Foreign Policy and the Rise of Non-State Actors

In World Policy Journal, Michael A. Cohen and Maria Figueroa Küpçü look at how the framework for how foreign policy is practiced has changed.

After a pause, [Zoran] Djindjic asked, “What about Kostunica?” referring to Vojislav Kostunica, the leader of a minor opposition party and a former law professor. [Doug] Schoen’s [an American pollster who advises candidates worldwide] responsible polls showed that of all Serbia’s opposition politicians, Kostunica was the best candidate—combining strong nationalist credibility with low “unfavorability” ratings. With Schoen’s urging, the Serbian opposition united behind Kostunica’s candidacy, and within months a key element of U.S. foreign policy in the Balkans had been realized— Slobodan Milosevic was out of power and headed to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

Was a political pollster single-handedly for toppling Slobodan Milosevic? Not exactly, but after eight years of sanctions, smart bombs, and fervent, often fruitless, diplomacy, a new and unexpected weapon for defeating him had been found—namely a non-state actor, working in concert with U.S officials but motivated as well by market-driven impulses and personal altruism.

This wasn’t the first time that non-state actors (or NSAs) had played a leading role in the Balkan conflict. In 1995, private military contractors—with the active support of the Clinton administration—trained the Croatian army for its military offensive against Serbian rebel-held positions in Croatia and Bosnia, which helped push the region’s warring parties toward peace talks.

This is one small example of what may be the most important yet misunderstood political and social developments of the post–Cold War era: the growing prominence and influence of NSAs in global affairs.