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December 18, 2004

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Effective Multilateralism: Europe, Regional Security, and a Revitalised UN

Espen Barth Eide (Ed.)

Executive Summary

It is tempting to judge the EU’s evolution as a strategic actor by simply tracking its institutions and assets. How many troops could it muster in a possible crisis? How well-developed are its institutional frameworks for security, development and foreign affairs? As advocates of greater European co-operation frequently conclude, there is much to be done in building our capacities and coordination, especially after enlargement.

Yet this focus ignores one of the EU’s greatest strengths in recent years: its ability to co-opt, enhance and gradually reshape other international organisations. For much of the 1990s, the Union seemed at odds with many other international organisations, not least the UN. As an upstart security actor, its role in the post-1945 system was unclear – and often unwelcome. But it has become broadly accepted as a positive force in that system.

It has done this through reworking the capacities and goals of other organisations. The field missions of the OSCE across the Balkans have become part of the long-term project of EU enlargement. New mechanisms for technical co-operation have been developed to coordinate the UN and EU’s activities in conflict and post-conflict situations – officials wryly describe some European-funded UN missions as EU initiatives in disguise. Similarly, regional organisations, most notably the African Union (AU), are moving towards symbiotic relations with the EU. Even NATO’s vision and ambitions are being altered by European priorities and goals, difficult as the process may be.

These advances have given the EU a strategic reach far greater than its own assets warrant. The European Security Strategy’s appeal to “effective multilateralism” reflects this convergence of principle and influence. But as the Strategy implies, Europeans cannot be confident that the present international system is a sustainable mechanism through which to work. Many of its elements are indeed “broken”. The international situation is fluid, and many of its security institutions risk obsolescence. One reason that the EU has been able to reshape parts of those institutions is because they lack solidity in their own right.

The immediate reasons for this state of affairs are well-worn. The Cold War logic that shaped the UN and CSCE has gone. Although America was key to the 1945 settlement, it is not willing (nor necessarily able) to sustain such a pluralistic world order. But the situation cannot be blamed on American recalcitrance alone. There are more fundamental processes at work – these can be described in terms of three power-shifts:

1. From West to East and South
2. From states to individuals
3. From states to regional organisations

The first shift is geopolitical and economic. The present UN gives precedence to the great powers of the twentieth-century (the US and Russia) and the nineteenth (Britain and France). It cannot maintain its legitimacy and efficacy if it does not reflect the emergence of twenty-first century Asian powers such as and India, as well regional leaders including Brazil and South Africa. China, already a member of the Security Council is “reshaping the international order by introducing a new physics of development and power.”
But new physics aside, this is still a fairly the balance of power, one that will prove destabilising if the international system cannot be restructured to accommodate it. The
Security Strategy recognises the importance of these emergent powers, with its call “to develop strategic partnerships, with Japan, China, Canada and India as well as with all those who share our goals and values.” European leaders have gone further: Jacques Chirac has spoken of the need to include Japan, India and Brazil among the permanent members of the UN Security Council, while Gerhard Schroeder is working with this same trio to achieve Germany’s own aspirations in this regard. Even those who believe in a joint EU seat on the Security Council are inclined to frame their vision in terms of the new multipolarity.

But this focus on the balance of power obscures the two other, less traditional, power-shifts. A reform of the international order that concentrates on states would not be a real reform at all. The shift from states to individuals demands a more thorough systemic overhaul.

It is now politically unsustainable to prioritise the interests and rights of states over those of their subjects. The need to concentrate on individuals as victims has been set out in recent reports on the “Responsibility to Protect” and “Human Security”.2 But it is also linked to a less idealistic (and so, perhaps, more powerful) fear of individuals as threats. It is a compelling argument that “non-state actors” may pose the most serious threats we now face. These actors are not only terrorists, but include the large numbers of refugees that currently destabilise eastern Congo or the tribal leaders of Iraq. If international bodies cannot move to protect individuals and groups victimised by their own states, they will in turn face a proliferation of threats to their own mechanisms and legitimacy.

Europe is well-placed to take a lead in creating an order that prioritises individuals. In the 1980s, Communism was eroded in Eastern Europe by dissidents exploiting the human rights clauses of
Basket III of the Helsinki Final Act, a resonant example of individuals defying the state. Today, the European Court of Human Rights and European Court of Justice are potential models for the next generation of international justice. And the much-discussed “European Way of War” cannot be detached from our way with law – we are currently using the renegotiation of the Cotonou agreement to make our African partners commit to the International Criminal Court. Through using such legal instruments to mainstream rights norms, we may repeat Eastern Europe’s experience elsewhere.

But we should not overestimate either our capacity to achieve such transformations – or our legitimacy in doing so. Like the UN and other international organisations, we face political problems in both disciplining states and finding the assets necessary to protect the rights of individuals. This pamphlet contains a series of suggestions as to how some of these problems could be overcome within the UN system. It also reflects on the third power-shift now evident in the international order: that towards regional organisations.

In recent years, there has been a new impetus for regionalism: the
AU is only two years old, but it has proved ready to act on its charter’s promise that, “the right of the Union to intervene in a Member State pursuant to a decision of the Assembly in respect of grave circumstances, namely: war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.”3 In Asia, regionalisation of economics and security continues apace through the Asia Regional Forum, ASEAN, and strengthened links between China and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. Both within the UN and EU, this trend is seen as offering a new framework for building security – but serious questions of capacities and norms must be addressed if this potential is to be realised.

Again, Europe is clearly well-qualified to take a pioneering role in promoting regionalism. We already do so with instruments such as the African Peace Facility, designed to boost the AU’s peacekeeping operations. We must beware the danger of trying to shape other regional institutions too much in our own image, but the EU is a natural ally for those governments aiming to move beyond state-based politics. We must develop further concrete initiatives to give credibility to our vision of regionalism – this pamphlet’s authors outline the next steps we can take to this end.

If the international system can be transformed to encompass new powers, new rights and new organisations, it will survive into the twenty-first century. Ultimately, the EU needs this transformation for the sake of its internal coherence as well as its external reach. The
Union remains a treaty-based organisation, a creature of international law. If the bases of that law are strained to the point of disintegration, the impact on European politics could be great. The decline in our global influence would be precipitous.

Under these circumstances, the EU’s members and institutions must reinforce their commitment to making the international system work for all. Currently, too much European debate concentrates on questions such as those over permanent seats on the Security Council. This is a politically important question, but one that does not address the challenge of adapting international organisations to present power-shifts.

As Espen Barth Eide and Martin Ortega argue in this pamphlet, the real question regarding the Security Council is whether it can be made a force for democratisation and good governance, not a playground for European ambitions. More broadly, Europeans must ask themselves whether they can promote international co-operation to salvage Iraq and the conflict zones of Africa.4 These practical achievements would be major steps towards a truly global Europe, and this pamphlet is part of an agenda towards that end.

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