Setting the Tone

Sitting down to write this inaugural post has proven to be quite the task for me this week. With so many intriguing topics to be discussed, where exactly does one begin? I found myself writing seven different introductory paragraphs, each leading down various interesting, if not so productive, paths. Some of these paragraphs pondered the philosophical aspects of justice and universal values, others debated the realities of humanitarian intervention, and some were merely musings about Utopian ideals of international cooperation. Let’s just say I was less than focused. This indecisive writing situation was definitely not helped by the fact that I have spent the past few weeks in South Korea working on refreshing my Korean. I shall try to focus here and write (mostly) in English for this post. However, I make no promises.

As I followed the most recent meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, I was left with lingering questions about the current climate of international cooperation and the motivations of states involved in an organization such as the UN. I have written often of the importance of international cooperation, seeing the participation of states in UN matters as illustrative of this ideal of states working together for common goals. Yet one begins to wonder to what extent these states are brought together based on political necessity or concerns over loss of power, as opposed to through a shared understanding of a set of universal norms. I personally would like to believe they are all at the table because they believe in humanity, justice and human rights. However, even this perpetual optimist is aware that these themes are not always the basis of cooperation.

Some might question whether motivations matter in the case of international cooperation. It could be argued that as long as parties arrive at the table, what brought them there is ultimately irrelevant. While I am aware of the reality of state motivations, I must insist that they do still matter even if only on an informational level. A state that cooperates out of a need to maintain political standing will function quite differently than one that is there as a result of its concern over human rights abuses. A state’s motivations will ultimately influence its involvement. In other words, while a state concerned with political standing might vote in favor of civilian protection it might not fight for it.

This variance in motivations has been evident in the case of Sudan. Although humanitarian organizations and activists continue to call for the protection of civilians in the region based on a belief in justice and human rights, the states involved are arguably not all there on purely humanitarian grounds. China, for example, stands as the largest importer of Sudanese oil. Representing 45 percent of the Sudanese oil market, China’s stance on Sudan related issues is complicated to say the least.

While much can be said about the various reasons for US involvement in Sudan, President Barack Obama made reference to themes of justice and universal values during his address at the Sudan Summit. His contention was that with a belief in justice and a sense of universally held values (such as the unacceptable nature of the crime of genocide), the world and Sudan have no other option but to seek peace in the region. President Obama highlighted the “imperative of justice” after recalling the heartbreak he witnessed during a visit to the Chad/Darfur border. Although there is no question the US could be more committed to peace in Sudan, there exists a strong level of humanitarian concern in our ongoing focus on the region.

This brings me to my final question of the post, for which as of right now I can find no answer: How can we, as an international community with variant motivations, come together to bring peace to a region that so desperately needs it? What does it take for the international community to truly come together to create peace?

Humanitarian Aid, Social Justice, United Nations