International Squads | theSkimm

International Squads

Published on: Aug 26, 2019fb-roundtwitter-roundemail-round
Trump and Merkel Getty Images

The Story

Things the international community loves: group projects and work retreats.

The Background

Thanks to industrialism and developments in transportation and communication in the 19th century, the need grew for agencies with specific purposes. Meet, international organizations, which helped governments collaborate and deal with problems. After WWI, the League of Nations was established in 1919 to give countries a forum to resolve international disputes. Then WWII happened and the League realized it needed a revamp if it wanted to get real about preventing international conflict. Enter, the United Nations, which became official in 1945. Hello, intergovernmental organization (IGO), a specific type of squad that's formed by treaty.

Why does that matter?

Because it means they’re subject to international law and have the ability to enforce agreements between member countries. An IGO involves two or more countries that are working on issues of common interest, with the goal of making the world a better place. 

Ah yes, the elusive world peace.

Exactly. An IGO may work on issues like peace, security, the economy, or even social issues. We say all this because not all international groups are technically IGOs. Groups including the G7 and the G20 – which we'll get into in a minute – are not bound by treaty. This means that while they may make joint statements and work towards common goals, they may be less effective since there aren’t ways to enforce those statements and goals.

Got it got it. I’m ready to get into the groups.

Let’s do this…

If you want a basic refresher on who is part of each of these groups and what their overall purpose is, we Skimm’d that here. You’re welcome.

But it can be difficult to pin down what exactly all of these groups do, what they’ve accomplished, and whether they are effective. That’s what we’re going to break down here.

The Squad

EU...European Union. Aka the cool kids on the European bloc. Made up of 28 countries, with everyone from France and Germany to Malta and Luxembourg. 

The Impact

The single market is one of the EU's biggest achievements because it guarantees the free movement of people, goods, and services, among many other things. As European citizens, people are given the opportunity to move freely and work, study, and live across the union with little to no trouble. The single currency has encouraged economic growth and helped strengthen the EU. Think: economic integration across the region, encouraging development in the private sector, and making the region an attractive place for trade). The EU can also write and enforce legislation, like GDPR (aka the reason you got all those emails about terms of service changes last year). Of course, Brexit threatens to throw a major wrench in this system. We explain the implications in our Guide to Brexit.

The Squad

G7...Group of Seven. Made up of seven democratic, rich, and industrialized countries. Say hiiii to the US, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the UK. 

The Impact

Welcome to a nice photo op. That’s because this is an informal bloc. Some say that its size (have we mentioned it only has seven member countries?) comes in handy when reaching collective decisions on issues like international security and the global economy. Others say there’s not a lot of follow-through on goals and that the group excludes emerging powers, giving it a limited POV when making decisions that could potentially impact the world.

The Squad

G20...Group of 20. A less exclusive version of the G7.

The Impact

It’s all about the joint statements and goals. Like the G7, the G20 is an informal group that's not bound by any legal obligations. Here are some of its highlights:

  • In 2008, the G20 leaders joined forces to address the financial crisis. The group pledged over $1 trillion to the IMF to pump money back into the global economy.  

  • At the 2016 summit, then-President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping formally committed their countries to the Paris climate agreement. President Trump has since withdrawn the US from the deal. 

Member countries continue to work towards things like fighting terrorism, gender equality, and climate change, plus supporting global health. Leaders will also have one-on-ones on the sidelines of the annual G20 summit to talk things out. This can lead to major agreements. For example, when this year’s G20 wrapped up in late June, China and the US agreed on a trade war truce. TBD whether that holds.

The Squad

IAEA...International Atomic Energy Agency. The group that tries to get leaders like North Korea’s Kim Jong Un to drop their nukes.

The Impact

Here's a humble brag: The group won the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts using diplomacy to prevent nuclear weapons conflicts. The group’s responsibilities include conducting site inspections to make sure nuclear materials aren't being misused and developing international safety standards. It also recognizes climate change as one of the biggest environmental challenges and last year held a scientific forum to see what role nuclear science can play in monitoring and adapting to climate change.

The Squad

ICC...International Criminal Court. Located in The Hague, Netherlands. The court oversees cases on genocides, war crimes, and crimes against humanity around the world. 

The Impact

One of the key features of the ICC is giving people a fair trial when they've run out of options, and in holding government officials accountable. Cases can be referred to the court by the United Nations Security Council, or the ICC prosecutor can initiate an investigation on their own. The ICC has had to step in on many cases. For example: In 2016, Islamic militant Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi was found guilty of war crimes for destroying religious and historic monuments in the ancient city of Timbuktu, Mali – the first time the ICC tried the destruction of cultural heritage as a war crime. But as with other international orgs, not everyone is a fan. Some countries think the ICC threatens their constitutional authority. In 2017, Burundi became the first member state to officially withdraw from the ICC. This was over a year after the ICC opened a preliminary investigation into crimes against humanity in the country. Russia also withdrew after the ICC released a report accusing the country of war crimes for annexing Crimea.

The Squad

IMF...International Monetary Fund.

The Impact

Think of the IMF as the financial firefighter. But instead of water, it uses cash money. Literally. It has roughly $1 trillion in lending power. Yes, with a ’t.’ The IMF reinforces that economic problems don’t just concern individual countries but rather the whole international community. It has helped improve financial situations in places like Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia, and Mexico by doing things like lending money to help shore up confidence in their economies. And during the 2008 global financial crisis and European debt crisis, it provided significant bailouts in places like Greece, Iceland, Ireland, and Portugal to prevent things from getting worse.

The Squad

NATO...North Atlantic Treaty Organization. A military alliance made up of 29 mostly European countries, plus the US and Canada.

The Impact

The backbone of NATO is a mutual defense commitment, basically a formal way of saying if one country is attacked, it’s as if they’ve all been attacked. It was created to counter the threat of the rise of Soviet Union, and ensures member countries all have each other’s backs. It’s only been evoked once, after 9/11. That meant sending thousands of NATO troops (troops from various member countries) to Afghanistan to do things like train Afghan forces in the fight against terrorism. Today, NATO still has troops in Afghanistan. Its other major operations include monitoring the Mediterranean, preventing illicit weapons trade, and fighting ISIS.

The Squad

NAFTA...North American Free Trade Agreement. A threesome (not the kind you’re thinking) between the US, Canada, and Mexico.

The Impact

Pretty much everyone and their economic mother has strong feelings about whether NAFTA has paid off. Here’s what we do know: when you crunch the numbers, most studies show that NAFTA has had a positive effect on the US economy. But that effect has been pretty small. Critics say that NAFTA drove competition for low-wage jobs and created a giant trade deficit with Mexico, leading to job losses and suppressing wage growth. Supporters say roughly 14 million US jobs rely on trade with Canada and Mexico. That the deal has created higher-paying jobs than the ones that were lost. And that the increased competition means lower prices and better-quality goods for consumers.

The Squad

OPEC...Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. The group that’s feeling gassy. It’s made up of 14 countries from the Middle East, Africa, and South America that produce 40% of the world’s crude oil.

The Impact

Research reportedly shows that overall, oil would cost less if OPEC wasn’t a thing. But OPEC’s influence has taken a hit over the years. There are a few reasons for this. New technology like fracking has allowed the US to access previously untapped oil reserves. In recent years, the US has become the world’s largest oil producer, making it more of a power player in the global energy industry – less reliant on OPEC members for oil and less susceptible to the effects of OPEC policies. The counter this, OPEC has gotten cozy with Russia and a few other oil exporters to try to maintain its grip on oil prices. But it’s proven difficult to get Russia on board with OPEC’s agenda. Meanwhile, political rivalries between OPEC members like Saudi Arabia (the largest exporter of petroleum), United Arab Emirates, and Qatar (which dropped out of the group) also haven’t exactly helped the org maintain a united front. All of this is raising questions about OPEC’s power moving forward.

The Squad

TPP...Trans-Pacific Partnership. Kinda like NAFTA, but newer and with more countries. It’s a trade agreement between some countries along the Pacific Rim, from Malaysia to Canada to Peru.

The Impact

The CPTPP is one of the largest multinational trade deals ever, and the participating countries rep 13% of global GDP. But the deal basically still has tags on – it went into effect at the very end of 2018, so it’s a bit early to get a read on its impact. But it’s expected to make US goods less competitive in CPTPP markets, which could hurt certain industries like farming.

The Squad

UN...United Nations. It became a thing after World War II to make the world a more peaceful and safer place. Nearly every country in the world is a member.

The Impact

UN efforts – from clearing landmines to increasing access to education to combating world hunger – have arguably impacted tens of millions of lives. But since its founding, it has become huge, with more than a dozen specialized agencies and a ballooning peacekeeping budget. This has led critics to call out the UN as an inefficient bureaucracy. Others say that parts of the UN, like the UN Security Council, give developed, rich countries outsized influence. And others point out that it has failed to respond to crises like the persecution of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, and alleged war crimes throughout the Syrian civil war.

The Squad

WHO...World Health Organization.

The Impact

WHO has some major wins to its name. Including eradicating smallpox. NBD. And reducing global smoking rates thanks to a legally-binding international treaty signed by more than 160 countries. It’s credited with reducing child mortality and maternal mortality (by about half since 2000). But similar to the UN, it’s also been called out for being slow to respond to crises, like taking its time to declare the recent Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo a global health emergency.

The Squad

WTO...World Trade Organization. Spoiler: it’s the world’s trading organization.

The Impact

Some say the WTO has helped open up trade around the globe and avoid trade wars by acting as a mediator. WTO member countries also have the power to sanction other countries when they don’t play by the trade rules. But the WTO has also come under fire, for many reasons that we won’t number here. One of the loudest complaints comes from the US. The Trump admin argues that the WTO’s special treatment of developing countries has given places like its BFF China an unfair advantage. Some say that the Trump admin going around the WTO by imposing its own tariffs on other countries weakens the institution.

The Debate

Some of these orgs are at a crossroads when it comes to their influence on global world order.

Team Every Country For Themself argues that the world is suffering from lack of leadership. That some countries have become increasingly focused on their own agendas, hurting the spirit of compromise and working for the collective good that these orgs were founded on. And that this is impacting everything from the TPP to the effectiveness of summits like the G20

Meanwhile, there’s Team Teamwork Makes the Trade Work, which includes the IMF, WTO, and World Bank. A few years ago, they issued a joint report essentially saying ‘you need us.’ That free trade has boosted global economic growth. That, yes, this sometimes leads to downsides like job losses. And that working together is better than going it alone. 

theSkimm

International squads facilitate diplomacy, uphold international laws and standards, and help countries do business in an increasingly global world. They can have a large-scale impact on countries’ economies and security. Given many were founded decades ago, the question some of them now face is whether they’ll continue to play an influential role in international relations as global power shifts.


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