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AU 2030: David Bosco

By Gregg Sangillo

SIS Assistant Professor David Bosco has written books on the UN Security Council and the International Criminal Court.

SIS Assistant Professor David Bosco has written books on the UN Security Council and the International Criminal Court.

*This is part of an ongoing series focusing on the AU 2030 project. American University has invested significant resources in key subject areas that cut across schools and departments. Professor David Bosco has done research in the area of global governance.

From Syria to Yemen to North Korea, managing the world's problems is a tall order. Well-established bodies such as the United Nations and NATO have struggled to halt bloodshed and improve human rights. Like-minded liberal democracies have difficulty reaching consensus, and they're not above spying on each other. You'd be forgiven for thinking the term "international community" is an oxymoron.

David Bosco, an assistant professor in American University's School of International Service, sees reason for optimism. "I think it's important not to become so gloomy about global governance. And we should realize that while there are lots of problems still to be solved, there are ways in which these institutions, and these habits of consultation, have helped us avoid some very bad outcomes."

The Security Council and the World

Despite plenty of violent hotspots around the world, Bosco points out that wars have become mostly localized and generally less catastrophic. "For all of the problems and security issues that there are, we still have not had, since World War II, a conflict between the major powers. We haven't had a new global conflict," he says.

Bosco explored some of these issues in his 2009 book, Five to Rule Them All: The UN Security Council and the Making of the Modern World. It's a history of the Security Council, but he went beyond a simple blow-by-blow account.

"I think when most people look at the Security Council, they say, 'Ok, there's been this horrific situation in Syria. How has the Council done? Not very well.' And that's usually where the conversation about the Security Council ends," he says. "People throw their hands up in the air."

But in his book, Bosco found that the Security Council has facilitated regular contact and compromise between the great powers. "It was useful in terms of maintaining, if not good relations, at least nonviolent relations between some of the big powers. So I call that a kind of concert effect of the Security Council."

Yet he still observes some inadequacies in the current international system. He says we're somewhere between a world with nation states in anarchy, and a world with a perceptible global governing structure.

"We have this set of institutions that grew up mostly in the wake of World War II. We've got all these new treaties and norms and principles. And yet the ability of the international community to react effectively, particularly to fast-moving crises, is very limited."

Double Standards and International Justice

In his 2014 book, Rough Justice, Bosco examined the development of the International Criminal Court. He found that the ICC has been much more likely to mete out justice to human rights abusers in places like Sub-Saharan Africa than in areas of significance to great powers.

This could undermine the ICC's mission and weaken global standards of justice. "I think ultimately the Court will only be seen as credible if it approaches every situation evenly, which doesn't allow political or strategic considerations," Bosco says.

But again, Bosco sees some encouraging signs on the horizon. After receiving its fair share of criticism for picking and choosing which member states to hold accountable, the ICC may soon delve into more politically sensitive terrain.

"We're starting to see in Afghanistan the Court has moved closer to having a full investigation. And in Palestine now, it may be headed toward a full investigation. It may also be headed toward a full investigation of the Russia-Georgia conflict from 2008," he says.

Mistrust and accusations of double standards have pervaded the debate over international financial institutions. Some developing nations have opposed what they view as stringent austerity measures imposed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. And there's been a sizable protest movement in developed countries over these kinds of policies.

"I think to be fair to those institutions, they've taken a lot of that criticism, and tried to respond in certain ways. But the basic dilemma remains that these are lending institutions, and they have the power to impose certain conditions on their loans. And for a number of states, getting control of your budget is a central challenge," Bosco explains. This inherent tension, Bosco says, is here to stay.

Curiosity Sparked

These days, Bosco has a hectic schedule. In addition to his teaching and research, he writes for Foreign Policy and blogs at Points of Order. He's married with two small children, and he's got another baby on the way. His five-year-old son has taken a liking to European soccer, and Bosco has been following along with him.

Born and raised in Washington, D.C., Bosco unsurprisingly took an interest in politics at an early age. He was inclined toward foreign policy, and he maintains the same curiosity today. "It always seemed like some of the biggest issues were on the international stage. You know, I often have the feeling like domestic politics is a lot about getting the balance right. Do we have more government spending or less? Do we tweak the tax system? Whereas in international affairs, it seems like there are huge unresolved questions."

Bosco earned his bachelor's and law degrees from Harvard, and practiced law for a while. During the 1990s, he worked as an NGO staffer and freelance writer in Bosnia soon after the war. Bosco witnessed the kind of phenomenon he would eventually study: International organizations—the UN, NATO, and NGOs—trying to stabilize and reconstruct the country. Yet the devastation he saw was more personal.

"You just had a first-hand view of some of the ways in which conflict completely disrupted people's lives," he says. "You saw buildings that were just chewed up by machine gun fire. So it was certainly very eye-opening. But it accentuated my interest in these questions of global governance."