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Is US Diplomatic Practice ‘Legal’? An Analysis of UN Chapter VI and Power Perception

Claudiu Sonda



When it comes to envisioning peaceful relations among the peoples, there is no higher source of inspiration than the UN Charter and the global organization it created. The founding fathers of the new world order were very much aware of the misfortunes that characterize international affairs. It can be argued that they were naïve in hoping to have found the solution to war but their trust in the power of diplomacy is a fact. For definition, we are referring to diplomacy as all the necessary peaceful means that aim at achieving cooperation and dialogue among conflictual world actors.

There seem to exist two opposing views on the role of the UN in the settlement of disputes. On the one hand we have the institutionalists who believe in the ability of this organization to act as an independent actor, while on the other we have sceptical realists who see the primacy of the member states over the UN. However, the aim of this paper is not how the UN operates but what it believes in. Also, to observe if powerful states such as the US follow the UN normative prescriptions on diplomacy. I find it relevant to absorb the essence of UN’s view on diplomacy and compare it to the US perspective. The US case is emblematic since it illustrates how the perception of power affects diplomatic practice.


Source: United Nations Photo @ Flickr

But first we should comprehend UN’s view on diplomacy. This is best expressed by Chapter VI of  the Charter, more specifically Article 33.1 which can be considered as the more peaceful and legitimate alternative to Chapter VII’s forceful intervention provisions. What we get from this article is a legalistic and idealistic way of handling conflictual situations on the global arena. Its provisions have a few elements in common, namely the assumption that there is an international legal order that can deliver justice, that diplomatic practice is the safest way to resolve disputes, equality among states, and that militant unilateralism threatens peace and security. What does the famous Chapter VII stand for? We can shortly affirm that it enforces peace, while Chapter VI maintains it. The numbering of the articles is relevant since it gives precedence to diplomacy over interventionism. It can be argued that the constant invocation of Article VII shows the failure of diplomacy in world affairs but this does not cancel the UN’s great hope in the antique practice of ‘communication and representation’.

It might tempting to associate the UN’s approach to diplomacy with the rationalist/liberal internationalist school of IR but I will stay away from the IR debate. So how do great powers relate to this vision? I would argue that it all depends on power perception, meaning what constitutes power in the eyes of leaders. To best notice this I will delve into Obama’s foreign policy while touching upon the neoconservative narrative of the role of diplomacy as a counterexample.


Source: US Department of Defense Current Photos @ Flickr

Obama’s ‘engagement’ with the world and most vitally with the ‘enemies’ appears a foreign policy in itself. The US president and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton translated this into summitry participation, increased investment in the US ‘civilian power’ abroad to catch up with the high military spending, and the pursuit of stable partnerships with the other leading countries or international organizations. What lies under this policy? It is the respect for the interests of counterparts, for international law and the order it creates, the doubtless reliance on the effectiveness of communication and negotiation (backed in this particular case by big sticks) but also much pragmatism.

In international politics, pragmatism is the natural sign that reality differs from aspirations. Obama’s administration cleverly understands the times and US’s true position in the world. First, self-reliance and unilateral behaviour is not sustainable anymore. Second, and this is key, the source for American leadership (power) is according to Obama its constant interaction with international institutions and norms. Furthermore, US security depends on alliances as ‘force multipliers’. Finally, the Security Strategy of the US underlines the need for the UN to be capable of ‘fulfilling its founding purpose’. To sum up, we have a clear case of diplomacy as instrument of smart power. We can therefore say that Obama’s understanding of diplomacy is in tune with international law. The opposite can be argued as well but I would say Obama’s intentions in this sense are a success if we consider some relevant opinions that explain how in fact America is not that good in diplomacy for reasons that range from distrust in this practice, to the privilege given to hard power over soft power, to instrumental diplomatic isolation of adversaries and so on.

Even more helpful in making sense of Obama’s diplomatic legality is to remember the previous Bush administration and the neo-conservative ideology that stood behind its foreign policy. The first related aspect that strikes at first sight is the election of Colin Powell as head of US diplomacy in 2001, a public figure that can be called in Wiseman’s terms an ‘anti-diplomat’, meaning an official with a military and intelligence background. This nomination can be conceptualized as the triumph of militarism over diplomacy in foreign policy.


Source: DonkeyHotey @ Flick

We could argue following the logic used in Obama’s case that the foreign policy of George W. Bush did not conceive of diplomacy as the UN under Chapter VI of its Charter does. If we give legal authority to this later document we can conclude that in principle, Bush’s diplomatic practice was illegal or at least not legal. Why did this particular American administration disregard diplomacy? I would again argue for the role of power perception. Robert Kagan, a representative of neo-conservatism, the ideology behind Bush’s foreign policy, talks of the American ‘strategic culture’ characterized by good and evil distinctions, ‘less patience’ when it comes to diplomatic practice, favour for coercion and finally unilateralism. Making a comparison to the EU, he suggests that the power balance between Europe and America has changed and that today the US is powerful and therefore it only acts as powerful states do. Moreover, an essential element in grasping this ideology is American exceptionalism, namely that the world’s interests coincide with America’s.

In conclusion, the legal and idealistic prescriptions on diplomacy are fixed by the UN Charter. Not the same can be said about the diplomatic practice of the US. Based on its perception of power, diplomacy can be a goal in itself or an obstacle. In short, international law in reality succumbs to state interest but not without consequences. Even Condoleeza Rice’s search for legitimacy in the UN and Obama’s smart power strategy prove that the power of a state can be threatened by a decrease in legitimacy.


  1. Carlsnaes W, Risse T., Simmons B. (2002), Diplomacy, Bargaining and Negotiation, in Handbook of International Relations, pp. 212-235, SAGE Publications Ltd;
  2. Charter of the United Nations (1945). Website:;
  3. Colin Powell biography. Website:;
  4. Kagan R. (2004), Of Paradise and Power. America and Europe in the New World Order, Vintage Books;
  5. Kerr P., Wiseman G. (2013), Diplomacy in a globalizing world. Theories and Practices, Oxford University Press;
  6. National Security Strategy (2010), The White House;
  7. Nye J. Jr. (2011), The Future of Power, Public Affairs;
  8. Ratner S. (1995), Image and Reality in the UN’s Peaceful Settlement of Disputes, EJIL, pp. 426-444;
  9. Website:;
  10. Wiseman G. (2011), Distinctive Characteristics of American Diplomacy, The Hague Journal of Diplomacy 6, pp.235-259, Marinus Nijhoff Publishers.

Passionate student of IR and European politics with an interest in developing a high-level expertise in International Security and geopolitics.

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Yes, You Should Start Caring About Politics!



One of the most common things that you hear from people a lot of the time is something along the lines of “I just don’t really care about politics.” In fact, you might have even said something along those lines yourself. And it can be tempting to fall into this line of thinking. After all, politics are hardly the most exciting or exotic things in the world. However, the truth is that they impact your life in different ways every single day and if you choose to ignore politics, then that just meant that you’re going to end up falling victim to policies that harm you and the people around you. With that in mind, here are some ways that you can start being more politically minded right now.

Know the issues

Do you know where you stand on many of the most important issues of the modern day? Do you know what most of those issues are? The truth is that many people would rather ignore a lot of the problems that society and the world at large face simply because it can feel as though they’re too big to deal with. Things like the economy, climate change, and social justice aren’t just abstract concepts; they’re things that impact the lives of real people every single day. Being more informed about the issues will allow you to have a much better understanding of your own political views.

Know who to speak to

Do you know who your senator is? Your representative? Most people tend to only know major politicians who have held office at one point or another. Sure, you probably know the president or a senator like John Mccain. But what about all of the other senators like Doug Jones or Mike Crapo? These are the people you can actually contact if you want to start making some changes in the world. Getting to know who you can contact can help you feel much more involved in the modern political process.

Forget about personalities and focus on policies

Modern politics has become as much of a game of personalities as anything else. But the truth is that the personalities of individual politicians are far less important than the policies that they and their party want to enact. After all, the policies are the things that will actually make a difference in people’s lives. You should never vote just because you like or dislike the way that a particular politician talks or what their personality seems to be like. Always vote on policies, not personalities.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you should suddenly let politics take over every conversation that you have or that you need to be constantly thinking about it. But trying to bury your head in the sand and ignore the things that are going on around you isn’t going to do you any good. The only way that you can start to make some genuine changes in the world is if you face up to the realities of the modern world and try to do something about it.

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How Mafia-States Get Away with Criminality



In theory, all 195 states adhere to the Charter of the United Nations and therefore pledge “to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained”. In other words, to play the game and adhere to basic governmental principles. That’s in theory: in practice, a handful of states in the world behave like mafias, and get away with it.

President George W. Bush first used the terms “failed states” or “rogue states”, during his office. Rogue states seem more adapted because, if they are failed states in the sense that they do not carry out their mission, they are not failed for everyone. Afghanistan is, still today, one of the most prominent examples of how to get personally rich by pretending to represent people. In the wake of the NATO intervention in Afghanistan, billions of dollars were poured into the country in reconstruction efforts, based on the belief that if the population was schooled and busy at work, they would be less likely to join rebel ranks. The idea was good, but most of the massive funds were sidetracked to line officials’ pockets and Afghanistan is pretty much in the same shape as it was before the program, if not worse. Business Insider covered the subject (1): “All districts receive central government budget to cover salaries of front-line forces,” reporter Jessica Purkiss wrote for the Bureau. “In many areas in Afghanistan, some of this budget disappears and the actual number of officers tasked with holding back the Taliban is much lower than the number actually allotted.”

And such rogue states also exist close to the Western sphere of Europe and the US. Almost every single State in Central and South America is at the warning level on the Fragile State Index (2) (the term was brushed up to sound less definitively damning than President Bush’s wording). Hungary was bashed this year, along with the rest of EU low-performers, for dropping sharply in the EU’s good governance ranking, as reported by Nicolaj Nielsen, for the EU observer (3): “Bulgaria scored the worst among EU states with 41, followed by Greece (44), Italy (47), Romania (48), Hungary (48), and Croatia (49). Dolan faulted the crackdown on civil society and other independent institutions in Croatia and Hungary for their worsening performance. Both governments were also embroiled in scandals last year. In one case, Hungary’s government allegedly funneled money from the Central Bank to friends and family.” Prime Minister Viktor Orbán learned from the report (4) that “Hungary loses 200 billion forints every year due to the corruption that exists in public procurement cases.”

Not to forget that States are not all mutually recognized and accepted, some of them are self-proclaimed. While some do indeed strive to carry out their stated mission and serve the people they claim to represent, some other are merely mafia groups with a political cover, which deal in various traffics and racketeering. Bordering Morocco, Algeria and Mauritania, lies Western Sahara, where a group named the Polisario Front announced to the world that it was the shield of the Sahrawi people, who originate from the arid strip of land, with the stated intent of creating a sovereign state. But that must be put into perspective with the endless list of allegations and accusations carried against it, regarding the Polisario’s management of refugee camps in Algeria for example. The self-proclaimed government of the Sahrawi – namely the SADR (Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic) – is known for keeping the refugees captive in the camps, or keeping family members as hostage to guarantee men’s returns, maintaining a general state of violence and lawlessness within the compound. In addition, the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) has serious doubts (5) as to what becomes of the humanitarian aid it sends. It suspects not only the food to be sidetracked and sold on the black market, but also to be requested in excessive numbers – the Polisario front claims it holds up to 200 000 refugees but has systematically refused census, leading humanitarian donors to believe the figures are doubtful.

Can this be avoided? Hardly, at the general level. Pablo Escobar coined the phrase which underlies the entire system : Plata o plomo (silver or lead). Officials could be paid off to keep silent and play along, or be shot. Therefore, it is in the nature of corruption systems to maintain themselves because, should a “pure” official arise, he will be removed and replaced by a more complacent one.

Mafia states use the cover of darkness or, better still, a politically activist stance. The Colombian FARCs – Polisario’s allies, incidentally… – and the Medellin Cartel, run by Pablo Escobar, had an intense PR activity with many “social and humanitarian” poses, to help improve their public image and stymie political push-backs. The Polisario Front has moved much of its assaults to the judicial level, in a new form of “civilized” piracy, including with the surprise attempt to seize a Moroccan shipload earlier this year in South Africa. “The conclusion of this case will actually tell us whether it is now conceivable, on the judiciary level, that international shipping industry – which carries 90% of global trade – become hostage to some form of unprecedented and increasingly vicious political piracy,” wrote Philippe Delebecque (6), a French judge specializing in maritime affairs.

Mafia states are here to stay, because the mafia creates the state, and not the other way around. Once the mafia has developed its tentacles and political power enough, it will make kings and topple uncooperative administrators. Other states in the world are fully aware of this fact, and that if they bust a mafia-state, another will replace it within weeks. So, in the best cases, neighboring countries let it be; in the worst cases, they get involved in the graft.


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Should You Support Universal Basic Income? Who else is in favour?

Manak Suri



In the previous article “Universal Basic Income: In Action” we explored that Universal Basic Income under different variants is already being put to trial in different provinces of a number of countries around the world. Before that, in “Universal Basic Income: The Idea” we weighed the potential of UBI in creating a monumental change in the way humanity as a society functions as of today. While there’s still quite some time required to ascertain how easily and efficiently the system can be put into effect and whether it should be put into place at all, some of the more apparent advantages, as well as flaws of the system, are repeatedly considered by experts in determining the answers to the aforementioned questions. In addition, many influential figures have also come out both in support of UBI as well as against it. Let’s take a look at the support UBI has garnered as well as the supposed benefits and criticisms of UBI.

Pros of Universal Basic Income

The first argument often cited in favour of UBI is for its potential to alleviate poverty, improve the standard of living and vastly reduce income inequality no matter which country it is implemented in. the Alaska Permanent Fund (AFP), which we’ve already discussed, was instrumental in improving the state’s income equality rank from 30 to 2. UBI trials in Namibia, Kenya, and parts of India have also yielded positive results in this regard. UBI has also resulted in the improvement of health, especially mental health, as reported by people who have been part of UBI trials in Ontario, Canada. UBI also encourages entrepreneurial behaviour since it guarantees basic subsistence thereby providing an incentive for people to take up a line of work of their liking. UBI trials in India and Namibia have also shown that it has helped promote financial decision making by women resulting in their empowerment. A guarantee of a fixed income every month also brings more power to people when it comes to deciding where they should spend money. The Roosevelt Institute research we discussed previously also suggests an overall growth in the US economy with a countrywide implementation of UBI. UBI is also expected to lead to a positive job growth and lower the dropout rates in schools since it provides more security to families.

Cons of Universal Basic Income

The critics of UBI argue that money that is essential for the poor is being redirected towards the wealthy and those citizens who have no need for it. Robert Greenstein, founder and President of Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington D.C.  “if you take the dollars targeted on people in the bottom fifth or two-fifths of the population and convert them to universal payments to people all the way up the income scale, you’re redistributing income upward. That would increase poverty and inequality rather than reduce them.” In addition to that, it is often argued that UBI programs are highly ineffective when compared to welfare programs that are implemented on targeted populations. Therefore, unless UBI is implemented without the scrapping off of such welfare schemes, it is likely to find opposition from a huge number of people who currently benefit from these programs. Another argument against UBI one may repeatedly encounter is that UBI reduces the incentive to work, which leads to huge costs for the economy. This may also lead to a dearth of skilled and unskilled labour in the economy. The Swiss government have opposed the implementation of UBI for the very same reason, fearing that the current labour shortages may be exacerbated. Finally, an argument that also holds the door open for many debates is that UBI is too expensive to implement and will cost a lot to the government. As opposed to studies which show a growth in the economies through the implementation of UBI, many economists have also opposed it, claiming that UBI in the more developed nations will be very expensive to guarantee an acceptable standard of living to all the citizens.

Who Supports Universal Basic Income?

Since the idea was first proposed by Sir Thomas More in 1516, UBI has found suitors throughout recent history. Founding father of the United States Thomas Paine was in favour of it, philosopher and Nobel Laureate Bertrand Russell argued in its favour, and even Martin Luther King said: “the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income.” American economist Milton Friedman, Bishop Desmond Tutu, and even former US President Richard Nixon came close to bringing UBI to the United States. As of today, a number of high profile names in the Silicon Valley have expressed their support for UBI. An advocate of entrepreneurship and creativity, Mark Zuckerberg sighted UBI as an worth a look in his statement at his Harvard commencement address: “We should explore ideas like universal basic income to make sure that everyone has a cushion to try new ideas.” Tesla co-founder and CEO Elon Musk believes implementation of UBI is inevitable. “There’s a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation,” Musk said in an interview in 2016. Pierre Omidyar, founder of eBay also donated towards a UBI experiment in Kenya. Coursera founder Andrew Ng expressed on Twitter: “More than ever, we need a basic income to limit everyone’s downside, and better education to give everyone an upside.” The list does not stop here.

UBI has at least gained enough attention to get people, investors, world leaders, and governments to talk about it and more importantly experiment with it. The results are not yet out and will take a considerable amount of time still to be able to present a final verdict on UBI and its effectiveness. However, as robots make humans redundant in recurring waves, is there still enough time to just be experimenting?

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