Tag Archives: Russia

Pity the UN

I pity the poor old United Nations. It seems to get a lot of stick from people – often for wildly contradictory reasons. On the one hand there are those who consider it part of the Illuminati’s plan to dominate the globe, while others claim (perhaps more eloquently) that it is ineffective, weak and hypocritical. To this first position I say: “Really? Have you looked at the UN in action?” To the second: “Yes, but…”

Lets start with the Security Council because that’s what most people think of when they use the term “UN”. The Security Council votes on matters relating to international security (whoa) and has five permanent members who can veto any decision if they don’t agree with it. Those countries are the USA, Russia, China, France and the UK, and the reason it is them and no one else is because they were the important ones when the UN Charter was written up. Now some say Russia does not deserve a permanent seat because it is not the USSR anymore (as it was when the UN was founded) and is no longer a superpower.  I must have missed the memo about the UK and France’s superpower status, but anyway the real reason people seem to not like Russia is its use of the veto on issues that affect its allies, like when it vetoes resolutions condemning Israel… oh wait, wrong country. I mean like when Russia vetoed a resolution on Syria, or Kosovo. China has also raised ire with its use of the veto as well.

The reason the veto power is there is so that the big powers would want to be a part of the UN in the first place. There is no way to enforce international law except through other states so if a state is big enough and powerful enough to not fear retaliation then it has no need for international law, except to give it legitimacy and credibility. Therefore the big, nuclear armed powers that existed when the UN was formed needed something to sweeten the deal so they got the right to veto stuff they didn’t agree with. Not fair, but a necessary compromise. Now they have that power why would they let it go? It is better to accept it exists and try to work around it. The UN Security Council still achieves things in a lot of cases, mandating the Libya intervention for instance, or reinforcing laws banning child soldiers.

Most people are used to the idea of a government with complete control over the right to use violence within its borders (thank you Max Weber) and seem to have problem understanding that the UN does not function as an international government in this sense. It has no independent armed force (members contribute troops to missions) and even if it did it would not be able to take on the likes of Russia or the USA anyway. It is a compromise between absolute state sovereignty and the rule of law at an international level, and like all compromises it gets messy sometimes. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a useful compromise though, at least in many cases.

Finally all those aspects of the UN that aren’t the Security Council or the General Assembly, like UNICEF, UNDP, and UNESCO etc perform useful functions around the world and the UN itself creates a perfect framework for such operations.

So yeah, the UN isn’t perfect, but much of what is claimed about it is inaccurate and misinformed. Reforming the UN system to remove the veto powers of the Big 5 is appealing but I honestly can’t see it happening. Maybe I’m just too much of a realist (in the international relations sense) but I can’t see the big powers giving up an advantage they currently have in return for no net gain. The structure of the UN is now embedded in global politics and that makes it very difficult to change. It could be worse though: we could still have the League of Nations.


*I wrote a paper for an honours course (4th year at college for those outside NZ) about humantarian intervention without a UN Security Council mandate a couple of years ago, which covered some of this kind of stuff in a bit more detail. It compared the war in Kosovo in 1999 with that between Russia and Georgia in 2008 and drew some conclusions from this. I have uploaded it here if anyone cares! (Be warned, its about 9000 words long)


Playing football with BRICS

For anyone unfamiliar with the term, BRICS is an acronym for Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa (why it’s not BRICSA is not exactly clear, but it helps the pun in my title) who are grouped together because they supposedly represent emerging economies which will have a significant impact on the future of the global economic landscape. Obviously such groupings are always largely arbitrary, and until recently South Africa was excluded from the group and they were known as BRIC. One commentator has joked that the addition of new states to this group will soon make it BRIIICTSS, which would really screw up that title pun I have going on there.

Between 2010 and 2018 three of the BRICS states will host the football World Cup (2010 was in South Africa, and the 2014 edition in Brazil will be followed by the 2018 one in Russia), and the 2022 World Cup will be in Qatar. While it’s not BRICS member or even a BRIIICTSS(?) member, Qatar is a rapidly developing economy of potential global importance. This post will look at what the preparation and execution of these world cups can tell us about the challenges and issues facing the engagement of the BRICS and other emerging economies with the broader global market and international community as a whole. Not all the issues I identify will be equally applicable to all BRICS or emerging economies, but they are all significant points nonetheless.

Transparency and corruption: The allegations of corruption following the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups have been widely publicised but the focus has primarily been on the place of FIFA in this, not the bidders themselves. However it takes two parties to instigate corruption and the fact that these allegations exist does not look good for Russia or Qatar if they hope to attract more investment and foreign business. Brazil, too, has been dealing with its own corruption saga surrounding the 2014 World Cup preparations. Interestingly, Qatar is  perceived to be the 22nd least corrupt country in the world, Brazil the 73rd, and Russia a lowly 143rd. South Africa had corruption allegations associated with its World Cup too, and is ranked 64th on the same index (more data on corruption and transparency is available from here).

Safety and security: The safety and security of foreign visitors at the 2010 World Cup was a major concern before it started, but did not prove to be an issue after all. Similar safety concerns have been raised about Russia and, to a lesser extent, Brazil. Only time will tell if these worries are more accurate than those about South Africa but if the BRICS and other emerging economies want to establish themselves as global leaders then they must first be able to ensure the safety and security of foreign nationals visiting their countries. Obviously the World Cup is an extreme example of this because of the sheer size of the event and the unsavoury actions of a minority of football “fans” but the fact remains that these concerns were not raised at relatively recent football World Cups held in the USA, Japan, South Korea, France or Germany.

Human rights: This one in particular applies to Qatar, where homosexuality is against the law and punishable by death. FIFA boss Sepp Blatter was one of the people who did not seem to have a problem with this (for a quick rundown on the sort of chap he is, check out this list of quotes from him) , but plenty of others are outraged at it. The controversy surrounding this issues is likely to grow even louder the closer the event becomes. Russia can also probably expect protestors to use the World Cup to highlight its human rights abuses, although these may not affect the visiting fans themselves. This issue is important to BRICS and emerging economies because if they want soft power to match their rising economic power (as Qatar clearly does) then they will presumably be expected to adopt similar human rights norms as those parts of the world which currently wield the most soft power, namely the EU and USA. However, as always with human rights, it is important to note that those states themselves do not always have the best records despite the impression they like to give.

Managing growth: As Brazil has begun construction on stadia and other infrastructure for the World Cup, up to 1.5 million families may be made homeless by these projects, an issue which ties into the appalling conditions in the flavelas, the shantytowns of Sao Paulo and Rio. This highlights a problem facing all rapidly growing economies: making sure that people don’t get left behind by the development and rising wealth. In order to stop this happening, governments need to ensure poor people are protected from the side effects of major development projects, and that cities are managed to provide the best standard of living for their citizens as economic drives rapid urbanisation.

Emerging economies and states which wish for a bigger influence in global affairs face a range of challenges. How Brazil, Russia and Qatar manage the World Cups they are hosting will reflect on them in a number of ways, and may well highlight some of these issues. South Africa’s World Cup was widely regarded as a success and I would suggest that most people’s attitudes towards South Africa improved as a result of the World Cup (although not all aspects of their culture came across positively). The next three hosts will be hoping and striving for a similar outcome. Whether that is the case remains to be seen.