Thursday, December 23, 2004

China, Sudan, & the Limits of the UN

In a previous post I expressed skepticism about the UN’s ability to manage conflicts and international crises, and unfortunately the situation in Sudan highlights the problems. Today’s Washington Post features an article detailing China’s involvement in Sudan. China is a major investor in Sudan’s oil industry, and is the primary supplier of arms to Sudan. Here are some key points:

China's transformation from an insular, agrarian society into a key force in the global economy has spawned a voracious appetite for raw materials, sending its companies to distant points of the globe in pursuit -- sometimes to lands shunned by the rest of the world as rogue states. China's relationship with Sudan has become particularly deep, demonstrating that China's commercial relations are intensifying human rights concerns outside its borders while beginning to clash with U.S. policies and interests.

Sudan is China's largest overseas oil project. China is Sudan's largest supplier of arms, according to a former Sudan government minister. Chinese-made tanks, fighter planes, bombers, helicopters, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades have intensified Sudan's two-decade-old north-south civil war. A cease-fire is in effect and a peace agreement is expected to be signed by year-end. But the fighting in Sudan's Darfur region rages on, as government-backed Arab militias push African tribes off their land.

From its seat on the United Nations Security Council, China has been Sudan's chief diplomatic ally. In recent months, the council has neared votes on a series of resolutions aimed at pressuring Sudan's predominantly Arab government to protect the African tribes under attack in Darfur and stop support for militias by threatening to sanction its oil sales. China has threatened to veto such actions while watering down the threat of oil sanctions.

Ultimately, it may be peace that presents the Chinese firm with its greatest challenge. Under the terms of an agreement still being negotiated, oil contracts are supposed to remain secure. But three commanders of the southern Sudan rebel group said in an interviews that the SPLA will seek to punish China once the rebels gain a formal decision-making role in the government.

With China having veto power on the Security Council and strong ties to Khartoum, I seriously doubt the UN will be able to accomplish much in Sudan. Yesterday, Kofi Annan refused to visit Sudan, admitted that the UN’s approach had failed, and wanted to go back to the Security Council and reassess the situation. How many people have to die while the UN reassess what is clearly a major humanitarian crisis? In addition, what does Annan expect to accomplish when China, France, and Russia (also click here and here and here and here) have economic ties to the current Sudanese government. Theoretically, these countries, especially China, could use their ties to influence the government in Khartoum, but they could have done that already. And considering China’s record on human rights, I doubt this is a high priority in Beijing.

One of the many complaints leveled against the US is that it is pursuing its own interest, but so are all of the other countries on the UN Security Council, not to mention all 191 countries in the UN. At least the U.S. has a commitment to human rights and the rule of law within its own borders and often outside its borders—unlike, China or Russia.

With China and Russia having equal power to the democratically-elected governments on the Security Council and more power than the democratically-elected governments in the General Assembly, how effective can the UN be in managing conflicts or promoting democracy, peace, and human rights?

The UN was ineffective in Sudan and Iraq. It will probably be ineffective in Iran. China is becoming a major player in Iran and recently signed a $70 billion oil deal with Tehran (also click here and here). Russian has major economic ties with Iran. They want to build 7 nuclear power plants and they import 12 billion cubic meters of natural gas from. Plus, France has significant economic ties with Tehran. All three countries are on the Security Council, no wonder they are so reluctant to have the Iranian uranium crisis brought there.

In many cases, opening countries up to market forces promotes positive changes. However, that process is long term. In crisis situations like Sudan or Iran, time is of the essence, and with many members of the UN Security Council having strong ties to some of the worst of the worst I am very skeptical of the UN’s ability or willingness to do anything to stop the bloodshed in Sudan or nuclear proliferation in Iran, one of the world’s major supporters of terrorism.

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