UK Parliamentary report warns autocratic states want to seize control of international organisations

Foreign affairs committee urges British government to 'publicly call out states abusing and undermining system'

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 26:  People walk past the United Nations headquarters on September 26, 2018 in New York City. World leaders gathered for the 73rd annual meeting at the UN headquarters in Manhattan.  (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
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Autocratic states are trying to seize control of strategically important international organisations to “weaponise them”, a hard-hitting UK Parliamentary report has stated.

There is a “very real risk” that western states will lose influence over multilateral organisations such as the World Health Organisation and International Criminal Court to authoritarian states, the foreign affairs committee said.

It is also suggested that certain countries are actively trying to “break the organisations” and block their work to diminish their influence.

China is named by the report as a country increasingly using forceful means, usually through its substantial loans to developing countries, to allegedly coerce them into breaking up the organisations.

“The use of aggressive diplomacy by China, or 'bullying', can be seen in operation at the United Nations Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights as well as the World Health Organisation,” the MPs’ report said.

With many UN organisations facing financial difficulties it is claimed that funding is being used “as unacceptable leverage”.

The report said this was particularly evident at the OHCHR, WHO and Interpol, the international police organisation.

“As far as funding is concerned, the agendas of multilateral organisations can be significantly influenced by their donors, even those who give comparatively little support,” the report said.

It is also suggested that the influence of some countries “with alternative understandings of individual rights” had increased considerably.

“Dictatorships are taking over the institutions,” said Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the committee.

“By stepping back from the tables where the rules are made, we’ve seen fairness and freedom fade.”

The report said that threats to multilateral organisations came in subtle forms.

It spoke of the Chinese government’s use of “steady acquisition of key official positions” to place its own people in organisations.

The Parliamentary paper urged the British government to “publicly call out states abusing and undermining the system”.

It should also use the Foreign Office to identify countries that undermine organisations and mobilise its soft power “to work with like-minded states to uphold their shared values”.

Mr Tugendhat said the Covid-19 pandemic had thrown into “stark relief” the influence of other states.

“The WHO, which benefits from so much UK assistance, has been dominated by China, which contributes far less,” he said.

“We need to ensure transparent, effective organisations that can have a meaningful and measurable impact on the world.

"Too often we have let them drift and seen those trying to undermine us set agendas that harm us."

The Parliamentary paper urged the British government to “publicly call out states abusing and undermining the system”.

It should also use the Foreign Office to identify countries that undermine the organisations and “mobilise its soft power to work with like-minded states to uphold their shared values”.

Former US president Donald Trump was accused of weakening the WHO by withdrawing from it at the height of the pandemic, although that decision has been reversed by President Joe Biden.

"The new Biden administration represents a positive shift towards increased engagement and the potential for joint action with the US," stated the report, titled: In the Room: the UK's Role in Multilateral Diplomacy.

“While the decision to bypass, or even withdraw from, multilaterals may seem attractive, engagement with multilaterals is essential."

It urged the Foreign Office to take a leading role in maintaining strong engagement with the organisations otherwise “authoritarian states” would exert “greater influence and control”.