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International organizations

Source:
A Guide to Countries of the World

International organizations

While countries take care to protect their independence, they inevitably have to cooperate with others, either on a bilateral basis or, as is happening increasingly, through a wide range of inter-governmental—usually referred to as international—organizations. Within these, they follow a mutually agreed set of rules and in some cases cede a degree of sovereignty. The following section offers a brief review of the most significant international organizations, global and regional, to which countries are likely to belong.

United Nations

The international organization with the largest, almost universal, membership is the United Nations (UN). The UN is the successor to the League of Nations which was set up in 1920 following the First World War. The League was supposed to prevent further disputes, but it failed to do so, largely because it was unable to secure universal membership, notably that of the United States, and it proved powerless to prevent a Second World War. It was only after that conflict that the victors in 1945 established a stronger body, the United Nations, which from the outset included all the major powers.

The initial membership of the UN—51 countries—comprised largely those that were independent at that time. So most members came from Europe, or from Latin America where the majority of states had won their independence in the early 19th century. Asia at that point had just four members: China, Iran, and the Philippines, plus British India whose component parts had yet to gain independence.

Over the decades, membership would more than treble. Expansion of the UN often happened in rapid bursts, as from 1960 after decolonization when 16 new members joined from Africa, and from the early 1990s after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, when 15 new members joined from Eastern Europe. The newest arrival, Montenegro in 2006, brought the membership to 192.

In its largest body, the General Assembly, UN decisions are based on the principle of one country, one vote. But five countries hold a privileged position in the UN's powerful executive body, the Security Council, which was designed to respond quickly and decisively to international events and, if necessary, take military action against offending states—something the League had been unable to do. As with the League, however, the intention of the founders of the UN was also to implicitly freeze a post-war status quo, so the Security Council was to be dominated by the victors. It was created with five permanent members—China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States—supplemented by a number of temporary members, now ten, which were to be elected for two years each. Crucially, each of the five permanent members of the Security Council has a right of veto over any of its decisions.

With the passage of time, this has led to the anachronistic position that France and the UK, which are now only middle-ranking powers, retain disproportionate influence. There have been some changes: in 1971 nationalist China, based in Taiwan, was finally displaced by the Republic of China, and in 1991 the Soviet Union ceded its Security Council seat to Russia. However, more fundamental reforms which would recognize the rise of global powers such as Brazil, Germany, India, or Japan have foundered on the unwillingness of France or the UK to accept any demotion.

Any independent state agreeing to the UN charter should be able to join, but it will need both a Security Council recommendation and a two-thirds majority backing in the General Assembly. During the years of the Cold War, a number of countries had their applications vetoed either by the United States or the Soviet Union. Nowadays, the most persistently contentious issue is that of Taiwan, whose membership would be vetoed by China which regards Taiwan as one of its own provinces.

The primary function of the UN has been political, aiming to settle disputes among its members peacefully through diplomacy; as the UN charter puts it: ‘to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war’. The UN can, however, also itself authorize the use of armed force against aggressors, though in practice its military activities have generally been limited to peacekeeping—sending in troops to enforce an existing peace settlement. This involves member states volunteering equipment, along with troops to wear the UN's ‘blue helmets’. In 2010 there were 17 such missions in operation, with more than 90,000 troops. One of the longest-running missions, since 1964, has been in Cyprus. More recent peacekeeping missions include those in Sudan, Timor-Leste, the Central African Republic/Chad, and Sudan. Member countries that provide troops are reimbursed by the UN, and for some countries such as Bangladesh which has more than 10,000 troops on duty, this is a useful source of income.

In addition to its political functions, the UN is also very active in the economic and social spheres, through a large number of agencies. Many of these predate the UN. The International Telegraph Union, for example, had been formed in 1865. And the International Labour Organization (ILO), founded in 1919, had also been affiliated to the League of Nations. But the freshly created UN would also add a number of new organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and what is now called the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), as well as other organizations, including the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which would emerge later.

These agencies report to the UN's Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)—a body that comprises 54 members of the General Assembly. Some of the organizations, like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), or the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), are classified as ‘programmes’ or ‘funds’. Others, such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), or WHO, are classified as ‘specialized agencies’.

Their management structures can be very different. For example, the governing body of the ILO, which is a specialized agency, has representatives not just of governments, but also of trade unions and employers' organizations. UNICEF, which is a fund, is also distinctive in having direct contact with the donor public, through ‘national committees’ of volunteers. The headquarters of all these bodies, are scattered around the world, though mostly in the developed countries, with quite a few in New York or Geneva. The United Nations Environment Programme, however, has its headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya.

In addition, individual agencies will have offices in the developing countries in which they work. Given the large number of agencies there is always the potential for overlap and duplication which has sometimes led to rivalries and ‘turf wars’ as each agency sets its own priorities—complicating life for host governments. Both UNICEF and ILO, for example, are concerned with child labour. The UN has therefore been trying to streamline activities in each country so as to present ‘One UN’, with the senior representative of UNDP acting as the Resident Coordinator for all UN activities.

Bretton Woods organizations

Also affiliated to the United Nations, though not accountable to it, are two other post-war organizations, created in 1944 to rebuild the global economic system—the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. The IMF was designed to promote international monetary cooperation. When a country's foreign exchange reserves drop to dangerously low levels it can borrow from the IMF providing it is prepared to subject itself to the IMF ‘conditionalities’—the remedies it prescribes for restoring the country to good financial health. The IMF itself borrows the necessary funds from its members who receive interest—which is repaid by the borrowers, though the IMF also takes a cut to pay for its services.

While IMF conditionalities should vary from one situation to another, in practice they have tended to follow a fairly rigid free-market template—stabilize, liberalize, privatize, and deregulate. For example, borrowers normally have to remove restrictions on imports or foreign exchange, or on the flow of capital. They also usually have to cut public expenditure.

These measures often prove politically unpopular; indeed in some countries they have provoked ‘IMF riots’. At the time of the Asian Financial crisis in 1997, for example, the IMF was criticized for issuing rigid, and wrong, prescriptions that only pushed countries into a further downward spiral. As a result, many countries resolved never to fall into the hands of the IMF again, and took the precaution of building up vast foreign exchange reserves. The IMF's economists subsequently recanted, conceding, for example, that abolishing capital controls during a crisis can be damaging. But by then its disillusioned client base had shrunk significantly, along with its revenue. For the IMF, the 2008–09 global economic crisis came as something of a relief, since it forced some countries to ask for funds, though this time they faced less rigid conditions.

While the IMF's job was to tide countries over temporary financial difficulties, the World Bank was established to lend funds over a longer period to finance specific development projects, such as building roads or schools. For this purpose, it offers two main channels. One, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), lends funds at close to market rates. Another, the International Development Association (IDA), offers loans at concessionary rates to the poorest countries. To raise funds for the IBRD the World Bank sells its own bonds on the international financial markets, servicing the bonds with the interest it receives from borrowers. For IDA funds, however, it has to rely on periodic replenishments from donor countries.

Like the IMF, the World Bank has also been quite prescriptive, requiring countries to follow its free-market line. Indeed the two Washington-based organizations, along with their host government the United States, have been described as representing the neo-liberal ‘Washington consensus’. The World Bank, like the IMF, has been losing some of its rationale, since many developing countries, such as India or China, can themselves now borrow just as cheaply on the international capital markets—which do not package their loans with advice on potential environmental destruction or the abuse of human rights.

An even more pressing concern for many developing countries is the fact that the Bretton Woods organizations are dominated by the developed countries. Unlike the UN, the voting systems in the governing bodies of these organizations are based on the size of members' contributions. In the IMF, for example, the United States has 17% of the votes, followed by Japan and Germany with 6%. The developing countries are therefore pressing for reform of the governance of both institutions, so as to reflect the shift in global economic power and influence.

World Trade Organization

The Bretton Woods institutions were originally intended as a triad, with a third body that would ensure orderly international trade. The aim was to prevent trade wars—the kind of ‘beggar my neighbour’ policies, chiefly consisting of import restrictions or tariffs, which were thought to have contributed to the recession of the 1930s. The trade body, however, was slower to emerge. At first, it took the form merely of a treaty, the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs. Only in 1995 did the treaty became an institution, the World Trade Organization (WTO). Countries that join the WTO have to abide by its rules. They must, for example, treat all other members equally—by allowing every member country the same access to their markets, with no discriminatory tariffs. The WTO also serves as an international court for trade disputes, since members agree to abide by its rulings.

In addition, the WTO organizes rounds of multilateral global trade negotiations, through which all members try to agree lower tariffs simultaneously, along with other policies that might encourage global trade. The current series of talks, the Doha round, which started in 1991, has been particularly contentious since the developed countries, notably those in the EU, are reluctant to cut their massive agricultural subsidies, while also being unwilling to permit developing countries to raise tariffs to protect their poor farmers from the ensuing flood of cheap food imports. The WTO is more democratic than the Bretton Woods organizations since it is based on one member, one vote. Nevertheless, the developing countries protest that it often serves the interests of multinational corporations which lobby developed country governments to protect corporate interests.

G8 and G20

For all governments, the overall political forum is the United Nations, but the leaders of the most powerful democratic countries also meet on a more exclusive basis to set their own priorities. One of these meetings is the series of summits of the ‘Group of eight’ (G8) industrialized countries. The first meeting, originally of six countries, was held in 1975 in response to the oil crisis. By 1998 the membership had expanded to eight—Canada, France, Germany, Japan, United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

While the UN is grounded in formal international agreements, the G8 is much looser, functioning more like a private club. Its annual meetings rotate from one member country to another, with no permanent secretariat, or indeed even a fixed agenda. Instead, officials from each country, referred to as ‘sherpas’, meet throughout the year to prepare for the summit. In the early years, the G8 typically focused primarily on economic issues and trade, but subsequently expanded its remit to encompass anything from international terrorism to global poverty. In addition to the annual summits of leaders, there are also a number of working groups consisting of ministers from government departments. At all these meetings, however, countries arrive not at formal agreements but ‘understandings.’

For the rich countries, the G8 has the advantage of allowing them to meet on a more informal and personal basis, with less of the diplomatic protocol that can slow things at the United Nations. From the perspective of those excluded, however, the G8 is a secretive and unaccountable body, and has come under increasing fire from non-governmental organizations, particularly those hostile to globalization.

The justification for the creation of the G8 was that its members had compatible governmental and economic systems—and were responsible for more than half of global output. But this rationale has been undermined from two directions. Russia, for example, which in the 1990s appeared to be on the road to democracy has steadily been sliding into autocracy. At the same time, the G8's economic significance has gradually been eroded by the emergence of new global giants, notably Brazil, China, and India.

In response, the G8 has been supplemented in various ways. One is through the creation in 1999 of a ‘G20’ group of finance ministers or central bank governors, whose annual meetings deal with many of the economic functions of the G8. Its additional members are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, Italy, Indonesia, the Republic of Korea, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and Turkey—and the European Union.

Regional organizations

In addition to having global links, all countries have ties with countries in the same part of the world, with whom they may consider themselves to have cultural links or common political interests. The United Nations itself also has five regional economic commissions—for Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, Western Asia, and Asia and the Pacific.

Most other regional organizations have primarily been concerned with trade. Listed below, travelling from west to east, are some of those that aspire to broader cooperation, or even integration.

Organization of American States

The Organization of American States (OAS), whose charter was signed in 1948, has inevitably been dominated by its richest and most powerful member, the United States. Its headquarters are in Washington, DC. Canada, though now the OAS's second largest contributor, was wary of US domination and delayed joining the organization until 1990. In 1991, with the arrival of Guyana and Belize, the OAS achieved its current full membership of 35 states.

The OAS grew out of US initiatives in the Western hemisphere, starting with a series of conferences from the 1890s. The OAS declares its four ‘pillars’ to be: democracy, human rights, security, and development. Initially most of the emphasis was on security. From the outset, the OAS was primarily a mutual defence pact and during the Cold War it was essentially an anti-communist alliance. For this reason, Cuba's position was always going to be contentious. Although it was an OAS founder member, Cuba was suspended in 1962. It was finally invited to return in 2009, though it seems to have rejected the invitation—spurning a club it has long derided as the ‘Yankee Ministry of Colonies’.

Although it has in the past helped settle disputes between members, the OAS has often been sidelined. It played little part, for example, in the settlement of the wars in Central America in the 1970s and 1980s. In recent years, however, it seems to have had a fresh lease of life and is placing more emphasis on human rights and on the strengthening of democracy in the region. It came to the fore in 2009, for example, when, following a military coup, it suspended the membership of Honduras.

European Union

The European Union (EU) is by far the most successful inter-governmental body, in that its members have ceded a significant degree of sovereignty—particularly in trade, for which the EU has established a ‘single market’ with no tariffs.

The EU is the latest incarnation of what was founded in 1961 as the European Coal and Steel Community. Its current form reflects the Lisbon Treaty, ratified in 2009, which among other things established an EU presidency and a common representative for foreign policy. Following a series of expansions eastwards, the EU now has 27 members.

With its headquarters in Brussels, the EU has become a large and powerful body in its own right. It has three main decision-making institutions. At the top is the European Council which represents individual member states. This is chaired by the President, currently Herman Van Rompuy of Belgium, and consists of the heads of state or government of member countries, along with the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, currently Baroness Ashton of the United Kingdom, and the President of the Commission, currently José Manuel Barroso from Spain. Complementing the European Council, is the Council of Ministers which has both executive and legislative functions—though this is more a collection of different councils consisting of ministers from each country whose attendance varies according to the subject under discussion. ‘Ecofin’ for example, deals with economic and financial issues.

Alongside the European Council is the 736-member European Parliament, which has representatives directly elected by EU citizens every five years. Members of the European Parliament form seven groups according to the ideologies of their national political parties. Following the 2009 elections, the largest grouping was that of the centre-right European People's Party with 265 seats, which includes the Christian Democrat Union from Germany and the Union pour la République from France. Second, with 184 seats, is the centre-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, which includes the British Labour Party and the Spanish Socialist Workers Party. The main function of the parliament is to pass EU legislation, though the adoption of legislation is carried out in conjunction with the Council of Ministers.

The third main institution, the EU's equivalent of a national bureaucracy, is the European Commission. This body, which is independent of national governments, consists of 27 commissioners, one from each country, each of whom is responsible for one of 27 policy areas—from trade to energy to transport. The Commission makes proposals for legislation to the parliament and also monitors compliance on existing legislation such as that on the common agricultural policy. The commissioners are supported by around 23,000 civil servants.

Another prominent EU institution is the European Court of Justice, with one judge from each country, which settles disputes between members and rules on whether countries are meeting their treaty obligations. Another is the European Central Bank, which manages the monetary policies of the countries that have adopted the common currency, the euro—16 of the 27, plus five other non-EU countries.

The original impetus behind what is now the EU was implicitly to bind together the leading countries of Europe so as to prevent future conflict. It retains some of that drive by drawing former communist countries into its democratic and capitalist fold. Another of its purposes is to present a substantial counterweight to the United States and Russia and emerging powers such as China, India, and Brazil. In many international meetings, European countries are represented by the EU.

Integration brings benefits but it also has costs. The main cost is an erosion of national sovereignty as member countries, and their citizens, become subject to a growing body of EU legislation. Throughout Europe there is tension between europhiles who welcome greater integration towards something like a ‘United States of Europe’, and eurosceptics who want to limit the EU's influence—or escape it altogether. This spectrum is also matched to some extent at the national level. Historically, France and Germany have been considered among the more pro-European core countries who have signed up to most of what the EU has to offer. The UK, on the other hand, which claims a ‘special relationship’ with the USA, has tried to straddle the two centres of power. The UK only joined the EU in 1973, and subsequently stood aside from a number of EU initiatives, including the adoption of the euro, and the Schengen agreement which removes common border controls. Some of the Nordic countries, such as Denmark, are also more reticent EU members.

Commonwealth of Independent States

The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) was established in 1991, with its headquarters in Minsk in Belarus, to shoulder some of the coordinating functions that had been performed by the former Soviet Union. The CIS comprises Russia and 11 of the former soviet republics; three others, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania refused to join the CIS. Although it was founded to coordinate economic, foreign, social, and other policies, in practice it remains a vehicle through which Russia can maintain its influence. The CIS has never been very coherent since each member chooses how to participate. It has also been undermined by inter-member disputes which have extended to military conflicts between Armenia and Azerbaijan, for example, and between Russia and Georgia. For the future it seems likely that members will be drawn to other more useful associations, or even towards the European Union.

African Union

The African Union evolved from the Organization of African Unity (OAU). The OAU had been established in 1963, aiming to create greater solidarity and cohesion between African states in the post-colonial era. It had some successes, in resolving border disputes between members, for example, in supporting independence movements, and in serving as a focal point for opposition to the apartheid-era South Africa. However, it was severely constrained by its principle of non-interference in its members' domestic affairs.

In 2002, following an initiative from Libya, the countries of Africa replaced the OAU with the African Union (AU), a more ambitious project aiming to move along lines similar to those of the European Union. Unlike the OAU the AU has the capacity to intervene in member states to support democratic governance and uphold human rights. The most practical expression of this has been the creation of AU peacekeeping forces, the first of which was sent to Burundi in 2003, consisting of troops from Ethiopia, Mozambique, and South Africa. Since then, the AU has become involved, often in conjunction with the United Nations, in policing disputes in a number of countries. In 2010 this required a presence in Burundi, Somalia, and Uganda, though these missions and others have generally been small and not very effective.

The AU has also stood up to oppose military coups. In 2008, for example, it assembled a joint military force to reverse a coup in the Comoros, and in 2009, following coups in Madagascar and Mauritania, suspended their AU memberships. In 2010 it also successfully asked the UN to impose sanctions on one of its own members, Eritrea, for supporting jihadist groups in Somalia. On the other hand, the AU has proved less decisive when addressing difficult issues involving more powerful members such as Zimbabwe.

The AU headquarters are in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where it has also established its administrative body, the AU Commission, along with the Pan-African Parliament, whose members are elected indirectly by national parliaments. AU heads of state meet once a year. They also aim in the longer term to establish an African court of justice and a central bank—though these seem fairly remote prospects.

Arab League

The Arab League, officially the League of Arab States, is one of the oldest regional groupings, founded in 1945 to strengthen the ties between the Arabic-speaking countries in the Middle East and North Africa, which now number 22. Since then it has given rise to numerous institutions, covenants, agreements and resolutions. Its forums include the Council of Joint Arab Defence, and the Economic and Social Council, along with specialized ministerial councils.

Some of the benefits have been cultural and linguistic. The Arab Organization for Education, Culture, and Science has developed curricula, and carried out literacy programmes and adult education. It has also encouraged the Arabization of computer systems.

But on the political and economic front the results have been less impressive. Cooperation is hampered partly because of the diversity of political systems which range from a free-wheeling democracy in Lebanon to deeply conservative autocracies as in Saudi Arabia. They also have different ideas about freedom of expression. Thus Qatar is host to al-Jazeera TV, which often pokes fun at Egypt's president Mubarak. Saudi Arabia was unimpressed in 2003 by a Libyan plot to assassinate King Abdullah. There have also been rifts over issues such as the Iraq war, supported by some members, but vigorously opposed by others.

Efforts at trade integration have also made little progress. The Arab common market has only five members, and less than 10% of Arab trade is with other Arab countries.

Association of South-East Asian Nations

The Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), which has its headquarters in Jakarta, Indonesia, was launched at the height of the Cold War in 1967 by five countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. This was essentially a political gesture of mutual solidarity against the encroachment of communism, though it also aimed to build stronger relations between member countries, many of which had lingering border disputes. In the years after the ending of the Vietnam war, the group eventually expanded to ten, with the arrival of Brunei, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. This also signalled a change in direction, with less emphasis on security and more on economic cooperation.

ASEAN has generally been a loose association and its annual meetings have often been little more than talking shops since its members are determined not to interfere in each others' affairs. Even when its summits issue declarations, these are frequently worded in vague terms, or establish objectives that its members may lack either the will or the means to implement. Nevertheless, ASEAN can claim some successes. Since its founding, apart from occasional border skirmishes, no two ASEAN members have had a large-scale war.

In the 1980s, ASEAN was also instrumental in dealing with Vietnam's intervention in Cambodia to despatch the Khmer Rouge. ASEAN also helped found in 1994 the ASEAN Regional Forum which addresses political and security issues across 27 Asian countries. In addition, it has established the ‘ASEAN + 3’ group to increase cooperation with China, Japan, and South Korea.

On the economic front, ASEAN has been relatively passive. There is an ASEAN Free Trade agreement but many of the member countries have achieved economic cooperation by default, as they have created integrated cross-border production systems, notably for electronic goods. They also have numerous other bilateral and multilateral agreements. Another ASEAN venture has been the Chiang Mai Initiative which has set up a system of mutual currency reserves, though this is still on a small scale.

In terms of influencing the behaviour of its member states, ASEAN has often proved feeble. One of its most contentious steps, in 1997, was to admit Burma. In so doing, it claimed it would draw the pariah regime into a regional embrace and thus into the wider international community. This promise remains unfulfilled: Burma has carried on much as before.

The ASEAN members have tried to make the organization more forceful. In 2003 they agreed three ‘pillars’ for the ASEAN Community—security, economic, and socio-cultural—which together would help it create a ‘just, democratic and harmonious environment’. Then in 2007 they agreed an ‘ASEAN Charter’ to provide a stronger legal and institutional framework, which by 2008 had been ratified by all members. The charter proclaims adherence to principles of good governance, fundamental freedoms, human rights, and social justice. But it also carefully reiterates the principle of mutual non-interference, so progress is likely to be slow.

South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), which has its headquarters in Kathmandu, Nepal, was established in 1985 by Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, India, and Sri Lanka, with Afghanistan joining in 1997. It aims to provide a platform in which members can work together in a ‘spirit of friendship, trust and understanding’.

Representing a combined population of more than 1.5 billion people, SAARC should be one of the world's most significant regional groupings. Unfortunately, friendship and trust have been in short supply—particularly between the two main powers, India and Pakistan. India has been notably unenthusiastic about SAARC which it sees more as a forum where the smaller countries can air anti-Indian complaints.

The lack of mutual trust has undermined SAARC's capacity even to promote trade. SAARC is supposedly aiming for regional free trade by 2015, but given the dense thicket of tariffs and regulations still in place this seems a remote prospect. As a result, South Asia remains the world's least integrated region. Most of its effective inter-country agreements tend to be bilateral, largely between India and other countries.

Pacific Islands Forum

Founded in 1971 as the South Pacific Forum, and in 2000 renamed the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) this consists of 16 states in the Pacific and has its secretariat in Suva, Fiji. The largest members are Australia, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea. Most of the rest are small island states. Initially, there were doubts about whether Australia and New Zealand should be full members given their economic clout and their dominant position as aid donors to the other countries, but eventually it was concluded that the Forum could serve as a channel through which the small countries could exert some influence on the two larger ones. Another advantage of having the larger countries is that each provides one third of the operating budget.

The PIF is still a fairly informal grouping that lacks a constitution. While this may seem a weakness, it does permit the annual meetings to react quickly to issues as they arise. Critics argue, however, that it is little more than a talking shop and that it is often difficult to get Pacific island countries to rise above national concerns and arrive at regional consensus.

In the past, members have also been reluctant to interfere in each others' affairs. In 2000, however, following a coup in Fiji, the Forum agreed, in the Biketawa Declaration, on some guidelines for engaging with issues of ‘regional security’—which in this region is largely a code phrase for military coups or national political unrest. The Declaration commits member governments to principles of equality and good governance and permits the Forum to provide mediation. In truth, effective military intervention is likely to come largely from Australia and New Zealand, though the Forum provides an umbrella of regional legitimacy. In recent years, the Declaration has enabled peacekeeping forces to be despatched to Nauru and Tonga. Following a coup in 2009, Fiji was suspended by the Forum until it holds a democratic election.

Apart from security issues, the Forum initially focused on trade and economic concerns, achieving some agreements on issues like transport and fisheries. More recently, however, it has extended its work into social areas including education and health. In 2005, the Forum agreed a Pacific Plan with a number of initiatives to promote economic growth, sustainable development, good governance, and security.