Thursday, September 18, 2008

Their own stupid fault

The Guardian reports on a study by the European Council on Foreign Relations on the EU's declining influence at the UN on human rights issues, and bemoans the loss of European leadership:

The west's efforts to use the United Nations to promote its values and shape the global agenda are failing, according to a detailed study published yesterday.

A sea change in the balance of power in favour of China, India, Russia and other emerging states is wrecking European and US efforts to entrench human rights, liberties and multilateralism. Western policies in crisis regions as diverse as Georgia, Zimbabwe, Burma or the Balkans are suffering serial defeats in what the study identifies as a protracted trend.


"The EU is suffering a slow-motion crisis at the UN," says the report, noting that the west is now being regularly outwitted in global diplomatic poker by the Chinese and Russians. "The problem is fading power to set the rules. The UN is increasingly being shaped by China, Russia and their allies ... The west is in disarray. The EU's rifts with the US on many human rights issues at the UN in the Bush era have weakened both."

I've just spent the last hour reading the full report [PDF], and the issue is a bit more complicated than it first appears. The ECFR analyses votes across the General Assembly, Human Rights Council, and Security Council, and there are slightly different stories for each of them. But there are two big themes which stand out.

The first is that its their own damn fault. Democracy, even amongst nations, is a participation sport, but the EU has taken its eyes off the ball and neglected to work at building support for its positions. Instead, they've arrogantly assumed that other countries would follow their lead because that is what they've always done, while ignoring some of the structural reasons for their past victories. Throw in a China which does play the game and is reportedly "a better listener than the EU", and it is no wonder that European influence is declining.

The second is blowback from the US's invasion of Iraq. Why won't other countries back motions condemning human rights abuses in places like Iran, Zimbabwe, Burma and Sudan? Because of the games the US played in the leadup to Iraq, and their misuse of UN resolutions to provide a pretext for their aggression. As a result, such motions are seen rightly or wrongly as a leadup to bombing or other military. And there are plenty of countries generally supportive of human rights who won't want to back that.

So, if they want to regain their influence, the EU has to wake up and actually play the diplomatic game. It also needs to distance itself from the US, and adopt a less hypocritical stance on human rights (e.g. the human rights of migrants, which it consistently opposes for basically racist reasons). When it has done this, it has succeeded - the Disappearance Convention and the 2007 death penalty moratorium resolution show that. But both of these were core human rights issues, rather than something which could be used later as a pretext for a unilateral bombing campaign.