Private Actors and Enforcement of Foreign Policy

Dr Michal Onderco
Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam
Dr Francesco Giumelli
University of Groningen
SMALL GROUP PROJECT: MAY 2018 – APRIL 2019

Abstract

The advent of restrictive measures on the international stage has provided more power and authority to non-state actors. Whether private actors are willing and capable to cooperate with public authorities determines their success. Indirectly, the behavior of for-profit private actors has security implications on how effectively states can provide security to their own people.

This project will look at how private actors interpret, enforce, and comply with restrictive measures. The literature has focused on the role of private actors in the provision of public goods in domestic contexts, but less has been done when it comes to the role of for-profit private actors in the provision of security in foreign policy. In this field, the attention has almost exclusively been devoted to the study of Private Military and Security Companies, while the role of ‘less spectacular’ actors has been worrisomely overlooked.

We plan to advance our current understanding of how restrictive measures work by opening a new avenue of research into how private actors influence the execution of public policy. We intend to investigate how for-profit actors implement targeted sanctions and why they behave in the way they do. We will develop a theoretical framework that will include variables on the context in which for-profit actors operate, on the type of targeted sanctions and on the type of for-profit actors that is required to implement sanctions. By doing so, we will bring a new focus to the study of foreign policy by looking at for-profit actors as the locus of power in designing and implementing restrictive measures.

Our project aims at collaboration between practitioners and academics, to understand both theoretical aspects as well as everyday practice from for-profit private actors themselves. A journal special issue, as well as a series of popularization outputs, will be the outcome of the project.

The Research Idea

The advent of targeted sanctions on the international stage has provided more power and authority to non-state actors. While many still consider sanctions as an instrument of states against states, only few know that targeted sanctions are both imposed on individuals and non-state actors and, especially, they are enforced and implemented by non-state actors. For instance, the freeze of assets imposed on ISIS by the United Nations is decided by the Security Council, but implemented by Rabobank, HSBC and other private financial institutions. Whether private actors are willing and capable to cooperate with public authorities determine if ISIS members have access to funds to carry out terrorist attacks. Indirectly, the behavior of private actors has security implications on how effectively states can provide security to their own people.

This project will look at how private actors interpret, enforce, and comply with restrictive measures, such as sanctions and financing bans. By bringing together academics and private sector practitioners, this project investigates how private actors can affect the provision of public goods. Specifically, we will look at how for-profit actors, such as firms and companies, can change the impact of a public policy (i.e. targeted sanctions). There is very little understanding on how for-profit actors are able to influence the outcome of a policy process and this research project aims to fill this gap by looking at how for-profit actors in the Netherlands dealt with individual sanctions and financing bans.

Background

The literature has focused on the role of private actors in the provision of public goods in domestic contexts, but less has been done when it comes to the role that non-state actors play in the provision of security both in domestic context and in the international stage. In the latter, the attention has mainly been on PMSCs, but the galaxy of non-state actors and the extent of influence on policy process that they have goes much more beyond.

For-profit actors gained the center stage in the pursuit of foreign policy, and therefore also security related, objectives when the large military operations were launched in Iraq and Afghanistan. In both missions, private contractors outnumbered national officials. This large deployment of non-military personal in military operations has clear and direct security implications for both the members of the missions and the local population.  We know that PMCSs can be cheaper and easier to deploy, but we also know that accountability suffers from outsourcing decision-making power to for-profit actors. Additionally, we know that PMSCs do respond to logic of making profit, while state authorities are guided by logic of providing collective goods.

However, the literature on sanctions has not paid enough attention to the extent to which for-profit actors are determining the impact of restrictive measures. Existing work is mainly focused on the role of states in the policy cycle of sanctions, and for-profit actors often refer exclusively to PMSCs. More needs to be done to fill these gaps.

The Focus

We plan to advance our current understanding of how restrictive measures work by opening a new avenue of research into how private actors influence the execution of public policy. We avoid questions on why sanctions are used, whether they are ethical or fair.

We intend to investigate how for-profit actors implement targeted sanctions and why they behave in the way they do. Beginning with the analysis of how non-state actors can participate in the provision of public goods, we will develop a theoretical framework that will include variables on the context in which for-profit actors operate, on the type of targeted sanctions and on the type of for-profit actors that is required to implement sanctions.

Second, we will tackle the question of why they behave in the way they do. By testing utilitarian and idealistic hypotheses, we will reach conclusions on explanatory factors leading to sanctions compliance.

Our project will bring about two innovations. Firstly, we bring a new focus in the study of restrictive foreign policy by placing the role of private actors –financial institutions and service providers – to the centre stage. By doing so, we will better understand how such restrictive tools work and why sometimes they may not lead to desired outcomes. Secondly, we will bring together academics and practitioners to understand both theoretical aspects as well as everyday practice from for-profit private actors themselves. Our research will therefore not only be theoretically rigorous, but will also draw on everyday practice.

Theoretical Novelty

The theoretical innovation dwells in turning the tables and placing the role of private actors into the center of the inquiry. First, whereas the current debate on sanctions focuses mainly on states, governments, political parties and politicians in office, we claim that main issues related to sanctions, such as effectiveness, impact and the like, cannot be understood without bringing non-state actors at the center of the attention.

For-profit actors are the locus of power when it comes to designing and implementing sanctions. State authorities do not have the necessary information to impose sanctions effectively, that is why public regulations delegate decision-making power to non-state actors. Knowledge is the source of power which relies in the hands of non-state actors when it comes to implementing and enforcing targeted sanctions.

The second conceptual innovation revolves around a new definition of international security governance. The growing role of non-state actors had affected states in past in providing public goods, but the role of non-security related actors in security related matters is novel to the literature on sanctions and foreign policy.

These insights are largely absent from the study of restrictive measures. By looking at how private actors interact with complex regimes, we aim at contributing to the literature on international security governance. Ultimately, the results of such research will contribute to the theoretical understanding of the transmission belt from designing the rules to implementing them as well as develop new insights to formulate better policy solutions.

Methodology

Given the exploratory nature of this study, this research project will be conducted with qualitative methodologies focusing on single and comparative case studies. By organizing two workshops, we plan to stimulate the development of new insights into the interpretation and application of the restrictive tools of foreign policy by private actors. Exact methodological approach towards data generation and analysis will depend on individual paper presenters, but we aim at covering both primary data from interviews and official documents, and secondary data from existing literature.

As for the data analysis, the scope of this project yields itself to the analysis of either single cases or comparative analysis of small number of cases. In the case of the former, the strength of in-depth insight into individual cases is the primary motivation; whereas in the case of latter, the benefits are minimization of bias and possibility of generalization. The combination of single cases and comparative cases will permit us to study both modes of interpretation as well application of coercive tools of foreign policy. By having practitioners always present, we will ensure our findings generate both theoretically- and practice-relevant insights.

Case studies will be selected according to three criteria. First, whether sanctions imposed were done by one or more actors. Second, whether targets of sanctions are large or small economies. Third, case studies will be selected according to the type of sanctions imposed.

Work Plan

While we have already contacted relevant scholars who have hitherto published on sanctions, we aim at issuing a formal call for applications, which will be distributed nationally and internationally, to attract other scholars whom we may not have known thus far, especially the junior scholars. We will also invite practitioners from risk management departments of for-profit private actors (such as financial institutions and service providers) housed in The Netherlands. We aim at having approximately 10 participants at the workshop, with approximately 5 academics and 5 practitioners present.

All academic participants will be asked (and all practice participants invited) to submit brief papers which could be then suitable for a special issue or a special section of an international peer-reviewed journals. We aim at having two workshops – one in Groningen in winter 2017 and one in Rotterdam in spring 2018 – to develop papers and exchange views with practitioners. By early summer 2018, the participants will have delivered advanced drafts of papers that will be ready for the submission of the special issue in autumn 2018. The two co-applicants for this project will act as coordinators of the group; and will also act as co-editors of the special issue. We aim at a gender-balanced view which will be inclusive towards academics at all stages of their careers. By having a formal call for applications, we hope to also attract interdisciplinary contributions.

Outcome

We intend to publish a collection of articles from this project as a special issue in an international peer-reviewed journal. We will aim at journals offering Open Access publishing without additional charges per existing agreements of Dutch universities. By bringing together new perspectives and addressing an important issue in international security governance, we aim at attracting readership that is interested in both specific issues of restrictive measures, as well as wider topic of the topic of private actors in public policy. As a part of this special issue, we also aim at providing a piece co-authored by the two co-applicants on theoretical aspects of private actors’ actorhood in the enforcement of restrictive measures.

Paper authors will be invited to prepare also popularization blog posts, to be published in a widely-read political science blog, such as The Monkey Cage.

In addition to the academic outputs, we aim at producing at least one op-ed for publication in a widely read outlet, such as Politico or the Financial Times, to outline the findings of the project.   This op-ed will be a brief version of a more developed policy paper which will summarize the findings of the research for the practitioners developing, as well as affected by, restrictive measures. 

We also plan to use this grant as a kick-start for future network of scholars interested in the topic of restrictive measures, which could then continue collaborative work by proposing panels, and submissions for future conferences, as well as potentially developing joint grant applications.