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The expression 'non-state actors' has become part and parcel of the common parlance of international lawyers. Together with the traditional subjects of international law, such as states and international organizations, non-state actors play an important role in international law-making, law-adjudication and law-enforcement processes.
Although the subjects/actors discourse takes place in a variety of contexts, most of the time the relevant narrative merely describes how different actors participate in the legal process in any given area. Little attention has been drawn to the theoretical discourse about non-state actors and its relation to the doctrine of the subjects of international law. Whether the solution lies in 'relativizing' the subjects or rather in 'subjectivizing' the actors remains open to doubt. The constant swing of the pendulum from the normative to the descriptive mesmerizes the observer but hardly hides the struggle for determining who may legitimately and authoritatively perform legally relevant acts on the international scene.