Is the State Still the Most Important Actor in International Relations

Is the state still the most important actor in International Relations? State is commonly referred to either the present condition of a system or entity, or to a governed entity, such as a nation or a province. The state itself consists of the society, government as well as the people living there. Before the Second World War, State is often seen as the main actor in international Relations as it can declare states of wars, control most of the economic influence within the region and larger states often dominant the role of international relations within the region or even in the globe.

However, after the Second World War, the impacts on state influence as an actor has become less important than before, regarding to this point, there is still a debate about whether it remains the most important actor or has been replaced by other actors. In this essay, I will be evaluating different actors in international relations to find out if the state is still the most important.

The international system consists of not just the nation-state itself, but also international organizations such as NGOs and private actor. After the Second World War, many international organizations were created, as the levels of economic, political, social and cultural transactions among individuals, societies and states continue to grow, international organizations at the same time have increasing their numbers and influences in IR.

The growth of so many kinds of non-state actors challenges and even weakens the "state-centric" concept of international politics and replaces it with a "transnational" system in which relationships are more complex. These organizations changed the international environment (Miller, 1994).

Following the traditional classification, non-state actors are divided into two categories: international intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) and transnational or international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) (Brown, 1995; Miller, 1994). IGO is a group which is considered as a non-state actor but is created by the nation-states with government agencies. NGO is a group created by individuals, businessmen and other societal forces. IGOs are voluntary associations of sovereign states established to pursue many objectives for which states want to cooperate through sort of formal structure and to which states are unable to realize by themselves (Miller, 1994).

There are hundreds of IGOs in today's world which are significant in their respective fields. They are created by treaties and negotiations which mainly reflect preferences of stronger states. Especially stronger states create IGOs because they need them to protect their interests. By and large, decisions made by IGOs are the product of negotiations among the governmental representatives assigned to them. In general, it is not idealism, but the need of states which tend them to cooperate with other states in the context of IGOs. Therefore, they are part of the Westphalia state system in which IGOs are instruments of nation-states (Miller, 1994: 67).

Regarding to the function and the purpose of IGOs, the influence of state as an actor in international relation still remains strong but in a different way, IGOs replace the original ideas of individual states but to identify states which have the same normative behavior and same ambitions to form a cooperate with each other so as to achieve the same goal. Even said so, powerful states are less constrained by the principle of IGOs than those who are relatively weak (Ataman, 2000: 152-167). This suggests that state is the key element in many aspects of International Relation.

The actions might not be as easy to seen as before, but in a different way, at a different form, stronger states often use the power of their state to influence other affairs in the globe. Some examples can be found on The IMF and the UN Security Council. They are two prominent organizations in which some powerful states direct activities of the organization and impose their principles selectively. For instance, the UN Security Council cannot accept any decision against the interests of the five permanent members and those of their allies.

Non-governmental organizations are institutions that are created by non-state actors but are often involved with parts of the participation with the states as well. There are many kinds of NGOs such as transnational, government organized, government-regulated and initiated, business and industry, donor-organized, donor-dominated, people's organizations, operational, advocacy, transnational social movements, quasi, and anti-governmental NGOs. Their number increased and their effectiveness for transnational politics became more relevant in recent decades. They have become "crucial participants in the international policy process" (Brown, 1995: 268).

NGOs create global networks by creating transnational organizations, gathering information on local conditions through contacts around the world, alerting global network of supporters to conditions requiring attention, creating emergency response around world, and mobilizing pressure from outside states. NGOs conduct many kinds of activities within states such as linking to local partners, linking to transnational social movements with complementary skills, and working in national arenas to harmonize state policies, providing humanitarian aid, and protecting accompaniment of persons in danger.

They also enhance public participation within states by reminding government delegates that they are being watched, enhancing public understanding, increasing transparency of international negotiations and institutions, and provoking public protest. After the analysis of the major actors in the worlds politics nowadays, I agree that even though ‘states’ have play less roles than before but they can still seen as the most important actors in the international relations.

Many international treaties and laws are created by states and many organizations have government influences into it. I might say that ‘states’ in general are still important, the hegemony state might find themselves play as a less important role in IR in the future as IGOs and NGOs continue to grow. Nation states are involved and will always be the most important actor in international relations. The function of a sovereign state is still a fundamental concept of the study of IR. Many new forms of organizations are expected to form but having said that, states will continue to play an important role in every aspect in order to maintain its power within the region or within their governed societies.


  • Ataman, M. (2000). "The Effectiveness of International Organizations," Abant Ýzzet Baysal Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Dergisi, v. 2000-1 n. 1, pp. 152-167.
  • Brown, S. (1995). New Forces, Old Forces, and the Future of World Politics. Post-Cold War Edition, New York: Harper Collins College Publishers.
  • Miller, L. H. (1994). Global Order: Values and Power in International Politics. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.