A UN peacekeeping vehicle on patrol in Lebanon. Photo: iStock
A UN peacekeeping vehicle on patrol in Lebanon. Photo: iStock

report issued by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) in 2000 documented almost 30 major armed-conflicts in 25 countries around the globe in the late 1990s. In 1999, the majority of conflicts occurred in Asia and Africa.

To address the security concerns of developing countries, the major powers must look at the problem from five different perspectives.

First, they must work towards fulfilling a vision of an egalitarian world order that can prevent humanitarian crises in the long term. A long-term and holistic perspective on humanitarian crises focuses on the inegalitarian international economic and social order as a significant source of intrastate conflicts that engenders poverty, inequality and discrimination, and causes disorder within developing countries, paving the way for authoritarian rulers filling the vacuum.

In this context, the UN needs to play a pivotal role in economic affairs based on the comprehensive notions of security, primarily because its charter treats all member countries as equal, despite differences in economic and military strength. Most of the economic functions now performed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) need to be brought under the purview of the UN because economically and militarily powerful countries have institutionalized their economic privileges over the weaker ones in these global financial institutions.

Second, socio-economic and cultural aspects of human life must be considered as important as military and defense concerns.

Third, emphasis must be placed on achieving peace through persuasion, negotiation and moderation before switching to military means (to be used as a last resort). It can be argued that even while the powerful developed countries of the globe have involved themselves in various UN peacekeeping activities, they have demonstrated a power-centric approach towards these.

However, the increasing number of intra-state conflicts accompanied by a steep decline in inter-state conflicts needs to be seen from a human security perspective – embracing security as a comprehensive concept rather than a militaristic notion. Concerns about societal stability and approaches based on a socio-economic and cultural understanding of conflict-ridden societies are imperative.

Fourth, the issues of failed and rogue states must be addressed before they arise and the doctrine of humanitarian intervention is invoked. There are far too many cases of sophisticated weapons systems supplied by great powers being misused by rogue states. A human security perspective, in this context, requires continued extreme caution and an understanding of the implications of such military contracts for the security of human beings, as well as long-term measures that can address the problems of failed and rogue states.

Fifth, constructive debates must continue in an effort to reconcile the conflicting claims of sovereignty and human rights.

Owing to the complex and volatile nature of intra-state conflicts, the efforts of the UN have involved the provision of humanitarian assistance during conflicts and post-conflict state-building exercises. American and other Western troops showed an unwillingness to study the socio-economic conditions of Somali society during UN operations in the country, perhaps due to their preoccupation with a militaristic understanding of security.

Further, the widely publicized loss of 18 American soldiers during a humanitarian mission in Mogadishu to facilitate the delivery of aid during the civil war led to Rwanda, another African state, being left to its fate when it faced a major humanitarian crisis. Washington’s reluctance to get involved has become known as “Somalia bodybag syndrome.” 

Great powers’ missions abroad have been conceived more as counter-terrorism or regime-change operations than long-term socio-economic engagements. The difficulties in managing post-war situations in Iraq and Afghanistan highlighted the importance of long-term socio-economic engagement and the problematic nature of overreliance on military operations.

Great powers’ missions abroad have been conceived more as counter-terrorism or regime-change operations than long-term socio-economic engagements

UN initiatives in the post-Cold War period have often been more punitive in nature, with more frequent use of economic and military sanctions, as seen in Iraq, the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria. The need for quick action and a lack of unanimity within the UN Security Council motivated (and gave tacit legitimacy to) the security organizations of the developed countries such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and global powers such as the US to take immediate steps in order to address situations around the globe.

However, differences in approach between the UN, which largely represents the developing countries, and NATO, which represents the developed ones, were palpable in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The differences in institutional perspectives on the use of military power between the UN and NATO were clear when NATO stressed the effective application of military power even when used in a limited fashion, but the UN emphasized optimal restraint.

It was the 9/11 attacks on the American mainland that prompted the US to intervene militarily in Afghanistan. Washington had ignored the civil war ravaging the country and the human rights violations committed by the Taliban regime until then because it considered it a stabilizing force. The hardline regime was helping to advance US geo-strategic interests by assisting it in laying down the alternative Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (TAP) pipeline bypassing Iran and Russia.

In the case of Libya, it was argued that the Western-led intervention completely overlooked the African Union’s position. The bloc had called for mediation between Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and the revolutionaries. The Western coalition’s quick intervention was allegedly a premeditated action driven by US national security concerns following 9/11 and its desire to increase its penetration into Africa’s energy sector, which faced stiff resistance from Gaddafi’s longstanding anti-Western stance.

In Syria, rebel groups reportedly received official support from the US, but Washington’s attention shifted to ISIS, and presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump both indicated that the American operation against the militant group would be a surgical one primarily conducted with airstrikes without any long-term deployment of ground troops. It was apparent that the US was not concerned about questions related to the instability of the Syrian state and society, and the Trump administration ended Syrian stabilization funding.  

While the adoption of a human security perspective can go a long way in bridging the gaps between developed and developing countries on security, a reformed UN Security Council could provide the multilateral body with the requisite mechanisms to check the hegemonic tendencies of the world’s most powerful countries. A reformed and strengthened UN could check the militaristic approach of the powerful countries, which is often expressed through security organizations like NATO.

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