Missing the target: NGOs, global civil society and the arms trade

Stavrianakis, Anna (2012) Missing the target: NGOs, global civil society and the arms trade. Journal of International Relations and Development, 15. pp. 224-249. ISSN 1408-6980

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Non-governmental organisation (NGO) activism on the arms trade is emblematic of the significant and emancipatory role attributed to civil society in post-Cold War international politics. Discussions of NGOs’ efforts are marked by a distinctively liberal understanding of civil society as an increasingly global sphere separate from the state and market, promoting progressive and non-violent social relations. However, there are significant conceptual and empirical problems with these claims, which I illustrate using examples from contemporary NGO activism on the international production of and trade in conventional weaponry. First, liberal accounts underplay the mutual dependence between the state, market and civil society. NGO agency is both constrained and enabled by its historical, structural grounding. Second, I argue for a more ambivalent understanding of NGOs’ progressive political value. While some NGOs may play a role in counter-hegemonic struggle, overall they are more likely to contribute to hegemonic social formations. Third, liberal accounts of a global civil society inadequately capture the reproduction of hierarchy in international relations, downplaying ongoing, systematic patterns of North-South asymmetry. Fourth, the emphasis on the non-violent nature of global civil society sidelines the violence of capitalism and the state system, and serves as a means of disciplining dissent and activism.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: arms trade; global civil society; hegemony; NGOs; North–South relations; world military order
Schools and Departments: School of Global Studies > International Relations
Subjects: J Political Science > JZ International relations
Depositing User: Anna Stavrianakis
Date Deposited: 05 Sep 2012 13:26
Last Modified: 05 Sep 2012 13:26
URI: http://srodev.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/40548
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