#LetsTalkAboutIt: A Realist’s Rant on Intergovernmental Organization

#LetsTalkAboutIt: A Realist’s Rant on Intergovernmental Organization

‘Intergovernmental organizations’ admittedly sounds like a boring topic, but any news junkies, politics enthusiasts and in general all pessimists (or as I call them, ‘realists’) will thrive on the rampant institutional corruption that runs wild in these realms. We currently live in a bizarrely paradoxical era in which we are both more tightly governed and controlled and yet seemingly more free and independent, than ever before. Or at least that is the illusion that things like the Internet, cultural globalization and the proliferation of NGO’s give us, making us feel like we can see and reach everything. Retweeting human rights promotion, videos of people of authority misusing their powers going viral, writing blogs that curse at the government – as exciting as these new trends are, the truth is that there is a level far beyond our sight, inhabited by omnipotent people and organizations to whom our voices are beyond reach, but every crevasse of the world’s population is within theirs. As I list the names of some of these organizations, I’m wishing they had more ominous names: World Trade Organization, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, European Union and of course the United Nations.

After World War II, the notion of global governance was strongly built upon. The world had realised the destructive way in which international insecurity can derail out of control, and that the main causes seem to be economic instability and lack of governance over relations and communication between states. Thus the Bretton Woods conference and the Hague congress took place to discuss newer systems of international regulations and policies. Before that, there was an era of separation and sovereignty, where the main insecurity stemmed from the devolution of colonialism and states were just focusing on staying independent and resilient against their neighbours. While the desire for independence and competition is defiantly still there, in today’s world there is a fantastic amount of overrule and intervention that the normal public can’t see, and even when they do, it is hard to get the full picture or spot the dangers behind it.

Organizations like the World Bank and the IMF were set up to stabilize and maintain the world’s finance and currency – sounds perfectly rational and necessary. The World Trade Organization and the European Union promote and regulate just policies on trade and development – they’re like the dungeon masters of the economy. The UN is there to uphold security and peace – how can you not feel peaceful looking into Ban Ki-Moon’s kind old eyes or at the smiling children on UNICEF leaflets? Here’s how – by pulling back the curtain and peering at the structural inequalities and power imbalances within these organizations that wrongly have ‘international’ and ‘world’ in their names.

Many people know about the prejudices within the UN Security Council and there was a rightful uproar when the USA and the UK decided to invade Iraq without the UN’s final approval and then managed to get away with plundering a fragile country – that was one of the few instances that was widely publicized, but the unfair treatment of all countries that are not relatively dominant is a widespread and silent problem. These supposedly global organizations are asymmetrically controlled by states such as (surprise, surprise) UK, USA, Germany, France, Russia and China. Most other countries, the ones that could actually really benefit from global governance and support, are suffering quietly at the mercy of these forces.

We don’t hear about the discriminatory distribution of agricultural subsidies, because farmers in middle Africa are busy doing backbreaking, unprofitable work instead of tweeting about #thathaymakinglife. Or the effect of debt in countries like Zimbabwe, where the financial aid offered by the ‘world’ came in the form of an attractive Trojan horse that turned out to just be a perpetual rope for them to hang themselves with. Or about the financial sanctions put on countries like North Korea and Syria, where civilians end up feeling the damaging repercussions of the actions of IGO’s with the strongest countries at their helm hypocritically trying to control the governments they don’t agree with. Western imperialism makes its unwanted appearances in literally every part of the world; even in the lives of Rwandan and Sudanese civilians who agreed to settle for our help in rebuilding their country, since we failed to provide help in stopping the genocides. Their complaints about criminal tribunals that waste time, money and victims’ emotional energy because of diplomatic and political reasons instead of actually solving people’s grievances and practical problems, are being drowned out by the sound of the western world busily applauding themselves. We don’t hear about things like that. Instead we’re focused on seeing picture-compilations of African people holding up handwritten signs saying “Thank you!” to make us feel like we have accomplished something, while politicians have billboards and podiums made for them to grin and shout, “We did it!” from.

Well, they did do it, didn’t they?


Written by: Ishrat Ahmed

Image via United Nations