How do we adress the limitations of the international community?

One day, a great friend of mine asked me what the international community should do regarding the crisis between Hong Kong and China (the former being a semi-independent state from the latter). At first, I gave him a personal and emotional answer, but then I realized that passionate responses are mostly useless in these kinds of discussions. I should have based my arguments on a more solid foundation and considered the principles of international law. There is, however, an enormous vacuum in this context. International law is in fact unable to define the role of the international community in conflicts that are limited within the borders of sovereign states. Hence, when we approach the topic, we are confronted with opinion-based debates rather than fixed rules.

Nevertheless, I wanted to provide a more sophisticated answer to my friend and thus, I decided to do some further research. I structured my investigation around one main question that represented the starting point for the entire analysis. The question was: which international agency should play the role of representing the international community amid a border-limited dispute? The most intuitive answer is: the United Nations.

The United Nations 

According to the liberal theory of international relations (which argues that international institutions play a key role in cooperation among states), the United Nations is the international body requested to intervene on behalf of the international community in case of border-confined conflicts. Because of its global recognition, the UN is arguably the only organization legitimized to play a role during an internal dispute.

Even though this perspective seems promising, there are evident structural problems inside the UN which prevent it from ever becoming an institution allowed to intervene in national confrontations on a legal basis. The UN unifies hundreds of countries in one institution, but its security council is governed only by five of them, the well-known veto-powers: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Through the veto power, these countries can block any UN intervention if it challenges their political interests. The UN has faced the possibility of becoming a rule-based institution with the ability to play a significant role in national issues many times, but every attempt has failed miserably because of these dynamics.

For instance, Russia used its veto power against an intervention during the 1999 war in Kosovo. Regardless of the evident violations of human rights in this conflict, Russia blocked any intervention possibility merely because of its political alliance with the Milosevic regime, which was at the head of the Yugoslavian Republic and included Kosovo at the time.

Alternative solutions 

Acknowledging that the actions of the UN are largely limited by structural problems, raises the question as to who is legitimized to represent the international community in these cases. Theoretical and empirical evidence on this topic suggests two possible alternatives: coalitions of the states that have the largest military and economic power or regional actors. Both arguments are based on the assumption that these groups of states may be able to offer the best intervention in different ways. Powerful states have the economic and military power to pressure the country in question. However, many argue that this approach sustains the dominant position of the most powerful countries and maintains a global hierarchy, rather than addressing the real causes of many conflicts. Neighbouring countries, on the other hand, can exercise a stronger political and social influence on the critical country because of their strategic geographical position.

Even though these lines of thinking have their logic, they both fail to provide any kind of legitimacy to these exclusive groups of states that should theoretically represent the international community. Furthermore, the interventions of powerful or neighbouring states that have happened in the past (without a legal basis) have demonstrated that these options can be extremely dangerous. The ongoing crisis in Libya (where the involvement of powerful states such as Russia and France as well as regional actors such as Turkey, Egypt and Jordan is evident) represents a very unfortunate case.

Need for a new perspective

Taking everything into account, it seems that there are many issues related to the presence and activity of the international community in national conflicts. If institutions such as the UN are paralized because of internal, structural tensions, who has the legitimacy to get involved in a national conflict? Should foreign countries have the right to intervene in these disputes and if so based on what? We have seen that the intervention of the most powerful countries can actually cause more harm than good. Regional involvement can also be problematic, considering that neighbouring countries will always have their own agenda and are likely to seek to expand their influence in the area. Recent scholarship argues that there is a need for a more local approach to internal conflicts. However, in many cases the actors involved do not have sufficient resources or an efficient institutional framework to regulate internal conflict.

It seems that the dilemma of who should intervene is far from being solved. Perhaps the most ideal solution is a hybrid approach: the engagement of international institutions with local actors based on equality and collaboration. However, in order to avoid power imbalances one very important thing has to change: international institutions need to be reformed in a way that is inclusive, so that each member has the same amount of power, starting with the UN security council. By redefining the members and the role of the international community hopefully we will be able to find better solutions to global issues.


References

Nardin, Terry (2013): From Right to Intervene to Duty to Protect: Michael Walzer on Humanitarian Intervention. European Journal of International Law 24(1), 67-82. 

Pape, Robert A. (2012): When Duty Calls: A Pragmatic Standard of Humanitarian Intervention. International Security 37(1), 41-80. 

Pattison, James (2010): Humanitarian Intervention and the Responsibility to Protect. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press.

The tropical Trump without Trump: the future of Brazilian president Bolsonaro

Brazil and the United States have always maintained a close relationship, but during the presidency of Bolsonaro (also known as the tropical Trump) in Brazil and Trump in the US, the two countries collaborated even more intensively. For this reason, with Trump losing the election in November 2020, Brazilian president Bolsonaro has surely lost a key partner in the international scenario. However, the stability of his presidency seems to be unaffected by this event. 

An ability to overshadow criticism 

Over the last years, all sorts of scandals have been related to Bolsonaro and his way of doing politics. Controversial decisions and positions on many topics provoked criticism and protests from a varied mix of internal and external groups: from defenders of human and women’s rights, anti-racism associations to environmental organizations and protectors of indigenous societies. Bolsonaro’s presidency has faced so many challenges that it is practically impossible to record everything it went through. 

Nevertheless, each dispute involving Bolsonaro shares a common aspect: the ability of the president to largely overshadow criticisms. Brazil’s current president has manged to effectively avoid being truly confronted with issues that are likely to be problematic for his campaign. Did human and women’s rights in Brazil experience a true discussion? Did racism and the defense of indigenous groups in Brazil receive a deep analysis? Did a real debate regarding the protection of Brazilian nature rise? Bolsonaro and his strong, aggressive attitude guarantee that these kinds of topics are treated only superficially.

The focus is set on success instead 

On the other hand, each opportunity is deemed to be the right one to discuss success. Bolsonaro is perfectly conscious of this idea and thus, there is no situation where he does not underline some kind of victory. To support this argument, there is the very recent example of the government handouts given to the population in the north-east of Brazil in order to overshadow the crisis provoked by Covid-19. This manoeuvre received an enormous media coverage and the president became very popular in a region once opposed to him. 

However, this is not everything about this story. Bolsonaro also used the occasion to announce the promise of finishing the government’s infrastructural interventions in the region to counter water shortages. The statement was celebrated by the entire country, despite the fact that nothing has been completed regarding this required work. Bolsonaro could eventually gain even more supporters amid the Covid-19 crisis because of his great ability to keep the attention of the population on issues that benefit his campaign.

The future of the political career of Bolsonaro

Taking everything into account, the political future of Bolsonaro seems positive. Even though the politics of the tropical Trump resembled those of Trump himself (and we all know how this story ended), Bolsonaro is apparently far from losing the presidential office. Speculating about the future is, however, always a very difficult and to some extent useless task. Nevertheless, it is necessary to admit that the successful strategy adopted by Bolsonaro against those who oppose him is a real and strong fact supporting the possibility of a new Bolsonaro mandate in 2022. 


“Covid makes Brazil’s president Bolsonaro a hero to some”, BBC, 30th November 2020.

Uruguay – good things come in small packages

Throughout the entire geopolitical context of Latin America, democracy represents more of a theoretical concept rather than a real system. The ongoing socio-economic crisis, which has plagued the region since the ’60s, has tended to favor elements such as corruption and violence instead of modernization. In this scheme, however, Uruguay is the exception that confirms the rule. The country is known as the “Switzerland of Latin America”, firstly because of its particular banking regulations, but also due to its outstanding democratic circumstances. 

The democratic success of Uruguay is often explained by its size (176.2 km2). Surrounded by giant neighbors such as Brazil and Argentina, Uruguay is by far the smallest country of South America and one of the smallest countries of the entire Latin American region, where few cases present similar conditions. 

But why should the small area of Uruguay be favorable for democracy? The answer is to be found in Ancient Greece, where small communities of humans known as polis emerged and formed the first prototypes of a democratic society. The reduced dimensions of the polis made sure that everyone was close to each other and thus, more participative and accountable in the political debate. Nowadays Uruguay is much bigger than an Ancient Greek polis, but the principle is the same. In the country politicians and people are an indivisible unit and polity, politics, and policy are done by the people, and for the people. 

In the Uruguayan democracy, there is little room left for corruption and violence, whereas the focus is on modernization and anticipating the future needs dictated by the continuous evolution of society. Uruguay’s excellent management of the crisis provoked by Covid-19 represents a perfect example of this attitude. Immediately after the outbreak, the Uruguayan society moved unified into one precise direction and provided each inhabitant with flu vaccines, protective masks, and clear rules to follow.

The case of Uruguay should inspire extensive reflection and reactions from other Latin America’s contexts and further. In a world dominated by a desire for expansion and global domination, the democratic success of Uruguay effectively distorts this paradigm. 


Uruguay Country Profile, World Bank, 14 September 2020. 

Chile’s interminable journey towards democracy

In the last years, Chile was largely thought of as one of the most democratic and safe countries of the entire Latin American region. These important considerations had both been proven empirically and by research. Therefore, it was commonly understood that Chile had reached a sort of democratic stability and would no longer subjected to extreme changes.  

However, what happened approximately one year ago is common knowledge: Chile was overcome by an overwhelming wave of violent protests. These circumstances immediately provoked chaos and disruption in society and ultimately led to the end of the country’s democratic project and the worst socio-political crisis since the end of the Chilean military dictatorship in 1990. 

The main reasons behind the protests were the fight against injustice and inequality (unfortunately two always flourishing concepts in many Latin American countries, also in systems deemed to be democratically advanced). Nevertheless, these motives alone failed to fully explain the ferocity of the demonstrations as they could not completely answer the question as to what the Chilean people wanted to effectively achieve with these actions. 

After many months of violence and suffering, however, it looks like the ultimate goal of the protests is finally clear: Chile is searching for a complete separation from its difficult, dictatorial past. This is strongly illustrated by the impressive number of voters who support a new Chilean constitution. The latter is to be completely detached from the present document, which was approved during and by the military dictatorship.

The formulation of a new constitution is to be interpreted as the first step into a new era for Chile, where democracy is constructed on a solid base and not the result of a difficult transition from a military dictatorship. In these terms, the fact that this new democracy is deeply wanted by the people is a good sign for the Chilean project. 

Taking everything into account, the future finally seems bright for Chile. Therefore, it is even more important that no one takes democracy for granted. In the context of Latin America, this is an extremely fragile principle that needs meticulous and continuous attention.


Informes, Corporación Latinobarómetro, 25 October 2020. 

Quality of Democracy, Democracy Barometer, 27 October 2020. 

Angola – where the Cold War still is a silenced reality

Those who like investigating the meaning of countries’ flags will certainly be fascinated by the flag of Angola. The latter presents two parallel and horizontal stripes (red and black) which serve as background for the iconic, golden symbols of communism: the hammer and the sickle shown with the support of a star. 

On the one hand, it is quite easy to imagine that Angola, a colony of the Portuguese Empire until 1975, was directly involved in the Cold War between the communist block and Western society during the late 70s and throughout the 80s. On the other hand, it seems harder to understand the reason why Angola’s flag still possesses communist elements nowadays. 

However, this aspect becomes clearer if one considers the socio-political situation of Angola in the last decades. In the country, the Cold War between sustainers of communism and supporters of the Western model never ended and since the very beginning, it turned into an authentic civil war between the two opposite sides.  

Even though in the biennium 1990-1991 the Soviet Union collapsed and hostilities between the communist bloc and Western society ended, in Angola, the civil war did not finish and continues to negatively affect the life of the Angolan population, which suffers from brutalities, extreme poverty, and hunger. 

It is certainly possible to find many on-site criminals from this sad history. Nevertheless, it is particularly important to point out the following argument: the deplorable situation of Angola was and is completely ignored by the international community. No international actor sincerely stood up for Angola and warned the world of the Angolan catastrophe. Everything was covered in 2002 by a fake end of the civil war and now everything is concealed by the silence of the international community. 

This silence must finish now, the Angolan crisis must become central in international debates immediately! The international community must intervene to stop the spiral of hatred and violence that is destroying Angola and its population.