Defining the UN-sphere

by | Sep 14, 2010


I’ve just returned from a very interesting presentation at the International Peace Institute (of movie fame).  Christoph Mikulaschek was outlining the first results of a long-running project of new research on the UN Security Council and civil wars.  You can download the findings here.  I was struck by this passage:

Between 1989 and 2006, the Security Council engaged in the resolution of a growing portion of civil wars. At the same time, it did not address a single resolution to seventeen of the forty-four civil wars that were ongoing during this period (39 percent).

During the first eighteen years following the Cold War, the Security Council tended to engage more quickly and more actively with civil wars in Africa and Europe than those in the Americas and Asia. Between 1989 and 2006, 59 percent of all civil wars took place in Africa and Europe, but the Security Council addressed 88 percent of its civil-war related demands to warring factions in these two regions. The civil wars that figured most prominently on the active agenda of the Security Council in this period were those in Angola, Bosnia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Georgia.

Countries whose civil wars were addressed by Security Council resolutions tended to be less populous and have less military capacity than civil-war-affected states in which the Council did not undertake such  efforts. There was almost no difference between the level of economic development of civil-war-affected countries addressed by Security Council resolutions and those that were not.

There’s nothing wildly unexpected in these results, although I was really struck by the point about the relative irrelevance of economic development to Security Council engagement in wars (I would previously have guessed, along with your average bar-room Leftist, that the UN would interfere more heavily in poor countries’ fights).

But this overview – and the details in the main IPI report – left me wondering whether we couldn’t outline the borders of a “UN-sphere”.  Mark Leonard of ECFR once coined the term “Eurosphere” to describe those countries where EU has clout. The UN-sphere is  the geopolitical space in which the Security Council is (or, in the Balkans, was) a major force in regulating security affairs. IPI’s resesrch suggests that this boils down to Europe, Africa and  outlying islands like Haiti and East Timor.  If you played with the parameters of the study you’d bring in the Middle East.  But it excludes most of the Americas and, critically given global power shifts, virtually all of Asia.

There are lots of ways of explaining this sphere.  One, mentioned by Christoph at IPI today, is the fact that European states are over-represented on the Security Council.  The Council thus concentrates on places that worry the Euros, like their own continent and former colonies in Africa.  In this sense, the UN-sphere and the Eurosphere are actually rather similar spaces.  This argument doesn’t take America’s leading role in the Council into account, however.  Still, it does raise some interesting questions about how Security Council reform would affect the UN’s priorities.

Yesterday, I gave a few quotes for a Deutsche Welle article about Germany’s continuing desire for a permanent seat on the Security Council:

“Germany has to be realistic that, while its bid for a permanent seat is taken seriously, it’s actually peripheral to the question of whether India and Japan should get such seats.”

“The reasons are geopolitical: if India and Japan were in the Council full-time, it could become a serious center for debate on Asian security issues. It’s not clear whether China wants that. Germany’s presence would probably change the dynamics of the Council rather less. But it’s very hard to imagine a reform process that gave Germany a permanent seat but exclude India. That would be political and historical lunacy.”

But if you do let, say, India and Brazil into the Council full-time, would its geographical focus change? Would it continue to prioritize the Euro-African “UN-sphere”? Or would it take on other priorities?  Or just grind to a halt?

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