You Are a Global Citizen

State Actors and IGOs

The study of international relations, broadly speaking, is the study of relationships between actors in the international system.  These actors, however, take many different forms.  The most important actors in the international system are governments (state actors), such as the United States, Canadian or Mexican Governments.  A major part of the study of international relations is the study of relations between countries and/or states.  The importance of Great power states cannot be overlooked when studying relations between states.  These Great powers are states that possess military and economic strength and influence.  Great powers do not necessarily maintain their position in the international system indefinitely, but may lose their position based on changing balances of power (i.e., some states may increase in strength while others face a decline).  In addition to the Great powers, there are many middle-level and smaller states in the international system.  These states may be less powerful actors in the international system, but they can still have an impact, especially when they act collectively through intergovernmental organizations.

Intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) are organizations whose members are national governments (i.e., states).  IGOs vary in size and focus.  They may have near-universal membership, like the United Nations, or might be regional organizations, such as the African Union (AU), or the Organization of American States (OAS).  Some IGOs, such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), focus on international trade regulations, while others have a security focus, such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).  The one thing they have in common is that their members are states, not individuals.

Nonstate Actors

In addition to states and IGOs, there are also many nonstate actors involved in shaping the dynamics of the international system.  These nonstate actors are not states, but are individuals or groups of individuals organized around particular interests.  Nonstate actors include substate actors and transnational actors.  Substate actors are groups within a country that influence the State's foreign policy.  These substate actors include interest groups representing a broad range of interests from industry to labor.  There are public interest groups focused on issues such as the environment and consumer protection. There are also diaspora communities made of up people originating from foreign countries, who have a vested interest in shaping policies in favor of their homeland. One major way these groups are influential is through lobbying over particular foreign policy issues; for example, Cuban Americans lobby on the issue of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.

Transnational actors also act below the level of the state, but do so across international borders.  A multinational corporation (MNC), such as IBM or Merck Pharmaceutical, is an obvious example of a transnational actor, with operations in a number of different countries and goods and services flowing around the world.  Many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are also considered to be transnational actors (although some are domestically based and do not have international membership).  Organizations such as Greenpeace, Amnesty International, and the International Red Cross pursue environmental and humanitarian agendas and have members from many different countries.  Information technologies have facilitated communications between transnational actors, affecting the level of influence they can bring to bear on policymakers, as well as shaping the interests and preferences of different international actors.  An additional category of transnational actor that has made use of information technology is international crime organizations and terrorists.  These groups use transnational networks to coordinate their activities and influence other actors in the international system, in the same way NGOs do.

The study of international relations explores the interactions between all of these different state and nonstate actors in the international system.  This simulation is designed to help you recognize what impact international actors have on our daily lives, and gain an understanding of why the study of international relations is important.