Russia and Global Humanitarian Challenges
Vladislav InozemtsevScientific Director of the Center for Post-Industrial Studies, Editor-in-Chief of Svobodnaya Mysl magazine, RIAC member
Regrettably, in the 21st century, the world has become neither less contradictory nor more just. Although economic and technological progress has been immense, more than 850 million people are starving and 1.3 billion are deprived of healthcare, while life expectancy in the poorest countries is just 56 years . From 1992 to 2011, between nine and 12 million people were killed in conflicts, chiefly civil wars and ethnic cleansing.
There is a 130-fold difference in living standards between the richest and poorest nations. On all continents, millions are left defenseless against natural disasters and accelerating climate change. Frequently, all these issues are qualified as humanitarian, but in the recent years the term has been overused, complicating rather than simplifying any assessment of the emerging challenges, which suggests there is a need to consider these three groups of problems separately.
Naturally, poverty is the key, and most often referenced, humanitarian problem. Almost 1.1 billion people live in misery on less than a dollar a day. In Africa, 46 percent  of people are classed as impoverished, while 80 percent get by on two dollars a day .
Quite recently, Africa, the poorest continent, was comparatively well-off. In 1955, Kenya boasted a per capita GDP higher than South Korea, whereas Ghana was better off than Taiwan.
Most economists believe that, given this reality, no prescription for development will work, as it is well nigh on impossible to act rationally while struggling to survive . As a rule, these countries lack education and healthcare, while life is short and cheap. However, utmost poverty, just like any other stable condition, has its origins and roots. Quite recently, Africa, the poorest continent, was comparatively well-off. In 1955, Kenya boasted a per capita GDP higher than South Korea, whereas Ghana was better off than Taiwan. And the continent is rich in resources. In 2008-2011, Angola’s average annual oil exports equaled 69 million tons, i.e. 43 billion dollars a year at current prices. But per capita GDP is fluctuating at around 4,800 dollars . Certain nations are almost totally reliant on international support: in the second half of the 1980s and 1990s, assistance to Mozambique exceeded 50 percent of its GDP, while in the 1990s in Somalia the figure reached a new world high of 237 percent . While receiving 23-27 billion dollars in aid from industrialized countries, the poorest African states spend 7-12 percent of their GDP on defense, and many of their rulers are members of the elite club of the world’s richest men.
Although many figures from developing nations, like leftists in the West, tend to blame these fourth world plights on the policies of former colonial states, even Les Miserables themselves are increasingly less inclined to support this view. In a 2005 African poll, about 49 percent of respondents blamed their governments and only 16 percent put the responsibility on the former colonial countries . There is nothing strange about this. During the past 20 years, the number of people living in poverty in China fell by 300 million and in Brazil by 40 million, but there was no similarly significant change in Africa, where some regions have become even more impoverished. The reason for this lies in the policies of inexpert and corrupt authorities in hopelessly backward nations. Many globalization surveys indicate that economic autarchy and non-liberal economy are the two main barriers to sustainable development and improving living standards. By restricting interaction with the outside world and establishing economic dictatorship, governments impede the advancement of their nations and doom them to poverty.
Many globalization surveys indicate that economic autarchy and non-liberal economy are the two main barriers to sustainable development and improving living standards.
External actors may repeatedly extend aid programs; provide humanitarian support and deliver food and medicines to no great effect. This aid boosts consumption but not investment or economic growth. While in the 1970s overall assistance to African states never exceeded 6-8 percent of their GDP (with the per capita GDP growing by 2 percent each year), in the 1990s this figure was 16-18 percent, with per capita GDP falling by 0.5 percent a year on average. On the whole, over the years 1960-2003, annual assistance to the poorest countries went up from under 28 billion dollars to 61 billion dollars, with no development breakthrough , as only three out of 34 nations climbed into a higher human development index group. So, famous Peruvian economist and politician Oswaldo de Rivero was quite right to dub them “the non-developing world” . In a globalized world, these countries’ problems become everybody’s headaches, as epidemics and migration do not respect borders, while appalling poverty, illiteracy and the absence of healthcare become a stigma for the entire civilization. Solving these problems is the main challenge of the 21st century, and it is one for which there is no obvious, uniform remedy. Rather, it requires different strategies for the three groups of countries in the lower segment of the modern world.
12.4 million people in need of humanitarian
assistance in the Horn of Africa
The approach is based on bypassing
the governments in distributing humanitarian
assistance to ensure the populations understand
where the aid is coming from, and to disillusion
those governments that might think that
developed states treat them as responsible
Group One includes those demonstrating the willingness to change, in absence of the resources needed for speedy development. They should be given “most favored nation” (MFN) status, investment guarantees and insurance to boost foreign investments. They do deserve some of the debt being written off and also to receive new loans. We may see that some African states begin to show impressive economic development, primarily due to improved governance. In their case, development assistance should flow through the traditional channels to national governments. Their efforts deserve to be encouraged and publicized as success stories.
Group Two displays no visible dynamics in economic and social fields. Their treatment should be modified under a scheme involving limited intergovernmental interaction and humanitarian assistance rendered directly to those in need, primarily by NGOs and/or international agencies. The package should cover the delivery and distribution of food, vaccinations and medical assistance, establishing refugee camps from impoverished areas, organizing basic education institutions, and measures to prevent epidemics. The approach is based on bypassing the governments in distributing humanitarian assistance to ensure the populations understand where the aid is coming from, and to disillusion those governments that might think that developed states treat them as responsible actors.
Group Three is represented by highly repressive states that deprive the population of access to elementary public goods and spend heavily on state bureaucracy and the army, such as Zimbabwe, Sudan, Niger, and the Democratic Republic of Congo among others. No blame is attached to those who refuse assistance or cooperation to such countries. Practice shows that aid only strengthens totalitarian regimes, whereas it is extremely difficult to ensure it reaches the people.
The industrialized world must assist the development of less developed countries if their governments are ready to do their best and stimulate their own development, but should not shoulder responsible for those that neglect their people.
In this scenario, no amount of institutional support can change the situation, because government structures are permeated with corruption and exist as components of the vertical power system. The industrialized world must assist the development of less developed countries if their governments are ready to do their best and stimulate their own development, but should not shoulder responsible for those that neglect their people.
To my mind, what 21st-century humanitarian consciousness really needs is to draw a line under the history of colonialism. South Korea and Malaysia in Asia, and Zambia and Tanzania in Africa, demonstrate that if the people and the government strive to achieve development, they can ensure it becomes achievable. Should intrinsic hurdles arise, the developed world is obliged to help. But if there is no desire for change, we should wait until it comes. As history of the 20th century shows that modernization success stories may begin at practically any development level, while launching this process should remain the prerogative of the nation and not its neighbors. Humanitarian aid and development assistance must not encourage the incompetence of the fourth world authorities and complicate the peoples’ struggle against the unjust rulers.
Genocide and Mass Violence
Today, both Western countries and Russia are prepared to employ the rhetoric of humanitarian intervention to justify their actions as in 1999 in Kosovo and in 2008 in Georgia.
Poverty and economic failure clearly are of great significance, but are far from the only humanitarian problems. According to various sources, about 8.5 million people starve to death each year and 10-15 million more die from diseases that have long been curable in most developed states. At the same time, about one million people each year die in violent conflicts. From 1961 to 2010, the period when most African states gained independence, at least 18 million people – more than during WW1 – were killed in conflicts on the continent. While international conflicts are declining in number, most of the victims come from internal interethnic and inter-confessional wars, genocide and terror, with the most indicative examples being the 1976-1979 genocide in Cambodia, the 1994 massacre in Rwanda, the 1996-2007 civil war in Zaire/DRC, and ethnic purges in Darfur, each episode creating 1-3 million victims.
Genocide, ethnic purges and war crimes must become everybody’s concern. The UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of January 9, 1948 declares genocide a crime that has no time limitation, and which should be subject to investigation by international bodies . However, modern international law essentially hinders effective countermeasures taken in response to the mass violation of human rights in separate states, as the supremacy of state sovereignty helps rulers evade this responsibility.
The point requires the focused attention of the international community, whose reaction could differ depending on the nature and scale of the violence.
Today, the international community is ready to respond to mass murder, or at least not to hamper action taken by individual members, as happened in 1979 in Cambodia during the Vietnamese intervention or in 2000 in Sierra Leone during the British intervention. The 2001 famous report Responsibility to Protect underlines this thesis with abundant clarity . However, it is important to distinguish between significantly differing types of humanitarian disasters in certain countries, and, second, make the international community’s potential crisis response as predictable as possible.
Situation One implies classic genocide, regarded as the systematic destruction of a people along ethnic, tribal, class, ideological or religious criteria. If the government or organized armed groups methodically exterminate civilians, the international community must promptly take a decision on humanitarian intervention or impose a regime allowing any country to intervene and end the violence. Recognized by the greater part of the world, European moral principles do not permit impartial observation in a situation like this. Today, both Western countries and Russia are prepared to employ the rhetoric of humanitarian intervention to justify their actions as in 1999 in Kosovo and in 2008 in Georgia . Russia could launch initiatives to unify humanitarian law; to establish a UN-guided special compensation fund for costs incurred by countries engaged in emergency humanitarian operations; to develop the applicable norms for citizens of states subject to an intervention; and to organize investigations, trials and punishments for those found guilty of mass violence. Bearing in mind the growing numbers of ethnic and religious conflicts, this codification of humanitarian law seems extremely significant. Sovereignty originating from the people, as is traditionally seen, cannot be unconditional if it is employed to suppress the people.
Situation Two is more intricate and involves the collapse of state institutions due to the uncontrolled conflict within the frontiers of a country. Somalia, a classic failed state, seems the most relevant case . This case necessitates the development of a paradigm to recognize such territories and ungovernable zones and cease regarding them as sovereign states. It could be followed by the issuance of a UN Security Council mandate or reconstruction of the Trusteeship Council (terminated in 1993)  to place a former state under control of international of UN-member forces for establishment of peace, restoration of state institutions and economic development. The trustee states should report their activities to the international community, which is entitled to inspections and monitoring. After these steps have been taken, the sovereignty could be reinstated. Such missions might last several decades, but even one success could make a significant precedent for the solution of critical problems facing the international community .
In contrast to the economic problems mentioned earlier, humanitarian issues cannot be ignored. In order to retain moral leadership in the world, the developed countries must find a response to violence. It seems fairly acceptable for a country to choose poverty over development, since there are over 20 such states that have a per capita GDP below 1977 levels. But the killing of defenseless human beings is a challenge to the international community – one that the civilized world cannot ignore.
The civil war in Yugoslavia, 1991-2001
The issue of civil wars, which have been expanding in the recent years, is different. Easy access to weapons strips states of their monopoly on violence. If their rights are violated, people may form insurgent groups that can be as effective as government forces. This situation is aggravated by the spread of transborder terrorist networks; organizations fighting for national self-determination; or groups protecting their tribes and religion, which may also spark the internationalization of hitherto domestic conflicts. Civil wars generate large numbers of victims: 140,000 in 1991-2000 in Yugoslavia; 200,000 in 1991-2002 in Algiers; and about 15,000 in 2011-2012 in Syria, and also heighten international tensions. As far as international community is concerned, there should be a relatively universal imperative to end conflicts of this type through deploying international forces, disengaging the conflicting parties and efficient peacemaking with no obligatory regime change. In settling civil conflicts, governments shall not be presumed innocent, for fear of triggering further violence.
Broadly speaking, violence seems the most complex current problem. In contrast to economic woes, this requires vigorous and coordinated action by a number of countries, a new system of international law, and many states’ concerted efforts to attain a common goal. Although the path is difficult, it is viable success in legitimizing humanitarian intervention that should be the basis for effective countermeasures responding to the humanitarian challenges of the 21st century .
Remarkably, comparatively speaking, modern slaves are several times cheaper than they were in the Roman Empire.
Although rarely considered in the context of humanitarian problems, phenomena such as as transborder migration flows and the emergence and development of international criminal networks are taking on enhanced significance. These aggregate challenges deserve to be included as “humanitarian” for at least two reasons.
On the one hand, they generate human tragedies, new tensions and massive controversies, and give rise to dangerous global networks threatening numerous communities and even states. On the other, in the same way as with certain humanitarian challenges, counteracting these trends involves strictly coordinated efforts of governments and intergovernmental organizations, as well as coherent strategies for day-to-day steps.
Today, around 214 million people reside outside their home countries, and at least 20 percent of them are illegal migrants . The problem of migration is a delicate one. Unlike at the turn of the 19th-20th centuries, when the main migration flow was directed from Europe to the United States and consisted of people culturally and historically close to the recipient country, the current stream runs from the South to the North, and comes with a great range of serious ethnic and religious frictions . Few industrialized countries can boast they have a clear understanding of how best to integrate the migrants and deal with the consequences of multiculturalism. Quite the contrary, sometimes the response comes close to panic . Besides, there is a dark side to migration, as some settlers arrive illegally and others even against their will. According to some estimates, each year between 700,000 and 2 million people are forcibly moved across national borders and are held in foreign countries as slaves and for sexploitation. Whereas in the 16th-18th centuries, the European slave trade involved 10-12 million people, currently there are at least 20 million stolen or forged identification documents circulating in the world, that are used by traffickers who earn up to 25 billion dollars a year . Remarkably, comparatively speaking, modern slaves are several times cheaper than they were in the Roman Empire . This fact cannot go unnoticed, as illegal migration is turning into a major global problem.
Transborder crime is no less important. However, let us now focus on three types with a clear-cut humanitarian component:
- trade in narcotics and psychotropic substances;
- the arms trade; and
- global extremist and radical religious networks.
The drug trade causes a wide range of issues – from catastrophic damage to the health of the younger generations, to the emergence of cocaine and heroin economies, and has an average annual trade volume that was estimated in the mid-2000s at about 320 billion dollars.
The arms trade invigorates smoldering local conflicts and stokes tensions that can provoke sudden civil wars and genocide. With its long record of struggle against separatists and extremists, Russia should have a direct interest in restricting illegal arms sales that are estimated at 25-30 billion dollars annually.
Finally, global terrorist networks also require a coordinated international response because nation-states cannot oppose the dispersed extremist cells on their own. Notably, some scholars regard illegal migration, the arms trade and terrorist organizations as a single criminal web (sometimes referred to as the New Economy of Terror) with an annual turnover of at least one trillion dollars . Obviously, there are more kinds of crime, but in this context we should focus only on those most closely related to the “humanitarian challenge.”
In all the above cases, individual nation-states with bureaucratic governance structures are losing the battle against global crime, with the number of problem zones constantly growing. Were the international community to unite against these humanitarian challenges, these issues should be key, because no significant victory can be likely if these trends remained unchecked.
Until recently, preserving ecosystems was the prerogative of nation-states. But now there is ample reason to review this approach.
In contrast to the above problems, circumstances arising from natural disasters and climate change do not directly hinge on politics, but result in part from economic activities and from factors far beyond human control. However, in virtually all these cases, the international community should do what it can to unite efforts proceeding from the fact that the emerging problems are equally capable of having an impact on mankind.
The environmental agenda consists of three groups of problems:
- The most global (and least obvious, as seen by some experts ) issue is planetary climate change apparently caused by human activities and growing atmospheric emissions of carbon dioxide and other products of organic fuel combustion.
- Local but, at the same time, some of the most urgent environmental disasters including desertization, deforestation, destruction of traditional ecosystems, contamination of surface water, flooding, etc.
- Occasional natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunami, volcano eruptions, etc that are either difficult or impossible to predict.
Deforestation follows a similar pattern, as during
the past 20 years forested areas have reduced in
size by almost 24 percent in Tanzania, by
22 percent in Indonesia, and by almost
10 percent in Brazil
Viewed through the humanitarian prism, issues such as the destruction of traditional ecosystems, desertization, floods and other disasters deserve particular attention. Today, lands barely suitable for farming produce about 25 percent of food, hosting 70 percent of those who are struggling to subsist . If no measures are taken, pretty soon the situation may become critical. About 40 percent of the earth’s population lack proper access to clean water, while in many areas this is a major factor for regional tensions . Israel is the only country that may boast success in countering desertization. Deforestation follows a similar pattern, as during the past 20 years forested areas have reduced in size by almost 24 percent in Tanzania, by 22 percent in Indonesia, and by almost 10 percent in Brazil . As trees are felled, subsurface waters seep away, and farming conditions deteriorate, deepening social and political problems and creating new challenges.
The international community needs to be more resolute in countering these threats. Until recently, preserving ecosystems was the prerogative of nation-states. But now there is ample reason to review this approach. It seems reasonable to launch an international discussion on possible qualification of certain territories as critically important for maintaining the global ecological balance (of course, with the consent of the country or countries involved) and imposing international controls – either to restore or preserve existing ecosystems. The latter might involve the formation of a global ecological fund to aid the countries that would face restrictions in the use of their natural resources, for example in the case of deforestation. The time is ripe for this kind of initiative.
Finally, it is important to establish a global disaster warning system, including international seismic monitoring, dissemination of data on subsurface shocks, forest fires, and nuclear security. Information on environmental disasters cannot be kept secret or suppressed, as a global world requires concerted counteraction to such challenges.
Humanitarian intervention in the geopolitical
Unfortunately, Russia’s approach to these global humanitarian problems appears extremely inconsistent. During the past 20 years, Moscow has excelled only in the amount of bad debt written off from the third and fourth-world countries. The sum totaled 90 billion dollars, while the debtors were often reasonably solvent . Russia has been erratic on humanitarian intervention, as it practically ignored the situations in Rwanda and Somalia in the 1990s, vocally condemned NATO interference in Serbia in 1999 and coalition invasion of in Iraq in 2003, performed a humanitarian intervention in South Ossetia in 2008, remained unconvincing on Libya and is insisting on the status quo in Syria.
On the whole, the Russian Federation takes a very cautious approach to interventions aimed at ending genocide and human rights violations, with the official position focused on fears that these claims may be used to substantiate regime change in countries run by governments that the West dislikes. To this end, Moscow refrains from joining the Statute of the International Criminal Court, and also keeps its distance from high-profile conventions on prohibition of brutal forms of war, production and trade of antipersonnel mines, etc. In practically all instances – from writing-off debts to its stance on the combatant parties to a civil war – Moscow remains conservative, usually supporting nondemocratic regimes and keeping away from a consensus agenda that could bring the international community closer to a common stance on basic humanitarian problems. Moscow’s position only falls into line with that of other international players when it comes to uncontrolled migration and the associated international crime. Officially, Russia is imposing migration quotas and toughening the rules governing migrant residency, but de facto is stepping up the use of illegal labor and virtually ignoring people trafficking. Russia is also conservative, although to a lesser degree, when it comes to global environmental problems. Moscow ratified the Kyoto Protocol and launched an international quota trading mechanism, but government experts remain openly skeptical about climate change in general, while Russia is taking practically no visible steps to raise the energy efficiency of its economy and expand the use of alternative energy sources.
In practically all instances – from writing-off debts to its stance on the combatant parties to a civil war – Moscow remains conservative, usually supporting nondemocratic regimes and keeping away from a consensus agenda that could bring the international community closer to a common stance on basic humanitarian problems.
At the same time, the Russian Federation has moral and political grounds to dramatically and fruitfully step up activities in virtually all mentioned fields, rather than squandering the economic heritage of the Soviet Union.
Russia could have converted the obligations of rogue states into real assets, as Iraq, Angola, Libya, Syria, and even Ethiopia, Mozambique and some other states are still solvent, whereas dividends from political alliances with them are far from clear. With its vast background of sponsoring failed regimes and absence of a colonial past, Russia could pioneer a sober-minded approach to economic humanitarian assistance and thus help the West overcome the guilt complexunderlying its relationship with peripheral countries. In return, Moscow would come closer to the West and save billions of dollars in economic modernization and social improvements.
Russia could also launch initiatives on the legitimization of humanitarian intervention and counteraction against genocide and mass violence. This would enable it to overcome its fear that this doctrine could be applied to it, since the probability of Rwanda-style events in Russia is virtually zero, while concerted measures against genocide are hardly appropriate for authorities engaged in dispersing mass demonstrations. At the same time, Russia must legitimize its positions in the Caucasus and establish a base for potential interference on frozen conflicts across the post-Soviet space, which only appears possible in practise through a dialog with the West and the establishment of an appropriate international mechanism.
Russia could also show leadership in regulating migration flows, stopping illegal migration and transborder crime. In contrast to the West, Moscow refrains from principles based onpolitical correctness and can therefore offer more sound approaches to this problem that is fast becoming global. In fact, there have been proposals in this field, for example at the 2012 World Political Forum in Yaroslavl, presented as the Yaroslavl Consensus , but those received neither subsequent refinement nor adequate promotion.
At the same time, in the near future the world leaders will inevitably face the need to define their approach to migration, while Russia is missing its opportunity to replace the numerous multiculturalist approaches with its realistic or pragmatic stance.
Finally, in their response to the worsening environmental problems, Russian politicians could supplement their support for energy companies’ profiteering with the promotion of their country’s long-term national interests, since it remains a key source of natural resources, clean water, forests and biodiversity. The more importance that is given to the environment in the years to come, the stronger Russia’s international positions will be. To this end, Moscow should sign up to most ecology conventions, advance the ecological agenda and gain from lower power-intensity of its GDP. Experience shows that Russia has not been very successful in raising energy production, since from the late 1980s its oil and gas output has fallen in real terms  and in 1988-2009 its share in global production dropped from 18.9 to 12.9 and from 28.6 to 17.7 percent respectively . Hence, in the coming years, Russian exports should hinge on building an economy that is as environmentally effective as possible, meaning that a stance based on continued environmental skepticism is counterproductive, at the very least.
* * *
The humanitarian challenges facing mankind have never been more acute. The cooperation potential in this area appears vast but is devoid of leadership. By taking off ideological blinders in solving these problems, Russia can offer a very broad agenda replete with rewarding international initiatives.
11. For details see:http://www.un.org/ru/documents/decl_conv/conventions/genocide.shtml.
12. See: Wheeler N. J. Saving Strangers. Humanitarian Intervention in International Society. Oxford, N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 2002. P. 78–110; Brown C. Sovereignty, Rights and Justice. International Political Theory Today. Cambridge: Polity, 2002. P. 136–137.
15. Some authors call such entities quasi-states. (See: Jackson R. H. Quasi-States: Sovereignty, International Relations and the Third World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990. P. 21–22) or ungovernable chaotic entities (See: Rivero O. de.The Myth of Development. The Non-Viable Economies of the 21st Century. L., N.Y.: Zed Books, 2001. P. 147).
17. Some Russian scholars consider the opportunities within the concept of limited sovereignty (See: E. Kuznetsova. The Problem of Limited Sovereignty in Global Politics. Candidate of Political Science paper, Moscow, RAS Institute of European Studies, 2011).
20. Since the first early 2000s, no countries of the global north have been among the 10 largest migrant suppliers to the U.S.A. (See: Daniels R. and Graham O. L. Debating American Immigration, Lanham (Md.), Boulder (Co.). N.Y.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2005. P. 74–75).
27. See: Lomborg B. The Skeptical Environmentalist. Measuring the Real State of the World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001; Lomborg B (ed.) Solutions for the World’s Biggest Problems: Costs and Benefits. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007 et al).