International Organizations, Global Governance and the role of Neoliberal institutions in the promotion of Postmodern Imperialism

Pristina, Kosovo 2017. Photo by Priya Singh

Since the origin of the Bretton-Woods system in the United States in 1944, international organizations have become the mechanism of choice used by state and non-state actors to enforce global norms of governance. Scholars and academics have argued that International Organizations (IO’s) have increasingly begun to act as promoters and managers of conflicts, nurture development, security, justice and even individual autonomy. The common idea behind this network of organizations is derived from the role they provide in creating the necessary framework of services and public goods while essentially monitoring agreements between states and civil society actors.

In the chapter titled ‘The Power of Liberal International Organizations,’ co-authors Michael Barnett and Martha Finnimore (Barnett et al, 2005) further assert that international organizations are at the hub of most theoretical and historical discussions of global governance. Their analysis focuses on the architecture surrounding a globalized world which requires mechanisms to manage the growing complexity of trans-national transactions.


This paper considers the dynamics between international organizations and civil society groups utilized by powerful actors, to create new systems, through social alliances and globalized opportunities. Spheres of authority related to broad-gauged advocacy networks, special interest organizations, informal networks of like-minded citizens, corporations and NGO’s are further employed to influence action and coerce compliance.

The focus of my argument in this paper is to highlight the strategic position conferred to international institutions used to further neoliberal foreign policies, specifically in the Middle East and North Africa. The role played by international governance and organizations to establish a future neo-trusteeship within the sovereign state of the Syrian Arab Republic, will serve as the case study.

Global Governance and its relationship with Power

Global governance has been used to define several characteristics related to the workings of power in the global world order and more so towards the study of international relations. Michael Duvall and Raymond Barnett (Barnett et al, 2005) argue that governance itself involves elements of power which inextricably involve rules, structures and institutions which guide, regulate and control social life. Inter-state power usually involves the ability of a “powerful state to use material resources to get another state to do what it otherwise wouldn’t do.” One such example given by Barnett and Duvall is that of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq which involved the willingness to abuse international organizations, laws and treaties as the most visible and destructive dimension of the use of power. As such, international organizations can be used as conduits or mechanisms through which powerful states can potentially interfere in the political affairs of smaller and usually politically fragile states.

Realism, Neo-Realism and Global Governance

“Right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” — Thucydides

The Melian Dialogue by Thucydides, describing the negotiations and eventual conflict between Athens and Melos during the Peloponnesian War, is considered to be one of the founding works of political/social interactions in the field of international relations and political theory. From ancient Greece to the current theater at any United Nations Security Council meeting, political realism continues with the recognition of great unbridled power, maintaining power and acquiring more power as the primary motivations for any state. Realism as a theory recognizes the power of competition, is fundamentally materialistic and contains a survivalist or protectionist mentality. Realism is also the oldest theoretical approach towards international relations, a philosophy which claims that States are the primary actors in the international arena and act in pursuit of their own interests.

In contrast, neoliberal institutionalism examines the interaction of states with each other, involving integration, that states should be able to work together “to mitigate the effects of anarchy, produce mutual gains and avoid shared harm.”

Neo-Liberal Economic Policies and Links to Recent Conflicts in the Middle East

Alfred Saad-Filho (Saad-Filho, 2010) in a research paper for UNDESA titled “Growth Poverty and Inequality” argues that the transition to neoliberal economic policies through the imposition of western democratic institutions has introduced serious pressures in several countries of the Global South. His report emphasizes the role of neoliberal economic policies which can demand a state to become hostile to the majority of its people, “even though a democratic state should be responsive to majority pressures.”

In recent decades, states in the Middle East and North Africa have been specifically targeted by the neoliberal growth model which specifies capital intensive development and maximization of surplus. With the United States led 2003 invasion of Iraq (Operation Enduring Freedom) and the subsequent bombing of Libya in 2011 (Operation Unified Protector) by NATO forces under the pretext of waging a war against dictatorial regimes, the role of advancing neoliberal institutions in states with different economic and political models cannot be ignored.

North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela and Syria, unlike the absolute monarchies based in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have been labeled as dictatorships by a mainly Western coalition. These sovereign nations have also been terrorized by covert regime change or “democratization” operations by Western governments, in particular by the United States. After interventions in Iraq and Libya where “dictators” were toppled by an international coalition led by the United States, France and the United Kingdom, several cities in both countries were thereby flattened by military air raids. In Iraq, civilians had already been suffering under a lengthy sanctions program, imposed upon them since 1991. Over half a million children under the age of five are documented to have died due to the inaccessibility of essential medicines, food and water.

As of today, years after the Western led military interventions, both Iraq and Libya face a growing refugee crisis amidst violent sectarianism. Libya which had the highest GDP in Africa prior to the NATO led intervention is today called a “failed state.” Once a thriving economy with a GDP per annum of $87.14 Billion in 2008, Libya’s GDP fell to $34.7 Billion in 2011 after the intervention. The same country, once known to be a mecca for migrant workers from all over Africa is currently experiencing a growing network of extremist groups who conduct human trafficking and indiscriminate attacks on civilian populations. Black Africans are specifically targeted by militias while reports of predominantly black slaves being sold in market places have surfaced across the world.

In a recent statement read out by Ambassador Koro Bessho of Japan, (United Nations Security Council President for December 2017) the slave trade of African migrants in Libya was condemned as “heinous human-rights abuses which may also amount to crimes against humanity.” The Ambassador called on those responsible for the said criminal activity to be held to account. My question to His Excellency Ambassador Bessho would be to ask whether the original architects of the Libyan intervention should be held accountable for the current chaos and violence affecting the region?

The risk for international corporations to invest in Libya is extremely high as the aftermath of the NATO led military intervention created several rival alliances, which continue to reject the UN recognized and led Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli. Reconstruction or investment since the intervention has been minimum except in the field of private military and security contractors. Unlike the unforeseen circumstances for reconstruction opportunities in Libya, Iraq and Kosovo have been ripe for the taking. Former officials of the US State Department after the intervention in Kosovo, had rushed to conduct business in the newly ‘liberated’ country.

State actors on the board of various coal, telecommunications and infrastructure building companies in the US, jostled for business opportunities. Amongst the privatization bids placed were those of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former Supreme Commander of NATO Wesley Clarke and James W. Pardeau, the Clinton era special envoy to the Balkans. Properties were being offered for sale as if they were the holdings of politicians, rather than the resources of all Kosovo residents. Stephen Suleyman Shwartz, Executive Director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism further notes, “the Self Determination representatives argued that Kosovo’s leaders aim to drive down the value of state assets so that they may be expropriated and sold.”

From my own research visit to Kosovo earlier this year (Balkans IFP, 2017), I met unofficially with representatives of a civil society group. In our two hour talk we discussed various aspects of Kosovo, specially the unemployment rate of Kosovar youth, which after 20 years of the NATO led humanitarian intervention is unofficially above 60%. I also observed that daily governance in the country was relegated to international organizations like the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EU-LEX) and the officially mandated United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo, (UNMIK). On a three-day visit to Prizren, a city located south of Ksovo’s capital Pristina, I walked past KFOR, the Kosovo Force, NATO’s support operation in Kosovo since 12 June 1999. Till today KFOR continues to derive its mandate from UNSC Resolution 1244 (1999) and the Military-Technical Agreement between NATO and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Serbia.

The situation in Iraq isn’t any different. Despite the country facing security and fiscal challenges, the American Chamber of Commerce in Iraq advertises the country as an “incredible opportunity for American businesses wishing to get into one of the largest economies of the Middle East.” The destruction of Iraqi infrastructure during the occupation of 2003, as well as the recent fight against ISIS in Mosul, under Operation Fatah (Conquest) continues to represent unlimited opportunities for investment in reconstruction and infrastructure development. A market oriented approach is supported by the US State Department for companies dealing with agricultural commodities, machinery, consumer goods, and defense articles. Iraq imports these commodities by the volume with U.S. exports to Iraq at $2.4 billion (a 46.8% increase over 2010), and Iraqi exports to the United States at $16.9 billion, almost entirely consisting of crude oil.

Neo Trusteeship and Postmodern Imperialism

In 2004, James Fearon and David Laitin from the Political Science department of Stanford University published their report titled ‘Neotrusteeship and the Problem of Weak States’ in the Quarterly Journal of International Security. In this report they argued that despite the Bush administration’s unwillingness to engage in “quixotic efforts” at nation building in contrast to that of the Clinton administration, the Bush presidency had since undertaken even larger engagements with such projects.

After interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US military had become engaged in “building kindergartens” in Afghanistan and instructing Iraqi’s “how to run town hall meetings with an agenda.” They argued that the US administration’s attempts at rebuilding “rogue” states after attacking and destroying them, was very different than rebuilding states that had failed on their own.

Fearson and Laitin argue that with such aggressive behaviors, the Bush administration was also staying true to its realist principles. As a result, the United States has been drawn into similar forms of international governance; multilateral burden sharing arrangements with other states to form international governance or neo trusteeships. Such efforts by foreign governments involve a strong degree of control over another state’s domestic political authority and economic functions. In contrast to classical definitions of imperialism, neo-trusteeships or new forms of rule consist of governance through a complex array of international organizations (IO’s), non-governmental organizations (NGO’s), civil society groups and other domestic institutions.

Case Study: Syria and the role of the United Kingdom in Covert State Building

The Syrian Arab Republic which until 1946 existed under the French mandate, in accordance with the Sykes-Picot agreement during World War 1, has since experienced its fair share of coups. The current Syrian government under Bashar Al Assad has been repeatedly called a repressive dictatorship by the corporate global media, yet several dictatorial regimes in the Middle East maintain economic and military alliances with the governments of France, United Kingdom and the United States. As a token of its alliance with the West, the Saudi monarchy distinguishes itself as one of the largest buyers of weapons in the world while Bahrain hosts Great Britain’s Royal Naval Support Facility and U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet. Since the early beginnings of the Syrian conflict, several states have been covertly funding armed militias, failed military and humanitarian interventions as well as a shadow-state building enterprise.

Great Britain has been providing government support to a range of actors who make up the Syrian “moderate opposition” — including the Syrian National Coalition and the Interim Government — local councils, NGOs, civil society, media and Human Rights activists. These agencies and groups have been provided with millions of British pounds from public funds. According to official statistics from the British Government’s website, the United Kingdom has worked closely with and provided over £67m of support to various opposition groups in Syria:

  • £15m ($21m) to support training of search and rescue operations for civil defense group the “White Helmets”
  • £8.2m ($11.4m) to support society and justice groups to build up the Free Syrian Police (FSP)
  • £5.3m ($7.4m) to support more than 300 Syrian journalists and activists to receive training in order to help develop an independent Syrian media
  • £4.4m ($6.2m) to support the Moderate Armed Opposition (MAO)

Very recently the BBC (December 4, 2017) reported that UK foreign aid money was being diverted towards extremist groups through an international organization called Adam Smith International, operating as a foreign aid contractor. The allegations include the collaboration of the FSP (Free Syrian Police funded by the UK government) to be working with traditional Islamic courts carrying out brutal sentences while police officers were being handpicked by extremist groups. Payroll of the Free Syrian Police also included dead and fictitious people.

The UK government’s department for international development, DFID responded by stating “the Foreign Office has suspended this programme while they investigate the allegations that some money meant for the Civilian Police Force — Free Syrian Police — could have ended up in the hands of terrorist groups and that there were human rights abuses present in the programme.”

White Helmets: Vanessa Beeley, journalist and photographer, daughter of Harold Beeley, the former British Diplomat and historian, argues that the biggest initiative to undermine and delegitimize the Syrian government has been the creation of an NGO called the White Helmets. Ms Beeley argues the White Helmets are not a grassroots initiative as claimed by the western partners but consist of an operation funded and trained by the governments of the United Kingdom, United States, EU, Japan and Arab states. Their purpose, she argues is to provide emotive videos and photographic images to help in generating money from public donations from around the world.

The White Helmets group claims to identify as ‘Syria’s Civil Defense’ a search and rescue operation, but are only restricted to operating in non government controlled areas e.g. Idlib and Daraa governorate of Syria, which are embedded with several foreign sponsored militants. This search and rescue group is also not accessible by a public telephone number in Syria unlike the legitimate government operated and recognized Syria Civil Defense, in partnership with ICDO, the International Civil Defense Organization based in Geneva. The current Syrian Government has been part of this internationally recognized organization since December 1972, unlike the White Helmets search and rescue group which was formed in 2013, then marketed by a PR company called Purpose under the brand name The Syria Campaign.

Ms Beeley argues that the founder of the White Helmets is James Le Mesurier, a British intelligence officer with 20 years of experience delivering “stabilization activities through democratization programs.” Mr Mesurier, a former graduate of UK’s Sandhurst Royal Military college has held various high profile posts at the United Nations, EU and the UK Foreign Office. According to Ms Beeley, James Le Mesurier, through his company Mayday Rescue, based in Amsterdam has provided training to the ‘White Helmets’ in search and rescue operations since 2013, through program coordination in Turkey. Most notably, she argues Mr Mesurier served as an intelligence coordinator for Pristina City in Kosovo soon after NATO’s intervention.

While conducting research on my own to verify Ms Beeley’s arguments, I found that in 2008, Mr Mesurier had been appointed as Principal to Good Harbor International, a leading global provider of strategic risk advisory services. Good Harbor International is currently chaired by Richard A. Clarke, who has served under last three US presidents as Senior White House Advisor. Mr Clarke, an internationally recognized expert on security and counter-terrorism has also served in the Pentagon, part of the intelligence community and the State Department for 19 years. On June 11, 2016 Mr James Le Mesurier was publicly recorded on The Gazette for receiving an Order of the British Empire from the Queen, “for services to Syria Civil Defence and the protection of civilians in Syria.”

The Free Syria Police: (FSP) is a similar construct as the White Helmets and partly funded by the British government. Their head office is located in Aleppo province which is a short drive from Syria’s border with Turkey. The FSP was formed in 2012 and trained by General Adeeb al Shallaf, who once held a senior position within the Syrian government and David Robson, a former senior British Army officer who heads the program’s team. The police force which in 2017 consisted of 2,300 mostly unarmed officers claims to provide service to the rebel held districts of Idlib, Aleppo and Daraa (similar to the operations of the White Helmets). In a BBC report Mr Robson speaks of the financial and administrative support provided by the British government through the international organization called Adam Smith International (ASI). The support has consisted in providing £30 million($42m), in vehicles, uniforms, batons and so forth.

Eight months after Mr Vallance’s article was published in the BBC, and due to a recent expose by the Today Panorama program, Mail, Times and other newspapers, the British Foreign Office under pressure expressed its concerns and suspended the program amidst investigations.


Fearson and Laitin argue that the nature of any intervention favors multilateral interests led by major powers with a major military force “financed in part by loans to the collapsed state to be repaid after reconstruction.” In the case of Syria, Great Britain, the United States and their coalition are no longer considered as the stakeholders regarding its process towards a peaceful political settlement. This position has been taken by Syria’s regional allies, Russia and Iran who were officially and legally invited to intervene on behalf of the legitimate Syrian government, a founding member of the United Nations since 1948.

Regimes under current neo trusteeships include the governments of Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Fearon and Laitin further argue that several academics and journalists see the role of current neo-trusteeships as an analogy which runs “parallel to the nineteenth century British Empire.”

Does global governance and western idealism of classical democracy provide effective support for the political order for every country with its own distinctive way of life, politics and culture? Historically, ideas of development and democracy have been used as a project for social engineering, but have rarely worked. Devaluing of other cultures, assumptions made by settlers or colonial empires have severely ignored complex social systems in existence for thousands of years. The western image of development or spreading the ideals of democracy through globalization is an extreme form of utopianism, with a strict temporality over time. The systematic destruction of smaller non European states is instrumental in achieving the perfect image of the ideal Western Shangri-la, or Utopia. The process of development in the contemporary globalized world eulogizes technocrats, capital flows and investment but does not take into account larger political backgrounds, relationships and larger systems within which several older societies are rooted.

One size fits all has been the modus operandi for centuries for Western colonial empires, although collapsed states pose a humanitarian concern for everyone, not just societies destroyed by powerful militaries for power or economic gain.

When will we learn as history keeps repeating itself?


[1] Barnett, Michael N., and Martha Finnemore. “Chapter 7.” Power in Global Governance, Cambridge Univ. Press, 2005.

[2] Barnett, Michael N., and Raymond Duvall. “Chapter 1.” Power in Global Governance. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2005.

[3] Robert Jervis, “Realism, Neoliberalism, and Cooperation: Understanding the Debate.” International Security 24 (1) 1999, pp 42–63.

[4] Alfredo Saad-Filho. “Growth, Poverty and Inequality: From Washington Consensus to Inclusive Growth.” 2010.

[5] Fearon, James, and David Laitin. “Neotrusteeship and the Problem of Weak States | Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.” Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, 2004

[6] Harold Beeley was elected as Secretary for the Anglo American Commission on enquiry on Palestine, 1946. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, 1955. Deputy Head of UK Mission to UN 1958. Ambassador to Egypt 1961. Chair of the Suez Canal User’s Association.

[7] Fearon, James, and David Laitin. “Neotrusteeship and the Problem of Weak States | Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.” Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, 2004