THERE is a common assumption worldwide that the big powers have a great effect on the international politics than all of the other states combined. If a great power stands victim of any untoward, the rest of states in the region would deeply be influenced by that incident. Take, for example, the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States.
The terrorist attacks not only left devastating effects on the global security but forced many states in Asia and the Middle East to bring major changes in policies. Here was not the end, it was an after effect of that terrorist attacks that the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) became active in dealing with the security affairs in the world.
The organisation led by the United States brought various reforms in its principal stand and launched a war against terrorism in the world in general and in Afghanistan in particular. A couple of years have gone but the war is still continuing and, in fact, has been expanded to Pakistan’s northern areas in the form of drone strikes.
Most importantly, it is the same old organisation that was struggling for the implementation of its own passed resolutions a couple of years back. So, there shouldn’t be any doubt that the war against terrorism is being fought just because it was a big power that was under terrorist attack.
Let’s supposed, if there would be an ordinary state then what happened, nothing more than sympathetic verbal statements. So it can be logically assumed that the US vigorous involvement has made NATO a strong institution of the United Nations, which was earlier ‘losing its credibility’. Taking NATO as an example doesn’t mean to criticise its flaws but to make my argument stronger that active involvement and sincere participation of big powers can improve the role the international institutions credible and trustworthy.
There are many other world bodies of the United Nations which have desperately been seeking the involvement of the big powers. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea is one such example. The Convention is an acclaimed and recognized accord between more than 160 states or parties. The accord, adopted by the Third Nations Conference in 1982, provides a legal cover to maritime disputes across the international waters.
It is a good platform to encourage member states to solve their disputes without using force against their neighbours. The Convention also offers a range of forums where competing states or parties may bring grievances against one another.
The forum is also active in dealing with the issues pertaining to international waters. It has many cases currently under trial at separate forums and provides a useful way to solve problems peacefully but creeping refusal of some powers has made the international law vulnerable. It was not the first time when a great power refused to accept the court ruling and preferred solving its issue through bilateral dialogue. The United States and Russia had also disregarded the international forum.
The US was the first great power which rejected the limits of international tribunals. It refused to participate in legal proceedings over its support for the Contra rebellion against the ruling Sandinista government in Nicaragua. The International Court held the US responsible for violating Nicaragua’s sovereignty but Washington’s veto in the UN Security Council prevented it from enforcing the judgment.
Similarly, Russia had refused to accept the ruling of the International Court in 2013, when a dispute arose over the arrest of a Greenpeace ship in the Barents Sea. Following the arrest, the Netherlands government filed a request for Russia to release its crew members and vessel in exchange for a security bound under the article 292 of the United Nations Convention. But Russia refused to accept. The Netherlands then filed a series of petitions with both the international tribunal for the sea and Permanent Court of Arbitration but Russia refused to obey the court’s ruling, arguing that the dispute was not covered under the convention.
A positive element is that the trend to approach the international courts in maritime-related disputes continued to grow among states, other than the great powers. But there is a fear as well that if the trend of disregarding the ruling of international institutions at the hand of great power continues; other states will also lose their trust on them.
To maintain the credibility of the international institutions is a responsibility of the great powers, for which they would have to show some flexibility in their dealing with these institutions. They are not made for protecting interests of great powers but in fact for protecting the interests of all member states.
The writer is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.
(Courtesy the pakistan observer)