Tuesday 01 April 2014

Today’s global strategic landscape includes more than nations; International Governmental Organizations (IGOs) – groups composed of sovereign states – are assuming a critical role on the world stage. Understanding the power and influence of these organizations will be vitally important for the UAE to ensure its security in the coming decades.

IGOs (not including nongovernmental organizations such as nonprofits or corporations) are distinct from coalitions (like the G8) because they are established by treaties that serve as their charters. IGOs also differ from simple treaty groupings (such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) which do not establish any organizational structure and rely only on the member nation for their administration. Also, not all IGOs are global like the UN and the World Trade Organization (WTO); regional organizations such as the European Union (EU), the African Union (AU), the GCC, and the Arab League (AL) are gaining important influence.

IGOs can act in the name of their member states; their institutions are permanent; and, perhaps most usefully, they facilitate multilateral cooperation. Unfortunately, they also tend to cause nations to cede some sovereignty, potentially weakening national authority. Occasionally, inequality among members can also allow powerful states to misuse these organizations. Even so, IGOs can develop procedures to settle disputes and can punish those who break rules. IGOs also play key roles in bargaining among nations, facilitating negotiations and fostering common approaches. IGOs can help create useful international principles and set positive precedents for future international regimes.

The UN was created following World War II to promote international cooperation and prevent conflict. Originally, the UN had 51 member states; there are now 193. Its objectives include maintaining international peace and security, promoting human rights, fostering social and economic development, protecting the environment, and providing humanitarian aid. The UN operates through five principal organs: the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Secretariat, and the International Court of Justice. 

Two regional IGOs deserve special emphasis: the AL and the GCC. The AL was formed in Cairo in 1945 with six members; currently it has 22 members, including the UAE. The League’s main goals are to improve relations and collaboration among member states, to safeguard their independence and sovereignty, and to advance the interests of Arab countries. The AL facilitates political, economic, cultural, scientific and social programs and serves as a forum for policy coordination, to limit conflicts, and to settle disputes – as it tried just last month by supporting the UAE’s sovereignty over the three occupied islands. The GCC is a political and economic union of Arab states established here in the UAE in 1981. The objectives of the GCC include coordination, integration and inter-connection between member states and the development of common regulations in various fields (including economic affairs, commerce, customs and communications, social and health affairs, tourism, and administrative affairs) to stimulate progress. Due to the connected nature of their security, military cooperation has also been demonstrated by the GCC states. There are ongoing efforts to increase the unified action of the GCC. 

For all these reasons nations can benefit from the strengths of IGOs and should be wary of their weaknesses. The UN, the GCC and the Arab League are IGOs that should serve to improve the security of the UAE, as long as they act in concert with the national interests of the country. Strategists should understand well how to work within IGOs to achieve such cooperation to ensure national security.