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What Effect Will the Coronavirus Pandemic Have on Migration Issues?

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Labour migration in Russia has suffered the shocks of the pandemic and the coming economic crisis, bringing about major changes to its present and future. Even today, many migrants find themselves in the difficult position of having to wait for the restrictive measures to be lifted, and their prospects of going home are vague (due to the borders being temporarily closed, as well as the fact that their home countries suffer from unemployment). Additionally, the access of migrants to the Russian labour market is shrinking rapidly. But do the massive changes that have taken place in 2020 constitute a turning point? How significant will their impact on the future of labour migration in Russia be? How will the situation in Russia be affected (and how much has it already been affected) by the changes in the Eurasian and global migration systems that have been brought about by barriers to migration that have only appeared recently? [1]

The Global Context

The “perfect storm” that has combined the coronavirus pandemic, a dramatic drop in oil prices, the unfolding economic crisis (that is worse than the crises of the last decades), the closing of borders between states (including borders within regional unions such as the EU and the EAEU), the sharp restrictions in international trade, the long-term demand for political populism in most host countries stemming from playing the “migrant card,” the drought expected in Europe and the United States, and the unprecedented plague of locusts in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, will all make it far more difficult to manage migration flows throughout the world.

The consequences of this “perfect storm” that is unfolding before our eyes are so significant that they have prompted a series of negative forecasts, ranging from doubling the scale of the expected famine (according to the United Nations World Food Programme, or WFP, over 265 million people across the globe may face acute food shortages by the end of 2020, which is 130 million more than predicted in 2019) to predicting a revision of the outcomes of globalization, partially abolishing the global division of labour and gradually drifting towards the principle of the self-sufficiency of national economies (if governments fail to take control of the crisis within a year). All these forecasts focus on factors that will ultimately affect migration processes, from prompting new refugee flows out of Africa to the increased vulnerability of migrant workers in most host countries.

New Changes and Changes Long Underway

Rapid changes taking place all over the world in 2020 have altered the challenges involved in controlling migration.

Over the past few decades, Russia has seen major changes in external migration, including differentiation of inbound flows (an increase in the share of families migrating, more migrant women and children, and greater age diversity); growing numbers of migrants from small towns and rural areas; falling education and income levels, as well as greater cultural diversity (including languages and faiths), among newly arriving migrants; and a change in the structure of migration flows, with migrants from Central Asia dominating.

On the other hand, the main incentives for migration to the Russian Federation have not changed: Russia has the best economic situation within the Eurasian migration system; it has an aging population and thus needs a labour force, including unskilled workers. Demand for unskilled labour is evidenced by a stable inbound flow of migrant workers who are mostly employed in unskilled, physically demanding and low-paying (as seen from the calculations of person-hours) jobs.

Migrant workers have essentially become an integral part of Russia’s labour market, and the changes that have taken place in labour migration over recent decades, coupled with the emergence and growth of a “parallel community” with “migrant” services and infrastructure, make their rapid and large-scale return home less likely. For many of them, Russia has already become a second home, and their principal hope for a better future. Nevertheless, some migrant workers will go home in 2020 (let us not forget that many of them are natives of small towns and rural areas who will be able to sustain themselves through their small farmsteads), although the contributing countries have very limited opportunities for supporting their returning citizens. For instance, experts propose giving away land in rural areas and decreasing the tax burden.

Recent expert reviews analyzing the effects that the coronavirus pandemic has had on labour migration mostly focus on the short term, while predictions of falling labour migration into Russia use the 2008 and 2014 crises as points of reference. However, the 2020 economic crisis in Russia has its own specifics: the economic situation has deteriorated sharply, and the pandemic has only added to its woes; there has been a sharp drop in oil prices; international sanctions have continued; borders have been closed and economic activities suspended. Another important factor is the social anxiety that the people of Russia have increasingly experienced over the past several years, which has been exacerbated by the negative socio-economic consequences that can already be observed (small and medium-sized businesses closing, large numbers of Russian citizens being laid off and having difficulties paying their mortgages, the vulnerability of mass medical services that has been highlighted by the pandemic, etc.). The state’s mitigating response has been slow in coming, even though it involves minimal costs. Consequently, we can predict an unstable socio-economic (and even political) situation, which will lead to issues of managing migration flows being relegated to the background, while homebound migrant flows will be greater than during previous crises.

The difficult situation today is fraught with unpleasant consequences both for migrant workers themselves and for the Russian labour market. In the coming months, migrant workers will be partially pushed out from the niches of Russia’s legal labour market in big cities. We know this from past experience (the crises of 2008–2010 and 2014–2016). However, purchasing power, which has been limited by the economic crisis, will work major changes in the shadow sector as well, curtailing the number of jobs even in those businesses that do not pay taxes (or do not pay them in full) and minimize their expenditures by way of the super-exploitation of labour. The shadow sector of the labour market is expected to grow. Foreign workers will compete with Russian citizens, and migrants will have certain advantages here, such as a willingness to work for lower hourly wages and in hazardous conditions, including those that are detrimental to their health. Today, the expected drop in quality of life in contributing countries (due, in part, to smaller money transfers from Russia) makes migrant workers a group that easily offers itself up for super-exploitation.

The changes that have taken place on the Russian labour market as a result of the pandemic (increased numbers of delivery persons, greater numbers of white-collar employees switching to online work, etc.) mean that jobs in delivery services that unemployed Russian citizens typically take as stop-gap solutions until they find a more permanent position will go to foreign workers in the medium term. The caregiving services (domestic workers) will continue to grow due to the aging of the Russian population, which will open up new opportunities for foreign citizens. In the medium term, agriculture will also offer more jobs to foreigners.

Two opposing trends will develop: the state will strive to collect more taxes, and entrepreneurs will strive to minimize their expenditures by hiring more foreigners, sometimes semi-legally and sometimes entirely illegally.

Obviously, in both the short and medium term, at greater or lesser pace, migration legislation will continue to be liberalized and the management of migration flows will become more flexible. For instance, during the pandemic, the President issued an executive order that eased the situation of migrants. In addition, a law was passed allowing those who wish to become Russian citizens to keep their previous citizenship, temporary residence permits were abolished and categories for obtaining Russian citizenship were introduced. These developments appear to be links in the chain of this gradual liberalization, no matter how slow it might be.

The events of 2020 will increase the number of foreign citizens willing to obtain a Russian residence permit or Russian citizenship, particularly among migrant workers who have years of experience living and working in Russia. Given the increasing competition with Russian citizens, migrant workers who want to reduce their outgoings will strive to improve their employability, and acquiring a more protected status will help them minimize risks in terms of finding employment and a place to live.

In the short term, when the restrictive measures imposed in response to the coronavirus pandemic are lifted, emigration of Russian citizens, including skilled workers, might increase against the background of the economic crisis. Educational migration from post-Soviet states (states contributing to Russia-bound migration) will increase, and the number of migrants studying at Russian vocational educational institutions whose graduates have good employment prospects in Russia will noticeably increase.

Many experts expect an uptick in Russia political activity among the Russian people after the pandemic. This may lead to populist parties enjoying more influence in political life, using xenophobic and migrant-phobic myths to boost their popularity.

Migration Challenges for Russia

The changes that have already taken place and are taking place now have brought the issue of modernizing migration challenges in Russia to the foreground.

Crime and Terrorism

Foreigners have never accounted for more than 3–4 per cent of all crimes committed in Russia, as attested by the official data of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation. Even given the difficult circumstances that migrant workers have found themselves in over the past few months, we can confidently say that crime is unlikely to surge among them. Their long-term plans are geared towards working in Russia, and Russia has strict rules in place that involve deportation after two offenses (including administrative offenses), followed by a lengthy ban on entering the country. These two factors are a powerful deterrent against any illegal activities. Migrant workers typically find themselves breaking the law when it is difficult for them to overcome the barriers to their acquiring legal status in a lawful manner, and when it is cheaper to solve their immigration issues through illegal means. We are talking about buying fake registrations cards and/or employment contracts, not felonies that involve harm to life or health. However, such situations raise more questions about the height of the hurdles that migrants must overcome in order to obtain legal status than about the migrants themselves.

In both the short and medium term, mass migration into Russia is unlikely to generate an increased terrorist threat. However, terrorism challenges will become more relevant in the long term if the state withdraws the previous funding for integratory measures aimed at migrants of all categories, including the integration of foreign-born Russian citizens, particularly children of naturalized migrants. Additionally, given the possible increase in nationalistic sentiments and the growing numbers of terrorist attacks and right-wing crimes, targeting migrants will become a serious long-term challenge.

Healthcare

The risk of the coronavirus and other infectious diseases quickly spreading among migrants is rather high: studies show that migrants tend to live in overcrowded conditions, have limited resources for purchasing protective equipment and medication, are poorly aware of the recommended preventive measures, and generally do not have medical coverage as the price of even the most medical insurance that would include semi-regular check-ups is prohibitively high for them [2]. Consequently, healthcare for migrants is the gravest challenge of all. Migrants fall under the most vulnerable categories during pandemics throughout the world, not just in Russia. International organizations have already voiced this problem.

Growing Xenophobia and Migrant-Phobia

It is possible that xenophobia and migrant-phobia in Russia may grow, and with Russian citizens losing jobs in large numbers, the possibility will only increase. In times of economic crisis, migrants are traditionally seen as competition for Russian citizens who work in menial jobs, which is only fair if heavily qualified, yet this idea is actively explored by populist politicians. Migrant- and xenophobia are unlikely to lead to serious ethnically motivated conflicts in the near future, but it will certainly increase the popularity of political parties and movements that use anti-migrant rhetoric.

Closed Borders

The situation of foreign migrants has already deteriorated significantly due to the restrictions on inbound, outbound and domestic travel imposed during the pandemic. These restrictions apply equally to Russian citizens and the citizens of the EAEU states. Travel barriers being lifted gradually will hardly result in a quick and full recovery of the migration opportunities that existed before the pandemic. This is also a major challenge, since restrictions on the free movement of labour curtail both regional and international economic growth pace.

Increased Job Competition

The upsurge in unemployment in Russia that began in March–April 2020 and is expected to continue in the coming months will increase the competition between Russian citizens and migrant workers somewhat in the short term. In the medium term, the decrease in the size of the working-age population will weaken this competition. However, if the negative scenario materializes (see below), domestic migration will push job competition between Russian citizens and migrants in large cities to higher levels than before the pandemic.

Depopulation of Russian Provinces

One challenge that has invited little discussion is domestic migration, including seasonal work, i.e. Russian citizens from economically depressed regions travelling for seasonal work to regions that are the strongest economically. Crisis phenomena will spur on domestic migration, especially after the peak of the pandemic has been passed, and this will lead to the faster depopulation of Siberia and the Russian Far East. This is a long-term challenge.

The “Brain Drain”

The emigration of skilled workers from Russia will continue to be partially offset by the influx of talented and educated professionals, primarily young persons, from post-Soviet states. This includes educational migration. A small uptick in the “brain drain” from Russia can be expected in the short term, mostly due to the narrowing windows of opportunity for the young generation due to the socio-economic crisis in Russia, and inbound migration will not entirely offset Russia’s “brain drain.”

Prospects and Conclusions

As of right now, in May 2020, it is difficult to make any accurate estimates about the migration consequences of the “perfect storm” that we are currently experiencing. Not until the pandemic ends and the socio-economic crisis that is brewing becomes clearer. Nevertheless, some consequences for the global community, as well as for Russia, can be seen quite clearly even now.

The International Situation

In the coming years, migrants around the world will experience greater labour exploitation and become increasingly vulnerable. This will be due, among other things, to the growing poverty in countries that contribute to the workforce, as well as to the growing need for migrants to transfer money back home.

Against the background of tightened restrictions and greater obstacles to legal migration, both undocumented (illegal) migration and human trafficking will increase.

Famine and social unrest (including armed conflicts) stemming from unresolved problems with food supplies in Africa, Asia and the Middle East will increase the risks of new refugee flows.

If deglobalization does not lead to outright border closures and integration associations shutting themselves off (for instance, the European Union closing its borders), then it may, to a greater or lesser degree, result in new restrictions on migration. Having said that, the triumph of globalization is that it has been interfering with or even destroying the self-sufficiency of most countries for decades, increasing their dependence on the international division of labour, tourism, and trade. The cutting of international ties during the pandemic has worsened the situation in all states that depend on international supply chains. Consequently, a new upsurge in industrialization and reindustrialization in both developed and developing countries appears quite realistic. In the medium and long term, this development will bolster the demand for both skilled and unskilled workers and result in the obstacles to migration flows being somewhat relaxed.

Russia

Russia fits into most of the global trends outlined above.

In the short term, the EAEU partnership will take on more pragmatic, or perhaps stricter, forms. However, migration flows will not shrink. Instead, they will change their format: shadow labour relations will increase, as will the number of human rights violations; labour protection standards will deteriorate, and human trafficking will be on the rise. Thus far, the negative consequences of these changes are hard to assess, but in the medium term (the next three to four years), Russia can expect to see the following scenarios, all of which directly depend on the socio-economic measures the government adopts in the short term.

1. The optimistic scenario.

Once the restrictive measures are lifted, the Government of the Russian Federation will launch intensive purchasing power support by pouring money into the economy and helping it emerge from the “slowdown,” with special attention being paid to small- and medium-sized businesses [3]. Demand for migrant labour (both skilled and unskilled) will gradually increase, and in the medium term, those migrant workers who had gone into the shadow economy immediately after the restrictive measures were lifted and those who had temporarily returned home will have more opportunities for legal employment.

Centripetal trends in domestic migration (people moving to Central Russia) will remain in place, but there will be no major increases in seasonal workforce. Educational migration in Russia will continue at the same pace and will gradually become differentiated due to the influx of foreign students into Russian vocational educational institutions. Migration legislation will be further liberalized, thus stimulating the legal employment of Migrant workers. Considerable attention will be paid to the influx of skilled labour and to curtailing the “brain drain.”

This scenario implies migration flows returning to their previous levels in the short term and gradually increasing in the medium term.

2. The pessimistic scenario.

The Russian economy is slow to recover. Solvent demand is low. Real unemployment is growing. Jobs in economic niches that had been traditionally occupied by migrants are moving into the shadow economy. Migration-related corruption does not drop, or even grows and becomes a part of everyday life, making it more difficult for the authorities to manage the migration system. Business owners, particularly small business owners, prefer to hire migrant workers off the books. Super-exploitation of migrants continues or even increases. Non-payment of wages and other elements of human trafficking are not suppressed effectively and become more widespread. Foreign workers (including workers from Central Asia) are partially re-oriented to other labour markets. The “brain drain” and emigration from Russia continue, mainly in the form of young people.

Domestic migration into Central Russia is on the rise, as is seasonal work. Educational migration to Russia shows little growth, but Russian vocational educational institutions attract more foreign students. The liberalization of migration legislation slows down.

In this scenario, the migration flow will recover within the next one to three years.

Just which scenario will appear depends directly on the socio-economic situation in Russia and on the stability of its political development. Right now, the second (pessimistic) scenario appears more realistic.

[1]Ivakhniuk I.V. The Eurasian Migration System: Theory and Policies. Moscow: MAKS Press, 2008 (in Russian).

[2] Poletaev D. V. and Y. F. Florinskaya. Migrant Awareness of Tuberculosis and HIV. Moscow: Krasny Krest, 2015.

[3] When Does Russia’s Economy Pass the Point of No Return? Working Paper. April 2020. Institute of Economic Forecasting of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Institute for the Economy of Growth. http://stolypin.institute/institute/kogda-budet-proydena-tochka-nevozvrata-dlya-rossiyskoy-ekonomiki/

From our partner RIAC

Ph.D. in Economics, Director at the Center for Migration Studies; Lead Researcher, Institute of Economic Forecasting of the Russian Academy of Sciences, RIAC expert

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International Law

The Relevance of International Relations Theory in Community Policing

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Community policing in general refers to adopting such measures by law enforcement agencies specifically police where closer ties between the community and the police tends to prevent crime rather than police responding to the incidents of crime once it has taken place. Community policing as a concept implies its meaning in the realm of ‘’public good’’. This concept of public good in itself is shadowed by another broad concept of ‘’order’’. These two concepts go hand in hand so that so peace is achieved as an end. Both ‘’public good’’ and ‘’order’’ lies at the center of community policing. 

As identified above, one of the central tenants of community policing which is ‘’Order’’ or ‘’Structure’’ is a concept embedded in the theoretical approach of ‘’Neo-Realism’’ as well. The relevance of this approach of Neo-Realism in the study of community policing is validated by the fact that Police as an institution functions with obligations to its institutional structure. Therefore, the role of police is molded by its presumed authority. It is here where the point of convergence is established between the idea of community policing and neo-realism. Neo-realism which is also called structural realism contends that it is the architecture of the international system that determines state behavior. So that so, in whatever manner the structure of the international system is designed, state’s actions will be in accordance to that structure.

The approach adopted in this paper is to debate the concept of community policing from two different lenses. One such approach as mentioned above is Neo-realism and another one can be Realism as a general theoretical perspective. These two approaches are debated in such a manner that it complements the study of community policing. The reason to incorporate these two concepts is to evaluate community policing from a specific to a general lens. In a theoretical frame of reference this means that it to debate this concept from the level of analysis perspective of international relations.

In the general frame of ideas, the fundamental aim on which community policing is predicated is ‘’prevention of crime’’. The outlook of the practices taken upon by the police personnel are all in alignment of this aim which may include building better relations with the community and developing trust between and among all the stakeholders. It is in this sense that the theoretical framework of international relations theories is worth exploring in accordance with the concept of community policing. In any inquiry of social sciences, the basic purpose of incorporating theory is because theory is what explains the practice and helps to build a better understanding of the social circumstances which affects the lives of people. 

Community policing as a concept when deconstructed consists of two major ideas. At the core of it exists the idea of ‘’public good’’ and another one is the idea of ‘’order’’. Public good remains the end goal, whereas the idea of ‘’order’’ is the function of its structure. It is therefore necessary to understand the function of this concept in order to draw justifiable conclusions.

Neo-Realist Perspective on Community Policing

The neo-realist perspective of international relations builds upon the premise that the structure of the international order is the primary determinant of state’s actions. That is to say that if the dilemma of threat exists between two states, and one state is compelled to act in accordance to that to take up measures which ensures its survival then this is due to the prevalent structure or environment of the international order. In this case, state’s actions in a way becomes subservient to the structure. On the other hand, in a community of people, where police personnel are as credible actors as a state is in the international system, his/her actions also are subservient to the prevalent structure of the institution of police as whole. The liberty to exercise power is informed by the institutional obligations which exists upon the personnel. Therefore, the principle of ‘’order’’ which can also be referred to as ‘’structure’’ can determine the extent of prevention of crime rate in a certain community. The structure then has direct effects on behavior of the police personnel.

Realist Perspective on Community Policing

Before dwelling into the explanation of the realist perspective and into relevance to community policing, it is essential to point out why this is being discussed after neo-realism, since realism as a theory of international relations is a broader and a more conventional concept than neo-realism. The primary reason for this is because the argument of community policing is drawn from the behavior of ‘’individual’’ which functions under an institution, therefore the approach undertaken is from specific to general. In that regard, it was essential to debate the structure of the institution which affects the behavior of the personnel first and subsequently debating the role of the broader perspective of realism.

Realism is a theory which is predicated upon the idea that the primary source of conflict in international system is prevalent because states in general seek to maximize their power. The power struggle undertaken by states then translates into security dilemma and balance of power between states. So as to ensure a position of relative advantage against each other. Applying this theory to the concept of community policing, it manifests itself in a manner where the community police is presumed as one actor and the people of the community is considered to be another actor. Both these actors, function with relative powers to each other. Where the police functions with more explicit power of ‘’force’’, the people of the community function with the mobilizing power of ‘’rights’’ and ‘’democracy’’ which is more explicitly referred to as the power of ‘’vote’’.  Here the dimension of power maximization applies to both the actors in terms of conflict of interest. As it happens in the international arena, as a bargaining failure of diplomacy leads to states confronting each other by other means, similarly in a community, where both the law enforcing agencies and the people of the community diverge over a conflict of interest, such as wrongfully accusing an individual of a crime which builds a negative perception of the police in the minds of the general public leads to resentment. This, then translates into people being mobilized against the law enforcing agencies. In response to which, the police would further build its capacity to confront the rebels since they usually are in larger numbers. The concept of dilemma then in this realm does exist as enshrined in the philosophy of realism as well. Here dilemma exists where both parties, the law enforcement agencies and the people of the community understand that their relationship is regulated by the nexus of the amount of force that police can use against the people and the authority that is given to them implicitly by the people by putting their trust in the governance system. Therefore, community policing as a concept is predicated to evade the dilemma of mutual conflict and as it happens with the business of one state with the other, where they pursue diplomacy to reach any mutual point of interest; Similar is the case with community policing which aims to establish peace and harmony through public diplomatic channels.

Both these theoretical perspectives then provide insights into how they can actually be debated upon in the study of community policing. It informs the function community policing as well as analyzes its main contours.

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A leader of the third world has to lead a movement for reformation of the International law

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It is by no means a hyper reality that China has accelerated its geo political influence around the world this year despite the criticism of the West on China’s negligence in concealing the COVID 19 at outset. China being one of the permanent members of security council has widely contributed to the UN system. In this single modern global market, the People’s Republic of China has arguably become the manufacturing hub of the world in producing a large number of goods than any other western country, besides that it has also become the world’s second largest importer of goods.  Today the realm of bargaining power in the positivistic international law is completely based in the idea of power politics and the US stands as its cradle beyond a doubt. I would mention America as leader of the first world and China as leader of the third world. As the leader of the western world, the United States relentlessly works for its political, economic and legal dominance, which it has been enjoyed for plenty of years. The third world, which is considered to be the group of states known for its extreme poverty, civil wars, unrest and unemployment, has realized that poverty would become an inevitable obstacle in the process of its development. Mohammed Bedjaoui , who had served as a judge on the International Court of Justice, clearly claimed in his great astonishing work “ Towards a New International Economic Order” that “ It is western exploitation that leads to the poverty of the third world. “The third world pays for the rest and leisure of the inhabitants of the developed world,” and that “Europe created, and the United States has appreciably aggravated, most of the problems which face the third world”.

International law governing the rights and duties of states is perpetually and predominantly being dominated by the first world and its embodiment that is the United States. In this research article, I am going to discuss two essential things which are: what China has to do to reform the west constructed International law and as well as why China should lead a movement of the third world for its reformation?

For knowing these queries, we have to note the origins of International law down and how it works in today’s world?

If we have a look at the brief history of International law, International law has its roots in diverse European civilizations. To say in simple terms, International law is Eurocentric. Natural law which is also considered as a part of International law was developed by ancient Christian thinkers whose ideas were rooted in the Greco Roman ideas on rights and justice, in the due course of time those ideas were imbued with the Catholic theological virtues. However, it was such a sense of sheer irony that ideas such as natural law venerated by the Catholic thinkers were later used to legitimize the colonial expansion in the 16th century. For instance Francesco Vittoria who has been regarded as one of pioneers of modern international law used the very concept of natural law as Spanish justification of its rights over Indian territories in America. Let us turn towards modern International law. Modern International law primarily developed based on two concepts that are the concept of State practice and International treaties.

On the one hand, most of the global scholars perceive the United Nations charter as a founding International treaty of International law that contains rights and duties of states. On the other hand, the third world scholars perceive the United Nations as a founding organization of colonial imperialistic powers. There is a general perception among third world International law scholars that the Security Council of the United Nations is completely dominated and run by the colonial turned imperial powers. Four members out of the five in the Security Council were purely colonial countries who had ruled and economically exploited the world for centuries. The Security Council has also arguably been Eurocentric which is consisted of more western states embodying their own interests. Security Council is the principal organ of the United Nations, which mostly enjoys veto power. Permanent members may use the veto to defend their national interests. Over the years, in history of the Security Council, the United States has used the veto power more than other permanent member for defending west interests including Israeli interests. Most importantly, the third world has no effective role to play and to defend its interests in this globalised world. The colonial super powers met in San Francisco, to establish a predecessor to the League of Nations, have not granted independence to a number of African and Asian countries. Most of the third world countries became independent after establishing the United Nations.

Finally, we reached to the end. I would conclude this article by answering questions that I have put above. The structure of the United Nations is based on the charter of the United Nations, which is considered as a founding document of modern International law.  In this way, the United Nations charter grants more absolute powers to the Security Council where third world countries do not have participation. The leader of the third world China must wage a movement for developing countries to reform the Security Council. China has to collaborate with a group of developing countries for removing global financial power that lies with the Bretton Woods Institutions. Obviously, most of the power lies with the Bretton Woods Institutions, where western nations exercise the power on the rest of the world. So far, third world was exploited. So, the rest of the world outside the west has to demand for new international economic order, which would work for developing states.

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UN at 75: The Necessity of Having a Stronger & More Effective United Nations

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October 24, 2020, marks the 75th anniversary of the United Nations. In this context, this article investigates the necessity of having a stronger UN for the benefits of the world’s people. In fact, if one looks at the past, the UN came up in 1945 in response to the Second World War for a more stable, secured, and peaceful world. And the UN has been successful to a larger extent to that goals and objectives, many argue. Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary-General for instance, wrote that ‘The United Nations, with their rules and institutions, are at the heart of the international system. They encourage States to prevent or settle disputes peacefully. The United Nations speaks for the voiceless, feeds the hungry, protects the displaced, combats organized crime and terrorism, and fights disease across the globe’ (Annan 2015).

If one looks at the history, after the Second World War, there are not so many wars on a large scale or conflicts except some bilateral Wars like Vietnam War or Iraq invasion in Kuwait or US invasion in Afghanistan or Iraq or Syrian crisis or Rohingya crisis. One can claim that the present world is more stable and peaceful than the world before the Second World War. Against this backdrop, Ramesh Thakur rightly observes, ‘On balance, the world has been a better and safer place with the UN than would have been the case without it (Thakur 2009:2). And it will not be wrong to claim that the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is playing a crucial role in this regard, focusing both on ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ security issues. Hard security issues ranges from nuclear threat to international terrorism and soft security issues include human security issues to human rights to international criminal justice and international sanctions (For details see, Thakur, 2009).

The UN is not only concerned about international peace and security but also concerned about economic and social issues. There are several UN organizations e.g. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), World Food Programme (WFP) or the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) which is involved in socio-economic issues that impact millions of people globally.

First, one can look at the role of the UN General Assembly to understand the necessity of having a more robust UN. It is the core organ of the UN. It is the only organ in which all the member countries are represented all of the time. The role of the UN includes to pass resolutions and to create subsidiary agencies to deal with particular issues (Barkin 2006: 58). UN General Assembly works as a forum where the world’s states meet and discuss the pressing global problems. In this context, Eleanor Albert, Leo Schwartz, and Alexandra Abell write that ‘Since its inception seventy-one years ago, the United Nations General Assembly has been a forum for lofty declarations, sometimes audacious rhetoric, and rigorous debate over the world’s most vexing issues, from poverty and development to peace and security’ (Albert et al. 2016). However, in September 2015, the Assembly agreed on a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals, contained in the outcome document of the United Nations summit for the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda (resolution 70/1). Notably, the implementation of SDG goals will have broader implications for the world’s people.

In addition, the Assembly may also take action in cases of a threat to the peace, breach of peace or act of aggression, when the Security Council has failed to act owing to the negative vote of a permanent member. In such instances, according to its “Uniting for Peace” resolution of 3 November 1950, the Assembly may consider the matter immediately and recommend to its Members collective measures to maintain or restore international peace and security.

Second, one should also look at the role of the Security Council to make the case of having a stronger United Nations. The UN Security Council is the most powerful security-related organization in contemporary world politics. As the Charter of the United Nations says: ‘the Security Council has primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security (Article 24). The Security Council takes the lead in determining the existence of a threat to the peace or act of aggression. It calls upon the parties to a dispute to settle it by peaceful means and recommends methods of adjustment or terms of the settlement. In some cases, the Security Council can resort to imposing sanctions or even authorize the use of force to maintain or restore international peace and security’

In contemporary world politics, the UN Security Council is the most potent security-related organization because it is the only recognized and legitimate international organ which deals with international peace and security. In this regard, Justin Morris and Nicholas J. Wheeler claim that ‘The United Nations Security Council is at the heart of the world’s collective security system’ (Morris and Wheeler 2007: 214). The UNSC play role by passing Resolutions regarding maintaining international peace and security, determining threats to peace and security and finally undertaking peacekeeping operations.

Decisions made by the Security Council are known as the Security Council resolutions. Examples of Security Council resolutions include Resolution 794 (1992), which authorized military intervention in Somalia on humanitarian ground, or the resolution 1325 (2000), which called on states to recognize the role of women in peace, and security and post-conflict situations. In the UN Security Council Working method Handbook, it is noted that the UNSC has adopted over 2,000 resolutions relating to conflict and post-conflict situations around the globe. Another report, titled Repertoire of the Practice of the Security Council noted that between 2008 and 2009, the Security Council adopted  35 out of 65 resolutions in 2008 (53.8 %), and 22 out of 47 resolutions in 2009 under Chapter VII (46. 8 %) concerning threats to the peace, breaches of the peace or acts of aggression. The report also notes about several UN resolutions authorizing United Nations peacekeeping missions. In connection with the mission deployed in the Central African Republic and Chad, the Council approved the deployment of a United Nations military component for the first time in 2009 to follow up operations by the European Union in Chad and Central African Republic (EUFORChad/CAR). The Council continued to authorize enforcement action for United Nations peacekeeping missions in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI), Darfur/Sudan (UNAMID), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), Lebanon (UNIFIL) and Sudan (UNMIS). This increased number of UNSC Resolutions dealing with international peace and security reinforces its legitimacy and power as a security organization.

The critical question that comes into the forefront is how much UNSC can implement its mandates neutrally or independently in terms of maintaining world peace and security. The critiques bring the example of Iraq war (2003) where UNSC ‘faces a crisis of legitimacy because of its inability to constrain the unilaterally inclined hegemonic United States.’ (Morris and Wheeler 2007:214). Another critical question is the role of UNSC in resolving the long-standing Syrian crisis or the Rohingya refugee crisis.

It is undeniable the fact that UNSC cannot function with its full potentialities due to the challenges and limitations it faces because ‘in their pursuit of raisons d’état, states use whatever institutions are available to serve their interests’ (Weiss 2003: 151). And here comes the politics in the Security Council which is highly manifested in the past. Against this backdrop, Weiss correctly observes, ‘the politics of the UN system- not only the principal organs of UN like Security Council or General Assembly is highly politicized but even ‘technical’ organizations, for instance, World Health Organization or the Universal Postal Union continue to reflect the global division between the so-called wealthy, industrialized North and the less advantaged, developing South’ (Weiss 2009: 271).

It is, therefore, states and particularly the P5 want to use the Security Council as a means to uphold its interest. Gareth Evans rightly points out ‘for most of its history the Security Council has been a prisoner of great power manoeuvring…’ (Evans 2009:Xi).  Hence, using veto by the P5 remains a significant challenge for the UNSC to work in its fullest potentials. In the recent case of the Rohingya refugee crisis, the UNSC is unable to take adequate measures due to veto power used by China and Russia. However, the UNSC is responsible for maintaining world peace and security.

The bottomline is that there is no alternative to having a stronger and more effective UN because it is the only hope for millions of people around the world. The UN is an inevitable international organization in this turbulent world despite its criticism or limitations.Thus, it becomes essential for the P5 nations to think about the broader benefits of the world’s people instead of their narrowly defined interest in the case of using veto power. And the world also needs to acknowledge that the UN reform has been a reality to ensure the neutrality and objectivity of the United Nations for a more peaceful, stable, secured world.

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