Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Challenging the International Community

Today's news is filled with reports of the world's nasty states (Iran, North Korea, Sudan) causing trouble for the international community. Sudan is organizing its citizens to protest the possiblity of UN peacekeepers deploying to Darfur and threatening to attack any such troops, while Russia and China block the imposition of UN sanctions against the Sudanese government. At the same time that North Korea is claiming that it will not continue to negotiate about its nuclear program so long as the US maintains economic sanctions as punishment for North Korea's extensive counterfeiting activities, the Hermit Kingdom also test-fired two short-range missiles, heightening tensions there. Meanwhile, Iran is threatening "harm and pain" against the US if Iran is brought before the UN Security Council to discuss imposing economic and political sanctions.

It's time for the international community to step up. These states are the worst of the worst: gross human rights violators, sponsors of international terrorism, commitors of genocide, and proliferators of weapons of mass destruction. Great pressure needs to be applied to Russia and China to block their obstinance in applying sanctions to these countries. The UN needs to impose massive punitive sanctions, and then needs to ignore the cries of people complaining that the sanctions are harming the civilian populace. And finally, military options in all cases need to be put on the table. Although military force is a poor option at best in Iran and North Korea, without the threat of the "stick," "carrots" have had traditionally had little appeal.

If the "international community" is to have any meaning, it has to promulgate a set of ideals and values that define that community. These need not necessarily be the values of western liberalism, but they must be coherent. And they must be enforced. Otherwise, the international community is really just a horde of Hobbesian barbarians in the state of nature.

UPDATE: Russia has just announced that it does not support the imposition of UN sanctions against Iran, preferring to leave the situation in the hands of the completely toothless IAEA. Once again, the UN proves itself to be completely incapable of dealing with serious questions of international peace and security.


smilerz said...

I don't understand China and Russia's motivation for blocking action on such revolting regimes. I understand there is some financial interest, but trade with the west, I would imagine, is far greater than that of these small countries. Is the West simply not willing to play the trade card so Russia and China just got all gain and no risk in supporting NK and Iran?

Or is simply a case that they enjoy being obstructionist to the arrogant American/Europeans?

Seth Weinberger said...


There are a few reasons. One, yes, Russia and China do enjoy, to a degree, being obstructionist. But this isn't simply a petty indulgence; the UN's institutional structure affords these countries power beyond what their material capabilities would give them. The UN represents the power distribution during the Cold War; neither Russia nor China could influence international politics to the degree they currently do without the UN. So, the UN is one place where these countries can truly flex their muscles. Countries will use what power they have at their disposal; Russia and China have little ability, outside of the UN Security Council, to affect US actions. So they use the UN to do so.

Second, do not underestimate the nature of the financial connections between these countries. China gets a large amount of oil from Sudan, and Russia is immersed in energy negotiations with Iran.

Third, the precedent of UN/international intervention is one which both Russia and China would prefer not to establish (see Chechnya and Tibet).

Finally, with North Korea, China is terrified of the implications if the regime collapses. While China largely supports international efforts to rein in North Korea, China prefers to move slowly, avoiding any actions that could cause a refugee flood, or lead a crumbling regime to lash out and start a regional war.

All of the reasons interact, and create a climate in which neither Russia nor China is inclined to cooperate in punishing these regimes. This is why bringing Russia and China deeper into the liberal status-quo "world order" is so critical. Only if they stand to gain and lose more in their relations with the West might these countries come to change their policies.

stefan moluf said...

I agree with everything except for your call to initiate sanctions. I think history shows, and I think you'll agree, that sanctions have low utility as far as coercion goes. Regimes under sanctions typically plow on while the people absorb the difference.

If you mean to use sanctions as simply a show of force, then that's something I can get behind, provided it includes a military "stick" and an economic "carrot."

Seth Weinberger said...

Yes, sanctions are largely ineffective, a point I have made several times before. But, they do serve a critical function: they help indicate that all other options short of war have been tried, leaving the use of force as a last resort. This helps increase the legitimacy of the subsequent military action. And, as Hans Morgenthau wrote: "legitimate power has a better chance to influence the will of its objects than equivalent illegtimate power."

stefan moluf said...

Agreed on that point. Makes me wonder if there's something other than sanctions (preferably something more effective) to provide that middle step that hasn't been thought up yet.