International Organizations in Crisis
International Organizations in Crisis
  • Yoo Dong-yeon
  • 승인 2008.10.16 19:26
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The United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and so on. The world today is filled with a great many international organizations, which are setting the international order for each global issue. However, some of the organizations recently have had an identity crisis about what their goals are. The anxiety of this crisis is spreading rapidly across the whole world. Thus, the international organizations are urgently working to get over the crisis through redefining their identities.


   On March 31st, The Times Online gave an account, in the article Identity Crisis, that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) might have faced the greatest challenge since its foundation in 1949. To a proposal of sending more troops to Afghanistan, many NATO member states showed negative points of view, unlike the US and France, which supported the proposal. The Times remarked that this friction might lead to a serious problem within NATO itself. NATO was originally established in response to the threat from the eastern European communist countries revolving around the Soviet Union. As the Cold War came to an end in the early '90s, NATO underwent the biggest change in that its own purpose was altered to mediating and settling international disputes. However, as NATO has declared there will be no more troops dispatched, it has given up its responsibility as a coordinator of international relations. The Times wrote, pointing out this situation,  "What does NATO now exist to do?"

▲The 20th NATO summit, held in Bucharest, Romania on April 2nd to 4th, 2008, confirmed a divergence of member states' opinions about dispatching in Afghanistan.

     An international organization
   In a domestic community, the central government exercises its mighty authority delegated by the people. The government controls conflicts, and the public follows its judgments as long as they are fair and justifiable. On the other hand, there is no absolute power in the international society. It is nearly impossible for one state to control the others; the world is in a state of anarchy. Due to this characteristic, the international society has experienced ceaseless problems-particularly, two world wars. Prof. Lew Seok-jin (Dept. of Political Science) said, "After World War I, most countries keenly realized the importance of building a sort of central government which can manage all the troubles between states. Thus, many international organizations have been founded since the establishment of the first organization, the League of Nations, in 1913."

   In this globalized world, international organizations take on the great task of fixing the international order. Professor Lew continued, "As global interchanges dramatically increase, it is common to observe states which get engaged in disputes with one another. This kind of problem is not of one state, but of two or more; hence, it is essential to seek the settlement together with *supernationalism." When the world fell into disorder right after World War II, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the predecessor of the World Trade Organization, made a huge contribution to rebuilding up the international order through mediating various disputes successfully. International organizations including GATT go far toward fulfilling their duty based on international cooperation.

   An identity crisis
   In most cases, rapid changes in the international situation bring about identity crises of organizations. The international situation is in a heavy fog: it is really difficult to find out what is going to happen. The organizations must steer members to mutual understating in order to agree on one decision. Accordingly, they cannot cope quickly with changes caused by varied exterior factors. The UN, for instance, was expected at the very beginning to resolve all the international problems immediately with superior power. However, it takes so much time to take action after outbreaks of unrest because the UN cannot predict tomorrow, nor can it broker an agreement right away. Professor Lew pointed out, "When the East Timor crisis broke out, the UN clearly showed its weak pointㅡprocrastination*. It was not the kind of issue they were accustomed to, so they could not do anything except to send the United Nations Emergency Forces rather belatedly." The UN gets confused in how to deal with unexpected events, and it just shows its incompetence.
   Moreover, international organizations are destined to go through fierce competition among members for domination, which leads to conflicts between them. Since most of the organizations were established on the initiative of western advanced nations, those nations have more influence on the making of policy than others. About this issue, developing countries such as China and India have constantly revealed their dissatisfaction. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) runs into criticism for this reason. "The number of cultural heritages recognized in Europe is decidedly much higher than in other continents, so other countries request UNESCO to keep a balance," said Chung U-tak, the Director in Bureau of Planning and External Relations of Korean National Commission for UNESCO.
   Lastly, some of the organizations seem not to have specific goals which can be attained by cooperation. The Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation Conference (APEC) is an economic organization of countries nearby the Pacific Ocean. However, there is no common interest within the organization. Prof. Kim Jae-chun (Graduate School of International Studies) indicated that APEC cannot be free from the criticism of identity crisis until it has an identity distinct from other organizations. The Union for the Mediterranean is also stuck with the same criticism, even before its establishment. Originally, French President Nicolas Sarkozy proposed the union of countries around the Mediterranean, but the EU rejected its proposal and claimed that the Union should contain all the EU members. Eventually, the Union failed to achieve its original aimㅡdrawing common interest only of Mediterranean countries, and a question was posed, "Is there any difference between the EU and the Union; if not, do we have to distinguish one from the other?"

   Efforts to make
   Some experts insist that it may be rash to jump to the conclusion that international organizations are in an identity crisis. First, the identity of international organizations is not fixed, but quite flexible. Prof. Lee Geun-wook (Dept. of Political Science) mentioned, "With cessation of the Cold War, the Warsaw Pact was naturally dissolved. Just like this, the existence of organizations is up to the current situation." Second, inequality of members is unavoidable when considering the system. He added, "In the system of the International Monetary Fund or the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the more a member invests, the larger voice she can have. Since the US owns a heavy interest in both organizations, it is natural that she takes the leadership." Third, they are now just in the middle stage of creation, finding their common issues. Professor Lew emphasized the importance of waiting till the organizations identify their common issues. As a consequence, according to these experts, the identity crisis is exaggerated.
   Nonetheless, it is true that international organizations are criticized for their identity crises. Rather than avoiding the criticism, the organizations have to find a way to overcome it. It is a priority to determine which task they are going to accomplish, and cooperation should happen at the same time. Professor Kim remarked, "The most important thing is to recognize that international organizations are considerably different from the central government. No one can force others to act. Hence, in order to resolve each issue effectively, they need to concentrate on mediating relationships of mutual understanding between members. They also need the independent capability to resolve problems, using military force if necessary." With various attempts to raise their value, all the international organizations should be above criticism over identity crises.

   The future
   Today is a period of globalization in which all the countries maintain close relations in order to exchange their goods and ideas; what international organizations take charge of is more significant than ever. Without definite identities, however, they will make little contribution to establishing the international order. The EU is a good example for all international organizations. From the European Coal and Steel Community to the EU, Europe has made huge efforts over the last six decades to establish one international organization for herself. Although she has been always confronted with identity crises caused by questions about its purpose, its role, and its enlargement; now the EU can stand as one of the strongest powers in the world, with cooperation as the main power which leads to development. Other organizations can develop as much as the EU if they deal successfully with the identity crises.


*supernationalism: n. advocay of the establishment of governments composed of more than one nation, each nation agreeing to surrender at least part of its national sovereignty to a superior governmental authority. 

*procrastination: n. putting off or delaying or defering an action to a later time

By Yoo Dong-yeon (Reporter of The S.H.)

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