The Breakdown Of International Cooperation

Submitted by Erico Tavares of Sinclair & Co

The Breakdown Of International Cooperation

Some of the major problems that humanity faces today transcend borders, and as such international cooperation is of vital importance. But recent events make such cooperation increasingly more challenging.

Without going into the wisdom of the decision, sanctions imposed on Russia over its foreign policy in Ukraine have a wide range of implications that go much beyond the economic sphere. For one, international dialogue is breaking down fast; just this week Russian President Vladimir Putin unceremoniously left the G20 meeting early.

Inevitably, this will have repercussions on major international cooperation initiatives, perhaps irreversibly in some cases. Here are a few notable examples:

Non-Proliferation, Arms Control and Disarmament

It is in no one’s interest that nuclear weapons go rogue. But the fear – or threat – of this happening can still carry some negotiating leverage.

Russia recently signed an agreement to build two more nuclear reactors in Iran, with the possibility of building another six. All reactors will be monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency, with all uranium fuel supplied by Russia and then taken back for reprocessing to prevent Iran from using the spent fuel to produce atomic weapons.

So far, so good. However, the insistence of one of the most fossil fuel rich countries in the world, ruled by a strict theocracy whose leaders regularly demonize the West, to have nuclear power has to raise some suspicion.

And out in the Far East, North Korea, China’s de facto buffer zone against core US allies in the region, is rattling its nuclear saber once again, this time in response to a damning United Nations report stating that the country’s regime is unparalleled in its human rights violations in the contemporary world.

Given the ongoing diplomatic malaise, Western nations may be increasingly forced to deal with these issues on their own.

Fighting International Terrorism and Crime

Rhetorical question: do rising international tensions and conflict promote or lessen international terrorism? It’s rhetorical because the answer is obvious, yet again exemplified by the latest Middle East SNAFU.

Russia supports the Assad regime in Syria, and in response the US and its allies are arming the opposing rebels. However, these opposition forces have gradually coalesced into a much more lethal force with its own fundamentalist agenda: ISIS. The rise of this organization, well armed and with the capability to recruit many fighters across major European countries, shows how things can spin out of control very quickly. Al-Qaeda are amateurs compared to these guys.

It is hard to fathom how ISIS will go away under the current state of affairs. If they prevail in Syria and Iraq they’ll just keep going; if not they may just go underground. They certainly seem to have the funds and the weapons to do a lot of damage in any of those scenarios, possibly much more than any of their terrorist counterparts - just when a broad international consensus needed to tackle them will be lacking.

Climate Change

As the world’s largest fourth carbon dioxide emitter, Russia has never been a fan of international agreements to tackle climate change. Back in 2003, Putin had stated that his country would not ratify the Kyoto protocol because its underlying rationale was “scientifically flawed”.

However, Russia’s position changed (according to less congenial rumors) once they figured out how much money they could make by selling carbon credits from the “savings” related to the collapse of Soviet-era industries – mainly to Europeans, who preferred to use them instead of having to implement more onerous measures on their own domestic industries.

Enlisting Russia’s support to reduce carbon emissions will likely become a much harder sell going forward. Its geopolitical allies may follow suit, and pretty soon the whole effort might become pointless, particularly if it ends up being confined mainly to advanced economies.

Top-15 Carbon Dioxide Emitters in 2013 (MM tons)
Source: BP World Energy Review.

Moreover, it’s abundantly clear that in the current environment nobody will pull back on the regular deployment of carbon intensive military equipment, much of which is excluded from international climate accords in any event. It will take a miracle to achieve any meaningful reductions across the board over the foreseeable future.

Millennium Development Goals

The Millennium Project was commissioned by the United Nations Secretary-General in 2002 to develop an action plan for the world to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and to reverse the grinding poverty, hunger and disease affecting billions of people.

These goals are as follows: (1) eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; (2) achieve universal primary education; (3) promote gender equality and empower women; (4) reduce child mortality; (5) improve maternal health; (6) combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; (7) ensure environmental sustainability; (8) develop a global partnership for development.

Last year, the UN secured additional commitments to enhance efforts to make progress in these areas, bringing the total to more than US$2.5 billion. At first blush this may seem like a lot of money; but let’s compare that to how much the world spent on the military in 2013: over US$1.7 trillion.

It is a real tragedy that still in the 21st century mankind’s priorities are so shockingly skewed. And unfortunately there’s no sign that this will reverse any time soon. Each dollar spent on arming a Syrian or Ukrainian rebel is a dollar not spent on reducing debilitating poverty or child mortality.

Outside of a major world war, never has the future of the global society been so dependent on the cooperation of so many. This makes the current state of affairs all the more depressing.