Survival of the Fittest: International Organizations vs. National Interest — Osama Mohamed

United Nations High Commission for Refugees, Betts argues, expanded its mandate over time in spite of states’ national interest. He explains that the reason for UNHCR mandate expansion is the strong leadership that is represented in the High Commissioner. Although this might be true, UNHCR mandate expansion cannot be used as a case to generalize the expansion of international organizations mandate. My main argument in this piece is that international organizations’ degree of freedom of action depends on the issue it is established for. On the one hand, organizations that are established around issues representing states’ national interest (i.e. security and economic matters) have less freedom of action than organizations that are concerned with non-political matters (i.e. humanitarian, culture etc.). Even with organizations that are mainly established around non-political matters, if it comes across a political issue, it would be vulnerable to states’ will.

As I mentioned above, international organizations that work around sensitive issues, such as security, are usually subjected to heavy control by states. United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) is a clear example for this. A combination of U.S. internal politics and European powers’ incentive to free-ride led not just to the failure of the mission, but to endanger UN soldiers that were sent to Rwanda. The failure of U.S. in Somalia a year before the Rwandan Genocide created fear among U.S. officials of losing more soldiers and led the American government to refuse to take any action to stop the genocide or to expand the mandate of UNAMIR in Rwanda. Some might argue that UNAMIR stayed in Rwanda in spite of the international community order to leave. Although this is true, in reality understaffed and abandoned UNAMIR was completely paralyzed and unable to take any action to preserve the peace in Rwanda. In summary, UNAMIR was vulnerable to individual states’ national interest.

Now we turn to organizations that have no political nature and are established to deal with non-political issues. I agree with Betts that UNHCR along with similar organizations (i.e. UNESCO) are freer to act on their own merit. The reason this is the case is that these organizations deal with issues that do not jeopardize states’ vital interest. Another reason is that, especially with humanitarian organizations, it is extremely hard for states to argue against their activites because if states do, they will be accused of immoral behavior. However if non-political organizations came across a political issue, they will be subjected to power politics. The UNESCO recognition of Palestine is a perfect example for this. On October 15th 2011 UNESCO approved Palestine as a full member state to the organization. Days after this the U.S. government announced that it will withhold a $60 million dollars payment to the organizations. Canada followed the U.S. and withheld some of its donations too. Although UNESCO does not have any political nature, the admission of Palestine contained a political component (the Israeli-Palestine conflict), which caused the organization to be vulnerable to power politics and to lose some of its budget.

To sum this, I agreed with Betts that UNHCR along with other non-politically oriented international organizations have easier time acting on their own. However my reasoning is different from Betts. I argue that the determinant of how free to act or to expand an organization is depends on the issue it is established around and vulnerable to states’ national interest. I supported my argument with examples from international organizations such as UNAMIR and UNESCO and showed how the issues at hand effect the degree of interference by states in the affairs of a given international organization.

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