The UN and Japan in an Age of Globalization:
The Role of Transnational NGOs in Global Affairs

Stephen Toulmin

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5. The Reaction of NSGS to the Infiuence of NGOS

Meanwhile, the very things that draw NGOS into a natural alliance with the UN's professional or technical agencies enhance the difficulties between NGOS and NSGs: these we must now turn to. They come from NSGs seeing their hands forced by the influence of NGO's and their media allies. The absolute sovereignty of Nation States is now constrained, not just by their economic interdependence, but also by the ability of selfappointed NGOs to raise a worldwide response from world opinion by their advocacy of humanitarian, environmental, medical or human rights causes.

The difficulties in question are sometimes trivial: a matter of differences of style or even injured pride. At a meeting in the Netherlands, I spoke of Greenpeace as a serious organization, and was smprised by the Japanese representative's disgust: Greenpeace and its works filled him with distaste. But it was clear that his reaction was a response, in part, to the deliberately shaming and melodramatic character of Greenpeace's public demonstrations, which are intended to put the industry or govemment being criticized in the wrong before the general public. Yet this is only one half of Greenpeace's mode of operation. The other half acts as a counterbalance: in the corridors of the UN, the organization tries to persuade the object of its attacks that it would do better to sign a treaty (say) or to enforce environmental controls, that they had been slow to adopt 5.

Behind injured feelings, however, the difficulties are real and sometimes painfully embarrassing. The intervention in Somalia by the United States and the United Nations was triggered by a humanitarian crisis, notably at Baidoa: public attention was caught by heart wrenching television images of children with swollen bellies, and other signs of disease and starvation. The first international response was a flow of medical help and food to relieve this crisis; but it soon became clear that much more was needed. The prevalence of banditry and the risk of injury and even death to aid workers, at the hands of gangs run by a dozen rival warlords, persuaded the US government and the UN to introduce military forces, hoping - vainly, as it proved - to create a framework within which a stable government could be established in Mogadishu that might regain effective authority over the rest of the country.

The story is fresh in our minds. Its opening was the most ironic of all: unarmed aid workers and television cameramen on shore near Mogadishu harbor watched and filmed Marines in full combat gear crawling ashore, as though ready to meet well dug in enemy troops, rather than American civilians. But before long the security situation became totally ambiguous: disgusted by the apparent ingratitude of people they were trying to help, politicians insisted on bringing home, out of harm's way, first the US troops, and eventually the entire UN contingent. It was (and still is) unclear if peaceful humanitarian doctors or relief workers and heavily armed government armies can operate effectively on the same groung: this is no clearer in Bosnia than in Somalia, and the dissonant policies of the United States and the European powers toward the arms embargo against Bosnia only underline the lack of a practical solution. Yet State governments remain open to a well-intended pressure (or temptation) to interpose forces, in places where much good can seemingly be done in an otherwise desperate situation. The intervention at Goma, on the Rwanda-Zaire border, was one case where government force and humanitarian agencies cobperated to good effect in the short terrn, to relieve an immediate disaster; but the intervention's inconclusive political effect leaves the underlying problems as obscure as ever. For the time being, States having a capacity for disinterested helpfulness are liable to slip into political quagmires, once their help goes beyond medical supplies and food, and involves putting armed force on the ground. In President Clinton's speeches, the rhetoric of "national interests" blurs into one of "our natural humanitarian interests"; but (as in the case of Haiti) his political critics are now becoming hard nosed about the limited extent of America's truly "national" concerns. Yet there is little doubt that the underlying tension will continue. People in the rich counutries will go on demanding that their Governments react to disasters of all kinds - floods or starvation, torture or "ethnic cleansing" - and the politicai implications of that demand will remain as ambiguous as ever. In situations of anarchy (Somalia) or civil war (Bosnia and Rwanda) the lack of effective authority puts humanitarian workers at risk in ways no outside State can remedy, short of imposing a colonial administration. So it is no wonder that the ways in which governments react to calls for intervention in good causes are coming to sound like the alarm from the Trumpeter of Cracow - the first arrow to the throat brings it to a sudden stop.

Earlier, we remarked on the narrower, pre-Westphalian concept of Sovereignty. When a Sovereign's treatment of his Subjects deeply offended the Consciences of the other Powers, considerations of Shame could oblige him to change his policies and correct his actions, in ways that left questions about Force and Violence on one side. In the three centuries and more of the Modern era, appeals to morality and shame lost much of this effectiveness. A few rulers - King Bomba of Naples in the early 1800s - and a few major powers - the 19th century Ottoman forces in Bulgaria - acted in ways so outrageous as to attract general condemnation; but Shame was rarely sufficient to change their minds or their policies. Now, however, though we still face unresolved practical problems, our situation at least testifies to the renewed power of Shame as an influence in global affairs. Some current regimes - the Burmese junta. for instance -are still in effect shameless. Even there, however, an awareness of being international pariahs, and the experience of being besieged by a delegation of Nobel prize winners, weakens their ability to ignore outside criticism and continue imposing their power with unresuicted Force . Though something less than outright Shame, this is a move in the same direction.

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