Peacekeeping, mediation and humanitarianism in a multi-polar world

Inclusive Politics,Peace & Security03 Jun 2011Evert-jan Quak

At the seminar ‘Emerging Powers in the 21st century’ in Oslo, specialists from Norway and participants from Turkey, India, China, Indonesia and Brazil discussed how political and economic hegemony in today’s world is changing to a situation of multi-polarity. As I noted in my previous blog post, no one can predict with certainty what today’s power relations will look like in fifty, or even ten years from now. The first post discussed the political and security policies of the emerging powers in their regional context. Here I turn to what was said in Oslo about the international context of mediation, peacekeeping and UN engagement.

Let’s start with the future of the United Nations. The unique international cooperation within the UN is at stake if no radical reform happens within the next five to ten years, says Marcel Fortuna Biatro, Ambassador for Brazil to Bolivia. Fortuna Biatro has served as assistant to the President of Brazil’s chief foreign policy advisor from 2003, and was the former legal advisor to the country’s Mission to the United Nations (1999-2002).

He calls for a ‘Big Bang theory’: without reforms the United Nations will become illegitimate and irrelevant. And he is far from optimistic at this stage of the negotiations. ‘The talks about the reforms don’t go anywhere’, Fortuna Biatro says. For one thing, this may have an impact on Africa, a continent facing many major challenges that sorely need international cooperation to solve. The emerging powers, whose economic and political influence in Africa is rising fast, he argues, will have to play an important role in finding common ground for the solutions that Africa needs.

Fortuna Biatro also points at the Security Council’s resolution for a no-fly zone in Libya. The emerging states of India, Russia, China and Brazil – with the exception of South Africa – abstained from voting. Fortuna Biatro explains Brazil’s position as follows: ‘The resolution is problematic for Brazil because regime change enforced with hard power will not work. Whatever you think of a regime, you must start a dialogue if you want to change things in the right direction.’

China has a permanent seat in the Security Council, which may be why the Chinese professor Chuanjie Zhang of Tsinghua University’s Institute of International Studies has a more pragmatic opinion on the future of the United Nations. ‘There is nothing wrong with the United Nations,’ he says. ‘We are working on the reform agenda. China is not against reforms, but it must be established with broad consensus.’ He believes that India, Indonesia and Brazil must have permanent seats in the Security Council, but interestingly he is against a seat for Japan – another illustration of the regional rivalry within Asia, as emphasized in my previous post and in Alex Calvo’s discussion of the geopolitical impacts of the Fukushima disaster.

Toni Harmer of the Brookings Institution thinks that a stall in the UN process of reforms will not be problematic, as the legal process of reforms will be slow anyway. But an interim situation is needed, she insists, with arrangements that allow new powers to play a more important role in the Security Council. In an earlier interview with The Broker, Jan Egeland, director of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, refers to the minimal progress in Security Council reforms as a ‘time bomb’.

Although most emerging powers criticize the slow UN reform process, they are willing to contribute to worldwide peacekeeping missions. Fortuna Biatro explains that the UN mission in Haiti, for example, provided Brazil with an opportunity to give substance to a development approach in its foreign policy, not necessarily for economic reasons or because of a direct security threat to Brazil. Brazilian NGOs have a geat deal of experience fighting crime and they took their experience to Haiti along with the Brazilian peacekeepers.

The Turkish foreign policy approach to the Libyan crisis was heavily criticized within Turkey as well as internationally. While the Turkish government was speaking openly about the need for democratisation and against former Egyptian president Mubarak during the protests in Egypt, it was silent when the Libyans started their protests against Gaddafi. ‘Libya is different’, Professor Mustafa Aydin, Rector at the Kadir Has University in Istanbul said in Oslo: ‘This conflict is highly military – Turkey doesn’t see it as a humanitarian case yet.’

Aydin further explains: ‘In Libya the uprising is led by people with guns. This created suspicion in Turkey about the involvement of outsiders.’ But he doesn’t brush aside the Turkish connections with Gaddafi’s regime which have also played a part. Twenty thousand workers were located in Libya at the time the revolution started. They were working for Turkish construction companies that have contracts in Libya worth millions of Euros. After it was ensured that these workers and the construction contracts were safe, there was suddenly room for the Turkish government to speak out on the Libyan issue. Furthermore, Aydin stresses, Turkey insisted that the military operation should be executed under NATO command.

Turkey has long been balancing its position between the West and the Middle East (see also the article on Turkey by Jean-Paul Marthoz in issue 24 of The Broker). In the 1990s the Americans put pressure on the Turks to export their democratic system (proclaimed as the Turkish model) to the Arab world. But Aydin doesn’t believe in a Turkish model. He gives an example. While the new military (interim) government in Egypt speaks about such a model, they are actually focusing, according to Aydir, on the 1980s when Turkey was a country controlled by the military.

In general, the way emerging countries have to deal with the changes and new developments is quite chaotic, Aydir says. ‘The political agenda in Turkey changes every day, maybe every hour. If you are out of the country for two weeks everything will have changed upon your return.’ But there will come a moment, says Aydir, when these countries can no longer behave ambiguously and change their political agenda whenever they want to. They have to work towards a more consistent foreign policy.

In that perspective, experimenting with the soft power of mediation may well be a good learning curve for emerging powers. Countries like Brazil and Turkey prefer to be active and help resolve conflicts through dialogue and mediation. The two countries together initiated a mediation to find a breakthrough in the political crisis that followed the presidential elections in Iran. It was not a success, but both countries experienced the need to make political choices while acting at the heart of international political affairs.

Speaking about mediation, it was significant that this seminar was organized in Norway, with its recognized experience in mediation worldwide (see the article about Norway in issue 17 of The Broker). The role of the emerging powers in mediating future conflicts may well prove particularly important in a time when the future of the United Nations is at stake.