China's security council engagement: The impact of normative and causal beliefs.

Author:MacLeod, Lisa
Position::Essay
 
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This essay argues that UN Security Council responses to internal armed conflict are the product of the interests as well as the causal and principled beliefs of its engaged permanent members. As China has grown from a regional to a global actor, it has become a more active participant in Council deliberations. The cases of East Timor and Darfur highlight the ways in which Council decisions have come to reflect Chinese understanding of the causes of peace and conflict and appropriate peace strategies. The future of UN peace operations will depend on the ability of the Council's engaged participants to discover shared interests and points of convergence in their causal and principled beliefs. Keywords: United Nations, Security Council, China, Darfur, East Timor

AS ANYONE WHO HAS STUDIED THE UN ALREADY KNOWS, THE SECURITY Council was designed to take action only with the consent or acquiescence of its permanent members. The threat of the veto is often sufficient to prevent action by the Council. (1) While focusing on the interests of the Council's permanent members is a good starting point, it provides a limited understanding of Council action. As Judith Goldstein and Robert O. Keohane note, "When collective action requires persuasion rather than mere coercion... reasons must be given for proposed courses of action; when reasons are required, ideas become important." (2) China's understanding of the causes of internal armed conflict, as well as its normative view of the appropriate role of the international community in the resolution of civil wars, have long been features of its foreign policy rhetoric. As China's military and economic power increased, so did its capacity and determination to shape UN peace operations. By the late 1990s, China had become an engaged participant in Council decisionmaking. Council responses to civil conflict increasingly reflected not only China's national interests but also its understandings of the causes of conflict and assessments of the efficacy and appropriateness of specific conflict resolution strategies.

Building on the work of others that sought to explain why civil conflict became a focus of Security Council action during the 1990s, in this essay I ask: How has China's subsequent transition from a regional to a global actor--with accompanying interests, capabilities, and desire to be seen as a global leader--shaped UN strategies to resolve civil conflict? The UN's responses to East Timor and Darfur provide dramatic examples of how the differences in interests, causal beliefs, and principled beliefs between engaged members of the Council impact Council responses to internal armed conflict. The Darfur case differs from most other cases before the Council in that it occurred during a period in which China had a significant interest in, and capacity for, diplomatic engagement. Additionally, its relationship with the Government of Sudan (GoS) allowed it to play a more influential role than in previous cases before the Security Council.

The Security Council, Civil War, and the Democratic Peace

Now that internal armed conflict is a regular feature of the Security Council agenda, it is sometimes hard to remember that for its first forty years intrastate conflict was viewed as beyond the Security Council's mandate to promote international peace and security. The end of the Cold War marked a significant period of experimentation in UN responses to internal armed conflict. Peacekeeping operations created after the end of the Cold War were often complex civilian-military missions tasked with peace enforcement, humanitarian assistance, and postconflict peacebuilding. Peacebuilding operations marked an important shift in the Council's approach to international peace and security, as it gave the UN a direct role in the implementation of negotiated settlements to end civil wars. By "building the political conditions for sustainable, democratic peace" the UN acquired a "prominent role... as an agent of democratic transition." (3) The vision of a postconflict political system rooted in a distinctly liberal standard of political legitimacy became a common element in peacekeeping mandates. (4)

While interest-based accounts, with emphasis on the Security Council's veto-wielding members, are most commonly used to explain Council actions, interests alone provide only limited insight into their content and timing. Another way of viewing the Council is to understand it as an "organized anarchy." Michael D. Cohen, James G. March, and Johan P. Olsen argue that all organizations are organized anarchies to a greater or lesser degree to the extent that: (1) decisions are informed by "inconsistent and ill-defined preferences"; (2) policy choices are made on the "basis of trial-and-error"; and (3) the "attention patterns" of participants vary over time. (5) In this view, the policy process is highly contingent on the mix of issues on the agenda and the interests and ideas of engaged participants.

Michael Lipson, building on this concept of organized anarchies, argues that with the end of the Cold War, the great powers had far fewer security and political interests that could be achieved by foreign intervention. (6) At the same time, especially for Western states, the spread of global communications and mass media "made it politically desirable, at times even necessary, to do so." From the perspective of the Permanent Three (P3; the United States, the United Kingdom, and France), interests led to the identification of a problem. But other than a preference for a UN-based solution that would allow states to be seen as "doing something" while minimizing the costs of involvement, (7) those interests did not determine a policy solution. In organized anarchies, "problems are joined to policies... as the result of their coming to the fore at the same time." (8) In the context of the democratic "zeitgeist" of the third wave of democratization, (9) once civil conflict became a problem to be solved at the Security Council, it was matched to democratization as a core element in the UN's response to civil conflict. In the words of one close observer, "Democracy ... was said to be the foundation of 'peace and security.' That 'democratic states don't go to war with one another' became a cliche for many member states and UN officials, and Boutros-Ghali himself stated that democratic states were less likely to have domestic conflicts or become embroiled in regional wars." (10) This turn to democratization as a peace strategy aligns with Goldstein and Keohane's contention that actor preferences reflect not only interests but also principled beliefs (e.g., "normative ideas that specify criterion for distinguishing right from wrong") and causal beliefs (e.g., "ideas about cause-effect relationships"). (11)

The peace through democracy paradigm is based on a causal belief that civil war is the product of political exclusion resulting from poorly designed political and legal structures. Internal armed conflict is a struggle against illegitimate governance. The development of liberal democratic institutions (i.e., representative institutions, separation of powers, rule of law, and protection of civil and political rights) is said to provide the necessary institutional and legal mechanisms to legitimize the political process. The legitimacy of democracy rests not only on its participatory and representative qualities, but also on the expectation that the political process is fluid enough that all members of society can reasonably expect to achieve enough of their aspirations (in part through processes of compromise associated with coalition building) that they will prefer to participate in the political process and abide by its outcomes rather than engage in armed revolt against the system. (12)

Support for the peace through democracy paradigm was reinforced by shifting priorities in bilateral and multilateral aid policy. Absent Cold War geopolitical concerns, the P3 could no longer justify support for nondemocratic and abusive regimes to either domestic or international audiences. "By 1992 virtually all Western donors and aid organizations had put democratic reform and respect for human rights and good governance at the heart of their assistance programmes." (13) In addition to their support of democracy, they shared a number of beliefs about the appropriateness and efficacy of third-party involvement in the resolution of civil conflict. In peacemaking and peacebuilding efforts throughout the 1990s, the economic levers of diplomacy were exercised not only via Security Council resolutions, but also in actions taken outside the Council framework. "Group of Friends" (14) and donor aid conditionality played crucial supporting roles in a number of peace processes (including El Salvador, Cambodia, and Mozambique) because of their nuanced ability to reward target behavior. (15) The causal belief behind aid conditionality policies is supported by conflict resolution theories that highlight the role of third parties in creating and maintaining the conditions of ripeness through the negotiation and implementation phases of the peace process. (16) Additional principled beliefs relate to the appropriateness of programs designed to promote peace, human rights, and democratization, and the right of donors to determine the terms under which they grant foreign aid. Because Western donors were the primary source of foreign aid--either directly or through the international financial institutions they dominated--aid was an important source of leverage in support of the implementation of early peacebuilding mandates. (17)

Although the peace through democracy paradigm was accepted on the basis of both causal and principled beliefs by the P3 and many of the Security Council's elected members, its influence on Council efforts to resolve internal armed conflict would ultimately depend on the willingness of Russia and China to go...

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