Transnational civil society and informal public spheres in the nuclear non-proliferation regime

David J. Norman*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Scholars charting the emergence of transnational public spheres often focus on the socio-spatial sites that are generated by civil society organisations in their interactions with the institutions of global governance. These sites can reflect either strong public spheres within the formal decision-making structures of international regimes, or segmented and general public spheres on their periphery. In practice, they all suffer key democratic deficiencies in the ability to either communicatively generate public opinion or achieve collective will-formation. I argue that if civil society organisations can successfully weave together both general and segmented public spheres on the periphery of international regimes, their individual democratic deficiencies could be addressed. To demonstrate evidence of these interconnected ‘informal public spheres’, I turn to the nuclear non-proliferation regime, where public deliberation has been largely invisible and ineffectual within the formal decision-making structures of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The emergence of a new civil society organisation-led ‘humanitarian initiative’ on the periphery of the regime, comprising multi-stakeholder initiatives in conjunction with civil society organised social forums, reflects the interconnection of segmented and general public spheres. This innovative initiative has effectively enhanced transnational public debate on disarmament, while gaining crucial political traction within the regime.

Original languageEnglish
Article number0
Pages (from-to)486-510
JournalEuropean Journal of International Relations
Issue number2
Early online date22 May 2018
Publication statusEarly online - 22 May 2018


  • Critical theory
  • democratic deficit
  • global governance
  • nuclear proliferation
  • public spheres
  • transnational civil society
  • RCUK
  • ESRC


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