International Law - New Actors and New Technologies: Center Stage for NGOs Academic Article uri icon


  • Technology and the information age are changing the allocation of power and authority in the international system with non-state actors such as intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) assuming decision-making roles previously reserved primarily to states. Professor David Johnston sees the information age as "creating deep and broad disruptive breaches in our society, disruptions equal to those of the agricultural or industrial revolutions." Professors Keohane and Nye believe that the information age will alter the power structure of governments. Jessica Mathews's stimulating article in Foreign Affairs argues both that the information revolution is shaking the foundations of state authority, the principal tenet of international law since 1648, and that the scholarly community has been slow to understand the profound ramifications of these changes. In presentations we made at the Fourth Joint Conference (American Society of International Law/ Nederlandse Vereniging voor Internationaal Recht) held in The Hague in 1997, we argued that the context within which international law operates has been shaped by two broad forces: (1) the state-centric character of the post-Westphalian international system; and (2) the Gutenberg global information system dominated by the printed word. The former has been analyzed extensively; the latter, at least so far as it affects international law, largely has been ignored. This Article focuses on NGOs to test their newly achieved prominence in international law-making by examining their role in the Landmines Convention and in the thwarting of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment. Are NGOs a manifestation of new governance structures emerging in the information age? Can they be a check against non-democratic, unaccountable, and aloof intergovernmental institutions that may complicate, rather than solve, problems?16 So that our discussion will be rooted in international law as usually understood, we examine both international law's encounters with NGOs and how NGOs relate to the sources of international law.

published proceedings

  • Law and policy in international business

complete list of authors

  • Gamble, John King||Ku, Charlotte

publication date

  • January 2000