April 01, 2012
Close Encounters of the International Cooperation Kind
In 2007, a Malaysian astrophysicist named Mazlan Othman, was given the title of director of the United Nations Office For Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA),.while the day-to-day operations of this office mainly deal with international cooperation in space, managing space trash, weaponization of space, etc. the office gained particular attention as Othman has spoken at numerous conferences about the possible existence of extraterrestrial life, and possible encounters. Upon her promotion to the head of UNOOSA, the question was raised: has she become the de facto representative of the world for an alien encounter? Although Othman denies that the responsibility would fall to her, it begs the question of what role the United Nations and other international actors have in representing Earth. Intrade, the predictions service often quoted by pundits like Nate Silver to make political predictions, places the likelihood of an extraterrestrial encounter by 2015 at 15%, much higher than other predictions such as a Santorum ticket in 2012. So assuming that they will ‘come in peace’ and avoid the scenario played out in countless science fiction films, how will the multiplicity of states that exist on Earth interact? To tackle this question we must first assess what actors will rise to the challenge of taking the lead on first contact, I will assume that the international political field will mimic the current one by 2015. Even with the newfound internationalism of the United States that is seen in interventions in Libya and the lack thereof in Syria, we will almost certainly attempt to take the lead, whether through NATO, the Security Council, or Alone. The European Union and China will both most likely attempt to take a leadership role in the encounter, and it seems that while the United Nations might be the default and most proven fosterer of international cooperation, its history of inaction and gridlock will most likely preclude it, and by extension UNOOSA from acting on behalf of the world. Most small states will most likely try to leverage the larger international organizations such as NATO, so that they will not be completely discounted, as might happen if one nation such as the US or China assumed the mantle. To understand how this crisis might be dealt with, we must look to other time sensitive global crisis; in the Cuban Missile Crisis, action was taken completely by the leaders of the countries without any international intervention, currently attempts to gain international cooperation on Syria have been slow and ineffective, and almost in general any attempts to gain an international consensus are slow and inefficient. So one might assume that while high level talks would most likely occur in the security council, we could expect the US to take the lead under the guise of NATO, Germany through the EU, or China as a superpower and the most populous country on Earth.
February 29, 2012
A Neoconservative NATO
As stated in NATO’s own assessment that was conducted towards the end of 2010 to attempt to explore NATO’s role in the 21st century, “the Euro-Atlantic area is at peace and the threat of a conventional attack against NATO territory is low.” Because of this we see NATO involved more an more in areas where the United States and Europe would like to extend their influence, ie NATO’s involvement in Libya and Afghanistan. NATO has transformed itself from a defensive pact, created to fortify the West against Soviet military strength, to a projection of neoconservative power. The last paragraph of the NATO mission statement seems to illustrate this best; “Our Alliance thrives as a source of hope because it is based on common values of individual liberty, democracy, human rights and the rule of law, and because our common essential and enduring purpose is to safeguard the freedom and security of its members.” The two clauses of this central mission, to protect liberty, democracy, etc. and promoting the safety of the member states seem to be a view incredibly similar to that taken by the United States as it entered Afghanistan and Iraq—that the United States will be safe as long as democracy exists in the Middle East.
NATO’s place in the modern world seems be summed up in three cases: NATO presence in Afghanistan, the intervention in Libya, and the lack of intervention in Iraq. NATO’s presence in Afghanistan, which the recent Quran burnings have shown, is simply an extension of the larger American forces; the Afghanis see no distinction between NATO combat/nation building forces, and those of the United States. This is an important detail because it means that the role NATO plays in Afghanistan is indistinguishable from the role of the United States—this must be contrasted with a hypothetical UN peacekeeper mission, which would be completely separate from the US military. If the only difference between NATO forces, and US forces are bureaucratic ones, they can be seen as two sides of the same coin; if NATO existed distinctly from the US, this would be seen in some form on the ground. NATO’s now 11-year mission into Afghanistan seems to have soured their largest benefactors including Germany and Frances, who both vetoed involvement in Iraq and forced President Bush to create the patriotically named ‘Coalition of the Willing.’
The reticence for NATO to become a neoconservative ‘world police’ force, can be seen primarily through Germany (who contribute 15% of their funding); Germany has opposed the expensive military action in most of the recent deployments of NATO, including the intervention in Libya. NATO runs the risk of de-legitimizing its own operations because its neoconservative aspirations are not shared by all of its bankrollers. NATO was able to intervene in Libya because it could raise the money, NATO itself spent close to €50 million in simple operations costs, with member states footing most of the bill—the US alone spent $896 million (ABC news). Just as the United States has realized that it cannot wage its neoconservative wars of fancy and idealism, this same realization is the reason that NATO has not intervened in Syria, where already more than 6400 civilians have been killed. I believe that NATO will continue to practice sporadic intervention in small but expensive conflicts; it is unlikely that NATO will find a unified doctrine that fully embraces either intervention or a downsizing of its world role.
January 24, 2012
UN Security Council: Hypothetical Future Membership
The UN Security council is currently comprised of the five permanent members with veto power, which are the United States, France, Russia, the UK, and China, and the other ten nations elected by their regions for temporary two year terms. This arrangement obviously favors the victors of WWII, giving those five nations alone the power to dictate military action and international collective security issues.
Whether this organization is fair or efficient is debatable; on one hand, by limiting access to veto power to several very strong nations the Security Council avoids gridlock and inefficiency caused by factions and conflicting interests. On the other hand, it's not necessarily valid that the winners of one war should dictate matters for the next one hundred plus years. Should policy always be decided by the wealthiest nations? And wasn't the Security Council missing qualified members from the start? If the Council's permanent members are the strongest in the world, at the time of WWII Germany and Japan, although beaten, were still some of the strongest in the world. Their success today shows that defeat is only temporary.
In the future, if the permanent members were to change, I would say that growing nations such as Brazil and India should be considered due to their considerable economic power and their enormous populations relative to the rest of the world. Also, Japan and Germany should be considered. The German economy is currently supporting the failing Euro, a currency millions depend on. This is just one way in which the nation exemplifies the substantial power required for the Security Council's permanent members. Japan also has a very strong economy--number three in the world, according to economy watch. The other three nations I've mentioned are all in the world's top ten economies also. Brazil is 7th, India 4th, and Germany 5th. Excluding these nations and also Italy, all of the world's top ten economies are permanent members.
The number of permanent members is another matter. The number should not be large; if many nations were given the power to single-handedly shoot down critical decisions the result would be chaos. However, if you alter the veto process you subject the Council to gridlock,which is the last thing such an organization should have due to its critical pertinence to international security. Perhaps it would be better if the permanent members were no longer permanent, but instead the nations with veto power could only be pulled from an elite, exclusive group on some kind of rotation. I picture this happening in a similar way to the US Senate, with new members being elected in waves so that terms of individual members overlap eachother and no one member is ever accompanied by the same combination of nations.
The topic of Security Council membership is a difficult one. The current arrangement has worked thus far, but certain irregularities exist (for example, in the past thirty years the US has used its veto power more than ten times more frequently than the UK or Russia, and more than fourteen times more frequently than China or France). It appears that the United States takes advantage of the Council's power to a much greater extent than any other nation. If another system were developed with different member nations, maybe this inequality would become less pronounced.
January 23, 2012
In many cases, institutions continue to follow the power distribution that was agreed upon when they were created. This is particularly evident in the United Nations Security Council considering, the victors of the Second World War: the United States, Great Britain, France, China and Russia have the ability to veto propositions brought into the UN due to their heightened world status at the time of the inception of the institution. However, it is interesting to note that although these five powers hold a considerable amount of power within the institution, it is highly unlikely, given fundamental differences in interests that they will ever all agree on a matter of international security. For instance, in the case of the Iraq War, the United States’ proposition to invade the country was not supported by other Nation-States. Resulting in the unilateral actions carried out by the United States government in order to acertain if there were truly WMDs in the Middle East.
With this in mind, I would argue that although international institutions are vital to the cooperation of nations, their choices do not always represent each nations best interest. So, even if the UNSC power balance were to change, it might not make as large of a difference as people might think. The likelihood that states will agree is slim, no matter who has the power. Despite the inevitability of disagreement, International Institutions like the UN or IMF at least provide a forum in which these disputes can be resolved, in this sense, a shift in power within the instituion might provide an important change. If a smaller nation has the support of a more powerful nation on an issue that is particularly concerning, the supportive powerful nation could veto on behalf of another nation etc. Essentially, international institutions increase our sense of international interdependence, of course trade of goods is essential to most nations but the trade of diplomacy is something that is becoming increasingly important on the world stage. States are much more hesitant to act without the approval of other nations, alliances are key, even within institutions.
January 22, 2012
Modern Institutions: Roots of the Past
While some institutions are flexible in their assessment of the particular interests of nations that had not been previously considered, and have rules that can be modified, most institutions are heavily biased toward nations that were most influential in their creation. Take, for instance, the legislative bodies in the United States Congress: the Senate and the House of Representatives. Smaller states today tend to agree that the Senate is fairer in its representation methods because each state holds two seats in the Senate, regardless of the state's population. On the other hand, larger states tend to favor the vast amount of influence they enjoy in the House because the number of seats each state holds in this chamber is proportional to the states’ population size. Roger Sherman proposed that House representation be based on the population of the state while Senate representation would be equal among the states. These rules were established in the Great Compromise of 1787 and remain in force today, despite changing ideals among states and conflicts that have emerged from this plan. This is a simple example of an internal developmental process exclusively within the United States. This issue did not implicate the broader world, but the example of how difficult it is to change long-running institutions is applicable beyond America. Of course, another reason why we would not be open to changing the rules of representation in Congress today is because the bicameral institution works. The Great Compromise was an act of cooperation illustrated by the use of the term “compromise” in its title. I agree with this analysis because both large and small states benefit in some way from this compromise solution, although smaller states may feel ultimately at a disadvantage. The two-chamber legislative arrangement represents a policy that made at least some of the states better off relative to the status quo without disadvantaging other states.
There is also an international issue that bothers many nations today. The International Monetary Fund ("IMF") has achieved a disproportionate method of influence over global monetary policy as a result of past bargaining. The IMF was created in 1945 with the goal of stabilizing exchange rates and assisting the reconstruction of the world’s international payment system. Today, the organization is comprised of nearly 200 nations working to foster global monetary cooperation, secure financial stability, facilitate international trade, promote high employment and sustainable economic growth, and reduce poverty. With these important contributions to maintaining world stability in mind, it is undeniable that the IMF is unduly influenced by a few nations. These nations are therefore able to drive and direct policy decisions and to that the organization pursues. Major decisions by the IMF require a supermajority of 85%. However, the problem that many nations suggest sis that the United States carries so much sway in the IMF that it has the ability to almost completely dominate the organization. The amount of the quota, or payment, to the organization by a nation determines that nation’s voting weight as well as other important accessibilities to influence. The United States has nearly 18 percent of the votes in the IMF, and therefore enjoys the most influence in the system. Of course, that is in recognition of the disproportionate economic contribution of the United States to the IMF. The United States enjoys this influence. Other nations, however, disagree with the system and believe it is unfair to have a system in which the influence a country has depends on its ability to contribute money to the cause. The other nations argue that their level of participation and influence should not be proportional to their monetary contributions. Perhaps the sway of the United States and other nations in the IMF stems from the institution’s 1945 creation in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. This choice of location for the initial meeting was a signal that the United States was going to have a disproportionate amount of influence in the system.
Do I believe that a world in which the influence of institutions is based on the contributions of the actors at the time they were created is a bad thing? No. And I do not form this conclusion because this type of system allows the United States to have significant influence over the IMF. While this policy is favorable to the United States in the IMF, there are other international institutions in which the United States is at a disadvantage based on the rules at the time of the institution’s establishment. It is too risky to rely on fleeting changes in the modern world order as a primary influence as to how institutions function. Certain institutions were created originally and agreed upon by many nations for distinct policy reasons that had disparate impacts on different nations. That fact cannot control how these international institutions function, and international institutions should not be subject to modern tampering based on the self-serving interests of particular nations. If nations could gain economic influence and simply be able to mold institutions to their liking without regard to the purposes of the institutions, then bargaining and cooperation would be nonexistent.
This is not to say that I believe all efforts at change are dangerous. Certainly, some institutions are inherently flawed and deserve a careful review. Additionally, change in the current world structure could result in minor adjustments as to how institutions function. For instance, China is creeping up the ladder of economic influence and is gaining more influence over the IMF. So in a way, market forces act within the working model of this organization to create change. Although China’s economic expansion has not yet changed the rules of the IMF, it may soon fundamentally alter how the organization functions. In 1978, China launched its reform agenda and strategy to expand externally, and it is now the world’s second-largest economy, the world's biggest exporter, and an increasingly important global investor. These changes are monumental, and are bound to cause shifts in the way international institutions function and make decisions. Yet, in my opinion, how institutions function at the national and international levels are still firmly grounded in their origins, especially if these origins were particularly thoughtful and created a history of success.
Institutions and the interests they reflect
Institutions, in most cases, continue to support the interests of the states who were powerful actors when the institution was created. Institutions serve a purpose , in that they aid in the cooperation of states. If states are cooperating, no one state should end up worse off than it was before, but this does not mean that all states involved are equally benefitted. For example, the UNSC gives more power to the U.S., Great Britain, France, Russia, and China because they are able to veto any proposition for action by the institution. This reflects the power that these five states had when the UNSC was formed, since they were the major victors of WWII.