'Theoretical approaches towards the steps of non-state actors in world politics: global para-diplomacy of the Iraqi Kurdistan (KRI)' - 'International relations' - NotaBene.ru
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International relations

Theoretical approaches towards the steps of non-state actors in world politics: global para-diplomacy of the Iraqi Kurdistan (KRI)

Hussein Dalsooz Jalal

PhD in Politics

Postgraduate at the Department of Foreign Area Studies of Nizhny Novgorod University 

603005, Russia, Nizhegorodskaya oblast', g. Nizhny Novgorod, ul. Ul'yanova, 37

Other publications by this author








Abstract:   This article presents a theoretical approach towards the global political steps of non-state actors. Particular attention is given to a number of theories of international relations, such as neorealism, international liberalism, and constructivism, which are able to encompass current global actions of non-state political actors. For a clearer perspective on the subject matter, the article employs the example of Iraqi Kurdistan (KRI); as a non-state actor, KRI has recently become a vivid example for the theories of international relations. The conclusion is made that security, economy, culture, religion and identity are the key and post powerful instruments of non-state actors of international politics. The example of KRI demonstrates that international relations of non-state actors focus on security, economy and culture, as well as serve as the instruments of interaction with both, state and non-state actors. The article reviews such activity within the framework of neorealism, international liberalism, and constructivism. It is underlines that the example of Iraqi Kurdistan (KRI) fully meets all the criteria of a non-state actor of international politics. It is also a brilliant example for the theories of international relations.  


Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Non-State actor, Neorealism, Liberalism, Constructivism, terrorism, Identity, culture, globalization, Marketing


In this paper, we will follow the global movements and global relations of non-State actor (e.g. Kurdistan Region of Iraq). How can such movements be recognized in political spheres, and what theories of International Relations can elucidate them? To reach this, this paper: firstly, searches for suitable name of the Kurdistan region of Iraq (KRI) under the parameter of International relations for non-State actor; secondly, examines the KRI’s global movements under International Relations theories, and, lastly, concludes and gives analytical discussions of the KRI’s Para-diplomacy.

The Kurdistan Region of Iraq under the parameter of International Relations

In order to analyse theoretically the subject of the study, this research paper will attempt to provide an initial and comprehensive understanding of the parameters of the Iraqi Kurdish political process. It is important to demonstrate the approach that will be adopted towards the current Kurdish political situation in the context of the KRI and its policy in Iraq, as well as to analyse the external diplomacy of its relationships with other states. There is no doubt, the KRI is classified under the parameters of non-state actor.

Since 1992, the Kurds in the south of greater Kurdistan (Iraqi Kurdistan) have established a government, a parliament and a presidency. They have been able to achieve semi-independence or in other words, have managed to run independently their own territory, and created wide relations with world actors. However, from a less positive perspective, the KRI has been forced to rely on the central government of Iraq in terms of financial support, and has also not been internationally recognized as full autonomous entity [1. p.1624]. This situation has led politicians and scholars in international relations –under the parameter of the non-State actor– to have different views of the KRI political process and to label it in various different ways, such as quasi-state (Natali 2010) , de facto-state (Logan: 2009 [2], Gunter 2011), separatist (Ozpek: 2010 [3], Chorev: 2007 [4]), contested (Talhami 2013) [5] and unrecognized state (Ozpek: 2010, Kolsto: 2006). Scott [6] defines these sorts of states as entities that have obtained autonomy and been successful in the process of state building, but that have failed to approach international legitimacy. Pal Kolsto [7. p.726] define a quasi-state in the context of a political entity that has internal authority but which lacks external sovereignty. They assert that this quasi-state is part of a failed state or “an outcome of unfair post-imperial boundary makers”. Natali [8. P. 24] describes how a quasi- or de facto-state can also be attributed with state-like functions but, simultaneously, lack the juridical status of a sovereign state. Robert [9. P. 21-24) has a different view of a quasi-state and he defines it in the context of a failed state or one that lacks internal and external sovereignty. However, Jackson’s delineation cannot properly cover the contemporary situation of the KRI; this is because the author neglects the reality that involves the complex processes of identity, the mixing of cultures, the social structure, globalization and the self-determination movements that have generated new political entities outside the traditional state system. In sum, it appears that the KRI can be seen as a successful quasi-state that has the ability to organize its internal political process and create significant influence on others and particularly its neighbours. However, the movements towards self-determination within that KRI cannot be said to be finalised within such a quasi-state; as a matter of fact, the Iraqi Kurdish in 2017 went through a national referendum, aimed of which is to move towards the achievement of full independence. However, with the increased aggressiveness of regional States, the result of Kurdish referendum has currently been withheld, but whenever the Kurds get opportunity, they will able to use it as powerful tool to step further toward their independence.

From the last three decades, and particularly after 2003, the KRI (as a de facto, or quasi- state) has expanded its own authorities inside Iraq and widely started to generate different relations with powerful states (e.g. America, Russia and European countries) and with its regional neighbour’s states (Turkey, Iran and Syria) in particular. This relation seems to be complicated and, somehow, it can be seen as a new phase for international relations (IR), it is because almost all traditional theories have been unable to explain these form of interactions and they have only analysed the connections between states.

Theories approach:

Over the past few decades, the role of non-State actor in world politics has increased dramatically. In particular, with: first, the end of the Cold War; second, the growth of globalization; and third, the event of September 11, which respectively transformed the world system, in particular in the Middle East, altering the structure of the international system and increasing the role of non-State actors. Linking this idea to the understanding of both realist scholars Morton A. Kaplanand Kenneth Waltz, who clarified ‘the sources of change in [the] in international system lie in the behaviour of the actors, specifically in their breaking the essential rules. The states themselves are the sources of disturbances from outside the system’ [10].

However, prior to this, the traditional theorists were ‘unwilling and unable to incorporate an analysis of non-state actors as a significant part of their overall analysis’ [11]. In particular, the theory of realism, since it takes a state-centric position as the most authoritative theoretical approach, is occupied with distrust of the basic measurement of human nature, power seeking behaviour. Within this regard Jackson and Sørensen, classifies the Realist principles within national politics for four main bases: ‘negative understanding; dispute and warfare; domestic safety and continued existence; little optimism regarding development in global political affairs’ [12. P. 59].

As a matter of fact, the realists are deeply passionate with State and ignore other actors and issues. The non-State actors for example-MNCs (Multinational cooperation), banks, International terrorist organizations, International Organizations are excluded from the analysis. But, the Neorealist theorists, such as Waltz started with new evolution and attempted to bring up non-State actors within parameter of Realism, recognizes the importance of non-State actors parallel with states. Consequently, such actors, together with States, set the scene of the international agenda [13. P. 94-95]. He further goes on to tell that, it is true, States are the chief agents, but other actors are directing states to create places and spaces to share their position. Thereby, it could be considered that Waltz’s perspective gives the impression of the softening of theory realism towards non-State actors. This become even more real when Waltz's theoretical analysis turns to security and economy to describe the structural causes that touches on non-State actors, in his analysis. Further the Neorealist argue that, rational security seeking states can enter into cooperative arrangements with other. This is based on the idea, as Waltz indicates, the nation should seek to be self-sufficient, consequently providing for its own security and national needs. However, Waltz has not embraced non-State actors as part of the complete package of his analytical approach, but the statement could be interpreted in two ways. First, the Neorealist accepts non-State actors as significant players of global affairs, but this does not correspond to compromising their principal assumptions; Secondly, the Neorealist do not agree on accepting non-State actors as important but cannot completely ignore them either [14]. Nonetheless, if Waltz’s position is correct, it may also be the equivalent of how diplomacy transformed by the nature of traditional diplomacy or State-oriented.

It is true that, diplomacy is going to be practiced through a ‘labyrinth’ of foreign officer, consulates, embassies, and it is also through special missions all around the world. In general point of view diplomacy has multilateral and bilateral in character; in traditional diplomacy the bilateral nature was very prominent. But in modern days the diplomatic multilateral feature has rapidly grown as a consequence of growing importance of international organizations, regional arrangements and collective security measures. “It may embrace a multitude of interests, from the simplest matter of detail in the relations between two States to vital issues of terrorism and war” [15. P. 29-30]. linking this idea to Waltz, in particular, when the danger comes to the level of war, or the crisis would become a real crisis. The states though diplomacy create alliances different actors (States and non-States) or seek to isolate a potential victim of attack.

Recently the range of in-security in the world community has reached higher level in particular after the terrorist-emergence with new form post 9/11. This idea comes true when the terrorist groups realized the “opportunities which lay beyond their own national boundaries the scope of their operations expanded and, as circumstances demanded, many formed loose cooperative alliances with other terrorist organizations and sympathetic states” [16. P. 23].

The terrorist groups have re-arranged their tactics and their plan-attacks have not been remaining only in the form of traditional partisan attack. The new terrorist attack-tactics have become significant threat to all states, communities, groups and even on every individual around the world. Therefore, it cannot be solved only by a single state anti-terrorism strategy; it is for sure, all actors around the worlds are very need each other and become more interdependence (includes State and non-State actors); at the end, the function of diplomacy has become more important than ever. In this regard, when it comes to the relations between state and non-State actor, in terminology matter, I have to turn to the ‘para-diplomacy’ instead the term of diplomacy. This is due to the fact that the diplomatic relations, based on the traditional definition, is going to be occur only between sovereign states but now the relations between world actors crossed this line and the relation takes place more broadly: between state and non-State actor and even private and individuals. Duchachek clarifies and gives its own reason, which is cited by Mohammed [17. P. 67] para-diplomacy comes to existence as a result of “decentralization of power and increase of jurisdictional autonomy in domestic affairs regional governments are also involved in foreign policy via establishing contacts with foreign partners at governmental and non-governmental levels”. Para-diplomacy is generally taking place in three sets of motivations: economic, cultural and political. This become a very reality during the fighting terrorism in Iraq and Syria. The world states created an anti-terrorist coalition ‘The Global Coalition To Defeat ISIS’ [18], in which the States (82 partners) have diversified their relations and need different actors (States and non-States) around the world. Within this regard, the Peshmerga (soldiers) of Kurdistan region government, as an effective ground boots to defeat ISIL, has set themselves up to attract the attention of global States. Therefore, States have established direct links with the KRI (non-State actor), either through military or humanitarian relations. And even other States out of this coalition, such as Russia [19], and Iran [20], have also established direct links with the KRI and provide it with various (military and logistics) support.

In addition to security, when we address global States in terms of creating relations with the KRI based on economic desire, the process of "globalization" comes directly to the fore in our analytical understanding. In the context of globalization, non-State actors are playing an increasingly influential international role. Growing the effectiveness of globalization is the most important reason for the smooth approach of Neo-realists to non-State actors. Since globalization is the product of the results of international relations — cause and effect — one might ask a question, the relationship between para-diplomacy and globalization, or whether they are interrelated. In this regard the Canadian scholar Panayotis Soldatos stated that globalization ‘opens the door to a new set of actors and issues for international negotiations’ [21]. He further goes on to tell that Regions, Federal States, Provinces and cities are looking for their own way to develop trade, investment, cooperation and partnership in a long list of subjects and make a significant part of today's cross-border contacts.

This heads as to the fact, that globalization appears as a way for para-diplomacy to become more appropriate in global Affairs. As mentioned earlier, due to the nature of the State-oriented environment of international relations, globalization has influenced the approaches of States to para-diplomacy. According to Fry, central themes to globalization are liberalization of the market and economy and also its impact on culture, which together have shaped political agendas within international politics [22. P. 116]. The fact is that neither the realists nor neo-realists don't much care for cultural subjects, since turns out to be attractive and relevant to the constructivists (this further will be highlighted later in this paper). Within this regard, according to Keohane and Nye [23]; Mansbach [24]; Barnet and Müller [25], the non-State actors were seen to be in the forefront of this process, though even then this literature pointed to the role of various kinds of advocacy and special interest group. The KRI's latest economic strategy (global marketing its Oil and Gas) is the most prominent example of what has led to significant competition among number of world States for establishing direct economic relations with the KRI. States including: Turkey, Russia, Iran, USA, European countries, Israel and the Emirate. Since 2007, the KRI has been exporting its oil independently, (in the range of 250-600 thousand barrels per day). And, according to the Kurdistan Region Government/Minister of Natural Resources Ashti Hawrami, by November 2015 about 10 countries were buying the KRG’s oil [26]. And during 2012, more than 40 foreign companies from 19 different countries actively worked in the Kurdistan oil fields. Among the most well-known companies for example, ExxonMobil, Chevron, the English Gulf Keystone, Total of France and Gazprom of Russia. Statistically the KRI over five years (from 2010 to 2015) would able to attract about 16.2 billion dollars of foreign investment. Most of these was coming from oil sector [27].

Other most important features of non-State actors in world politics, along with the security and economy issues, are the ideas of the ‘national identity’ and ‘culture’. As a matter of fact, both (Neo)realists and (Neo)liberalist unable to reach or ignore them. The identity and culture have recently been considered priority tools for forming relations between actors. More specifically regards the KRI neighbour States, it is this shared identity and culture that has paved a way for the KRI to became a more influential actor in developing its para-diplomacy. Ozpek mentions that identity and culture play significant role in generating a strong bridge between actors, the actors can be seen in the context of states, quasi-states, and groups. The author also goes on to say that identities shape the foreign policy interests and leads states to follow a range of interests to create connection with other actors even if they lack international legitimacy. Simultaneously, the non-State actor can be an influential character in the context of using social structures that eventually attract the behaviour of States. Scholars in international relations (IR) collect these notions under the broad umbrella of the IR theory of constructivism.

In this regard, based on constructivist IR theory, this paper highlights two basic points that widely behind the para-diplomacy of Kurdistan region of Iraq: firstly, it will examine how constructivist theory approaches the Kurdish political policy inside Iraq. Here it will be argued that constructivism points to the idea of coexistence and sharing sovereignty between different actors in a state. Fierke maintains that actors are not entirely independent to choose their circumstances, but rather they create choice in the mechanism of interacting with others and as a consequence shape their ‘cultural’, ‘historic’, ‘idealistic’ and ‘political realities’ [28. P. 189]. In this regard, state policy is highly reliant on different characters in terms of identity, culture, language, and so forth rather than existing independently of human meaning and action. That is actors do not only exist as rational individuals but also coexist in a meaningful world [29]. From an international relations point of view, after the fall of the Baathist regime in 2003, Iraq lacked the capability to organize a successful government by one identity or one part of the Iraqi state in the absence of Kurdish and Arab Sunni or other identities participation. The situation of Iraq (especially between the years 2007-2018) was an apt example to embed the above argument that government has totally failed to secure the state integrity [30]. This is because the Shiite majority –under the Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki – attempted to run independently the Iraqi government and undermined the role of other groups, identities, and cultures. This management policy has led to significant difficulties for Iraq. Ultimately, it paved the way for: first, the growth of terrorist groups (e.g. ISIL 2014); second, the KRI’s economic independent strategy 2007, that was beyond the control of the Central government of Iraq; and third, the Iraqi Kurds hold a referendum for independent in 2017. Fierke (P. 191) argues that strong relationships evolve over time, but there is no doubt that it is not characterized by enmity and egoism.

Secondly, the constructivist IR theory can explain the level of interaction between the KRI and its neighbours (Turkey, Iran and Syria) based on shared identity and interests. Many constructivist scholars recognize that identity is based on interests. Fierke (P. 191) follows this idea, and argues “neither identity nor interests can be detached from a world of social meaning”. Alexander Wendt states that identity is a significant key for comprehension the preferences, interests and behaviours of an actor toward other actors. He also argues that “identity, namely the actor’s self-perception of its nature and purpose, or its role-specific understanding and expectations about self and others, in turn, is shaped through interaction with other actors at the international level.” In this argument, the word of interests can be seen in the issues of security and economy. Further, Alexander Wendt gives an excellent example that explains identity and the social construction of reality when he elucidates that 500 UK nuclear weapons are less threatening to the US than 5 North Korean nuclear weapons [31. P. 395]. Here he doesn’t mean that the identification is caused by the nuclear weapons (the material structure), but rather by the meaning given to the material structure (the ideational structure). This example even gives the reality that nuclear weapons by themselves do not have any meaning unless we understand the social context. It further illustrates that the theory of constructivism goes beyond the material reality by including the effect of ideas and beliefs on global politics. Eventually, this directs the social and political relations towards friendship. Applying this theory to the quasi-state of Iraqi Kurdistan, the identity of the Kurdish state is internally driven by the Iraqi Kurds but also externally recognised by external actors most notably Turkey, Iran and Syria [32. P.187-88]. In this regard, as a matter of fact, the identity and culture have played a significant role when Turkey and Iran have recently made various attempts to solve their local Kurdish problem by establishing relations (economic and political) with the KRG. However, historically, none of these countries has shown any interest in Kurds issue and has even made a number of unsuccessful attempts (especially military ones) to overcome the Kurds issue. Ultimately, the wide understanding among political authorities of (Turkey and Iran) has cultivated that identity and social construction are among the most power weapon to overcome their internal Kurdish issues. As happened in 2013, in circle of ‘peace process’ the Turkish state officially invited the President of the Kurdistan region (Masoud Barzani), seeking to resolve the internal Kurdish issue (PKK) in Turkey [33].

The theory of constructivism is even able to give more detail on global movements of the non-State actors. Since it argues ‘agency and structure are mutually constituted, which implies that structures influence agency and that agency influences structures’. Here the agency can be identified as the ability of someone to act, whereas structure refers to the global system that consists of material and ideational elements [34]. In this regard, process of ‘Anfal campaign’ and Genocides against Kurds Ezidi (1980s and 2014), have become great tool in the hand of the KRI. The KRI uses these tools through its global agencies (Kurdish Diaspora) to formulate the KRI’s world diplomacy. This is identified under the circle of the KRI soft-diplomacy. The KRI in this strategy, and very specifically follow the hypothesis of public diplomacy in terms of how to use the public attitudes to influence the foreign policies of other state in its own interests. The KRI encourages the cultivation of public opinion in other countries, as well as interaction of the Kurds Diaspora with state in which they live. This to somehow, the KRI wants to make impact on states foreign policy.

The hypothesis behind this, the KRG is not a member of the United Nation and International Criminal Court (ICC) and independently, as non-State actor, cannot raise its issues (genocide and Anfal) for ICC. According to the ICC structure the cases are accepted from “only States (States Members of the UN and other States which have become parties to the Statute of the Court or which have accepted its jurisdiction under certain conditions)” [35]. The KRI through this strategy has encouraged States (particularly Europeans) to smooth the way to raising its cases to international affairs. Ultimately, it is believed that the KRI will be able to establish diplomatic ties through these cases and encourage the world state to protect the Kurds from similar events in the future.

In this respect, constructivist theory widely follows these types of social movements and social norms, and ultimately, constructivism assigns them a great place in its central concept. For example, Peter J. Katzenstein defined this as ‘a standard of appropriate behaviour for actors with a given identity’ [36. P. 5]. This concept comes with probability that some kinds of action and conduct are more acceptable than others. The process is also recognized as ‘the logic of appropriateness’, where actors conduct in certain ways because they believe that this behaviour is appropriate [37]. The KRI's behaviors through the activities of the Kurdish Diaspora in Europe, the United States and Canada towards international recognition of the Kurdish genocide were widely welcomed by a number of countries (7 countries recognized Anfal as genocide, and other 11 countries recognized Yazidis as genocide). This therefore supports the KRI movement around its para-diplomacy, as a number of States around these cases have established relationships with the Kurdistan regional government.

Conclusion and discussion.

From a political point of view, the Kurdistan regional of Iraq has received various names based on the parameters of non-State actors. This is reflected in the KRI's complex self-governance and its global movements. Since 1992 the Kurds in the south of greater Kurdistan (Iraqi Kurdistan) created their own semi-autonomy government and established broad relations with world actors. Its relations are classified for political, economic, and social spheres. In this regard, this paper approaches the global KRI movement based on several theories of international relations (Neo-realist, International liberalism and Constructivism). The theory of Neo-realism as the dominant school of thought in IR theories achieved this kind of political governance as part of its new evolution, which was led by Waltz. He believed that realism should come out of its old version of thought, since it could no longer ignore the role of a non-State actor in world politics. This has become even more real, particularly since the end of the Cold war, the rise of globalization, and the event of 9/11. From security point of view, the Neo-realists understand that the range of terrorist threats has regularly increased and ultimately threatens all actors around the world. To keep this to a minimum, Neo-realists believed that States should take all measures, including establishing relationships with all actors (States and non-State). Giving the ISIL as an example of how it brought all the actors together at one table, and ultimately, led them to create direct relations with the KRI (non-State actor). In this article, the relations with a non-State actor and the global movements of the KRI were named in the framework of ‘para-diplomatic’ dimensions. Since the diplomacy is considered to be taken place among sovereign States.

In addition, the growth of globalization and the international economy has diversified the role of non-State actors, which has led to their greater participation in the global arena. This article sees that para-diplomacy and globalization are two themes around a single package that can be assembled under the theory of International liberalism. To clarify this, it provides example of the latest global economic movement of the KRI, which is behind the progress of the KRI's global para-diplomacy. In this regard the KRI follows its economic strategy (exploiting and vending hydrocarbons), which ultimately led to a number of countries coming to agreement and establish relations with the KRI.

Another important reason, highlighted in this paper, that drives forward non-State actors in the global movement is the power of identity and culture. Previously, this idea was never paid attention to, in particular, from the theories of realism and liberalism. With the evolution of constructivist IR theory, this idea could not be longer ignored, especially when it makes clear that culture and identity are two magic for bringing actors (States or non-States) together. To put this idea into practice, this article provides the case of Kurds as an example of how the States of Iran and Turkey tried to establish political and economic relations with the KRI to resolve their internal Kurdish issue.

Constructivism follows further the global movement of non-State actor. In particular, when it touches the idea that ‘agency and structure are mutually constituted, which implies that structures influence agency and that agency influences structures’. In this regard, this article emphasizes that the KRI used its Agency (the Kurdish Diaspora) to internationally recognize its cases (Anfal and genocide) and influence the policy of State. This policy has a good result. A number of States (in particular European and North America) have revised their foreign policy towards the Iraqi Kurds and established direct relations with the KRI and provided assistance to it.

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