All posts tagged United Nations

ReSeT Working Paper: Power and UN Sanctions Policy

Posted by / 24th March 2014 / Categories: Reports / Tags: , , / -

Many students of international sanctions recognize some sort of progress of sanctions as coercive tools. In this essay I attempt to look beyond the issue of economic effectiveness, and into the origins of sanctions; the sources of power that decide under which circumstances UN sanctions should be imposed and that decide which should be the objectives of UN sanctions policy. This leads us to ask another set of questions: How can UN sanctions create international security? Which threats to security should be sanctioned? Who are the usual suspects? And who is deemed fit to play the role of sheriff? In this essay I look at the history of UN sanctions policy in order to answer two questions. (1) How have sanctions changed? And (2) Why did sanctions change?

In the first part of the essay I will show that sanctions have not only become better at undermining targets economically, but that the norms and values that surround sanctions policy have also changed substantially. The power of institutions and ideas has been especially strong in determining when sanctions may be imposed. Throughout history, UN sanctions have been imposed for increasingly ambitious goals with regard to ideas such as racial equality, human security, and liberal democracy. As tools of an ever more precise machine, UN sanctions help to terminate conflicts and to protect human rights, and even to construct a sustainable liberal peace.

In the second part I will explain that the ideas behind UN sanctions policy have become so institutionalized in global governance that one would almost consider them as mere bureaucratic functions, free of power. However, the ideas that are embedded in UN sanctions policy were forwarded by someone and for something. Why did these ideas about sanctions, and not other ideas, become institutionalized? I will show that the norms and values surrounding UN sanctions are not only projections of power, but also reflections of constitutive power. The ideas that dominate contemporary UN sanctions policy were not god-sent or the product of exact science; they were created by people with histories, needs, and beliefs.

To read the whole text in pdf format, please click here.


Sanctions against Russia: How far will they go?

Posted by / 24th March 2014 / Categories: Analysis / Tags: , , , / -

Talk about sanctions on Russia has been tough this week. Both the United States and the European Union have been tightening screws on Russia in an attempt to reverse Russia´s annexation of Crimea. EU sanctions now include 33 highly placed individuals with close relations to Vladimir Putin and that were involved in the takeover of the Crimean peninsula after the ousting of the Ukrainian ex-president Yanukovych. The list now largely overlaps with the American list, which also includes three very close figures from Putin´s inner circle, something which the EU had not been willing to do so far. Both the EU and US have also opened doors to allow for economic sanctions against core parts of the Russian economy, such as the oil and gas industry. This would hurt Russian exports, but will surely also affect gas supplies to Europe, and potentially the global economy in general.

The efforts to bring Crimea back to the Ukraine are almost certainly in vain, but at least the sanctions send out a strong message of disapproval, and they hit Putin and the Russian political and economical elite where it hurts…or do they? What are the EU and US trying to achieve? Which sanctions have been imposed so far? And will they put their money where their mouth is?

Choose your objectives wisely

Sanctions have been imposed in the past for various reasons. They have been imposed to reverse the policies of targeted countries, be they acts of territorial aggression, coup d´état´s, or human rights abuses. But they can also be imposed simply to signal disapproval and outrage, or to deter other potential wrongdoers from breaking the law, and to deter the target at hand from going further down the road. Russia unlikely to be compelled to give up Crimea, but the US and EU sanctions can at least put the bear back in its cage.

When sanctions were instituted in the League of Nations, Woodrow Wilson proclaimed that comprehensive economic sanctions would bring ´a type of pressure upon targets that no modern nation would be able to resist´. Territorial aggression would be reversed without the use of a single soldier. Of course reality turned out to be much different; sometimes they were poorly implemented and hopelessly ineffective. In cases such as Iraq and Haiti on the other hand, they were disproportionally harsh on innocent civilians, who starved to death as results of food shortages. Since the late 1990s the strategy thus shifted towards targeting individuals and banks, in order to disturb only the interests of those in power.

Reversing the policies of targeted countries through the sole means of individual sanctions is difficult, especially when the target is a superpower like Russia. Putin is unlikely to be sufficiently impressed by asset freezes and travel sanctions to suddenly give up Crimea, even if the sanctions target people in his inner circle like deputy prime minister Dimitry Rogozin and presidential advisors. The Ukraine has lost the peninsula and they will most likely not get it back. It seems like a shut and closed case. But can the sanctions at least serve other purposes?

In the past, sanctions have also been used simply to express disapproval or outrage about certain practices. Sanctions stand between statements and soldiers. The first two sanctions regimes imposed by the United Nations on white minority regimes in Southern Rhodesia and South Africa were hardly impressive economically, but at least they signalled a strong message of disapproval. White Africans certainly felt this pariah-status heavily on their shoulders. The European and American sanctions on Russia are likely to have a similar effect. They also stand between words and wars, to use a different alliteration. They might not change the status of Crimea, but at least Russia will feel that a large part of the (western) world disapproves of their actions.

A third and arguably the most important reason to impose sanctions is to warn other countries that certain actions don´t go unpunished. Punishing one target can deter others from behaving outside of international law or outside of international public opinion. For example, the sanctions on Iran and North Korea might not talk them out of continuing their nuclear programmes, but at least it can scare off other states. In a similar vein, generals plotting a coup d´état might think twice before taking action. In the Crimea crisis, the sanctions also signal that Russia should not try to further destabilize the Ukraine or to embark on other geopolitical adventures. NATO officials are concerned that Putin has also put his eye on Transnistria, a Russian speaking secessionist region of Moldova that borders the south-west of Ukraine.

Will the EU and US put their money where their mouth is?

So far, the European and American lists include highly placed government officials, army-sector figures, and the owners of Russia´s biggest industries. Sanctioned politicians include Russian deputy prime minister Rogozin, presidential advisors Glazyev and Surkov, Duma-chairman Slutsky, Crimean ´prime-minister´ Aksyonov, and Ukrainian ex-president Yanukovych. The asset freezes have also hit Bank Rossiya, assumed to be Putin´s bank, and Arkadi Rotenberg and Gennady Timchenko, two of Russia´s most powerful businessmen.

The screws can be drawn even tighter on Russia if it doesn´t back down. So far the measures have included exclusion from the G8 talks that were supposed to be organized in Sochi this summer and a failed resolution at the UN Security Council. A next step would be to isolate Russia economically through the imposition of sanctions on oil and gas from Russia. However, Europe would certainly feel the measures of this double edged sword. Putin is already looking to the East for alternative trading partners, and China seems eager to sign a deal to buy more natural gas from Russia. The warming relationship between Russia and its eastern neighbours could also facilitate military contracts.

In the short run, a gas-embargo would definitely hurt the Russian economy though. Almost all of Russia´s natural gas go to Europe (89%), most notably Eastern Europe (24%) and Germany (24%). A sudden stop would most certainly disrupt the Russian economy, but it would also threaten global economic stability, primarily in Europe itself. Europe is equally dependent on Russia. Denmark, Norway, the UK, and the Netherlands produce some small amounts of natural gas, and they import LNG from countries such as Algeria, Quatar, and Nigeria, but the biggest supplier of gas remains Russia, especially in Eastern Europe and Germany. Would Europe be willing to go that far? It´s not likely. The Spanish have already complained that a Russian travel embargo would hurt the tourism sector. Other ´dove countries´ (Italy, Cyprus) even had trouble with the targeted sanctions on some individuals close to Putin, favouring a diplomatic solution. Hawk countries in the European such as the UK, Poland, and the Baltic states favour a tougher stand, but even they are likely to back down when it comes to economic sanctions.

For now, both the US and the EU can keep on tightening the screws on Russia by freezing the assets of more individuals and by prohibiting European and American citizens from doing business with Russian oligarchs. As long as such actions prove sufficient to keep Russia from further destabilizing the Ukraine, the western sanctions should be regarded a success. Russia chooses its battles carefully, and so should the EU and the US.

You may also be interested in reading the ReSeT Working Paper: Power and UN Sanctions by the same author.


The Arctic Indigenous Peoples – the politics of climate change

Posted by / 30th January 2014 / Categories: Analysis / Tags: , , / -

The US, by a country mile, has been the world’s biggest contributor to greenhouse gasses, but the cast of the dice has fated the Arctic as the region most severely effected by the resulting climate change. In January the global media buzzed with well warranted concern as a polar vortex wreaked havoc across the US. Dozens of Federal warnings hailed an unprecedented deep freeze posing an economic chill and risk to life. What though of the deeper and more pervasive impact of Arctic climate change on the lifestyles and livelihoods the 400,000 indigenous inhabitants of the polar region?

The UN offers a series of defining criteria for indigenous and tribal people which build on principles of self-identification and of historical continuity with pre-colonial or pre-settler societies. Additionally the criteria include important reference to the special and intimate relationship between indigenous peoples and their environments. This co-existence explains why indigenous culture is especially vulnerable to environmental change.

Given the inhospitable climate, the Arctic is not blessed with a diverse ecosystem – infertile soils, scant rain, hectic winds and short days support only limited and uniform vegetation. In turn, the few inhabiting fauna are relatively specialised and, in general terms abundant. The narrowness of life makes for an ecosystem that is unstable and vulnerable to shocks; explaining why the pace and scale of Arctic climate change is so alarming. In the last few decades Arctic temperatures increased twice as much as global averages. Each aspect of change presents as particular threats to particular species. For example, melting sea ice on which polar bears and walruses are dependent, is driving dramatic declines in their populations. However specific threats have general impact, given high levels of Arctic interdependence, spreading troubles like tumbling dominos through the ecosystem and beyond. Shifts in the region’s climate and ecology question the prospect of sustaining indigenous culture including livelihoods.

Indigenous peoples make up around 10% of the population of the Arctic. Comprising many – historically, economically and culturally – distinct populations. In Russia there are numerous indigenous groups including the Saami, Evenk, and Chucki. Alaska is home to the Inupiat, Yup’ik and Aleut. With Inuit living in the Canadian Arctic and in Greenland. This differentiation suggests no single, monochrome impact will arise from a changing climate. No one outcome, no predictable course that can be planned for in neat documents authored from the capitals of the Arctic states. Impacts crisscross traditional livelihoods; the mainstream economy; physical infrastructure; cultural and social organisation; and health. Nothing is untouched as ice melts; waters rise and warm; snow, wind, rain and storm conditions change or intensify, temperature variations exaggerate; coast lines erode; and permafrost melts. Whether herding reindeer, hunting seal, fishing in Arctic waters, foraging for forest berries or selling skills and labour in the formal economy all bets are off.

Take a single example of ringed seal hunting. Since seals are dependent on pack ice -playing an important habitat for rearing pups – their populations are in decline and moving. Hunters need to travel further distances, for longer, in more dangerous, less predictable weather. Carrying more supplies and equipment over ice that is less secure and in a landscape that is increasingly unidentifiable by traditional landmarks. Dog-pulled sleighs have to be exchanged for snowmobiles – expensive to buy and maintain and, unlike Huskies, not equipped with a natural ability to detect thin ice. Traditional methods for drying and storing meat are now less dependable.

It is however disingenuous only to stress negative impacts, however deep and far reaching they may seem. There are plenty of positives too that can be offered; increases in some caribou herds, fish species migrating to warming Northern waters to name a couple. Also there is the question of perception, whose opinion determines whether change is good or bad? Climate change opens doors to large-scale economic multi-sectoral growth. Opportunities in oil, gas and mineral exploration and extraction, shipping, fishing, forestry, tourism and public administration. It is for Arctic people, expressing their pluralism, to weigh up prospects for jobs, income and portable skills against risks of pollution, land grab, economic exploitation, urbanisation and traditional decline.

Economic and cultural transition is not new to the Arctic, it is the increasing rate of change that makes the eyes water. Seasonal variation of the climate is part of Arctic life and has always required adaptability. Arctic peoples have needed to vary diet, place and type of settlement, hunting, gathering and herding patterns. Historically variable weather patterns however need to be anchored in the broader context of change arising from interaction with and the influence of non-indigenous populations. From at least the beginning of the 20th Century state policies have impinged on indigenous ways of life. New foods and lifestyles,  diseases, technology; increasing integration with the national and global economy, and policy directives relating to land rights, settlements and education. These have led to shifts in family structure – away from multi-generational groups, declines in the use of indigenous languages, population concentration and permanent settlement based on private not communal ownership.

The word poverty was absent from the Arctic indigenous lexicon, as it had been possible, until relatively recently, for people to live sustainably from solely traditional livelihoods. For indigenous peoples now, a mixed (traditional and mainstream) economy is the norm with few to able live off the mainstream economy alone and vice versa. This illustrates the risk that people will go hungry where the rate of decline in traditional livelihoods is not perfectly matched by growth in new forms of employment. The timing and nature of the on-going transition from a traditional to mainstream economy and the willingness to accept this will determine whether humanitarian-scale disaster – population displacement as opposed to opted mobility, and forced abandonment of indigenous culture as opposed to willing cultural change – will occur.

The choice implied here is a political project and not one that Arctic people are blind too. Campaigning and advocacy by vocal indigenous elites has been met part of the way by the democratic processes of Arctic states – the seven Arctic states with indigenous peoples are all democracies, long-standing except in the case of Russia.

This political discourse has delivered some impressive gains towards increasing political empowerment of indigenous peoples. The range and depth of these gains varies as much as the local political environments vary for different indigenous groups. The Inuit majority in Greenland looks to independence from Denmark and have secured significant political autonomy propped up by financial subsidies from Copenhagen. Various models for decentralised self-government or increasing political voice within existing systems have been adopted – for example, the sitting of Saami Parliaments across the Scandinavian Arctic and the establishment of Nunavut as new Canadian territory in 1999. Russia is further behind, with indigenous civil society structures only really developing in the post-communist period to challenge population concentration policies and expropriation of traditional lands for industrial projects. At an international level, the indigenous peoples’ agenda has been strengthened through participation in the Arctic Council and through the establishment of the Inuit Circumpolar Council.

In parallel to the political project comes a struggle for recognition of human rights – in this context both individual rights and the more illusive collective rights, such as a right to dispose of natural resources. Article 14 of the International Labour Organisation’s Convention 169 considers land rights of indigenous peoples, but only 20 countries have ratified this and of the Arctic states only Denmark and Norway. Additionally, the Human Rights Committee established Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This creates an obligation on Arctic states to protect the identity of minorities and their traditional ways of life and livelihoods. Finally, although not binding, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples reinforces collective, individual and political rights promoting ‘full and effective participation in all matters that concern them and their right to remain distinct and to pursue their own visions of economic and social development’

Land ownership as well as mineral, fishing and grazing rights hold a key to the future. Greater progress here would strengthen the hand of indigenous minorities providing real currency to negotiate with governments or with transnational corporations hoping to negotiate mining concerns in lieu of deals for the use of local labour, suppliers contracts, infrastructure and social development programmes. Progress here is also differentiated, Norway, living up to the ILO convention, has created a complicated system to recognise Saami rights to land and water, but this is the exception not the rule.

The writing is on the wall for climate change. Successive failures of the international community to rise above the platitudes of Kyoto and produce a binding low-carbon future is testament to this. The resilience of Arctic peoples is well documented, but can they withstand the seismic change that comes? It is tempting, from a Western perspective, to construct a narrative of victim for Arctic indigenous peoples. The reflex is to then ask what can we do, putting aside good intention, this is ultimately the wrong question. If the future for Arctic people is built on the ashes of traditional culture and livelihoods -a new sedentary, urbanised lifestyle grown on an integrated economy of civil servants, oil tycoons, construction workers or holiday reps – it is for the Arctic people to embrace it, reject it, or re-imagine it.