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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Conditions apply : non-state actors challenging state sovereignty through Intergovernmental Organizations : an analysis of national liberation movements and indigenous peoples at the United Nations Lüdert, Jan


This dissertation contributes to the study of Intergovernmental Organizations (IGOs), such as the United Nations, and demonstrates their important function to convene multiple actors engaged in normative contestation and change. It achieves this by offering a systematic theoretical and empirical account of how non-state actors (NSAs) challenge the institution of state sovereignty. The argument offered specifically seeks to answer how and under what conditions this challenge is possible, and whether and when states respond by limiting IGOs and/or NSAs. To answer this question, the dissertation analyzes the successes and failures of two sets of non-state actors that have sought to alter prevailing conceptions of state sovereignty: national liberation movements and indigenous peoples. The dissertation’s original contributions to existing knowledge are threefold. First, I build on existing constructivist theory to argue that state sovereignty is despite being resilient and hard to change, also a mutable and variable composite institution. I specify that state sovereignty’s variance finds its clearest expression in three international norms that makes up the institution: territoriality, non-interference and self-determination. Second, I develop and apply the significance of three explanatory factors of non-state actors using IGOs to challenge and change the composite parts of state sovereignty: a) non-state actors require meaningful access and must expand participation capabilities to relevant venues within the nested structure of the IGO; b) non-state actors rely on the often essential role of allies active in the IGO to influence venue constraints and outcomes; c) non-state actors and their allies must find, create and/or be able to change relevant venues in order to advance collective goals through persuasion and social pressure tactics. I identify a particularly critical venue type which is coined sheltered venue. Sheltered venues establish a foot in the door to the IGO through which non-state actors deepen their interaction with states. Finally, I offer a detailed empirical investigation of national liberation movements and indigenous peoples interacting with the UN. No study of these actors in comparison exists to date. I, as such, explore how decisions and outcomes that benefited national liberation movements impacted indigenous peoples’ engagement at the United Nations.

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