The disaster in Haiti seems to have exposed the differing capabilities of states around the world in reaction to disasters and other security problems. The US has been, perhaps predictably, noticeably active in promising money, aid and troops in order to rebuild the shattered country. However, there seems to be a worrying lack of action from certain states lauded as the bearers of power in the 21st century. What has Haiti exposed on the international scene?

The United Nations, which witnessed its most deadly day in its history when the earthquake hit Haiti, has seen death before and will see death again. What it does not recover from is allegations that it is an organisation that is biased towards the ‘West’ and developed nations. The Security Council, which is responsible for the maintenance of international peace and security, has only five permanent members – four of which could be described as developed, European or American powers. Calls for reform of this body at various times reach a cacophony as developed nations call for more representation, and at the forefront of these calls are states like Germany, Japan, Brazil and India. These countries, and China who already holds a seat on the Council, regularly remind the world how under-represented they are on the international scene and how the 21st century will see power shift south and east. Whether or not these claims are true, and I would suggest they largely are, Haiti has shown the new raft of global powers to be unwilling or unable to contribute like major powers can and should.

The United States has so far promised 10,000 troops and 2,000 of those arrive today. Furthermore, the European Union has pledged €430 million and the UK has separately promised £20 million out of its own budget as well as contributing to the EU’s total. More aid will follow from the rich, developed world as civilian contributions to charity and aid organisations trickle through. However, what seems to not be being talked about is the level of aid reaching Haiti from those countries that so desire a greater say on the global stage. Call me cynical but would Chinese aid and troops have been dispatched if the disaster was in a mineral rich country such as Angola or Sudan rather than the poor island nation of Haiti? I would suggest yes. More alarming has been the slow pace of regional giants, such as Brazil or Mexico, to accompany the US in taking a major role in the country.

While developing countries may have legitimate grievances within international organisations, it remains in their hands to increase their role at a global level. Representation in institutions such as the UN Security Council and the board of the IMF requires a commitment to the type of global action that we have seen from the US over the past few days, and a commitment that seems lacking from the would-be global powers of tomorrow.

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