Not out of the question

In this business of column writing, a small news item sometimes triggers an avalanche of thought. At the weekend I saw a small story on the Nigerian oil industry magazine Value Chain’s WhatsApp group, saying Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries [OPEC] will be celebrating 60 years since its founding. For no particular reason, the story reminded me of Andrei Gromyko, Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union from 1957 to 1985.

This top diplomat of one of the two superpowers during most of the Cold War era was known to his Western counterparts as “Mr. Nyet,” (Mr. No), for his refusal to budge in most situations. Gromyko also mastered the art of double negative speech.

On one occasion when aides of the US President put pressure on him to arrange a summit between their two leaders, Gromyko listed several preconditions. When the Americans agreed to most of them, he finally said, “A meeting between the President and the General Secretary later this year is not out of the question.”

OPEC, which was founded by five countries in 1960, did not become an important player on the international scene until 1973, when Arab nations placed an embargo on oil exports to the West during that year’s Arab-Israeli War.

Within six months, oil prices climbed from $3 to $12 a barrel. They continued to climb until they peaked at $147 a barrel in July 2008. OPEC member nations became stupendously rich, especially ones with small populations such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE, Bahrain and Libya. Iran, Iraq, Algeria, Indonesia, Venezuela, Angola and Nigeria also reaped huge dividends from cartel membership, though their relatively large populations did not make them nearly as rich.

For three decades OPEC was almost synonymous with the word cartel. No other commodity producers’ group achieved anywhere near OPEC’s power and visibility on the world stage.

As it marks its Diamond Jubilee though, OPEC is on a downward slide. It is no longer as powerful as it was three decades ago. Its future is uncertain. OPEC now needs the cooperation of non-members such as Russia to be able to control oil prices. The days of oil itself as the world’s top energy source are numbered.

But at 60, OPEC has tried, to use Nigerian parlance. Many once powerful international organisations have either vanished from the scene or, where they still exist, are now shadows of their former selves.

During my childhood days, whoever thought that one day there will be no Warsaw Pact? That powerful military alliance of Communist countries, with USSR in the lead, was formed in 1955. It collapsed in 1991 with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet bloc.

So also did COMECON [Council for Mutual Economic Assistance], the unified economic bloc of Communist countries, founded in 1949. Commonwealth of Independent States [CIS], formed by former Soviet republics in 1991, is now just a shadow.

Warsaw Pact’s military counterweight, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation [NATO], the 30-member US-led bloc of Western powers formed in 1949, decided to continue existing when Warsaw Pact was dissolved. But without a clear-cut enemy, NATO is much diminished in visibility these days, with reduced interest by both the US and European leaders.

Of the many organisations formed out of the ashes of World War Two, United Nations Organisation [UNO] formed at San Francisco in 1945 is still somewhat intact. Its General Assembly, now presided over by a Nigerian, has grown from 50 members to 193. UN’s most powerful organ, Security Council, underwent a tectonic shift in 1971 when General Assembly members voted to expel Taiwan and give China’s seat to the Peoples Republic.

Since 1945, the Security Council’s five permanent members have refused to admit new permanent members, which confers a veto power on decisions. UN’s many agencies that we knew since childhood are still there, including WHO, FAO, UNESCO, UNICEF, UNDP, UNHCR, ILO and ICAO, though some have diminished in visibility.

Commonwealth of Nations, which Britain formed when its world-wide Empire fell apart, once loomed large on the world stage. It was said to contain one quarter of humanity but much less is heard of it today. Franco-Africa Summit, started in 1973, was once very prominent.

These days every real and imaginary world power invites all 54 African Heads of State to summits, including the US, EU, India, China, Japan, Russia, Turkey and Germany. Saudi Arabia too did so under the cover of an investment summit.

Some international agencies have changed beyond recognition. European Coal and Steel Community, formed in 1952, expanded and transformed into European Economic Community [EEC] in 1957. EEC became European Union [EU] in 1993, which in turn spawned the Euro Zone in 1999. Little is heard these days of the Franco-German Axis, or of the US/UK Special Relationship.

These days we hardly hear of the Non-Aligned Movement, the 120-member group formed in 1961 by titanic Third World figures Jawaharlal Nehru, Josif Broz Tito, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Sukarno, Kwame Nkrumah and Fidel Castro. Arab League, formed in 1945, loomed large on the world stage in the days when Arabs and Israel fought four wars in 1948 to 1973.

Since 1977 when Egyptian President Anwar Sadat made his stunning visit to Jerusalem and other Arab countries took away the League’s capital from Cairo, Arab League has been a shadow of its former self. Little is also heard of Gulf Cooperation Council, formed in 1981. Arab Rejectionist Front, formed by Iraq, Libya and Algeria to reject all peace overtures to Israel, is now gone with Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi and Hoari Boumediene.

Organisation of Islamic Conference [OIC], membership of which caused katakata in Nigeria in 1986, isn’t visible nowadays. Nor is D8, formed by Turkey in the 1990s. Anglican Communion, founded in 1867, was roiled by crisis when Nigeria’s Archbishop Abiodun Adetiloye led a boycott against ordination of a gay priest in the US. It is now quite calm with its Nigerian secretary general, Josiah Idowu-Fearon.

Organisation of African Unity [OAU], founded in 1963, diminished in visibility when it changed its name to African Union, AU. Its African Peer Review Mechanism has largely fizzled out. ECOWAS is still visible, but other African formations such as East African Community [EAC], Frontline States, Gulf of Guinea Commission, created 2001; Mano River Union, Southern Africa Development Coordination Conference [SADC] and Arab Maghreb Union, created in 1989, have either fizzled out or are largely invisible.

In Europe, we hear little these days of OECD. G7, the powerful bloc of Western nations, became G8 with the admission of Russia, which was suspended after it occupied Crimea.

Now there is a G20, which is also diminishing. In Asia, we hear less these days of Association of South East Asian Nations [ASEAN], founded in 1967. Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation [APEC], formed in 1989, is also in recession, and I haven’t heard of ANZUS [Australia-New Zealand-US] military pact for many years.

BRICS [Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa], which we once hoped could become BRINCS with the addition of Nigeria, has nearly fizzled out. Organisation of American States [OAS], created 1948, and Association of Caribbean States [ACS], created 1994, hardly make news these days.

Three decades ago, one couldn’t open a newspaper without reading about International Conference on Law of the Sea, or of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade [GATT] with its Montevideo Round and Doha Round. The 1994 Beijing Conference’s Declaration on Women’s Rights, once extremely visible, is now mostly unheard of. Amnesty International, ICRC and Medicines Sans Frontiers still make waves but International Whaling Commission is unheard of these days. WAFU, CAF, FIFA and IOC are much less visible than they once were.

Look, where is the Concert of Medium Powers created by our Foreign Minister Prof Bolaji Akinyemi in 1987? And before it, the Concentric Circles in Foreign Policy enunciated by Foreign Minister Prof Ibrahim Gambari in 1984?

Let’s paraphrase old man Gromyko. It is not out of the question that many prominent organisations you see today will one day fizzle out.

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