The Role of Middle Power–NGO Coalitions in Global Policy: The Case of the Cluster Munitions Ban


  • Matthew Bolton,

  • Thomas Nash



Medium-sized wealthy states – middle powers – and global civil society networks are increasingly joining forces to influence the global policy agenda on issues of international law, justice, humanitarianism and development. These middle power–NGO coalitions use the comparative advantages of both state and nonstate actors in synergistic partnerships. States represent the coalitions’ interests in international negotiations and conferences, provide donor funding and offer diplomatic support. For their part, NGOs gather on-the-ground research, provide technical expertise, lobby governments, mobilise public opinion and generate media publicity. This article uses the case of the campaign to ban cluster munitions, culminating in the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, to examine the organisation, efforts and impact of such middle power–NGO coalitions.

Policy Implications

  • • In a globalised and privatised world, global policy making requires a mastery of ‘network diplomacy’– the negotiation of a wide range of relationships with state, NGO and commercial actors.
  • • Within this context, coalitions between middle power states and international NGOs are becoming increasingly influential in the creation of international law and humanitarian norms.
  • • These coalitions are most effective when they create strong linkages and partnerships between these states and civil society actors at all levels (officials, parliamentarians, politicians, etc.) based on their comparative advantages.
  • • Since these coalitions lack significant coercive hard – military and economic – power they are more likely to succeed in their global policy goals when they reframe the debate, gather and publicise credible data, shift the burden of proof and use both backroom and public media persuasion.
  • • NGOs contribute most to such coalitions when they are able to present a unified front across a diverse range of civil society actors, when they are inclusive of and driven by those directly affected by the problem they are seeking to address and when they maintain some independence from their government and other donors.