By Griffin W. Huschke, Mayme and Herb Frank Research Fellow
While there are plenty of simmering crises across the world–from the Mexican drug war to the increasingly unruly protests in Syria—it looks like we may be putting a couple to rest. French officials announced today that Ivory Cost strongman Laurent Gbago had been captured in his underground bunker, where he’d been hiding since opposition forces took control of the capitol last week. It’s also looking like NATO and the Gaddafi regime may be moving closer to a compromise—after weeks of rumors about the Gaddafi government negotiating a transitional government in Libya, the African Union says that the leader is willing to go. And even though Yemen’s president (and international moustache dye spokesman) Ali Abdullah Saleh has rejected the Gulf Cooperation Council’s plan to move towards democratic rule, he has said he “welcomes” moderation from the GCC.
In all of these cases, international organizations have played an instrumental part legitimizing peace negotiations. The African Union’s approval was an essential precondition for bombing raids on Gaddafi’s forces, and has since been playing the Nixon to Gaddafi’s China. And recent news reports detail UN helicopter gunships (likely with a UN decal hastily pasted over the French tri-color) pounding Gbago’s stronghold Ivory Coast before local opposition forces reportedly arrested him. Even the Gulf Cooperation Council, which is best known for encouraging military cooperation and stalled common currency talks, is stepping into Yemen in as a mediator.
International organizations provide a degree of legitimacy that can’t be provided by a single country. Its tougher to accuse international organizations of bias, especially when its membership is hugely robust (see: UN) or the country in question is on good terms with the IO (see: African Union and GCC). International organizations also are a good way to demonstrate international norms–IO’s can speak for a number of states to establish how a country should act in certain situations, and create incentive structures to shape behavior.
In the end, however, it’s not certain that mediations by IO’s yield better settlements than direct talks or moderation by a former colonial country or superpower. There are plenty of failed UN settlements littering international law books to demonstrate that international organizations are not a panacea to stopping international conflict. But we’re seeing that more and more, states are turning to regional and global bodies to get people to put their guns down and start talking to each other. And if it takes an international organization to do that more effectively, then more power to them.