegation and was embedded within an institutional format, today we increasingly witness the consolidation of new forms of authority that are far more private. Authority is thus recognised in private subjects not on the basis of delegation through mostly electoral mechanisms, but on the basis of expertise (for example, technocrats acquiring increasing power in decision-making processes) (F. Fisher, 1990), or on the basis of moral credibility (consider, for instance, the prestige enjoyed by NGOs or celebrities) (Busby, 2007; Kapoor, 2012), or on the basis of the ability to accomplish a specific duty (take, for example, the mercenaries contracted to wage armed conflicts, or the NGOs working on cooperation and development) (Hulme and Edwards, 1997).

Fourthly, respect for rules is obtained through soft authority rather than coercive power. Traditionally, respect for rules was obtained through formal sanctions. Today, however, rules are not necessarily formal and their enforcement does not necessarily occur through sanctions. What is used, rather, are voluntary regulations, recommendations, best practices, transparency, and accountability. There is a shift from the “command and control” model to a “managerial approach”, which is substantiated by the improvement in the ability and the will of actors to comply with international standards through actions of capacity-building and normative persuasion (Avant et al., 2010).

This shift is in some way made necessary by the lack of a single central authority that is empowered to sanction, and also by the simultaneous functional need to respect shared standards. These standards, 1) can thus be created by very different actors; 2) can apply as a whole to a group of highly diversified actors that require non-restrictive rules so as to obtain consensus more easily; 3) imply low costs for their formulation; and 4) involve the important role of persuasion in securing their compliance.

Fifthly, the institutional panorama is increasingly more complex. The proliferation of international institutions, whether intergovernmental, multi-stakeholder, or private, is transforming the way politics is conducted by transforming the strategies adopted by actors in global politics. This can be seen, for instance, in the consolidation of (even hybrid) institutions composed only of like-minded actors. The phenomenon of so-called forum shopping, by which actors look around in search for the most favourable institutional and juridical framework, is increasingly frequent.

6. The new actors in global governance

To understand today’s global politics, we certainly cannot limit ourselves to observing state actions or intergovernmental action, but of necessity, we also have to take into consideration the action of other non-state actors. Among these, four categories are particularly relevant: profit-oriented transnational enterprises; non-governmental civil society organisations that tend to have public goals; local authorities, representing both regions and cities; and private or multi-stakeholder organisations that regulate specific sectors through the formulation of standards (the so-called standard-setting bodies).

While they are not exhaustive of the variety of actors of global governance, these types represent, however, an important and innovative component of the new world politics. Significantly, the sheer number of transnational enterprises, civil society non-governmental organisations, and standard-setting bodies has increased significantly in recent decades and follows a pattern which is very much in line with the spread of globalisation. A similar pattern can be identified in the development of the international projection of diplomacy by cities and regions.

Non-state actors have acquired an increasingly large role in world politics by fulfilling an increasing number of functions. They contribute to bringing new issues to public attention, and in doing so they participate in the formation of the political agenda (just think of the recent civil society campaign for the abolition of the death penalty). They lobby policy-makers (let us recall the decision to waive the debt of the most indebted countries at the end of the millennium). They offer technical assistance to governments and to intergovernmental organisations (for example, the legal help provided by many NGOs during the conference that led to the Charter of the International Criminal Court of 1998).

Non-state actors provide funds for both private and public actors (as an example of the former, note the considerable resources allocated by the Bill and Melissa Gates Foundation for sanitary projects worldwide; and of the latter, observe the income fundamental to the functioning of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), which originates for the most part from the taxation of enterprises on their patents and trademarks). They formulate regulatory decisions (think of various codes of conduct, and of the Kimberly Process guidelines for the trade of diamonds). They implement programmes and public policies (consider the whole development aid sector, but also the role played by mercenary troops in conflicts). They provide services (for example, the private centres for the release of visas, which in the past was a sovereign prerogative of embassies). Non-state actors monitor respect for international agreements (note the files compiled by the most significant NGOs on human rights, which are then received by the most important intergovernmental organisations, such as the United Nations). They resolve disputes (numerous chambers for arbitration resolve international litigation in a totally private manner), and also apply decisions, acting as so-called enforcement (for instance, the strategy of numerous NGOs to enhance respect for rules through campaigns to discredit governments and multinational corporations).

7. Business actors

Among politically active transnational actors, the multinational corporations (MNCs) are the most significant in terms of their actual ability to shape public decisions (Barnet and Müller, 1974; Marchetti 2016b). A multinational corporation is an organisation that owns or controls the production of goods or services in one or more countries other than their home country, engages in business activity outside the country of origin that depends financially on operations in two or more countries, and takes its management decisions based on regional or global alternatives. A multinational corporation can then be organised with a “parent” company, often in the global north, and “subsidiary” companies in other countries.

MNCs are among the biggest economic institutions in the world today. The 300 largest MNCs control one-quarter of the world’s productive assets, worth about $5 trillion. MNCs’ annual sales are comparable to or greater than the GDP of most countries. Just to give a few examples, Wal-Mart’s revenues in 2010 exceeded the respective GDPs of 171 countries. Shell’s 2010 revenues were bigger than the GDPs of Argentina, Austria, and South Africa. The largest five automakers in the world in 2010 had revenues equivalent to 1.24% of total global GDP, which is more than the GDP of the Netherlands.

The ancestors of the MNCs were first established in the sixteenth century with the development of the colonial era. A typical example from that time is the East India Company. The first corporations with the characteristics of the current generation, however, were only created in the nineteenth century with industrial capitalism. The real boom occurred during the two decades after World War Two. From the 1980s, a further push took place thanks to the increase in FDI in less industrialised countries (with the correlated development of political risk analysis). MNCs have traditionally been based predominantly in Western Europe, North America, and Japan. In recent years, however, the number of MNCs based in the south, especially in the BRICS countries, has increased significantly.

MNCs are active players in current global governance (Cutler, 2003; Higgott, Underhill, and Bieler, 2000). They are political as well as economic actors.

They lobby governments and international organisations intensely, especially in the so-called Washington and Brussels complexes (Dam, 2001); they create transnational networks with political ambitions (Detomasi, 2007; Reinicke, 1997); they enter into multi-stakeholder initiatives (Austin, 2000; Heap, 1998); they develop independent political enterprises, producing means for public and self-regulation (Braithwaite and Draho, 2000; Haufler, 2001); and they carry out specific policies such as development aid and disaster relief.

They also take part formally in the proceedings of many intergovernmental and multi-stakeholder organisations (Nelson, 2002). For instance, MNCs are part of the FAO Food Security Committee (together with a number of other non-state actors) and constitute the primary partner in the UN Global Compact Initiative aimed at establishing global conduct in corporate social responsibility (CSR). National industrial associations regularly take part in the Business 20 (B20), the business correlate of the G20, as civil society organisations participate in the C20 and youth organisations in the Y20. MNCs are component parts of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, again together with other stakeholders. The presence of MNCs in many decision-making processes at the international level is constant and incisive.

Three main types of roles are played by MNCs in the processes of international affairs (Nye, 1974). Firstly, MNCs conduct private foreign policy. MNCs lobby foreign governments independently from their national government, though they also lobby their own government to increase pressure in their favour. They may work on political fractures within the government or may try to bring outside pressure to bear on the entire government. Secondly, MNCs can play an unintended direct role as instruments of influence. Powerful governments may use the presence of the legal entity of the MNC in their territory to put pressure on, constrain, if not altogether control the international operations of the MNC that are relevant for its foreign policy objectives. Thirdly, MNCs may play an indirect role as an agenda setter among, and perhaps above, the positions of the different national governments.

MNCs are among the most powerful actors on the international scene for a number of distinct reasons. Firstly, the common-sense shifts in threat perception and the subsequent reorientation of public policies towards economic and welfare issues have brought MNCs to political prominence. Secondly, their sheer economic power is so big that very few governments enter into competition with MNCs. Thirdly, MNCs are particularly mobile, thus they can easily move from one country to another, or rather threaten to do so. This way, the bargaining power of MNCs in comparison with less mobile governments and trade unions is exponentially increased. Fourthly, MNCs can use their partners and their channels of entry in multiple countries to circumvent national regulations.

Thanks to this triangulation, MNCs are able to exert political pressure on national governments. Under these circumstances, the only institutional setting able to be effective in regulating MNCs is, in principle, provided by global institutions. The shift from national regulatory systems to transnational regulatory systems is evident. That is why MNCs are so keen on lobbying all international and global institutions that contribute to the formation of global regulatory regimes (Braithwaite and Draho, 2000).

The global economic transformations of the second half of the twentieth century created the conditions for the political empowerment of MNCs. While during the Cold War, MNCs were primarily focused on influencing home and host governments, in the age of globalisation, MNCs have begun to attempt to influence public policies and regulations within and across multiple jurisdictions, including at the transnational and global level, as a competitive business skill.

In a liberalised world in which states compete to attract FDI, MNCs have found themselves in a particularly powerful position to bargain over and influence public regulation. All in all, three broad hypotheses have been formulated on the mechanisms that account for the unprecedented power of MNCs. According to the hypothesis of the decline of the Westphalian state, the power of MNCs has increased in relation to other actors such as governments and other societal actors.

According to the hypothesis of the decline of the regulatory state, MNCs prefer to see regulatory authority shift away from national governments and towards supranational institutions, but at times it is also true that MNCs seek to enhance domestic governments’ capacities to establish stringent regulations. Finally, according to the hypothesis of the race to the bottom, supranational regimes facilitate the lowering of regulatory standards across jurisdictions, especially in labour, environmental matters, and health and safety, and this generates advantages for MNCs. Here too, however, these supranational regimes might actually increase standards (Levy and Prakash, 2003).

8. Transnational civil society

It is nowadays widely recognised that civil society organisations (CSOs) play a significant role in global governance (Busby, 2010; Keck and Sikkink, 1998; Khagram, Riker, and Sikkink, 2002; Marchetti 2016b; Risse-Kappen, 1995; Rouillé d’Orfeuil, 2006; Tarrow, 2005b).

Throughout recent decades, and particularly after the end of the Cold War, the presence of CSOs in international affairs has become increasingly evident. They have assumed importance in the definition of the agenda and in the legislative functions of global governance, in transnational diplomacy (Track II and III diplomacy, respectively: diplomacy between governments and foreign populations, and diplomacy between CSOs of different countries, like transnational networks), and in the implementation and monitoring of a number of global issues ranging from trade to development and the reduction of poverty, from democracy to human rights, from peace to the environment, from security to information. In these sectors, CSOs have fulfilled the function of promoters of political solutions, providers of services, brokers of knowledge, or simply controllers of state and intergovernmental actions (Risse, 2002).

The transnational mobilisations of the last thirty years have taken place within particular political circumstances. The conditions that constituted a favourable environment for the strengthening of transnational activism, and its progressive inclusion in international decision-making, can be divided into two main types: socio-economic and institutional-normative. Among the socio-economic conditions, there are four main factors—firstly, the transformation of the state’s functions; secondly, the process of globalisation; thirdly, the IT (information technology) revolution; and fourthly, numerous socio-economic processes related to education and travel. Among the institutional-normative conditions, there are three main elements firstly, new rules for participation; secondly, the transformation of authority and modes of compliance; and finally, the specific set of liberal principles embedded in the system of global governance.

Within the four socio-economic conditions, the privatisation of functions previously performed by the state has undoubtedly cleared new political space for CSOs. The state’s financial resources declined in the 1980s and 1990s and its overall role in international affairs was consequently reduced. At the same time, the increasingly discredited ability of the overloaded and over-bureaucratised state to deliver fundamental services mounted up, as did a number of differing ideological perspectives (including not only neoliberalism and the Third Way, but also the principle of subsidiarity) all of which suggested that the value of non-state actors, at times, constituting a better functional substitute, was being recognised.

Public welfare spending was considered detrimental, a sort of rival to personal responsibility, entrepreneurship, and private investment essential in times of economic slowdown. The collapse of socialism yielded even more support for the rise of the third sector. As a consequence of this new context, CSOs were able to mobilise resources from both the state itself (which opted for the cheapest and most effective way of subcontracting its tasks, mainly to NGOs) and from other private and public sources, in order to perform collective functions previously in the hands of public institutions (Hulme and Edwards, 1997).

The globalisation process generated a sense of common purpose among civil society actors, and led to both internal unification, by increasing the sense of solidarity among civil society organisations, and to protest against the socio-economic consequences of globalisation (Van Rooy, 2004). For the first time, a number of ad hoc coalitions and campaigns were organised on a trans-ideological basis, surmounting the traditional political barriers of previous forms of national mobilisation, and targeting a number of controversial aspects of globalisation.

The technological innovations in the IT field, too, revolutionised the organisational patterns within civil society (Hill and Hughes, 1998). Through the internet, groups from different parts of the world have been able to increase their political know-how, as well as their ability to join forces transnationally, so as to address common targets.

Moreover, changes in social behaviour, such as the proliferation of higher education and the expansion of international travel, have enabled CSOs to help larger groups of activists to contact one another. The economic growth of the 1960s and early 1970s generated a new bourgeoisie in many countries, particularly an urban middle class, which in subsequent years became the main provider of transnational activists.

The spread of knowledge and the building of new, reliable transnational relations increased the awareness of social inequality and the political mechanisms underpinning it, thereby providing the basis for mobilisation (Smith and Wiest, 2012, 168). Citizens felt empowered and confident enough to mobilise even at the international level. Subsequent successes simply reinforced such self-confidence by sharing best practices and reciprocal support.

Three further institutional-normative conditions related to the system of global governance are relevant. The current global governance arrangement allows for the participation of a number of different political actors considered to be relevant stakeholders. The UN has actively promoted cooperation with civil society, originally inside ECOSOC (Article 71, Charter of the United Nations), but additionally within almost all of its agencies (McKeon, 2009; Pianta, 2005; United Nations, 2004; Weiss and Gordenker, 1996).

The European Union has followed a similar approach, integrating different kinds of CSOs inside its mechanisms of European governance (European Commission, 2001; Heidbreder, 2012; Smismans, 2006; Steffek, Kissling, and Nanz, 2007). Similarly, other international institutions have also opened channels of communication and interaction with CSOs. Official bilateral aid agencies have been especially conducive to transnational mobilisation by supporting the flourishing of different kinds of CSO under the aegis of assisted self-reliance and participatory development. This has created a significant opportunity for the inclusion of civil society organisations in what was previously done behind closed government doors. (Hale and Held, 2011; Higgott et al., 2000; Joachim and Locher, 2009; McKeon, 2009).

The transformation of authority, from its traditional form of institutional delegation to one granted on the basis of expertise, principles, or simply the capacity to deliver, has given more scope to claims from CSOs (Avant et al., 2010). In the same vein, compliance today is increasingly a matter of improving the ability and willingness of actors to comply with international standards rather than coercing them into obedience. This context, centred on soft modes such as capacity-building, dissemination of best practices, and normative persuasion, is very favourable to CSOs as norm-creators and agent-persuaders.

In addition, the broader international system, based as it is primarily on liberal Western principles, has created an environment conducive to the development of these kinds of activities (Boli and Thomas, 1999; Smith and Wiest, 2012, 163). The widespread recognition of the transnational value of human rights, civic participation, accountability, good governance and democracy, social empowerment, and gender equality, has made it more possible for CSOs to gain space and legitimacy in the international system outside the traditional framework of state-based representation.

Overall, the recent increase of the presence of civil society in international affairs is characterised by two principal elements. Firstly, CSOs have had a role in the provision of services. Throughout recent decades, states have diminished their role as providers of services at both the national and international level: this has accompanied the wave of “privatisation” of world politics.

In this context, the apparently ‘technical’ and ‘apolitical’ organisation of civil society has prospered at both the local and transnational level. Secondly, CSOs have had a more political function, in terms of the diffusion of norms. Particularly significant, but at the same time controversial, has been their role in the promotion of democracy through the affirmation of human rights, which they have undertaken both in an independent manner and in cooperation with the US and the EU.

9. Local authorities

A third significant actor in global politics is local authorities (Marchetti 2016b). Increasingly, what used to be a monolithic agency of the state is being disaggregated into sub-units, be they national authorities, ministries, courts, or indeed local authorities (Slaughter, 2004). By local authorities here I refer to cities, provinces, regions, or states within federal systems: all those sub-units through which public administration is exercised locally.

These local authorities are increasingly engaged in innovative forms of conducting international affairs through what is called “para-diplomacy” (Aldecoa and Keating, 1999; Lecours, 2002). Among them, cities present the most interesting example (Derudder, Hoyler, Taylor, and Witlox, 2012; Van Der Pluijm and Melissen, 2007). It is on cities that this section concentrates, though much of what is said is also applicable to the other types of local authorities.

When we observe the international dynamism of city diplomacy we are forced to revise International Relations’ (IR) traditional historical account. In classical IR terms, international affairs began properly with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. It was in that year that the new institutional form of the sovereign state was first created. From this event the traditional mode of inter-state diplomacy was also derived. Too often, IR students only concentrate their perspective on the last few centuries. But in fact, diplomacy has a much longer history. A history that is strongly marked by the presence of city-states.

When we think about Classical Greece, we think about the diplomacy of Athens and Sparta. When we think about the Italian Renaissance, we think about the diplomatic activities of cities such as Venice or Florence (Niccolò Machiavelli was a diplomat for the Republic of Florence). All of this comes to an abrupt stop with Westphalia. With the diffusion of national sovereignty, the system becomes state-centred and cities become marginalised.

Today, cities are returning to international affairs, together with many other non-state or sub-state actors. Cities are the centre of the world economy, representing 85% of global GDP (e.g., New York City’s budget is equal to one-seventh of Chinese GDP, and is also four times the GDP of Iran, and one-tenth of Russia’s), and they are the places where most people live (since 2007 more people have lived in urban rather than rural areas, i.e., 52% of the world population. In 2070 it is estimated that 70% of the world’s population will be living in cities, whereas in 1800 only 3% did, and in 1900, only 14%).

Cities are the sources of global pollution (80% of carbon emissions come from cities), the loci of political contestation and revolutions (Bond, Garcia, Moreira, and Bai, 2016), the hotbed of pandemics, the targets of violence and terrorist attacks, the areas in which social innovation is developed, and they are the points of encounter among cultures, religions, and differing identities. Cities influence globalisation, but are also heavily influenced by it (Peck, 2015).

From this perspective, the importance of cities is even higher than that of states because the level of overlap between cities and all of the aforementioned phenomena is more precise. Because of this, if we want to understand current socio-political dynamics we need to have in mind at least two mental maps, the state-centric map and the multi-centric map. In regard to diplomacy, in particular, we need to take into account the existence of a complex diplomatic regime based on several blended and intermingled layers. These levels are still yet to be completed.

Such diplomatic practices remain, in a sort of legal vacuum: there is no equivalent for city diplomacy of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, despite the fact that many regions are constitutionally endued with the ius tractati, i.e., the right to sign international agreements with other regions or with other states.

Today’s global politics are shaped significantly by a number of global cities (Acuto, 2013; Massey, 2007; Sassen, 2001), which are increasingly active internationally. They develop networks and twinning projects, share information, sign cooperation agreements, contribute to the drafting of national and international policies, provide development aid, enact refugee assistance, and do territorial marketing through decentralised city-to-city or district-to-district cooperation. Cities do what the comuni used to do many centuries ago (Guidoni, 1992). In some areas, this is particularly evident.

As put by the current European Union (EU) regional policy commissioner, the Austrian Johannes Hahn, “Cities, not nations, have been the main players during most of our civilisation’s existence, and cities may again overtake nations as the primary building blocks of Europe. Cities have to be at the heart of our plans to create a Europe that is prosperous, environmentally sustainable, and where no citizen is marginalized.” (Hann, 2012) Cities’ current role in social transformation has been stressed by the priorities set through the Commission.

Different reasons account for the re-emergence of city diplomacy. From an inside-out perspective, clear political opportunities for local politicians can be identified in terms of visibility and electoral gains. Para-diplomacy can, however, originate also from the bottom-up pressure of citizens’ activism, as in the case of the nuclear-free cities. City diplomacy may also serve as a functional substitute for national diplomacy in cases where the country lacks official international recognition: this is the case for Taipei in Taiwan, Palestinian cities, and Barcelona for Catalonia (especially before Spain was a member of the EU).

Finally, para-diplomacy might simply be an instrument to better serve city interests: Amsterdam is active in Ghana, Surinam, and Turkey because they are its migrants’ countries of origin. In similar ways, cities engage in conflict resolution in other countries to prevent migration inflows. When the state is unable or inefficient in serving citizens’ interests, cities are called to complement, or substitute for, the state. Barber, and with him a number of mayors, even argues that cities have a right and a duty to respond to the dysfunctionality of, or default in, sovereignty of states, and have a right to govern themselves in the true spirit of self-determination and perhaps of democracy itself (Barber, 2013).

There are, however, also outside-in reasons for the boom of para-diplomacy. As this report argues, global politics are increasingly marked by the presence of intrusive transnational networks which push and force cities to react at the global level for both globalist and local motives. Similarly, local authorities go international because they are asked to do so by international organisations: a typical case of this is, as mentioned, the strong push given by the EU for the ‘europeanisation’ of European regions’ activities that receive funding from the EU, contribute to drafting official EU documents (famously, the EU convention), and have permanent offices in Brussels.

Para-diplomacy tends to be more likely under specific conditions. When a certain political culture is spread among citizens and political elites, so much so that they are ripe for extracting the benefit from transnational politics, para-diplomacy is a likely occurrence. Of course, other conditions need to be present too, including material resources (money, human resources, etc.); geographical proximity to borders or hubs (such as big harbours); and a relative degree of autonomy from central government, or alternatively, a degree of representation for local interests in central government so much so that the latter is induced to foster alliances with the former.

Different actors take part in city diplomacy, including mayors, councillors and other elected representatives, municipal civil servants, and municipal advisors. In terms of activities, we can differentiate between intercity relations, actions within global governance, peace-building, development, human rights promotion, and economic promotion.

Included among intercity relations are twinning programmes, assistance provided to other cities in less developed contexts, and also city networking such as the Association of Palestinian Local Authorities, the Mega-Cities project (18 of the largest cities worldwide), the M4 (London, Paris, Berlin, Moscow), Euro-Cities (130 cities), the Merco-Cities Network (160 cities in Merco-Sur), and the most important network, the United Cities and Local Government (UCLG)—a global network aiming at securing status at the UN.

In terms of cities’ activism in global governance, we might mention the cases of cities lobbying the European Commission, the advocacy of the Cities for Climate Protection (CCP), the UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN), and partnerships between cities and philanthropic foundations, such as the network “What Works Cities” supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the unique case of the city of Rotterdam joining the Clinton Climate Initiative, and the Rockefeller network on resilient cities. Cities are active within the UN system in many different ways (Alger, 2014).

For peace-building and conflict prevention, cities play a significant role as conflicts are often local, cities are perceived as more neutral, and cities are de facto unarmed. As a consequence, good local governance is often perceived as a response to conflicts (Musch, 2008). Before conflicts occur, cities can put pressure on governments not to act. One typical case is the unsuccessful coalition of US cities for peace in 2003 that urged President Bush not to wage war against Iraq (it included 70 cities, representing 13 million people); another is the anti-nuclear network of the Mayors for Peace, led by Hiroshima (which includes 1553 cities from 120 countries).

During conflicts, cities can help alleviate the costs of violence. This is true in the case of the Canadian and European support for the Palestinian Territories Municipal Management Program. Finally, in the aftermath of conflicts, cities can provide assistance, as in the case of the Canadian cities in the Philippines, for multi-stakeholder participation, or the Dutch cities in Bosnia, for inter-ethnic participation (particularly the case of Fojnica).

Cities are also active in the field of development. They provide humanitarian assistance and international loans, and they activate technology-sharing and democracy-promotion programmes. However, cities are also engaged in emergency assistance, as in the cases of the post-2004 tsunami or the many cases of earthquakes. Also significant are the Millennium Towns and Cities Campaigns for the MDGs.

Human rights promotion is a part of city diplomacy. Cities are engaged in youth exchange under a human rights agenda. Famous examples include the Cities for life against the death penalty network, and the individual cases of Amsterdam lobbying Riga for the pride parade in 2006, and Barcelona supporting Lampedusa and Lesbo for the reception of the refugees in 2016 under the programme De ciutat a ciutat [From city to city], which included technical, logistical, and social support, economic-promotion programmes for reflating the internal economy, and advice for waste management on the island. Cities are also committed to the human rights agenda set by international organisations such as the UN Agenda 21 on urban regeneration, human rights, and quality of life.

Last but certainly not least, the economy constitutes another component of city diplomacy. Cities are ever-keen to enlarge their local budget, which in some cases is already huge (think of global cities like New York, Tokyo, and London with budgets equivalent to the GDP of a medium-sized country). As a consequence, cities are active in attracting tourists, firms, events, and international organisations. Common cases include the negotiations between cities and MNCs for the establishment of a new headquarters, or cities bidding to host the Olympic Games.

City branding is a common marketing activity, as in the cases of Dubai as a hub and gateway to the world, or new city logos like “I AmSterdam”, “Washington – The American experience”, “Joburg – A world class African city”. Cities are keen on export services and on exchanging knowledge individually and reciprocally, as in the case of the harbour partnership between Rotterdam and Shanghai.

A final component of any instance of city diplomacy is the relationship with public institutions at the national level. This interaction may be either cooperative or competitive. In cooperative terms, more and more governments are calculating the opportunities provided by partnership with local authorities in terms of wide-reaching foreign policy. Many constitutional reforms have been passed, granting rights to regions for so-called paradiplomacy. Much less is granted to cities, but it is foreseeable that the same kind of concession will also be granted to cities in the future. However, the typical relationship remains competitive. Often local authorities find themselves in vertical competition with and find themselves becoming disintegrated with national governments.

10. Standard setting bodies

Other significant actors in global politics are the standard-setting bodies. These organisations are essentially oriented to the development, coordination, promulgation, revision, interpretation, or simply production of the standards necessary to facilitate interaction in a specific area of action. In the past, standards were developed essentially for technical issues; today they cover wider areas that are related to crucial issues of society’s socio-economic organisation and entail competences which were once exclusively in the hands of governments.

International standards are today present in almost all fields of social activity: from bank systems to food-supply, from environmental issues to industrial production, from educational systems to human rights, from the conservation of the oceans to the manufacture of toys. Their impact on international and national affairs is today particularly pervasive. As for the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), which is one of the most important standard-setting bodies, one commentator has recently affirmed, “ISO is perhaps the most influential private organization in the contemporary world, with a vast and largely invisible influence over most aspects of how we live, from the shape of our household appliances to the colors and smells that surround us” (Mazower, 2012, 130).

Analytically, three categories of standard setting bodies can be identified: trans-governmental networks, multi-stakeholder initiatives, and voluntary regulations. Examples among the trans-governmental networks include the following: the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision; the Financial Stability Board; the G20; the Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes; the International Accounting Standard Board (IASB); the International Association of Insurance Supervisors (IAIS); the International Competition Network; the International Conference on Harmonization of Technical Requirements for the Registration of Pharmaceutical Products; and the International Network for Environmental Compliance and Enforcement.

Among multi-stakeholder initiatives, examples include: the Framework Convention Alliance; the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; the Global Polio Eradication Initiative; the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN); the International Coral Reef Initiative; the International Health Partnership and IHP+; and the World Commission on Dams. Among examples of voluntary regulation we can also finally mention: the Carbon Disclosure Project; the Codex Alimentarius Commission; the Equator Principles; the Extractive Industries Transparence Initiative; the Fair Labour Association; the Fair Trade System; the Clean Clothes Campaign; the Forest Stewardship Council; the Global Corporate Governance Principles; the Global Reporting Initiative; the Kimberly Process; the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises; the Partnership against Corruption Initiative and the Business Principles for Countering Bribery; Rating Agencies; the International Council of Toy Industries’ Code of Conduct; and the United Nations Global Compact.

Where do the standards-setting bodies derive their force and authority from? The debate is indeed open. For Cutler, for instance, the authority of these private institutions comes from their supposed competence, from a historical practice that has strengthened over time, and partly from the concession of power from the state (Cutler, 2003; Cutler, Haufler, and Porter, 1999).

For Hall and Biersteker, three distinct sources of authority can instead be identified: the market authority deriving from cooperation among enterprises; the moral authority coming from cooperation with NGOs; and the illicit authority coming from organised violent groups (Hall and Biersteker, 2002). What must be noted is that generally the authority of these organisations is recognised by a wide group of actors, which often also includes states. In this sense, this authority is often based, almost necessarily, on some kind of normative consensus that is able to gather support in a very broad way. In fact, given the lack of implementation mechanisms, compliance with standards has to be based on some kind of genuine acceptance. It is for this reason that the democratic representative system is often “mimicked”, with the creation of councils of experts or of stakeholders with the task of assessing the transparency, openness, and accountability of the standardisation system (Ponte, Gibbon, and Vestergaard, 2011).

It is precisely with reference to the importance of the normative dimension that the discourse has to widen. It is therefore to this that we turn our attention in order to understand the contents and main cleavages of the political positions in the global public debate.

11. The main dynamics of global multi-stakeholder politics

The key cleavages of global politics

One of the most powerful debates on the national and international political agenda is about the social consequences and the political control of globalisation. There can be no doubt that the ethical soul of the world has been altered by the global transformations of recent decades. The political and social life of almost every citizen has been strongly touched by the blurring of national borders, which in the past had effectively limited relations among individuals. In this process, characterised by the intensification of interaction and by the growing intermingling of local and global politics, economic concerns have certainly been predominant in the discussion, but politics, law, and culture are also experiencing radical changes that increasingly question the legitimacy of transnational codes of conduct.

From assemblies of international institutions to national parliaments, from the meetings of private actors to the forums of civil society, the theme of the management of increased global interconnections and their effects on the lives of citizens occupies the heart of the public political discussion. Within this debate, alternative projects of global politics have been developed and publicly debated over recent decades.

A number of master frames of global politics constitute the background to the debate on the different interpretations of globalisation (Marchetti, 2009; Marchetti 2016b). These master frames can be considered meta think tanks or cultural resources, from which political actors derive their ideas and principles in order to formulate their political reference points as a basis for action (Snow and Bendford, 2000, 58). Since they are normatively dense, the master frames form part of the shared beliefs that mould the identity and interests of actors (Wendt, 1995).

The “ideal-types are heuristic tools that define a field of enquiry and identify the main areas of consensus and conflict. They help to clarify the main lines of discussion and, thus, to establish the fundamental points of disagreement. Beyond, they provide a path of access to the confusion of voices that is rooted in the literature on globalization, but by definition correspond to no single work [or] author” (Held and McGrew, 2000, 2).

Political actors actively use their ideal model and ideologies to build up their political reference points as part of their politics of changing norms. The specific element of this type of politics, centred on ideas, has been called the “politics of signification” or the “framing of the collective action”. Three elements can be identified in this political process: master frames (composed of the consolidation of the different elements of the frames); the frames (social cognitive processes that produce a certain understanding of political reality); and political projects (specific programmes for the modification or conservation of political reality) (Benford and Snow, 2000; K. Fisher, 1997; Goffman, 1974; Laraña, Johnston, and Gusfield, 1994; McAdam, McCarthy, and Zald, 1996; Oliver and Johnston, 2000; Snow  and Benford, 2000; Snow, Benford, McCammon, Hewitt, and Fitzgerald, 2014).

What differentiates master frames from political projects is their detachment from any specific actor or action. As opposed to the multi-stakeholder characteristics of political projects, a master frame remains ‘uncontaminated’, more static, and clearly distinguishable from other master frames.

Whereas frames tend to compress supporters inside a particular group, master frames are often tools used to create alliances among different actors. In fact, frames, thanks to their specificity, do not readily allow a synthesis among different perspectives. Master frames, instead, thanks to their higher level of generalisation, offer a greater possibility of finding common ground on which to build a shared political platform.

Activists refer to master frames in order to crystallise understanding of a perceived injustice in a way that is coherent with the present-day public mood and can thus also be perceived by other political actors. In this sense, adherence to a common master frame can facilitate the process of political convergence and legitimate what was previously considered politically incorrect, in the name of a common cause. This relegates other ideological divergences to a lower level.

The formulation of concrete political projects advanced by political actors passes through a complex process in which long-term ideologies and ideal models, together with short-term political circumstances and contingent factors, are combined and filtered through master frames and thus made politically active.

It should be noted that an actor can support more than one model for different reasons. A political actor, for example, is often a collegial body (for instance an institution or a forum), and is thus intrinsically pluralistic, changing over time. Seen from a strictly normative viewpoint, the ‘choice’ underpinning the construction of a political project by social actors produces a result that remains difficult to forecast and is sometimes inconsistent. However, once the project is defined and adopted by political actors, it has a great impact on the formation of public discourse and remains crucial in order to motivate actors towards political mobilisation.

One might ask, why focus on ideas, public debates, and master frames? Don’t other aspects matter more than debates or ideas in regard to actual policy decisions? What is debated may be unrelated to what is actually decided and implemented. Intellectual debates may be irrelevant, unrelated to official decisions made behind closed doors through unofficial channels. Or these debates may be epiphenomenal, reflecting rationalisations of policy rather than motivations or explanations of it. With Nau and Ollapally, I maintain that it is not that other factors such as material interests or institutional constraints are unimportant in making policy choices, but that they all work to a considerable extent through the medium of intellectual ideas and debate (Nau and Ollapally, 2012). For instance, bureaucrats base their policy actions on expertise, and such expertise is developed with reference to an ideational background. Most foreign ministries, for example, stress diplomatic or institutional solutions to foreign policy problems, while most defence departments stress military approaches, and most economic ministries, commercial applications (Haas, 2005). “At any given moment, a specific decision may be better explained by bureaucratic expediency, secret manoeuvring, lobbying, procedural and legal stratagems, or corruption.

Even then, the individuals or groups making this decision may be influenced at least in part by their worldviews. And rather quickly that decision feeds into a larger, more visible, medium-term intellectual discourse, because the decision generates consequences, requires explanation, triggers controversy, is challenged in courts, gets reported by the media, or becomes the basis for elite and public opinion disputes” (Nau and Ollapally, 2012, 9).

The academic discourse on the master frames of global politics is under-developed. Few attempts have been made to map the background ideological visions of global politics. These attempts are reported here on a scale that goes from anti-globalisation to pro-globalisation positions. Bond identifies five main positions, namely: global justice; third-world nationalism; the Washington consensus; the post-Washington consensus; and the resurging right (Bond, 2004b, 20-1; 2007).

Held and McGrew recognise six positions: radicalism; statism/protectionism; global transformationalism; institutional reformism; liberal internationalism; and neoliberalism (Held and McGrew, 2002a, 99).

Pianta and Silva identify three projects that go under the names of: neoliberal globalisation; the globalisation of rights and responsibilities; and globalisation from below (Pianta and Silva, 2003-8).

Aguiton identifies three stances: radical internationalism (beyond state and capitalism); nationalism (south); and neo-reformism (global governance) (Aguiton, 2001). These categorisations provide a useful orientation in the debate, however, they are not fully satisfactory for at least three reasons: a) they provide only a limited range of alternatives; b) they are not able to distinguish clearly between conventional (state-centric) models and unconventional (pluralist) models; and more importantly c) they are unable to provide a valid method to politically understand these categories in the context of globalisation.

To understand the global politics discussion at the level of global public opinion, I present a new taxonomy that introduces some heuristic advantages in comparison to previous studies.

In the first instance, the proposition provides a wider range of models of global politics because it includes the often-excluded model of civilisations. In the second instance, it is based on the recognition of the novelty of those models, which, in contesting the central authority of the state in international affairs, fully recognise the role of the new transnational political actors. As a consequence, the taxonomy focuses only on non-conventional models, thus excluding models anchored in the Westphalian paradigm, such as nationalism, liberal multilateralism, neo-imperialism, anarchic realism, etc.

In this approach, four fundamental interpretations of the notion of world politics can be identified as delimiting the range of idea-based, non-conventional alternatives in the global political debate: 1) the vision of global capitalism as associated with a free global market and with private economic actors; 2) the project to democratise international institutions, as formulated in the cosmopolitan model with reference to individuals and supranational institutions; 3) the radical vision supported by a large number of social movements in terms of alter-globalism and ethnic localism; and, finally, 4) the discourse of the clash of civilisations that refers to macro-regional actors often defined in religious terms.

12. Globalist frames

Neo-liberalism. The central point of normative reference in the debate on global politics is represented by the neo-liberal model, which has been dominant in the public debate and in institutional politics during the last 30 years. The master frame of neo-liberalism is pivoted on the primacy of the economic boundary. The neo-liberal model refers primarily to private economic operators (entrepreneurs, businesses, networks of businesses, and consumers) as key agents of the political system. Consequently, political power is interpreted as essentially managed by entrepreneurs grouped in networks of transnational elites (and secondarily, of consumers).

Powerful businesses are interpreted as protagonists of a universal political system that is intended as homogenous and minimalist, as a sort of global invisible hand. Public institutions are just seen as universal tools that facilitate a good political life, beyond the limits of the state system. Within the political and economic context of globalisation, neo-liberalism offers the clearest project in support of libertarian globalisation.

Neo-liberalism is a master frame of global politics based on a number of different principles, among which are globalism, technocracy, universalism, individual freedom, and competition. Globalism recognises the moral and political imperative to have a vision of the world that comprises the whole of humanity, towards forms of deeper integration inside a single world system, and beyond state jurisdictions that are considered suboptimal (Ohmae, 1999).

The principle of technocracy confers authority on the basis of competencies and delegates a-political experts to the management, in a functional world, of global interaction (Barnett and Finnemore, 2004). The principle of similarity argues that the ultimate features of the human being are constant and that thus universal values have to be guaranteed to all individuals at the global level (Buchanan, 1999, part 5). The principle of liberty affirms the ultimate and non- negotiable value of personal independence, intended as entrepreneurial ability and economic development (Nozick, 1974; Rand, 1961). Finally, the principle of competition describes a world in which free individuals are spurred by the quest for economic success and are thus involuntarily pushed by competition for the control of scarce resources towards collective progress and constant technological innovation (Becker, 1976; Rothbard, 1982).

Neo-liberalism supports a vision of global politics that is minimalist and self-managed by private individuals and economic enterprises. Individuals are free to act both as consumers (representing the sovereignty of consumers), and as entrepreneurs (representing capitalist freedom). Political institutions are thought necessary because of the imperfection of the market, and in any case aim to support laissez-faire politics. Wide portions of what is today considered to be the responsibility of political institutions (both at state and intergovernmental level) should thus be left to the self-regulation of society or to the technical management of the mono-functional organisations of global governance.

The global business community (Carroll and Carson, 2003; Van der Pijl, 1998) and global society (as composed by individuals rather than groups) would best be able to self-organise international affairs (Sally, 2001; Wolf, 2004). What is being pursued is the full development of deregulated globalisation, in which exists is fully free trade of goods, freedom of communication, and free circulation of individuals. This kind of globalisation is seen as the most adequate environment for economic growth and for the diffusion of democracy beyond the limits of nationalist politics (Bhagwati, 1997, 2004; Norberg, Tanner, and Sanchez, 2003).

Replacing the model of embedded liberalism – as argued, a mixture of free trade and national political systems – the neo-liberal model rapidly grew as an alternative paradigm from the end of the 1970s, and became hegemonic in the 1980s and 1990s, under the label of the Washington Consensus (Harvey, 2005). Inside the growing ties of globalisation, two main tendencies have marked the new paradigm: a strong focus on privatisation (as opposed to welfarism) and on flexibility (as opposed to Taylorism).

Market fundamentalism, liberalisation, deregulation, and austerity have also been important, together with consumer sovereignty, labour-market flexibility, debt financing, “scientific” management and marketing, and technologically-driven increases in productivity. The teaching of classical economics by present-day economists and the guidelines drawn up by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan have provided significant practical and theoretical support to this paradigm.

This new model of international affairs was soon adopted, even if always in a partial way, by the main international institutions, among which the World Bank, the IMF and the GATT/WTO (Stiglitz, 2002; Woods, 2000b). Finally, the creation of the World Economic Forum at Davos constituted a non-conventional reference point for this liberal tendency, which is still intensively characterising international economic politics (Fougner, 2005; Graz, 2003; Schwab, Porter, Sachs, Warner, and Levinson, 1999).

In terms of institutional design, the implementation of neo-liberalism has been strictly connected to the diffusion of mechanisms of global governance. Global transformations have provoked a growing necessity to create new institutions and mono-functional networks. As a consequence of this, the international system is transforming into a polyarchy, a system composed of different authorities. Inside this innovative institutional framework, multinationals are often interpreted as catalysers for a world without boundaries, working sometimes involuntarily as actors functional to global integration within the stakeholder model (Barnet and Cavanagh, 1994; Korten, 1995).

Cosmopolitanism. The master frame of cosmopolitanism is centred on the primacy of political bonding. Although recognising the relevance of other traditional relations among human beings, cosmopolitanism recognises the predominance of the political and civil aspect of human life. The model primarily refers to individuals as the key actors of the political system. As a consequence, political power is interpreted as originating from citizens and managed in a multi-level manner up towards the global dimension.

Public institutions are seen as universal tools to facilitate a fair political life, beyond the limits of the current system. In the political and economic context of globalisation, cosmopolitanism offers a reformist project based on social-democratic and liberal values, which aims to democratise the system of globalisation without altering its fundamentals.

Cosmopolitanism is a theory of justice according to which the field of application (not only the form) of justice has to be universal, because no discrimination is justified if the ultimate right of every citizen to control their own destiny is taken into account (Caney, 2004). Individuals have rights (and duties) which have a universalistic nature and are thus trans-cultural and valid in any social and political context, because individuals are considered in the ultimate analysis as citizens of the world. Humanity is thus considered as a single ethical community, a cosmopolis (cosmos: universe; polis: city) enclosed in a single political system.

As opposed to theories such as communitarianism and nationalism, which generally recognise the political priority (sometimes even in an absolute sense) of a discrete community, cosmopolitanism argues that an adequate account of political-moral subjectivity cannot but be universalist and inclusive, and that all individuals thus have equal rights to political recognition. This means that the coexistence of global and national/local principles of political justice is possible, on the condition that a top-down global order is established, so that national jurisdictions derive from a general authority and that national boundaries remain less relevant (Marchetti, 2008).

Cosmopolitanism is a master frame of global politics based on a number of different principles, among which are globalism, delegated participation, similarity, and institutional correctness.

The principle of globalism affirms the necessity of having an inclusive vision of politics that encompasses all of humanity. Unlike communitarianism, globalism argues that we are all part of a single socio-political system and that our behavioural code should thus be moulded according to global principles. The moral and political imperative should thus be conceived as part of a vision of the world that encompasses all of humanity as a unit of reference, and successively promotes increasingly deeper forms of integration inside a single world system, beyond partial and sub-optimal state jurisdictions. Politically guided globalisation provides the clearest incarnation of this principle, according to which traditional delimitations such as state boundaries or national passports will become less relevant (Barry, 1991; reprinted in 2005).

The principle of delegated participation holds that individuals have the political right to be part of public life in all the spheres concerning them, and thus have the right to transnational citizenship. Individuals, and not communities, clans, families, or other social aggregations, constitute the founding block of the political system. Every citizen is thus free in the political system, which is structured through different levels. Elections and political parties are essential ingredients for the correct functioning of the system, which allows a division of work between politicians and citizens (Kuper, 2004).

The principle of similarity affirms that the fundamental characteristics of the human being do not change in relation to country of birth, thus, universal values have to be implemented in favour of every single individual on a global scale. While the recognition of a relative cultural and moral pluralism is the key for a substantial burgeoning of the individual identity, basic needs, rights, and duties have to be intended as universal, and thus trans-cultural. Only by recognising this similarity is it possible to escape from the parochial justification that often conceals injustice and exploitation (Beitz, 2009).

The principle of hierarchy argues that the system has to be ordered to include pluralism in a more equal manner. Deriving from a logic of functional integration, the political system, which is composed of different action areas, has to be organised in a way that allows centralisation and decentralisation at the same time. The different levels of political authority have to be coordinated at a central level with the goal of avoiding areas of immunity and dysfunctionality. At the same time, the principle of subsidiarity must be used as much as possible, in such a way as to guarantee diversity (Pogge, 1992).

The principle of institutional correctness argues that political life has to be shaped according to a formal, rather than substantial, principle of justice. Public decisions on justice have to be elaborated in proper institutional channels rather than through the direct use of substantial references, whether religious, traditional, or ethnic. If integrated into an adequate institutional environment, this process will most probably generate a dialectic of rational progress (Boli and Thomas, 1997). Only through this procedural, institutional and public mechanism can pluralism in society be reformed into a single political system.

According to the model of cosmopolitanism, politics concentrates on a macro-level, because it aims to correct the present-day system of international exclusion through significant institutional reform. The current institutional framework must be criticised for its inability to guarantee democratic congruence between governments and citizens. Consequently, political protests against most institutions must be carried out with the aims of rebuilding their internal structure and opening new channels of representation (Held, 1995). Reinforced multilateralism in the short-term and federalism in the long-term constitute the most promising institutional options for a world in which individuals should keep their status as democratic citizens.

Some components of the United Nations system are interpreted as precursors of the future emancipation of humanity. A typical application of the theory of cosmopolitanism can perhaps be found in the United Nations Convention in relation to the status of refugees (1951), according to which asylum is granted to refugees as citizens of the world (Hassner, 1998). Notwithstanding the recognition of cosmopolitan status only, by contrast, the Convention identifies the refugee as a person with universal claims to assistance, thus with a cosmopolitan status (Article 1). Beyond the specific refugee convention, other components of the United Nations system have been interpreted in cosmopolitan terms (Bienen, Rittberger, and Wagner, 1998; Cronin, 2002; Taylor, 1999).

The Commission on Global Governance (1995) and the Convention of the United Nations on climate change, in particular the Kyoto Protocol, have been seen as cosmopolitan in nature. Another important reference is the International Criminal Court, with its quasi-universal jurisdiction, and the new paradigm of the responsibility to protect, warranting the legitimacy of humanitarian intervention regardless of sovereign prerogatives (ICISS, 2001).

Among the other international organisations that adopt a number of cosmopolitan principles there is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – UNESCO, that has promoted the vision of global humanism, which overlaps in many aspects with cosmopolitanism. Scientific humanism has constituted the main philosophical frame of UNESCO, arguing that progress in scientific knowledge has to be coupled with the diffusion of a common philosophical framework. Key to this is the promotion of a universal system of education for peace that favours the emergence of a global community based on science, humanism, and human rights (UNESCO, 1994).

The European Union is itself also often associated with the master frame of cosmopolitanism. The European Parliament is sometimes considered the most advanced prototype of a transnational form of political representation, alongside inter-governmentalism. As recently as May 2011, the European Parliament exhorted the European Council to submit to the United Nations General Assembly a motion for the creation of a world parliament (European Parliament, 2011).

In the same way, the Court of Human Rights of the Council of Europe is considered cosmopolitan because of its universal jurisdiction on a regional scale. Some single states have promoted the idea of a world public authority. Recently, there has been the invitation by the Vatican to create such an institution, as a response to the economic crisis and to promote the global public good (Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, 2011). Finally, among CSOs, many adopt an implicitly or explicitly cosmopolitan perspective. Many NGOs that work in the field of human rights, or the promotion of democracy and development, adopt a clear universalist approach in their political position (Yanacopulos and Smith, 2008).

13. Localist frames

Localism. The master frame of localism is centred on the primacy of social bonding. While recognising the relevance of other traditional bonds among human beings (i.e., political, economic, and cultural bonds) localism recognises the predominance of the social aspect of human life. The model refers to grassroots organisations (for instance, social movements) as the key players in the political system. As a consequence, political power is interpreted as managed through a dense network of local groups preserving pluralism and heterogeneity. Inside the political and economic context of globalisation, characterised by a high level of political and economic marginalisation, localism offers the clearest radical alternative to current global transformations (Fraquelli, 2005; Hines, 2000; Starr and Adams, 2003).

The model has two main currents of thought that, despite sharing a certain number of normative bases, radically diverge in political terms. On the left side of the political spectrum, there is the civic stream of alter-globalism. On the right side, there is the ethnicist stream. Notwithstanding the fact they are at opposite ends of the political spectrum and have very different political natures, these two streams occupy the same ideal location in the taxonomy that I present.

It is highly significant that the model of localism emerged from antagonism towards the cosmopolitan position.

A number of opposing claims regarding specific key problems with cosmopolitanism are of particular concern to localism. They are the following: a) the domination problem, according to which cosmopolitanism is considered too close to neoliberal capitalism; b) the cultural problem, according to which cosmopolitanism is understood to rely on too minimal a set of abstract prescriptions that are far removed from popular experience; c) the motivational problem, according to which cosmopolitanism fails to connect norms to practices; and d) the political problem, according to which cosmopolitanism fails to champion the claims of local groups, remaining too attached to élites.

In response to this critical focus, the model of localism presents itself as dense, embedded, rooted, and (in its alter-globalist variant) subaltern. It is dense because it is imbued with solidarity-based principles of social justice, and is not minimalist in terms of liberal non-harm (Delanty, 2006). It is embedded because it is inserted within a social context characterised by intense mutual obligations and feelings of attachment to a comprehensive political experience, rather than referring to loose institutional relationships (Appiah, 2006). It is rooted in that it emerges from local practices and remains tightly connected with political struggles from below, in opposition to elitist management (Tarrow, 2005b). Finally, it claims to be subaltern (in its alter-globalist variant), because it focuses on those voices that come from minorities, often from the global south, and not from the Western centres of global governance (de Sousa Santos, 2002).

In contrast to the supposedly constitutive flâneurisme of cosmopolitanism, localism highlights the inevitability of relying on local factors to build up a viable political community. Social cohesion and solidarity-based ties are needed for any political project. Any political struggle needs, in fact, to be embedded within local factors, within local struggles, to be effective and able to mobilise people. Social and political bonds are key elements for generating local and particularistic mutual obligations, which in turn are the true bases for eventual political solidarity, be it local, national, or transnational.

A crucial point of divergence between alter-globalism and ethnicism resides precisely in the relationship with traditional values. While alter-globalism tends to have a more reformist attitude towards them in the name of a never-ending process of “archaeological” reinterpretation of traditions, ethnicism tends to be more reactionary in the name of a correct and pure reading of core traditional principles, often with a historically revisionist agenda.

For alter-globalism, for instance, the traditional side of communities is important, but this does not mean falling back on blind acceptance of customs. Cosmopolitan thinking has developed a problematic denigration of traditions, customs, and all that is related to local conservatism, including ethnicity and religion. Localism conversely triggers a new understanding of the social. Pre-set traditions are a fundamental social bond, although they are not the only binding elements.

Political visions remain the key component for reforming societies towards more democratic systems, but they can only work if they are embedded and engage critically with local traditions. Accordingly, the democratisation process cannot be imposed from above (and even more so cannot be coercively imported), but it has to grow out of the Lebenswelt (lifeworld) – it has to empower individuals within traditions, not against them. A political framework built from below would serve as a facilitator of egalitarian and reciprocal encounters. It would provide the necessary overall framework for potential reciprocal enrichment rather than for a homogenising process.

Only by beginning from the local can transnational solidarity be built through the formation of transnational and overlapping communities. On the other hand, ethnicism draws precisely from ethnic and religious sources in order to preserve continuity, thereby also including social, economic, and gender hierarchies (Fraquelli, 2005). Additionally, for ethnicism, no political model can be imposed from outside, but can only be developed within the resources available in a specific political community (Caiani, Della Porta, and Wagemann, 2012). The ideal here consists in a genuine interpretation of traditional values through a genuine application of a “law and order” principle. Moreover, this does not necessarily entail any dense trans-communal solidarity-based ties beyond the communitarian context, although loose political networks might indeed be envisaged (Bob, 2012).

The model of localism can be seen as structured around three main principles: rootedness; autonomy; and diversity. To these the model of alter-globalism adds participation and solidarity, whereas ethnicism adds anti-modernism and ethno-pluralism. It is worth analysing each concept individually.

Place-basedness plays a central role in the drawing up of models of localism in opposition to the mainstream interpretation of globalisation. Contrary to the universalising perspective that regards the local as provincial and regressive, this principle maintains the importance of localism as an unavoidable and critical resource for social and political life. Rather than accepting mainstream images of dangerous nationalism and bigoted regionalism, the localist paradigm re-affirms the local and the present as the essential elements for real political emancipation, though always keeping open and alive the dialogue with the outside for cross-fertilisation. In this sense, culture plays an important role in that it is only through a process of cultural development and self-awareness that collective subjectivity can flourish.

Without falling back into self-enclosed localism, rooted micro-politics – from indigenous movements in the Amazonian forest to neighbourhood associations in Florence – is thus seen not as a loophole offering escape but as a key process for the reorganisation of the space from below (Dirlik and Prazniak, 2001; Gibson-Graham, 2006; Osterweil, 2005).

Autonomy is also crucial for distinguishing the model of localism from its alternative paradigms. In opposition both to the anonymous processes of globalisation, and to naïve romanticism and local power positions, the autonomy principle asserts the legitimacy of communal authority. Highlighting pleasure, productivity, and rights of communities, local sovereignty remains grounded in a deep conception of politics that rejects distant authority.

Self-determination is claimed to be able to offer sound solutions to social requirements through a revolution of everyday life, where social aims are focused on taking advantage of cultural heritage and traditions rather than seizing power. In many instances, autonomy is interpreted as part of a long process of decolonisation, which entails a struggle against any form of domination, be it intimate, practical, or ideological. The principle of autonomy is mainly twofold, for it entails both political independence (almost inevitably passing through violent confrontation) and economic independence. Concerning the latter, it defends the strengthening of local economies as representing a more democratic, sustainable, and economically effective way of production.

The anti-capitalist (often anti-American) perspective is here common in both alter-globalist and ethnicist thought. Food-sovereignty – reoriented towards community needs rather than global market imperatives – forms part of the ideal hereby implied. These indigenous, autonomist, anarchist, environmentalist, or ethnic right-wing perspectives thus aim at what has been called global de-linking (Amin, 1985; Bello, 2001, 2002; Hines, 2000; Lang and Hines, 1993; Starr and Adams, 2003).

Diversity constitutes the fourth crucial component of localism. Here, the contention confutes the supposedly homogenising process of globalisation that creates a single societal model in which individuals are deprived of their cultural specificity and reduced to anonymous consumers. In opposition to the single capitalist interpretation of space, time, and values, pluralism is here pursued through a dual process.

While local cultures are reaffirmed from below, universalising globalism is critically deconstructed without falling into the equally hegemonic perspective by which any partial or plural alternative remains incomplete and lacking. A different political epistemology is required, one that is not in need of a centralised and unified point of reference (Osterweil, 2004, 188)

The image envisaged here is thus not a single project, but rather a plurality of cultural projects, a movement of movements, “a world in which many worlds fit”, as the Zapatistas would say. Or a world of peoples as many right-wing movements would argue. Such complex pluralism is an inevitable result once the point of departure is from below and exists without central planning, but such diversity is considered more a source of mutual learning than an obstacle (de Sousa Santos, 2005; Tarrow, 2005a).

To these three principles, the sub-model of alter-globalism adds participation and solidarity.

Direct participation as non-hierarchical and horizontal public engagement constitutes a major element of the model of alter-globalism. Here the critical target consists of all those indirect forms of political representation accused of eroding political trust between the elected and the electors, or, in the most radical interpretation, of hiding the deception of a class ruling the rest.

Contrary to this supposed elitist view, a model of democratic participation is reasserted by this model in which active engagement of the entire citizenry is expected at all levels and a genuinely collective decision-making process thus implemented. In more technical terms, the principle of participation is often associated with the deliberative turn in political thinking, according to which, beyond the central value of inclusiveness, other principal criteria to be met include orientation to the public good, decision by consensus (thereby implying the possibility of preference transformation through argumentative public discussion), and transparency.

In turn, this input-oriented process is supposed to generate better information, a higher level of solidarity, greater engagement and democratic skills, and enhanced trust in public institutions. In this new conception of politics, public institutions are then seen more as facilitators of self-organised open spaces from below, rather than as providing traditional economic and political leadership from above.

Unlike previous left-wing ideologies, political parties are for the most part mistrusted, while self-organised civil society is called on to join politics in its own right. Also innovative is a different interpretation of politics, according to which self-organisation is directed towards changing society rather than taking power and controlling the state (della Porta, 2005; Dryzek, 2000; Fung and Wright, 2003; Holloway, 2002; Mouffe, 1993; Pateman, 1970; Polletta, 2002).

Solidarity, finally, represents a further key principle for the model of alter-globalism which stresses the importance of transnational collaboration in overcoming local political difficulties. A key factor underpinning the possibility of solidarity is the development of a new interpretation of socio-political problems in a systematic way, thus requiring collective action. The recognition of global interdependence constitutes the turning-point for nurturing a process of reinterpretation according to which local issues are no longer limited to the local situation anymore.

Following on from the acknowledgement of the inter-linking of the global and the local, the principle of solidarity aims to generate a sense of collective group identity, and thus of shared fate, which enhances inter-local coalitions promotion of global change. In opposition to the neo-liberal logic of individual atomisation, local groups would consequently feel they are not alone in their efforts and, if acting together, feel that they are able to impact people’s lives. Unity within locally rooted diversity: this is the core of the model of alter-globalism (Brecher, Costello, and Smith, 2000; Smith, 2002; Smith, Chatfield, and Pagnucco, 1997).

To these common principles, the sub-model of ethnicism adds anti-modernism and ethnic pluralism.

Anti-modernism constitutes a central ideational element for the master frame of ethnicism. The process of globalisation is perceived as inherently modernising, and hence as an enemy. On the contrary, differentiation, autonomy, and peculiarity need to be cultivated to provide the community with a genuinely collective sensibility. Attached to this is the right to autonomy and the specificity of peoples. This entails a clear hierarchical vision that is ultimately anti-modernisation. Extreme right-wing thinking at times considers the Islamic world (in particular the Iranian revolution) as the antagonist par excellence in the battle against homogenising globalisation.

Ethnic pluralism is a further central element in the master frame of ethnicism. Here, again, globalisation is considered the foe. According to a right-wing anti-globalist manifesto linked to the French Nouvelle Droite (Faye, 1981), globalisation is depicted as cutting away peoples’ roots, and as a machine that creates the atomisation of society through the economy, technologies, and finance. From this perspective, many individuals are simply turned into consumers in the global market. Such global transformation would constitute a totalising project structured in three steps: deculturisation; the fight against resistance; and consolidation. Here, the universalist culture is the enemy, which also includes the universal notion of human rights. On the contrary, the concrete rights of the people are presented as an alternative to the abstract rights of the individual. This is communitarianism based on shared myths, an “ethno-pluralism” (de Benoist, 2004).

According to the model of localism, politics is not conceived primarily as either the impact on political institutions or as the acquisition of power. It consists rather in a project focusing on the micro-level, for it aims to change society and the economy in situ through grassroots processes. In a sense, thus, this kind of politics is not global by definition. And yet, if the perspective is taken further it is possible to detect a wider strategy, that starting from below does not preclude a broader change in global relationships.

This strategy from below challenges traditional top-down and institutional political paradigms. In opposition to mainstream politics, proponents of this position argue that such a grassroots perspective remains the most effective strategy for impacting the political system at large and thus impacting society. The main point of dispute remains, therefore, the identification of the means to enact and enhance the capacity to impact politics, rather than the overall political objective itself. Such discussion resembles the old domestic diatribe on the formation of the nation-state. In that case, the opposition was between those holding a grassroots strategy and those supporting an institutional perspective. In this ‘global’ case, it is conversely between place-based and universalising globalism.

Cosmopolitan positions maintain the need for either reforming or creating new international/national institutions able to influence global politics. Those proposing to focus the political struggle on the transnational level are motivated by the assumption that for a societal change to occur the relevant political framework needs to change too (even if only enacted from above), above all in a context characterised by global powers (Held, 1995).

Against such a universalising reading, localism maintains that this is a biased and limited understanding of political processes since it takes for granted that political change has to be brought about through institutional, peaceful, centralised, and, in the case of global politics, mostly transnational means.

Universalising globalism would remain flawed, from the viewpoint of localism, for not taking into appropriate consideration an alternative conceptualisation of politics according to which what counts is equally the internal process and the sources for political change. In this respect, universalising globalism would remain self-defeating since it ignores the form and process of organisation that are key prerequisites for a successful political struggle, even prior to the achievement of results that impact any international institutional reform in formal terms (Bond, 2004c; Cochran, 2002; Marchetti, 2008; Osterweil, 2005, 24-5; Patomäki, 2003).

The first step towards the implementation of the localist political project consists in fierce opposition to the actual institutional arrangements of global governance. The most immediate political objective of actors espousing this perspective is, in the present international circumstances, a strenuous policy of resistance to neo-liberalism, both in its ideological forms and in its institutional structures (Armstrong, Farrell, and Maiguashca, 2003; Eschle and Maiguashca, 2005; Gill, 2002; Gills, 2002; Tarrow, 1998). In this context, though under-theorised, the socio-political situation has to be interpreted as a contentious scenario. Social movements and civil society organisations are seen as key actors in a fight against power structures that can at times become direct and go beyond legality.

Despite some minor reformist views, the bulk of alter-globalist logic tends towards “abolishing rather than polishing” institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization (Bello, 2001, 2002). Other critical targets include the big investment banks such as Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, and JP Morgan, international economic clubs such as the Trilateral Commission, the World Economic Forum of Davos, or the Bilderberg Club, press agencies, and rating agencies.

These institutions are considered to be so embedded in a system of power organised from above that the possibility of properly and democratically reforming them is seen as minimal. Equally, the ethnicist variant of localism holds the concept of national resistance in the form of free or autonomous nationalism. Hence, and contrariwise, the political aim remains threefold: in the short term stopping the widening of their powers; then possibly reducing their scope; and finally in the long term, closing them down.

The localist political perspective, especially in its alter-globalist variant, does not preclude, however, positively envisaging institutional structures, even at the international level. These are admitted and actually encouraged, provided they are constructed from below, for co-ordination between the differing place-based political projects is key in at least two senses.

On one hand, it is needed for strategic reasons, for only through inter-group collaboration can an alternative model of politics be established and overcome the challenging resistance of the current power system. On the other hand, solidarity, i.e., a principle recognised with both intra- and inter-group validity, needs institutional support to be implemented. For such institutional mechanisms to be legitimate, democratic control from below remains essential (Patomäki and Teivainen, 2004; Rikkila and Patomäki, 2001).

While the previous phase of resistance was conflictual, this second phase of political change would lead to a peaceful situation. In this, citizens and groups, trained to civic virtue through democratic participation from below, would solve socio-political conflicts with a consensus-based method. Accordingly, this positive project suggests the implementation of a scheme of de-globalisation, namely de-structuring and de-linking the places of politics and production from global-chains, in order to regain democratic control from below. In accordance with the principle of autonomy, this does not mean autarky, but rather the subordination of external relations to the logic of internal development, i.e., reorienting foreign policy from global decisions to local self-determination, and reorienting production from export to local consumption (Amin, 1985; Bello, 2002; Bond, 2004a, 186-7).

The actual content of each political project to be developed from below is not predetermined, for it is left to the self-determination of each group. Even in those cases in which there is an ‘importation’ from outside (e.g., a downward scale shift of a global project such as local social fora), this can only be justified provided it fits and accommodates local political projects. From this viewpoint, alter-globalism offers a sort of politics without ideology, a caminar preguntando – a walk while questioning – as the Zapatistas would say.

From the consolidation of this multitude of differing projects (a strength and a weakness at the same time), which are interlinked with each other but have never achieved a singular global entity, a new image emerges, that of a subaltern and rooted cosmopolitanism. This diffuseness and global rootedness leads to a process involving ever more parts of the world (de Sousa Santos, 2005; Tarrow, 2005a). The exclusionary logic of neo-liberal globalisation would thus be reversed by the struggle for change of transnational social movements.

Civilisationism. While the civilisational paradigm has slowly emerged as a significant master frame of global politics only in the last few decades, it nonetheless constitutes a further robust component in the discussion about globalisation. The civilisational model is centred on the primacy of the cultural and religious bond. While acknowledging the relevance of other traditional human bonds, such as economic and political bonds, the discourse on civilisations recognises the cultural and religious aspect of human life as predominant.

The model makes primary reference to civilisations and cultural elites as key actors in the political system. Accordingly, political power is interpreted as being managed in a decentralised way by intellectual and religious leaders. Religions and macro-regional bodies are seen as key players in a political system that preserves pluralism and heterogeneity. Within the political and economic context of globalisation, characterised by a high degree of political and economic exclusion, the perspective of civilisations offers grounds for a conservative rejection of current global transformations.

The master frame of the clash/encounter of civilisations is centred on the notion of civilisation intended as the ultimate cultural reference, beyond any other local and national element. Civilisation is thus the highest cultural grouping of people and the broadest level of cultural identity. While the notion of identity is reinterpreted as multi-layered, civilisational identity is acknowledged as the ultimate, most encompassing layer. Civilisations are accordingly interpreted as double-natured.

While externally civilisations present themselves as monolithic, internally they allow for moderate pluralism. Civilisations are relatively stable social references, though they may overlap, include sub-civilisations, and change over time. As a matter of fact, civilisations have risen and fallen throughout history. What is interesting within the clash/encounter of civilisations approach is that with the recognition of the West’s loss of centrality also comes the recognition of other non-Western civilisations’ full status as antagonists/dialogical companions.

According to the thesis of the clash of civilisations, the key mode of the relationship between civilisations is conflict and competition. While states remain important actors in global politics, conflicts will spring up between civilisations along fault lines, i.e., those states that are on the border or even divided between two civilisations (countries are thus torn). Civilisations need not necessarily collide, but history proves that this is the most likely outcome.

Remaining anchored in history, the thesis of the clash of civilisations claims to be purely descriptive. Accordingly, the reasons for conflict will thus be more related to cultural aspects than to ideological or economic factors. Key factors contributing to conflict principally relate to the fact of irreducible cultural differences. Civilisational divergences are basic and irreconcilable. Since they are less mutable, they are also less prone to compromise.

Globalisation also contributes to civilisational tension for a number of reasons. On the one hand, globalisation increases the awareness of the other; this allows for the rediscovery of one’s own identity but also generates opportunities for conflict. On the other hand, economic modernisation is blending long-term local identities, and as these fade, larger, civilisational, and world religion-based identities are supplying a functional substitute (Huntington, 1996).

While sharing the ultimate assumptions on the nature of civilisations with the clash of civilisations model, the model of the encounter of civilisations is more inclined to normatively conceive the possibility of dialogue among different cultures, and also the possibility of political cooperation.

Within this perspective, there are five key principles. Firstly, culture-basedness holds that politics should be interpreted as deriving from specific cultural traditions which cannot be trans-bordered (MacIntyre, 1984). Secondly, guidance by elites suggests that cultural and religious elites particularly are better equipped in understanding the complexity of the socio-political context and in identifying the right interpretation of traditional principles for any specific circumstance. Thirdly, diversity maintains that cultural frameworks are irreducible to one another, and thus rejects universalism in the name of a reaffirmed pluralism (Dallmayr, 1996; Petito, 2004). Fourthly, respect entails equal treatment among different civilisations and refuses the normative hierarchies used by the nineteenth-century discourse on civilisations vs. barbarians (Manoochehri, 2003). Fifthly, goodwill is seen as the crucial component for starting up a dialogue that leads to reciprocal understanding (based on the hermeneutic method) and a nearing of different civilisations (Dallmayr, 2001), whilst non-violence prescribes peaceful ways of interacting (Tehranian and Chappell, 2002).

In terms of institutional design, the inclination of such a political perspective is towards developing forms of regional cooperation within and among different civilisational areas (Katzenstein, 2010; Michalis and Petito, 2009).

According to the civilisational model in both its conflict and dialogical variants, politics focuses on the high institutional level of exchange among elites. In contrast to the homogenising tendency of current global transformations, this position fosters a multipolar world, in which mutual coexistence allows for the competition, or alternatively for the flourishing, of different cultural and political traditions.

A major ideological foe of the model of civilisations is so-called neo-liberal globalisation, with its equalising tendency that neglects cultural differences. Politically speaking, this means that projects aiming to develop regional cooperation within and among different civilisational areas have to be supported (Camilleri, 2004; Camilleri, Malhorta, and Tehranian, 2000; Cassano and Zolo, 2007). Forms of universalism are thus rejected, except for limited forms of coordination, as in the projects for reforming the UN Security Council along lines of civilisational representation. In the same way, international politics would move back to regional policies so much so that most international affairs (such as military conflicts or financial crises) would be dealt with by regional organisations.

Sharing a number of premises but pointing to a very different political scenario, the radicalisation of religious traditions from political Islamism to Christian fundamentalism seems to suggest a parallel project of global politics (Bob, 2012; Haynes, 2012; Juergensmeyer, 2005; Thomas, 2010). In more general terms, this approach is closer to the overall trend towards the multipolarisation of world order, according to which we are entering a post-global order in which long-standing cultural differences, mainly depending on religious divergence, are re-emerging and effectively reshaping the contours of world politics.

Incipient attempts to recognise the centrality of the notion of civilisation in international affairs occurred in the late nineteenth century, with the establishment of the Parliament of the World’s Religions (1893), and in the first half of the twentieth century, with the creation of the World Congress of Faiths (1936); but it was only in the 1970s and 1980s that a clear recognition of the civilisational factor as a key component of international relations emerged. It was doubtless the publication of Huntington’s famous article on the “Clash of Civilisations” in 1993 (Foreign Affairs, 1996; Huntington, 1993, 1996) that turned what had originally been a predominantly religious discussion into a fully-fledged political debate. The events of 9/11 only boosted the attention given to Huntington’s thesis and initiated a campaign of division along civilisational lines that profoundly marks today’s global politics.

In reaction to Huntington’s thesis, a number of political statements and theoretical formulations in terms of dialogue among civilisations have been developed not only in academia, but also in public discourse and in institutional discussion. In academia, Dallmayr and others offered a robust foundation for the dialogue of civilisations in hermeneutic terms (Dallmayr, 2003).

In the public political domain, the backing of the idea of a dialogue of civilisations by the centennial meeting of the Parliament of the World’s Religions (in 1993) (Küng and Kuschel, 1995), and the World Public Forum–Dialogue of Civilisations (World Public Forum, 2004), offered concrete space for interaction. A number of key emergent global players supported the idea, including Russian President Vladimir Putin (together with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church) (Putin, 2005, 2007), Chinese President Hu Jintao (Hu, 2006, 2008), and especially former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami (Khatami, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2006). Beyond Iran, the idea of civilisations was also favourably received in the Islamic world (ISESCO, 2001, 2004).

The European Commission under President Prodi established a High-Level Advisory Group for Euro-Mediterranean Dialogue (European Commission, 2004). And above all, the UN’s institutional backing – with the designation of 2001 as the year of the Dialogue of Civilisations (Picco, 2001; United Nations, 2001a, 2001b), and with the initiative on the Alliance of Civilisations (2004) co-sponsored by the Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and his Turkish equivalent Recep Tayyip Erdogan – which generated a United Nations High-Level Group on the topic (Manonelles, 2007; United Nations, 2006) – was key in the consolidation of this discourse. Today, civilisation is firmly established as a key concept for the interpretation of global politics beyond a limited state-based perspective.

14. The main mechanisms and strategies of multi-stakeholder politics

Global politics is played out by both traditional governmental actors and new transnational actors through innovative formats and updated political strategies (Khanna, 2011; Marchetti, 2016b; Naìm, 2013). Among them, networking, campaigns, and partnerships play a prominent role. To be effective, any global political actor needs to upgrade its repertoire of action and tactics in this vein.

15. Networking

In global politics, transnational networks play a central role. In this context, a transnational network can be defined as permanent coordination among actors that are in different countries, aimed at developing both protests and proposals in the form of campaigns and common mobilisations at both national and supranational levels (Marchetti and Pianta, 2012). The form of the network is possibly the most common organisational form in the age of globalisation. Transnational networks have an extremely important role in terms of the aggregation of social forces and of the development of common identities cross-nationally. Transnational networks might be multi-stakeholder with plural components including governments, International Organisations, MNCs, CSOs, local authorities, or they might be sector-based, including only one type of actor.

Transnational networking is a form of organisation characterised by voluntary and horizontal patterns of co-ordination, which are trust-centred, reciprocal, and asymmetrical. Networks are in fact eminently non-static organisations: flexibility and fluidity are two major features of the network’s organisational form. A flexible organisational structure enhances the capacity to adapt effectively to changing social circumstances and political situations at the global level. A fluid organisational structure, conversely, allows for porous organisational boundaries that do not require enrollment ratified by formal membership, but are able to cross national and cultural borders. Network structure also varies in that connections can be direct as well as indirect, and linkages can be centralised or decentralised with differing levels of segmentation (Anheier and Katz, 2005; Diani, 2003).

The main activities of transnational networks include spreading information, influencing mass media, and raising awareness. In this vein, they constitute a sort of ‘global infrastructure’ for global social movements. By sharing information, resources, and costs, transnational networks generate value-added for all their participants in terms of innovation, responsiveness, and mutual support, thus achieving greater legitimacy and power in a positive-sum manner. At the same time, lobbying, protest, and the supplying of services to constituencies are also the main functions and objectives of transnational networks.

A network among organisations from a large number of countries is formed when a set of preconditions exist, in terms of values, identities, and political projects, and when a convergence develops in terms of the importance of a specific global issue, and on the agreement of a common issue frame and the appropriate strategies to tackle it. The procedures according to which the consensus on values, identity, and strategy is negotiated, affirmed, and reproduced among independent members that decide to work together on global issues are crucial in order to achieve convergence. The production of a statute, charter, or programme is usually crucial in the network formation process, which is then approved following different procedures, both formal and informal, consensus being the most frequent method.

The ‘internal’ dynamics of a global network are determined by the strategic decisions of national social and political actors to enter, stay in, or leave. Underpinning these decisions are a number of reasons which can be interpreted according to a model of the acquisition of shares of ‘ownership’ in the network, where the investment of political capital and resources by each participant is negotiated with the network coordinator and other key members in order to obtain political gains both at the international and national level, in ways that may differ substantially across member organisations.

Networks are thus constantly evolving through processes of internal discussion, contestation, and resistance, which produce either a new ‘constitutional’ character or new membership. Here the power of transnational networks is evident. In transnational networks, the key principle is always pragmatically combined with a strategic or instrumental dimension, which can be roughly labelled do ut des conditionality. Although the normative content is of paramount importance in the structuring of transnational networks, it is equally significant to reveal the instrumental side of network relationships in terms of political drive, leadership, and the pursuit of interests.

The instrumental reading of the network organisational structure is nowhere more evident than in the mechanisms of participation and ‘ownership’ of the network. Members are not part of the network until they decide to what extent to take part, which is directly dependent on what the member receives back from its participation. This results in differing degrees of participation for each member, and thus in asymmetrical roles within the network.

This strategic aspect of the network organisational form, however, should not be overemphasised, for it is moderated by both the discursive process within the network, which keeps changing members’ interests, and by the original background reference to common principles and values. In this regard, members should be simultaneously considered stakeholders and shareholders. They are stakeholders insofar as they have in common – before entering a network or as a consequence of the internal discussions – a number of general principles and values that refer to concrete stakes in the struggle regarding global politics (the moral side of the network relationship). However, they are also shareholders as they bargain the degree of their engagement according to the degree of satisfaction of their specific interests (the strategic, power-related side of the network relationship).

Both strategic and normative components are then balanced by an outcome-oriented attitude, according to which achieving concrete results and building credibility constitute important elements underpinning networks’ strength, growth, and legitimacy.

Transnational networks are characterised by a set of common beliefs and values which define their political identity (Keck and Sikkink, 1998). Transnational networks are dependent on shared values and, at the same time, are key organisational instruments for building such shared values, identities, mutual trust, common visions, and strategies among organisations of different countries (Risse-Kappen, 1994; Schulz, 1998).

Unlike in national cases, the members of transnational networks do not originally share the same issue frames, political cultures, or repertoires of action, nor do they generally share a language. Within a national context, the common language, culture, and experience make the rise of collective action easier, involving both organisations and individuals, with a highly informal pattern and fuzzy edges. At the global level, such common ground cannot be taken for granted and has to be slowly built by deliberate, long-term effort by organisations with substantial resources.

In the case of global issues, the complexity of the issues and the resources needed to act on them are major barriers to entry to the field of global activism. Transnational networks have represented a major way of lowering such barriers and enabling broader participation in global campaigns.

16. Transnational campaigns

In terms of specific actions adopted by transnational non-state actors, over the years they have carried out a set of actions that brings together traditional and innovative forms of action. From classic street-demonstrations to the more recent square occupations, from traditional lobbying to “infiltration” of official government delegations, to the more technologically advanced forms of mail bombing or post strikes, from traditional boycotting to activist certification, from pacifist personal interposition to public accusations, the forms of political action adopted by transnational networks have been very different.

In general, the main political activities of non-state actors include actions aimed at spreading information and education, influencing the mass media, and raising public awareness, but also include actions to provide services, technical training, or generate alternative markets. Increasingly important in this context are actions that can be made through new cyber opportunities.

In terms of activities towards institutions, three different models of interaction with public power are generally possible: a) acceptance, integration or even the co-opting of centers of existing power; b) external and critical dialogue aimed at reform; or c) refusal and conflict that aims at radical change. While the models of integration and critical dialogue enhance the possibility of re-framing institutional discourse from both inside and outside the political process, the model of refusal generates political protest. In the political debate at the European level, for example, we can easily find the three typologies. EU enthusiasts fit in the first category, critical Europeans in the second, and Euro-sceptics in the third (Della Porta and Caiani, 2009).

A particularly significant form of action at the transnational level is campaigns. They consist in coordinated activities, at global, national, and local level, developed with many different actions. Typically, a global campaign requires a clear message able to mobilise activists, supporters, and sympathisers against an alleged injustice, and the identification of either a well-defined adversary to be accused, or a victim with which to find solidarity. The activities of the campaign tend to be implemented by the network in the case of global events, and by its affiliated organisations or sub-networks at the national or local level. A successful campaign needs the right choice of actions, levels of mobilisation, and targeting to maximise the impact on both the ‘internal’ constituency and the external political process.

Many of these campaigns have been successful in influencing the politics of global issues in recent decades. Significant examples are: represented by the campaign for the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC) (1995) that led to the approval of the Rome Statute (1998); the Jubilee Campaign on Third World Debt (1996) that induced creditor countries and the IMF to take into consideration measures to reduce debt for highly indebted countries; the international campaign against landmines (1992) that led to the intergovernmental conference in Ottawa and to the signature of the namesake treaty (1997); and the campaigns that promoted the UN Moratorium on the death penalty (2007) (Marchetti, 2016a), the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) (Hertzke, 2004), and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007) (Passy, 1999).

From the business perspective, the campaign for the recognition of intellectual property rights (Sell and Prakash, 2004), and the campaign for the privatisation of pension schemes (Orenstein, 2008) are also noteworthy. Campaigns which are currently ongoing, just to cite some additional examples, include wider mobilisation on: environmental justice; the recognition of gender and the rights of women; small weaponry; on AIDS/HIV; on religious freedom; and on food safety. Other important campaigns of the past included anti-Apartheid action, the campaign against the Multilateral Agreement on Investments (MAI) (1998), action regarding the rules of diamond markets in advance of the Kimberly process (1998-2005), and action against the dam in the Narmada Valley (India).

Department of Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu at the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme. (Credit: GCIS/GovernmentZA/Flickr)

Department of Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu at the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme. (Credit: GCIS/GovernmentZA/Flickr) (via

Non-state actors do not always operate alone to pursue their objectives. Increasingly, both international institutions and national governments are developing cooperative forms of activity alongside them.

17. The relationship between international institutions and non-governmental actors

The relationship between public institutions and non-governmental actors has grown conspicuously during past decades. However, such interaction has not received sufficient attention in public discussion and its results have been constantly underestimated, or simply overlooked. While often pursuing different goals, political representatives and non-governmental actors are increasingly finding modalities of convergence which, although unstable, produce significant results. This increasingly intense relationship is generating consequences that impact the foundation of the political system in which we have lived for the last century.

A profound transformation of the very nature of the political (especially international) system is also occurring. Such radical transformation brings socio-political benefits, but can also imply serious political costs. It is within this political constellation, which has facilitated the growth and consolidation of civil activism at the international level, that we need to locate the emergence of the partnership between public institutions and CSOs as a specific type of relationship between public institutions and private actors. Two types of actors can enter into very different kinds of relationships. At one extreme, CSOs can be created by governments (so-called GONGOs) or by International Organisations (so-called IONGOs). At the other extreme, CSOs may end up posing a threat to public institutions and enter into violent contact with them. Partnerships are precisely located between unidirectional lobbying and informal dialogue. The following sections are dedicated to this type of relationship.

In the complex system of global politics, the relationship between governmental and non-governmental actors has become increasingly central (Marchetti, 2017b).

In the last few decades, global governance has provided non-state actors with new opportunities to influence public decisions at the international level.

Non-state actors are present in all phases of the international policy process – agenda setting, policy decisions, implementation, monitoring, policy evaluation – and in a variety of different forms. They are to be found in the preliminary consultations of think tanks and interest groups; in the agenda setting of many issues in EU governance; in the participation of indigenous and farming groups in the revised Food Security Committee at the FAO; as experts in different private standard-setting bodies such as the International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO) and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN); as stakeholders in hybrid global initiatives – such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria – which include philanthropic foundations, grassroots organisations, and firms. They are active in the funding of international public policies, in the implementation of countless international public services, often through the formula of Public-Private Partnerships (PPP); they are active, too, in disaster relief, development aid, and democracy promotion, as well as in the monitoring and assessing of many international public policies such as those on human rights.

Last but not least, in political significance, they may participate in less formalised and more contentious contexts, where the relationship between governments and non-governmental actors is equally intense. Just consider the Syrian or the Ukrainian conflicts and the grey role played in them by rebel, combatant, and terrorist groups, often with strong identitarian or religious connotations. “Civil” and “uncivil” society is ubiquitous, and at times decisive, although its participation often remains very controversial.

The solution to the complexity of global challenges has been increasingly seen to reside in multi-stakeholder networks based on spontaneous collaboration, participation through ownership, power sharing, better potential for learning, and finally, common action (Hemmati 2002). They were created on specific issues and with a format different from that of traditional policy. It was one based on reciprocity (horizontal coordination vs. hierarchy) and equality (collective decisions on goals, trust, and reciprocal respect vs. hegemony) (Pishchikova, 2014).

Public-private partnerships were also developed to “save” public institutions by providing both material and public support. Such partnerships in fact were expected not only to improve the understanding of citizens’ needs and thereby stimulate trust in public institutions, but also to provide the private capital needed for public investments. This was also expected to be a key to success in terms of compliance.

The recent shift in international politics towards regulatory policy, intended as a tool to further the public interest, soon led to the recognition that involvement of stakeholders is crucial in order to adequately identify, achieve, and assess public goods. The framing of the stakeholder approach derives from business management theory (Freeman, 1984) and argues that a number of different actors, beyond the traditional investors-suppliers-employees, participate in the whole operation of a firm and do so to obtain benefits. Hence, there is no pre-assigned agent-related priority. Here, a stakeholder is defined as “each group or individual who is able to influence or can be influenced by the achievements of the organizational goals” (Freeman, 1984, 46).

In the political sphere, this has often been linked to the debate on new public management and participatory democracy (Alemanno, 2014; Vaillancourt Rosenau, 2000). In this context, multi-stakeholder participation, increasing the level of participation of a plethora of different actors, generates different benefits. It helps institutions to grasp the needs and preferences of the citizens, and so is expected to stimulate greater trust in public policy. But it is not only a matter of input legitimacy in terms of collecting information and resources, but equally of output legitimacy in terms of compliance. Decisions without public support have a low level of compliance and a high level of resistance and protest.

The frame of global governance allows the participation of a number of different political actors (the so-called stakeholders) and thanks to this openness it creates significant space for the presence of non-state actors. Moreover, the transformation of authority towards competence, capacity, or the moral principles of the actors, together with the increasingly growing relevance of normative persuasion, have contributed to creating a particularly favourable context for CSOs that thus find themselves in an excellent position to contribute to the decision-making process and to the implementation of public policies through their “soft” abilities.

In the multilateral form, these approaches were developed in the 1980s through public management studies and on participatory democracy, and were then politically launched at the Rio 1992 UN Summit (Nelson, 2002; Willets, 2000). The United Nations, the European Union, but also numerous national governments have developed an increasingly intense relationship with non-governmental actors to pursue their political goals. From what is commonly called Track I diplomacy (from government to government, or intergovernmental) have thus developed other forms of diplomacy. Track II diplomacy (from government to foreign populations, for instance hybrid or public diplomacy through the internet), Track III diplomacy (between CSOs of different countries, like transnational networks for example) and multi-stakeholder diplomacy that sees governments, international organisations, civil society, and other private actors of different kinds come together to be active in common campaigns.

Only when the interests of public institutions and those of CSOs overlap can a productive interaction result. In recent years, such overlapping has become increasingly frequent. From peace-building missions to developmental or monitoring programmes, the role conceded by international organisations to CSOs, but also won by the latter, has been significant. A specific form of such interaction is constituted by international multi-stakeholder partnerships. They have been particularly common recently; “the last decade of the 20th century has been called an era of partnership” (Pattberg, 2005, 591).

International multi-stakeholder partnerships can be understood as institutionalised transboundary and cooperative interactions between public and private actors for governance purposes (Boerzel and Risse, 2007, 199; Schaferhoff, Campe, and Kaan, 2009, 455). Partnerships are a policy tool underpinned by the principles of trust, shared benefits, and win-win solutions i.e., each actor understands that the inclusion of the other is crucial to the achievement of the common goal. This way, MNCs need CSOs (Pattberg, 2005), CSOs need MNCs (Austin, 2000; Heap, 1998), and governments and international governmental organisations need MNCs and CSOs, and vice versa (Witte, Reinicke, and Benner, 2000).

In International Relations jargon, PPPs constitute a subset of transnational relations, i.e., regular interaction across boundaries when at least one actor is a non-state agent (Keohane and Nye, 1971, xii-xiii). A PPP may perform four main functions: agenda, rule, and standard setting; members’ empowerment (e.g., through sharing knowledge); policy implementation; and service provision; here the last is expected to be the most common type (although no definitive data is available on this).

As with intergovernmental regimes, these kinds of policy partnership also provide collective goods, reduce transaction costs, and decrease uncertainty (Keohane, 1984). In fact, partnerships not only produce regulations, but provide the opportunity for inputs into the entire policy cycle, as well as being a forum for deliberation and resolution of conflicts, for dissemination of knowledge, for organisational learning, and for third-party verification of compliance (Pattberg, 2005).

Multi-stakeholder partnerships are usually created for specific issues and with a different format from that of traditional policy. They are based on the idea of collaborative advantages. Since results cannot be achieved individually, the particular result is more than the value of the individual components. This way stakeholders share the interest in the results and show a degree of ownership, while at the same time being also risk-bearers (Clarkson, 1994).

Apart from the basic issue of access (Sommerer and Tallberg, 2016), stakeholder engagement is usually assessed along a scale of different degrees of inclusion that go from public communication, via public consultation, to public participation. The solution to public challenges is ultimately to be found in the principle of interdependence itself, and relates to the ability of multi-stakeholder networks to tackle them effectively (Brinkerhoff, 2002a, 2002b; Hemmati 2002; Warner and Sullivan, 2004). This is usually taken for granted at a general level. What is more controversial is why, in practice, partnerships emerge in certain sectors and not in others.

Alternative explanatory perspectives have been formulated to explain why multi-stakeholder cooperation and partnerships emerge at the international level. The traditional interpretation of multi-stakeholder partnership is centred on functionalism. According to this perspective, multi-stakeholder partnerships are interpreted as a response to systemic needs which are not met either by the state or by the market. They are, in fact, responses to both state and market failure. Striving to address global and regional issues by pooling resources, skills, and expertise, multi-stakeholder partnerships are expected to enhance the problem-solving capacity of the political system, and subsequently to increase its legitimacy.

On the other hand, there are rational-choice approaches, which suggest that multi-stakeholder partnerships are not demand-driven, but supply-driven, insofar as they depend on the concrete interest of more powerful private actors and public institutions. This way they would be seen not only as a matter of governance deficit, but also of the interests of the potential actors. This incentive-driven perspective is based on the idea that, through partnerships, the actors involved may acquire additional means and tackle problems such as, for instance, a lack of financial resources, technical expertise, or political legitimacy. This perspective considers partnerships as the by-product of power positions, but also as power-enhancing instruments.

Liberals see partnerships as the result of bargaining among a set of independent actors. According to this interest-based perspective, cooperation is developed in order to reap joint gains, especially under circumstances of limited supply of public goods and regulations by governmental actors. It is a cooperation-based form of bargaining, and one that secures compliance through positive incentives relying on cost-benefit analysis.

Both realist and Marxist paradigms tend instead to see membership in partnerships as not freely contracted, but rather as coercively contracted, if indirectly, and as imposed by powerful actors who are able to enforce their policy preferences and find it more expedient to do it through the format of policy partnerships. Realists tend to see states as the key actors who are able to bring in non-governmental actors (be they for-profit or not) in order to increase their international impact. In this power-based account, compliance is secured through top down (formal and informal) sanctions in a hierarchical mode. Marxists, especially neo-Gramscians, perceive powerful private actors as leaders who are able to coalesce with public institutions and in so doing, bend them to corporate interests, effectively manipulating public institutions for private ends.

Various reasons explain the renewed interest of public institutions in civil society since the beginning of the 1980s. They include the following: 1) public institutions were then going through a politically difficult period and needed to strengthen their legitimacy; 2) institutions were in need of material support and know-how because of the reduction in their funds, the privatisation of their functions, and the simple lack of internal competence, so to subcontract such duties to NGOs was the optimal solution to answer to these needs; 3) institutions were looking for political partners, and from this viewpoint the creation of multi-stakeholder coalitions presented itself as a workable path; and finally, 4) some public institutions thought that the support to NGOs, as well as critical dialogue with the other forces of civil society, was necessary to revitalise one of the crucial mechanisms for the democratic sustainability of political regimes.

In short, among the most significant benefits that International Organisations can derive from this kind of partnership are the following: 1) additional external legitimacy through generalised ownership (especially valuable when public institutions are being generally discredited); 2) external allies for political projects; 3) material and financial support; 4) professional know-how based on specific technical, local, social, and political expertise; 5) enhanced effectiveness based on the assumption that CSOs are considered better equipped than other actors to reach outlying communities, to promote participation, to innovate, and to operate at low cost; 6) additional strength to overcome internal bureaucratic barriers and to innovate with policies; and 7) the possibility of outsourcing tasks at low cost without losing control of the deliverables.

Nor can we discard the hypothesis that genuine endorsement of the pro-civil society norm (perhaps the result of CSOs’ own lobbying activity) might itself be a reason for International Organisations’ engagement with CSOs. The belief in the idea that civil societies are vital to the sustainability of the political system might indeed be shared by many politicians and public officials.

For all these (contrasting) reasons, and through these different modalities, a high number of international organisations have supported the inclusion of non-state actors in their own decision-making process. A guiding role among them has been taken by the United Nations, which has actively promoted cooperation with civil society inside the mechanism of global governance.

The UN is showing signs of opening up to ‘civil societies’, the so-called stakeholders, though in different forms (United Nations, 2004). At least five mechanisms can be singled out. The first, by now well-developed, formula for the inclusion of stakeholders, adopted by the UN many years ago, is the classic consultation with CSOs. A second mechanism for engagement with civil societies is the subcontracting of specific functions. A third mechanism, more recently observed, concerns the founding, financing, aggregating, or simply sponsoring of newly created CSOs. A fourth mechanism is multi-stakeholder partnerships. Finally, a fifth mechanism that has been envisaged and implemented in the last few years is the formal inclusion of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) into the decision-making process of the UN. This is a particularly innovative transformation in that it significantly erodes the pure intergovernmental nature of the UN. With this fifth mechanism, non-governmental actors move within intergovernmental organisations.

United Nations headquarters. (Credit: versello/Flickr)

United Nations headquarters. (Credit: versello/Flickr) (via

Two instances of such formalised inclusion of CSOs have occurred in the last seven years. In 2007, CSOs were included in the workings of UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, and perhaps more importantly, in the working of the Committee on Food Security (CFS) of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 2009.

The European Commission also has a long history of interaction with civil society experts that has changed and expanded over time. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Commission focused on “consultation” within European economic integration, and on dialogue with primarily economic experts within industrial and agrarian interest groups. Later on, in the 1980s and 1990s, it concentrated on developing “partnership” with non-governmental actors within the social dialogue on specific policy areas such as security, society, and education.

However, only in the late 1990s and 2000s did attention turn to the idea of “participation” itself and the concept of participatory democracy. The White Paper on Governance drew up the framework for such cooperation (European Commission, 2001), while the Leaken Conference of 2001 established a qualitative milestone for the recognition of the participation of CSOs in European governance: for the first time, it included the representation of civil societies in the Convention, working on the Constitutional Treaty. As a result, the process of policy formation went beyond the classic intergovernmental method and included voluntary, informal, inclusive, and participatory forms of coordination, the so-called new era of EU multilevel governance.

The United States also has a long tradition of paying attention towards the non-governmental actors that are considered a central part of US soft-power. More recently, finally, numerous other public organisations have opened communication channels and interaction with CSOs.

Focusing on CSOs, a number of different suggestions have been put forward to explain why they engage with International Organisations. By entering into a quasi-institutional relationship with public institutions, CSOs gain a number of clear advantages, including: external recognition and legitimacy; entrance into diplomatic circles; the ability to influence the decision-making process; funding; new knowledge; external political support (e.g., the “boomerang effect”); but also more service delivery contracts and consultancy work (just like business actors who enter PPPs in order to gain access to public tenders and new markets).

Notwithstanding these interest-driven elements, the constructive hypothesis cannot be easily dismissed. According to this, CSOs may also engage with International Organisations as a result of a long process of socialisation. Civil societies, especially those sharing the dominant liberal paradigm, find it right and ‘natural’ to cooperate with public institutions, quite apart from any particular interest or benefit they might gain from such a partnership. Within such a paradigm, a specific pro-civil society participatory norm was consolidated in recent decades, producing a new frame within which the identity of many CSOs developed. The norm paves the way for a positive welcoming of NGOs and, to a lesser extent, social movements, not least for their alleged potential in terms of legitimacy and (cost-) effectiveness (the so-called “new policy agenda”).

While each frame presents the norm in a slightly different form, the central pivot remains the same: non-governmental actors should have a say in the decision-making mechanisms at both the international and transnational level. This new conception of the political agency of non-governmental actors at the international level is revolutionary. Until a few years ago, it was unthinkable to consider non-state actors relevant in the international realm.

However, as argued by Reinman, in the 1980s this new norm began to emerge in international development circles and later became institutionalised within the United Nations (UN) system in the 1990s. As a consequence, civil societies have since been seen, together with the private sector, as the right (at times even indispensable) functional partners for delegitimised states and intergovernmental organisations (Reiman, 2006, 59–60). Today this seems increasingly accepted, if not absolutely encouraged. As shown above, the United Nations and the European Union have in many respects endorsed this norm.

18. The relationship between national institutions and non-governmental actors

Engagement with non-state actors is also increasingly practiced at the national level (Marchetti, 2017a). It is clear that this represents a shift from classic Westphalian sovereignty. A famous political dynamic studied a few years ago by Keck and Sikkink is called the boomerang effect (Keck and Sikkink, 1998): The assumption is that we no longer live (if ever we did) on islands. If a group is marginalised from the national decision-making process it can appeal to foreign actors (whether an NGO, a foreign government, or an international organisation) for them to put pressure on the national government in order to open up channels of access to the decision-making process. It is an inside-out-dynamic. But the reality is more complex than this.

There is also an outside-in dynamic, used by foreign actors (NGO, states, or international organisations) pushing for specific policy reform within a country: if they do not succeed in persuading the government, they ally themselves with local civil society actors in order to influence the government from below. This is a second kind of political dynamic that is seen very often. And then, there is at least a third important mechanism that we should bear in mind: the inside-out dynamic, led by a government. The national government itself can rely on foreign support to constrain local opposition.

The partnership between national governments and non-state actors is the core of multi-stakeholder or public diplomacy. By public diplomacy we mean, in a minimalistic way, the action carried out by a government with the aim of interacting with the citizens of another country. In this, public diplomacy corresponds to the notion of Track II diplomacy.

Recently, we have seen an intensification of actions of public diplomacy, essentially by the US and the EU. Going beyond traditional government-to-government diplomacy, through public diplomacy (government-to-population of another government), governments try to influence the citizens of another state to promote their own foreign policy goals. Among the different channels that can be used for the goals of public diplomacy, two are particularly salient: direct action through the internet, and indirect action through a CSO.

Through the internet, especially new media, governments today are able to open channels of interactive and direct communication with foreign citizens, with the aim of both receiving information to ameliorate their foreign policies, and offering non-intrusive help.

Through civil society, whether this is constituted by local organisations or international NGOs with national headquarters, the government is able to provide services locally, but also to promote changes in the society that are in line with its vision and interests.

As a matter of fact, boundaries are porous (the current refugee flows through the Mediterranean Sea and the Balkans provide further evidence of that fact). Many items cross boundaries: ideas and information; migrants; refugees; trafficked people; foreign investments; money laundering; political support; terrorist networks; traditional weapons; cybercrime; pollution; and popular culture. The political question is: what is a legitimate border crossing?

Ideas, people, money, political support, weapons – none of them cross national boundaries with 100% legitimacy, and yet they all do, either independently, or more frequently, with the help of other countries. We are in a transition period that has intensified in the last 20 years. But we do not have clear political guidelines on how to handle this. Suffice it here to ponder Ukraine, Syria, and Hong Kong – all cases in which foreign influence is denounced by each conflict party. All major actors practice this; all major actors denounce it. In different ways though, of course.

The world in which we live is definitely complex and power politics is definitely pluralist and multi-stakeholder. To reiterate: we no longer live (if ever we did) on islands. In this context, multilateral and bilateral partnerships constitute a central, if controversial, element in today’s global politics. The increase in the number of non-state actors has generated corresponding national responses of both opening and closure.

In terms of national responses to the increasing presence of MNCs, an overall trend of acceptance is noticeable. In the case of INGOs, a more mixed pattern can be observed: while a generalised opening was implemented in the 1980s and early 1990s, from the late 1990s on a significant increase in different kinds of restrictions to the operation of foreign NGOs has been observable. This trend is very much in line with the sheer increase in the transnational activism of many CSOs, including the increase in CSO accreditation to the UN ECOSOC.

What remains highly controversial is the fact that public diplomacy initiatives, almost by definition, bypass local governments and enter into conflict with sovereign nationality. Public diplomacy in fact often implies little consideration of local government, which is seen as inefficient, corrupt, or simply as an enemy. In order to provide services locally and to promote a political project, what (essentially) Western governments increasingly put into practice (but also recognise, within certain limits, as politically legitimate) is a kind of local action that goes well beyond classic Westphalian intergovernmental diplomacy. This innovation is viewed positively from the liberal perspective because societies are conceptualised as open, and possessing porous borders that allow continuous transnational exchange between actors who are part of separate political communities. This is thus considered positive because it maximises the chances for citizens to exert their free choice among a (potentially) unlimited number of alternatives, which are presented in a non-coercive manner.

However, adopting a more realist position, the practice of public diplomacy and of the soft diffusion of political values is immediately read as a threat. Consequently, public diplomacy is viewed suspiciously and interpreted as an attempt to impose foreign influence on national affairs, in which the principle of sovereignty should rather reign. When such a position is argued, generally some countermeasures are adopted such as censorship of the internet and limitations (or in extreme cases, the ban) on the activity of foreign CSOs. When this kind of radicalisation happens, and when the context becomes securitised, then the space for manoeuvre for any CSO becomes narrow.

19. Strategic choices in multi-stakeholder politics

Decisions by global actors on which strategy to adopt depend in the last analysis on assessments of which course of action fits better into the specific political circumstances in which they navigate. The strategic choice concerns balancing between the specific characteristics of the actor (in terms of political perspective, experience, know-how, and objectives) and the external environment. Only by establishing a good match between agent-related and context-related factors can a mobilisation be successful.

Essential to this is identifying good timing (think for example of the Pro-Tibet mobilisations in coincidence with the Beijing Olympic Games, or the pro-LGBT protests coinciding with the Winter Olympics in Sochi). Any mobilisation can, in fact, have completely different results depending on the moment in which it is launched. These elements constitute the centre of the concept of the structure of political opportunities, as developed by the theory of social movements (McAdam et al., 1996).

The structure of global political opportunities in which transnational networks act is complex and multilevel. While the issues that motivate the mobilisation can be, in the final analysis, global (even if often mediated through national or local dimensions), the possibility of a successful mobilisation is rooted in the structure of the political opportunities that bring together the national and transnational sphere of political action. In national contexts, CSOs are rooted in a dense network of social relations and common identities, have access to important resources (human, financial, etc.), but operate in highly formalised political systems that constrain their mobilisations through a number of political filters. While democratic countries tend to give more space to activism, in countries governed by other kinds of regimes the space for manoeuvre for activists can be greatly limited.

By contrast, at global level, transnational networks face high costs in the building of trans-boundary relations among organisations with different cultures and languages, and have access to limited resources, but also have less institutional constraints. At the transnational level, networks work inside a political system where the lack of democracy and the numerous failures in facing global problems represent opportunities for cross-border mobilisation (let us think of the political opportunity offered by the current economic crisis that has been so well used by movements as varied as Occupy Wall Street in the United States, the Indignados in Spain, the Movimento Cinque Stelle in Italy, and Golden Dawn in Greece). The lack of a rigid institutional environment similar to the national one then amplifies the possibilities of political action. In different ways, international organisations such as the United Nations or the European Union can provide opportunities for the creation of political space and the mobilisation of resources to the advantage of transnational networks.

Such opportunities inside the international system induce the adoption of a number of specific political strategies by international actors. When there is a low level of conflict and institutional alliances are possible, “vertical coalitions” regarding specific global questions can emerge. Inside these coalitions, actors can cooperate, or at least establish a dialogue with specific international organisations and with some “progressive” governments or regional organisations. This has happened, for example, in the case of the campaign for the International Criminal Court, for the anti-landmine agreement, and the agreement against child labour, but also occurred during the WTO Cancun Conference.

NGO meeting with the International Criminal Court Presidency, November 2012. (Credit: Coalition for the ICC/Flickr)

NGO meeting with the International Criminal Court Presidency, November 2012. (Credit: Coalition for the ICC/Flickr) (via

By contrast, when the conflict is strong, the mobilisation targets the highest level, the core of the global decision-making process (as in the case of the protests during the G8 meetings), with a much more visible challenge. During intergovernmental meetings, for example, the political weight of street demonstrations can pressure rivals and reassure friendly government delegations. In both cases, the results include the creation of larger opportunities for the transnational networks that emerge, spreading their impact on public opinion as a legitimate and authoritative voice in favour of global interests. Moreover, their action can also influence the local dimension, contributing to enhance the political opportunities that are present in national contexts (e.g., the current conflict in Syria). For example, CSOs can act as facilitators to provide space to actors that usually have no say and remain excluded. Transnational networks can also amplify local voices through “global bridges” and “boomerangs”, in this way providing increasing strength to local or national activism.

Level shifts, changes in the battlefield, and leap-frogging are all techniques widely used by CSOs. In this way, at the global level, transnational networks can strategically provide “discursive representation” to global interests that remain generally under-represented in the political system.

In conclusion, it is possible to state a list of conditions that increase the chances of global actors being effective. Recent studies have demonstrated that rising efficacy in the action of transnational civil society can be obtained when the following conditions are satisfied: 1) transnational coalitions and networks exist for specific global issues, with the participation of organisations from different action areas, as well as the academic community and the business world; 2) different forms of action are used simultaneously (campaigns of public awareness raising, protest, lobbying, politics, and alternative practices); 3) a multilevel strategy is adopted (local, national, regional and global) that flanks and runs parallel to multilevel global governance using the various windows of opportunity that such a system offers; 4) “vertical alliances” are created with the agencies of the United Nations, friendly governments, and business-world actors, through the support of gate-keepers and the overcoming of veto-players; 5) global events take place, for example, meetings of the United Nations that raise visibility and provide opportunities for the exchange of ideas and practices; 6) there is strong leadership with charisma, passion, acumen, and determination; 7) resources are available in terms of funds, personnel, information etc.; and, finally, 8) there is the absence (or a rather limited presence) of institutional obstacles (Pianta, Ellersiek, and Utting, 2012; Scholte, 2004).

What emerges from this analysis is the growing relevance of these actors in all those environments that had traditionally been reserved for diplomatic relations. We live in an age in which power is spreading in thousands of channels within societies, and in which politics has become an increasingly difficult art to practice, requiring the ability to play on more levels and to interact with actors of different natures at the same time and in very short time frames.

20. Conclusion: risks and opportunities in global multi-stakeholder politics

While the growth of partnerships between public institutions and civil society actors at the international level is evident, the phenomenon remains controversial for a number of reasons. In this section, the main points of contention are analysed.

The first set of controversies refers to the role that non-governmental actors play in today’s global governance. The kinds of criticism that are raised against civil society participation in global governance are not very dissimilar to those directed against the participation of the private sector. In both cases the issue is their representation gap. Because they are not elected, it is argued, their participation in global governance effectively decreases the democratic quality of the decision-making process, to the disadvantage of formally elected governments (Kaiser, 1971). In the same vein, their presence simply confirms a widespread lack of trust in the operational capacities of public institutions. There are, of course, other scholars who argue the opposite, pointing to the democratic value of stakeholder participation in the decision-making process as a valid alternative (or indeed complement) to traditional electoral representation (Macdonald, 2008).

The long-standing dispute concerning the legitimacy of civil actors constitutes a major issue in transnational activism (Brown, 2008; Collingwood and Logister, 2005). While it is clear that CSOs cannot aim to substitute the traditional channels of political representation, it is also recognised that they often play a key role, among others, in ‘broadcasting’ needs and aspirations that struggle to be included on the political agenda.

From the activist perspective, the issue of political representation should not be interpreted as an answer to the question of who they represent, but rather what they aim to represent. CSOs usually claim to advance the public interest. They claim to speak on behalf of nobody in particular (but on behalf of humanity for common goals). On these grounds they claim not full political decision-making power, but rather consultative power linked to deliberative/discursive practices. While it is evidently not clear what the public interest is with regard to many specific global issues, the ambition of civil societies is to contribute, within the normative battlefield of global public opinion, to the right interpretation of what constitutes the public interest. In addition, what should be noted is that CSOs do not really aim to seize institutional (representative) power: rather, they call upon governments to enhance their own representativeness and accountability (Wapner, 2002).

A second set of critical issues refers to the specific engineering of partnerships. Local, under-resourced actors tend, arguably, to be marginalised, if not altogether excluded from partnerships, both at the global and European level. Hence, what emerges is an imbalance. The consequent biases concern, in particular, the notion of the ‘political correctness’ of CSOs, their Western origin, and their bourgeois nature.

The first major bias is the focus on the notion of political correctness. This has caused the marginalisation of those CSOs that challenge liberal-democratic values in the name of more conservative, religiously inspired political projects.

The second major bias is the focus on Western, and in particular English-speaking, CSOs. Related to this is the third bias, which concerns the implicitly bourgeois nature of civil societies. Very often, the focus of attention on CSOs has prioritised, if not exclusively taken into consideration, organisations (typically NGOs) of technical expertise, formalised in organisational structure, (neo)liberal in political perspective, urbanised in location and way of thinking, and mainly composed of middle-class individuals. Consequently, other organisations that are political rather than technical, not formalised, or loose, in structure, not necessarily liberal, nor based in large cities, and composed of poorer and/or weaker social classes, have received much less attention.

An additional problem of institutional design concerns the asymmetric composition of the partnerships. Not only is it just certain kinds of CSO that have had access, but also, once in, they have faced an unbalanced relationship and a lack of reciprocity with governmental actors. At times, big donors control the agenda and decision-making process, and provide knowledge and material resources, whereas local actors provide political support and legitimacy while acting as sub-contractors. This, in turn, generates a lack of trust and damages the level of collaboration by creating incentives for competition among local actors.

Additionally, a further critical element is related to the predominance of Western CSOs among those active in global governance. This critical attitude has constituted a relative barrier to the development of CSO activism, and for the matter of international partnerships. Critical, too, has been the cautious, if not suspicious attitude of the emerging powers towards civil societies and towards their institutional correlation with multi-stakeholder partnerships. Many countries from the south, and the BRICS especially, have tended to see CSOs as at best duplicators of the power positions of international politics.

As a matter of fact, among the CSOs that are active at the international level, the vast majority are from northern countries, especially North America and the European Union. The same proportion is, for instance, present in the NGOs accredited at the UN ECOSOC, in which almost three-quarters of the NGOs are northern. In fact, the traditional governmental imbalance between north and south is even more accentuated within the CSOs themselves. In some cases, CSOs are not only seen simply as duplicators of northern power, but also as multipliers, tools through which northern governments pursue their foreign policy goals.

From the civil society perspective, two potential risks should, additionally, be pointed out: cooptation and ‘ostracism’, as examples respectively of full inclusion/integration into, or full exclusion from, the political system. On the one hand, the opportunity for, or indeed risk of, cooptation by the institutional system is always high for CSOs, for many political institutions have by now learnt how to take advantage of (or indeed strategically exploit) interaction with civil societies (Clinton, 2010; European Commission, 2010; Sardamov, 2005). CSOs need financial resources, public recognition, and political support, all of which are usually provided or facilitated by the political system (Gary, 1996; Henderson, 2002; Wu, 2003).

Under these circumstances, the political system is in a special position to take advantage of the fragmentation and proliferation of CSOs by picking and choosing, on the basis of political convenience, those groups which are most inclined to cooperate by adopting the current institutional agenda. In this way, CSOs may find themselves being manipulated in order to integrate top-down representation of specific interests or for the service delivery of specific goods. Their claims may thus become neutralised, or at least de-radicalised, in exchange for their status being upgraded to that of a partner or supporter.

The frequently discussed case of government-owned NGOs (GONGOs) illustrates what full integration into the political system is like (Naìm, 2007). From one viewpoint, in fact, “the most decisive determinant of third-sector growth will be the relationship that nonprofit organizations can forge with governments. The task for third-sector organizations is to find a modus vivendi with government that provides sufficient legal and financial support while preserving a meaningful degree of independence and autonomy” (Salamon, 1994, 122). On the other hand, the issues of violence and resistance at large to the overall political system remains a controversial point, which strongly depends on how they are interpreted politically. From radical antagonism to armed nationalism (Checkel, 2013), not to mention terrorist groups, those who oppose institutional politics have often been criminalised and marginalised from the political system, or simply classified as terrorist organisations (Asal, Nussbaum, and Harrington, 2007; Evans, 2000; Kaldor and Muro-Ruiz, 2003).

Finally, a third set of controversies refers to the partnership between public institutions and civil society organisations themselves. While many argue that partnerships are an efficient way to address state and market failures, objections remain. A first line of criticism sees them as a debacle of public politics and as a further push towards the privatisation of world politics. By letting “private” actors into the public domain, it is held, public institutions effectively give up their role as chief public regulators. From this perspective, CSOs are perceived as equal to the business sector: private players eroding state sovereignty embedded in public institutions (and by default in intergovernmental organizations). A second line of argument, in contrast, questions the legitimacy of the instrumental use of civil societies by public institutions. By taking advantage of civil society resources, public institutions would be able to make a deeper impact on societies, skipping the classic intergovernmental checks and balances, and dis-embedding traditional societal values and hierarchies (i.e., family, locality, culture and artisanal formation).

Raffaele Marchetti

Assistant professor in International Relations at the Faculty of Political Science and the School of Government of LUISS



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Raffaele Marchetti

Assistant professor in International Relations at the Faculty of Political Science and the School of Government of LUISS,

Raffaele Marchetti (Laurea, Rome; PhD, London) is assistant professor in International Relations at the Faculty of Political Science and the School of Government of LUISS where he holds a Jean Monnet European Module on EU’s Engagement with Civil Society funded by the European Commission. His research interest concerns globalization, global governance, and transnational civil society. He was scientific coordinator of FP6 Strep project SHUR. Human Rights in Conflicts: The Role of Civil Society; and was Fellow at the European University Institute, the Italian National Research Council-CNR, and in the Network of Excellent GARNET. Global Governance, Regionalisation & Regulation. He was also research contractor for the FP6 research project DEMOS. Democracy in Europe and the Mobilization of Society, and the European Union Institute for Security Studies-EUISS. He taught at LSE, American University of Rome, John Cabot University, Universite de Geneve, and University of Naples L’Orientale and carried out research at University of Exeter, University of Nottingham, and University of Urbino. In 2005, he received the Lawrence S. Finkelstein Award by the International Studies Association-ISA, Section on International Organization. He has published 8 books/edited books and more than 50 articles in journals/edited books. He is currently completing a book on The Other Side of Global Politics: Goals, Strategies, and Impact of Civil Society Mobilizations and working on a long-term project on Constructing Global Legitimacy.