In a globalised world, communication and technology makes dramatic or tragic events across the world seem present. Although there would be pleas from the those in need, NGOs and Governments, and responses from the audience, NGOs and Governments – there is also evidence of inaction and failure. Despite technological advances, attempts to influence events in other parts in the world are not deep, long lasting or positive. In the event of casualties of war and corruption, little is done to rights these wrongs in the present day.
A map of the UN peacekeeping operations and contributors shows how often is the poorest nations making the largest contributions to peacekeeping, while the larger, richer nations are absent. To further this humanitarian disaster primarily occur in impoverished nations as well. The United Nations, an international body, to provide support and assistance to its members can take months to agree on a decision about those in need. All financial contributions to the UN are based on an assessment of capacity to pay, meaning wealthier nations have more power. For poorer nations, volunteering forces for peacekeeping duties can earn valuable foreign exchange, but, can put citizens in dangerous situations for a long period of time.
A globalised world mean that the threats are not just in the home nation, but the home nation needs to protect citizens abroad as well. This means there are new challenges to face. To further this, as countries are creating expansive networks and have stakes with other nations, they are inadvertently drawn into conflicts on the other side of the world. With the UN monitoring conflicts and wars, and with member nations contributing their resources to other nations, networks are consolidated or created. The pursuit of war can increase manufacturing, arms races and more – people can contribute this without knowing about it, like food manufacturers.
However, in an interconnected world, where markets change and how some nations control others using their trading agreements, how can we not intervene?
The media and communications plays a role in public opinion and shaping it, including propaganda to support governmental policy.
In the case of Rwanda, international bodies did not want to get involved in intervening with the atrocities caused by the government, and only those who had colonial ties wanted to get involved – colonialism also created the issue.
The geopolitics of intervention: near and far
Geopolitics is a term used since the beginning of the 20th century to refer to the dynamics of international politics. It is related to significance of territory, the location of countries and the distribution of resources.
When it comes to intervention, there are many factors that affect not only who intervenes, but when and how. Some nations would be more willing to help, and others reluctant to assist.
Willingness to assist
- Colonial or historical ties
- Trading networks and routes – implicate trade
- Migratory routes
Reluctance to assist
- Physical distance
- Denial/ ignorance
- Cost and monetary value
The United Nation is an international body which is meant to mitigate against country affairs and resolve them peacefully, but can also intervene from a military perspective as well.
Why do some nations intervene and others not if they have the power and resources to do so?
The international reach of states
The ability to reach out and broadcast power across the globe, in order to attain a presence and influence on global events (and even make them) has depending upon technology.
Technology has improved from the previous ships and letters to the telegram, phones and more recently internet. This has meant news travel faster, and influence can be extended further. Communication can now take place in an immediate time. The ability to transmit images and video footage to influence opinion is different than the actual issue at stake and resolving such. There is a complex logistical process to supply resources for conflicts and there is usually a delay between decision and action. The agent’s ability for a person, group or government to respond to the demands of intervention. In a globalised world, technologies for communication and transport play an important role in providing effective means to mitigate a crisis, and extend presence and influence.
The role of states in geopolitics
State building has placed a massive role in geopolitics, as well as both causing and resolving conflicts. States play a role in intervention as well whether they are near or far. In creating states and its ongoing power, usually they are heavily involved in lots of functions like infrastructure construction, politics and trading partners and routes to sustain the state. Establishing international trading relations, waging and fighting wars, obtaining taxes (whether agreed or not) and creating an environment to encourage trade are all components of the state. However, among state there is great inequality of power and ability to influence decisions, which, has impacted how states respond to demands for intervention.
The most fundamental requirements for influence and power, whether near or far, is the amount of resources, whether monetary, military or otherwise. The ability to sustain campaigns of intervention, like communication, logistics and military force, are very important in determining the depth of intervention. However, the uneven distribution of wealth between states has consequently led to some states being more influential than others, and fulfilling their own states motives above others.
For the most part of the 20th century, war played a massive role in the creation and dissolution of states. Colonial battles peaked and soon colonies disappeared and were replaced with trading routes and agreements. Since World War 1, states have been investing heavily in their military in order to extend their power and influence across the globe.
The USA is a notable power where they have not conquered much territory as it was already claimed, but, amassed a large military force with advanced technology. It assisted in the First and Second World Wars, which were largely unpopular in the US in the first few years. It also attempted to trade and sell with a variety of nations everywhere in the world to amass its popular and influence, which, is less costly than creating colonies. It also sought to create long standing relationships with the colonies, and was on neither side, so was able to trade anywhere. As a result of its large network, it was seen as the power for intervention – while former colonial ties to states have other expectations of assistance.
The US foreign policy is to intervene with its military in strategic places like Kosovo and Iraq for their resources. This has somewhat marred their opinion in the world as well, especially when it causes more damage than good. They do not get involved in the daily running of nations, and rather, their ability to shape political outcomes is limited due to international bodies. The USA also demonstrates a very distant control approach, and does not want to assume political control, rather amass resources.
Some critics argue that the USA maintains its power with four different sources. Although, the power balance may change.
- Economic – the state’s current wealth and ability to generate wealth and remain an attractable ally
- Military – the states accumulation of a large force including personnel but also state of the art technology
- Political – the state’s ability to influence leadership and political stability in different parts of the world
- Ideological – the state’s ability to shape beliefs and understandings of people in distant places, such as through the media
The US can use hard, direct approaches to control, such as politics or military. It can also employ soft, indirect approaches to control through ideology and media. However, the soft tactics are beyond the control of the USA. However, with the rise of China, Russia and the EU becoming large, powerful nations and organisations, people think the USA’s dominance will wane. The resources to support intervention from the logistical side are now less dependent on the USA. The USA does not keep military forces on the border of these regions for that reason.
Geopolitical imaginations: the will to intervene
States have different resources to influence places and people differently. However, having the capacity to intervene does not mean you will. This is because some nations are close to the interests if powerful states, while others are irrelevant. This forms the geopolitical imagination of states which weigh the significance of some states above others.
During the Cold War a number of Western countries became involved in supporting regional conflicts in parts of Africa like Ethiopia and Angola. Military assistance and financial support were given to governments and armed groups to get rid of communist rule. At the time the Communist expansion was regarded as a big threat to the UK and USA. The Western nations in this respect used the resources they could to try to influence distant events and contain the Soviet Union. However, after the Cold War, many nations grew to make themselves distant from the states in Africa – the economies were poor, citizens were living in poverty and the states were highly corrupted. The interests of the superpowers changed and their desire to intervene waned.
The imagined constructs of Africa, like that of inferiority and corruption, as well as prone to violence, made some reluctant to assist when there are events. Sub-Saharan Africa has primarily been off limits to the US political and military intervention. However, the US has some ideological and economic influence through trade. For other world powers, like that of France and the UK, they hold a deeper influence over some states due to their colonial times. The political presence, and economic trade, is still maintained through historic trading.
A combination of strategic interested o Western nations and the cultural views and imagination of the continent of Africa explain the inaction for the like of Rwanda. Since Rwanda, the geopolitical imaginations have changed again and it does suggest should previous colonial powers take responsibility or should the most prosperous?
Functioning Core (Roberts et al)
The world can be divided into the non-integrating gap and the functioning core. Areas in the first zone are regarded as disconnected from the global markets and areas of tensions and danger. The duty of the policy makers is to shrink the gap, developing peaceful relationships and integrating them into the global market. It is a one world thinking of integration and interdependency, coupled with security, which is orchestrated by the USA and other Western nations.
The Changing World Politics
The functioning core is a very different vision from the decades of Cold War where the world was regarded as split between ideology, East and West, the USA and the USSR. Many wars were fought in smaller states in the fight for dominance. These regional wars were proxies which were part of the bigger war.
Now the ambition of most countries is to create trading networks and ideological trade which favours them. This is part of a broad framework of policies is known as neo-liberation, encouraging trade, opening borders and private investment.
For new imperialists the 20th century, is changing from the strategic sites for the Cold War, where nations were regarded as disconnected, dominant economic systems or politically advantageous. In disconnected areas there could be more support and intervention to end conflicts and promote trade. Those nations with a lot of resources provide a bigger case for powers to intervene, such as oil or iron.
Geographical Pivot of History
The Geographical Pivot of History, sometimes simply as The Pivot of History is a geostrategic theory, also known as Heartland Theory. “The Geographical Pivot of History” was an article submitted by Halford John Mackinder in 1904 to the Royal Geographical Society that advanced his Heartland Theory. Mackinder extended the scope of geopolitical analysis to encompass the entire globe.
This theory had been amended in time to encompass the Middle East. Whoever controls the Middle East, controls the oil which is a valuable resource for all nations. If people regarded alleviating poverty in Africa as important as securing oil, then global intervention would be more powerful and long lasting.
The Invasion of Iraq (2003) was an extension of exerting global power in order to reach their own aims. Direct military intervention and continuous news coverage make the issues of Iraq and the Middle East in the lives of daily people. In the case of Africa, this plays a lesser role in the global imagination of the USA as they are not as yet regarded as important.
Popular culture, media and public opinion also shape global intervention and global imagination. Items from the Cold War demonstrate how free and liberal the USA was compared to the USSRs oppressive and backwards regime, citing it as some alter ego which had polarised views. Africa is still regarded as some primordial, uncivilised and economically backward or corrupt continent, which, not may do business with. As a result, the USA and Europe do not intervene or have much impact on encouraging peace and trade as they do with the Middle East. The famines of the 1980s, genocides of the 1990s and the persistence of poverty have been important in consolidating public opinion and shaping geopolitical intervention.
Networked forms of global presence
NGOs and donor states understand that now humanitarian assistance can become part of the issue to recovery, fuelling tensions and sustaining armies. NGOs have become concerned with engaging with crisis’s in case they get caught up in the tensions, including rebel armies and government officials – they cannot do anything to stop or prevent regrouping from the culprits.
The networks of intervention and governance of conflict have grown and are funded by the governments. The strategy is therefore of realising liberal or democratic peace which could facilitate economic growth and stability. Humanitarian action will create stability on behalf of governments, and their goal is not oil or resources, but peace. Aid is therefore a political action.
The ability of powerful nations to be present in distant nations no longer depends on military interventions, government dictates and policies or drawing on resources from an individual state. States now support NGOs, subcontract to private military firms and private companies to deliver aid towards peace or reconstruction. The shift in the integration of security and development to create peace and stability has been established in many humanitarian agendas throughout 1990 and 2000’s.
There is a difference in the geopolitical landscape between places with strategic and economic potential to powerful nations when compared to those not deemed worthwhile. Humanitarian aid is regarded as the best form of foreign policy, even though it may not be seen as effective. Conflict is seen as endemic to some nations and so aid is less.
The search for peace although is sought after by those in conflict is wholly a Western agenda and depends upon criteria that are imposed unilaterally by powerful nations. Imposing external sanctions and regulations does not sit well with locals and has a lesser impact, especially in volatile situations.
Making the past present or bringing faraway places proximate is achieved through a humanitarian response. The media is useful as well in bringing places nearer and putting them on the global sphere. Foreign aid, especially state led, is motived by strategy as well and the connections made through intervention can be highly pollicised. However, the direct aid can also make nations feel responsible for others as it is an extension of their foreign policy.
The geopolitical order defines how people intervene and react to global affairs, and this is always changing. NGOs and public opinion can shape foreign policy and how powers intervene.
New priorities emerged from the 1980s to help those in need and it has become advantageous to assist some nations for resources and trade agreements – peace and stability are all mutually sought after. On the international agenda is now poverty alleviation, peace and humanitarian assistance.
The geopolitical relations of proximity are always changing in the face of changing needs of intervention, humanitarian assistance and responsibility. The media helps bring issues close or distant, and change public opinion. Taking responsibility is a politically contested idea.
The other issue with intervention is the logistical operation of it, which can be difficult to coordinate and agree upon (especially from a cost perspective). Deploying military forces, delivering food supplies and aid and arrange munitions to prevent conflict is very difficult. Intervention needs funding and local assistance to deploy it, both requiring international connections.