Friday, April 19, 2024
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Unravelling multilateralism: Examining the role of global, regional institutions in addressing conflicts

In today’s globalized world, multilateral engagements between states and global institutions face significant challenges. Regional and sub-regional institutions operating in various areas are grappling with complexities and limitations.

The Western understanding of multilateralism encompasses openness in trade and exchange, commitment to rules-based relations, security cooperation, the management of power politics for mutual gains, and the promotion of liberal democracy through liberal internationalism, as defined by G. John Ikenberry.

However, the global system is now confronted with major challenges in the political, economic, and social spheres. These challenges can be attributed to various factors, such as the socio-economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, and the war in Ethiopia with far-reaching consequences. Consequently, global institutions established to address such conflicts, such as the United Nations and the European Union, have come under scrutiny for their ineffective implementation of their objectives. The decisions made by these institutions have often been influenced by political interests, leading to prioritization of certain agendas and specific interests.

Similar concerns arise when examining sub-regional institutions like the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), Eastern African Community, and Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA). These concerns become especially apparent when addressing ongoing tensions and conflicts with wider implications.

While these institutions play a vital role in raising concerns to global parties, the politicization of their efforts has rendered their roles obsolete. Additionally, the lack of sufficient political will, particularly within sub-regional organizations, poses a threat to their ability to make concrete decisions.

Nevertheless, these global institutions have played a commendable role in various specialized areas. They have facilitated the economic recovery of states, alleviated the debt burden of heavily indebted countries, and provided lending opportunities to states facing foreign currency shortages, resulting in positive outcomes for the most part. However, due to their establishment being influenced by powerful nations with strong economic backing, these institutions have played mixed roles alongside their intended objectives.

For countries experiencing political instability like Sudan, Ethiopia, Niger, Gabon, Guinea, and Bissau, these institutions have often been used to support one side over the other, rather than serving as instruments of stability and order. This has been particularly evident in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Developing countries in the global South, being recipients of aid, are unwilling to jeopardize their long-term needs such as commodities, trade ties, and economic support packages.

During Ethiopia’s two-year conflict with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) the period saw various phases, with Western influence through multilateral institutions playing a significant role. Notably, the pressures exerted have shown some success, as evidenced by the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (CoHA) signed in Pretoria on November 2, 2022. This agreement compelled both sides to pursue political means for resolving their disputes, effectively silencing the guns.

Since then, Ethiopia has been focusing on post-conflict recovery, including economic recovery, disarmament, reintegration, and demobilization. While proceeding with caution is necessary, priority, however, must be given to the country’s economic recovery, especially considering its default on a debt coupon payment of nearly USD 33 million for its Eurobond. Just before the New Year, the US-based rating agency Fitch downgraded Ethiopia to “restricted default” due to the country’s failure to make a Eurobond redemption installment.

Another significant development took place on January 1, 2024, as Ethiopia joined the BRICS, a multilateral organization comprising emerging and developing economies. This unexpected accession could provide an optimistic opportunity for the country to expedite its economic recovery.

Currently, Ethiopia is in negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for an aid package to bolster its ailing economy. The BRICS’ decision to include Ethiopia, alongside Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, as a new member surprised many analysts who anticipated the larger economies of Nigeria and Algeria to be chosen. However, Ethiopia’s strategic geopolitical positioning, its large population, and the potential for strong future economic growth likely played decisive roles in its admission.

While the specifics of economic integration are yet to be seen, Ethiopia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs pointed out that its membership in the BRICS recognizes the country’s significant contributions to promoting international peace, security, prosperity, and South-South cooperation.

Application of carrots & sticks policies in the Ethiopian conflict

The West, led by the United States, took a firm stance on the conflict in Northern Ethiopia, imposing a ban on the country’s African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) membership and threatening to impose a series of additional sanctions unless the conflict de-escalates and both sides withdraw their forces. Given the country’s strategic importance, such pressure is not unexpected.

For instance, the US threatened to freeze planned aid to Ethiopia, while the European Union postponed EUR 90 million (USD 109 million) of budgetary support due to limited access to the Tigray region for humanitarian aid delivery. The Biden administration also paused USD 272 million of development and security assistance to Ethiopia, linking the resumption of aid to various factors related to the Tigray crisis.

President Biden also authorized the US Treasury and State Department to sanction leaders and groups from both sides if they do not take immediate steps to end the violence. A recent announcement established a sanctions regime, enabling the US to target individuals responsible for prolonging the conflict, obstructing humanitarian access, or impeding a ceasefire. Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated that the imposition of sanctions would be delayed if the warring parties immediately cease hostilities and engage in ceasefire negotiations without preconditions.

The United Nations Security Council and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights have also been closely monitoring the conflict, holding numerous meetings to address the situation.

Why is multilateralism being challenged?

The challenges faced by multilateralism can largely be attributed to the weaknesses observed in the institutions established for this purpose. When conflicts arise between powerful states equipped with economic and military capabilities, the implementation of strong measures to bring about necessary change becomes limited. The international community often hesitates to exert pressure on these states, prioritizing their interests over the principles of sovereignty, equal status of states, and the pursuit of common goals. This situation reflects the notion that “some states are more equal than others,” where the international framework tends to prioritize the most influential and powerful states.

However, this challenges the fundamental principles of international law, which stipulate that all states are equal before the law, regardless of their size, population, economy, or military strength. The principle of equality is being tested, particularly in conflicts like the Russian-Ukraine conflict, where despite the pressures exerted by global institutions, the conflict persists without resolution.

While diplomatic pressure through the use of carrots and sticks can yield results in some cases, recent developments have shown its limitations in achieving desired outcomes. The level of influence exerted by states is closely tied to their contributions, and those actively involved in conflicts tend to have greater influence.

This dynamic is evident in the reluctance of Russia to change its aggressive stance against Ukraine. However, because both parties possess formidable military and nuclear capabilities, there is pressure on both sides to seek a resolution.

Moving forward, a full commitment to implementing the principles that states have agreed to observe is crucial to eliminate any doubts about their commitment. By respecting the international principles to which they have voluntarily adhered, states can ensure the integrity and continuity of the institutions established to maintain peace, security, and economic stability.

It is incumbent upon states to honor their commitment and put these guiding principles into action. Especially in challenging times like the present, where global stability and recovery principles are being seriously tested, upholding these principles becomes even more essential.

By Eden Tafesework (PhD)

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