Who are the International Community?

This year we’ve heard countless references to the so called ‘international community’ with regard to the events taking place in Libya. We were told how the international community expressed concern about Gaddafi’s crackdown on civilians. We were told how the international community was deciding what to do about old Gaddafi. We saw images of important men sitting around at important meetings in Europe, contrasted with footage of a cartoonish super-villain in the Middle East threatening death and destruction. Then we heard the media cheer as the international community ‘finally got its act together’, passed a resolution at the UN Security Council and started bombing Libya to protect its civilians.

So who are the international community? The term itself leads us to believe that it is the community of countries that make up our world. But is this really so? The UN Security Council, where the Libya resolution passed by a slim margin, only represents fifteen out of the 192 member states of the UN. India, China, Brazil and Russia did not support the Libyan intervention. India expressed regret at the allied force’s air strikes on Libyan targets. China affirmed its support for Libya’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin condemned the intervention, calling it a ‘crusade’. And we never even heard how a rally in Moscow demanded President Obama relinquish his Nobel Peace Prize due to the war in Libya—a sentiment echoed by Bolivian President Evo Morales; or how protestors in Philippines burned a US flag over the issue; or even how the African Union had spoken out against the bombardment.

Indeed the vast majority of the countries of the world, representing the vast majority of the peoples of the world, were not in favour of enforcing the ‘no fly zone’. So they could not have been ‘getting their act together’, so to speak. The international community we keep hearing about must then just mean the United States, United Kingdom, France and the Arab League (of dictators). And even within the Arab League, support came only from those most sycophantic despots who owe their rule over their own populations to US dominance in the region.

How can this be considered an international community then, if it excludes countries consisting of around 90 per cent of the world’s population?

Are we justified in excluding these countries because some, like China, are not democracies and therefore the views of their governments do not represent the views of their people? Not really. Even in democratic countries, governments’ decisions on foreign policy are often out of line with the wishes of their people. A case-in-point being the decision by the US, UK and Australian governments to invade Iraq despite the majority of their populations being opposed. In fact, around 50 per cent of the US population is thought to be against the current Libyan intervention, despite 95 per cent of the US media seemingly in support of it. Even if we accept the democracy argument, it does not justify the exclusion of countries like India, Brazil and many others in the developing world that have strong democratic credentials.

It would seem that the only criteria for being considered part of this exclusive club is that one must be a Western nation—or at the very least agree with Western nations on the issue at hand.

The Libyan crisis, however, has seen the corrupting of the term rise to new heights. The Western media morphs the international community into different groupings at different times, depending on the argument being put forth. When it is seen to be taking action or making big decisions, the international community consists of Western nations who have some kind of unstated moral authority.

Yet when it is instructed to act, the international community becomes a more amorphous mass whose membership is unclear. It is this permutation of the international community that is lectured on how it must not ‘fail’ to act on Libya. But in whose view is it a failure? Nations decide what action they take based on their own interests, assessments and beliefs. The mere fact that a nation does not do what certain others want it to do does not mean that it ‘fails’. To suggest so reveals an omnipresent ‘Western gaze’ whereby all international issues are assumed from the perspective of a handful of countries.

One media commentator stated early on in the Libya crisis that the United States may be pressured to act in support of the rebels by the international community. Here the international community has been morphed into an even more exclusive club, this time consisting of only those who support the views of the particular media outlet making the comments—even the US government has not made the grade.

Such exclusive, limiting uses of the term international community, adapted to suit the purposes of the speaker, are dangerous and misleading. Western publics are presented with a false picture of the international world—one based in the twentieth century where the great decisions of war and peace are solely in the hands of a few Eurocentric powers. The present reality is much different. The sleeping giants of Asia are awakening and, for the first time in 500 years, they’re starting to throw their weight around. China and India have independent foreign policies and hold their own views on many global issues. Western publics need to be aware of this. Discussion of any ‘international community’ that excludes them is dangerous fiction. In the real world of international relations, Western governments are already realising this and attempting to adapt to the new realities. The Western media, however, has a lot of catching up to do.

Chaz Dias has worked in international organisations for a number of years and is currently undertaking a doctorate.

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