The power and influence of two major contemporary global actors – the United Nations and the International Criminal Court are both widely acclaimed and criticised. The United Nations is hamstrung with its unavoidable and inherent paradox of holding the preservation of state sovereignty as sacred, whilst counter-intuitively aiming to encourage international cooperation; which at times requires the restriction of state sovereignty to meet its aims to keep peace throughout the world, whilst also fulfilling its role as an institution of global governance in maintaining international peace and security. However, the United Nations has performed effectively to the best of its capability if you can appreciate the complexity of taking on such a colossal role and the challenges such a role faces; the United Nations is very much a quiet achiever. The International Criminal Court, however, is very much a ‘toothless tiger’, “a mosquito in the ear of an elephant” (as it was compared to by Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir). Not due to incompetence or bad administration, but due to its embryonic nature, as the newest institution of global governance in the global community, and the many hardships the International Criminal Court faces and the difficulties of tackling state sovereignty and the national interests of states that act unilaterally.
The United Nations carries the unavoidable burden of its inherent paradox that it was initially founded on. Due to this paradox, it is widely reliant on member-states to comply with UN requests, or on other member-states to pressure these states to comply. Because of this, the UN was completely sidelined during the United States invasion of the Republic of Iraq. Due to this paradox, to forcibly restrict the US from invading Iraq, would be an attack on their state sovereignty, by limiting the US’s ability to be externally independent in the international community and to follow their own national interest, which the very thing the UN has quite openly stated is sacred to states – and in doing this was consequently unable to uphold the sovereignty of the Republic of Iraq. This dilemma means the United Nations was unable to meet its role of maintaining peace and security, therefore making the UN powerless and not influential against superstates like the United States who have the power and influence to act unilaterally without consequence. However out of this, there is an idealistic and symbolic story of power and influence for the United Nations – the Bush administration was divided, on whether to go to the United Nations for permission to invade Iraq or to simply ignore the UN. The US did go to the UN, however, disregarded their declaration to refrain from invasion – however, both the Russian Federation and the French Republic were ready to veto the United Nations Security Council proposal from the US to invade Iraq. But surely, for the most powerful state in contemporary global politics, especially a state as patriotic as the US, to come to an institution of global governance, for permission to pursue their own national interest in invading Iraq, means the United Nations does hold some significance and, if anything, symbolic power and influence in global politics.
The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine, adopted by the United Nations Generally Assembly, gives states the ‘right’ to intervene in the domestic affairs of other states when they are not able to meet the needs of their citizens, forfeiting their sovereignty – in this case, Muammar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi in the Libyan Arab Republic. The ability of the United Nations to allow member-states to engage in humanitarian and armed intervention means it is successfully meeting its aim to keep peace throughout the world, and also to be a centre for harmonising the actions of nations to achieve these goals. Therefore making the United Nations both powerful and influential. However, there are some criticisms for this specific case study and the R2P doctrine as a whole. The military action by NATO with the aim to kill or unseat Gaddafi, or to support a rebel victory violates the legal terms of the UN Resolution 1973, nor is it permissible under the moral first principles of the R2P doctrine, and no other R2P-style campaign has been implemented in any other state where similar atrocities are still being committed, such as Bahrain and Yemen (US allies) and Syria (RU allies), implying this is just neo-imperialism and that R2P is only used selectively when it does not violate the national interests of the permanent five member-states in the UNSC with the ability to veto any decision (i.e. the United States, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, the French Republic and the People’s Republic of China). In saying this, however, the UN has met its aim of discontinuing human rights atrocities through this Libyan case study through the use of R2P, making it both powerful and influential.
The International Criminal Court has not achieved any of its aims to a great extent, nor fulfilled its role, making the ICC quite powerless and not influential. The ICC has most definitely had an emphasis on the African Continent when attempting to prosecute crimes of aggression, war crimes and crimes against humanity – especially those sates in the African Union, who see the ICC as yet another imperialist vehicle. The ICC has failed to pursue individuals potentially guilty of similar atrocities in other regions, seeing it have quite a bias towards Africa. This makes the ICC not powerful nor influential, as it relies on states to hand over the accused, meaning the ICC has a real lack of enforcement power – like the issuing of a police warrant without any police. In the case of Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the ICC was also unable to bring the accused to trial due to a lack of enforcement power, as the state of Libya would much rather have justice and retribution seen at their own hand.
As an institution of global governance, the United Nations is as powerful and influential to the point that its inherent paradox allows it to be, with a web of national interests from member-states that constantly undermine the role and aims of the UN. But if you can appreciate the complexity of the ambitious goals the United Nations sets itself, the UN is relatively quite powerful and influential, as a viable institution. The ICC on the other hand, is not powerful or influential, its lack of enforcement power means the institution has no more power, if any, than a domestic court, and relies solely on other states for power and influence, however this can be attributed to the embryonic nature of the institution, and with luck we will see the ICC gain more power and influence over time.
Ethan James Hunt
VCE Global Politics Unit 3
Catherine McAuley College
Approximately 30 minutes allocated time
A4 summary sheet allowed
Evaluate the power and influence of the United Nations and the International Criminal Court in the twenty-first century.