International Factors and SDGs

For such supposedly important goals, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals do not get nearly enough effort directed explicitly towards attempting to accomplish them by the international community. Whether International factors help or hinder states in the global south in making progress towards their UN SDGS depends largely on whether they are involved in international conflicts or other events that are strategically important for other countries. If they are involved in such situations, international factors seem to harm these countries more than help them since the more powerful countries are more focused on their own interests in the geopolitical tensions of the region. This is probably due to the fact that when a state is involved in a conflict, contact with international factors will likely be initiated by actors outside of the country in question and in such a way that prioritizes the goals of those outside actors over those of the country in question.

Sustainable Development Goals launch in 2016

Source: UN SDG Website

This is illustrated by countries like Egypt and Iran with ones like Botswana that are less involved in international conflict providing further evidence to this pattern. Part of the reason for this is that SDG 16 focuses on international peace. So, countries involved in internationally significant situations will inherently have a harder time accomplishing this goal. In Iran’s case, the most prominent international factors that have impacted its ability to accomplish its SDGs is the Iran Nuclear deal and the economic sanctions that have come out of it. According to the podcast on Iran that I listened to, the sanctions imposed on Iran by countries like the U.S. are one of the leading factors preventing it from addressing it’s SDGs. This is because, as one might expect, these sanctions were designed to prioritize U.S. interests over those of Iran or the Iranian people.

How do the Iran nuclear deal inspections work? | CGTN America

Source: CGTN

In a similar vein to Iran, Egypt is also being hindered from accomplishing its SDGs by international factors, both global and regional. In this case, the GERD is both in and of itself an obstacle as well as being a symptom of another problem that is plaguing the area. Specifically, that the situation has become something of a proxy for U.S.-Chinese tensions. In essence, China has taken Ethiopia’s side while the U.S. has attempted to aid Egypt. The rising tensions around the GERD both directly threaten Egypt’s water security SDG as well as the peace and security SDG for the entire region. China and the U.S. are both focusing entirely on their own interests in the region at the expense of the states that actually have to deal with the consequences of the decisions made.

More evidence for this conception of the relationship between SDG progress and international factors is Botswana. As explained in the podcast about that country that I listened to, Botswana is not involved in any major international conflicts. As a result, other, more powerful countries are not attempting to exploit or influence Botswana at the expense of it’s SDGs. The podcast I listened to explained that Botswana has been helped a lot in recent years by the world bank as well as regional integration institutions like the SADC. However, since the SADC is a regional rather than a wholly global institution, even that cannot fully be counted as an instance of a global factor in the same way that foreign policy of powerful, far-away countries like the U.S. and China can be. Furthermore, as explained in the podcast, Botswana’s use of the world bank was not instigated by the world bank or other international factors. Instead, Botswana initiated that process itself without the input from other countries.

Despite a few outlying cases like that of Botswana, based on the research I have conducted as well as that explained in the podcasts I listened to, international factors mostly seem to be a hinderance on globally southern countries’ abilities to complete their Sustainable Development Goals. It would seem that when international factors take the initiative to interfere in a country in the global south’s affairs, it has almost entirely negative impacts on that state’s SDG progress. This makes intuitive sense. Countries only tend to make foreign policy changes because they believe it is in their own interest to do so. As such, how their policy impacts the SDG progress of the country they are impacting will likely be low on their list of priorities. On the other hand, when a country in the global south initiates contact with global institutions and tries to exert some kind of control over how they are impacted by these international factors, there tends to be a much more helpful impact on that country’s SDG progress.






6 responses to “International Factors and SDGs”

  1. bensonal Avatar

    I agree that international factors typically hinder states ability to progress in SDGs. I particularly appreciated your description of Egypt and the GERD. I also wrote about Egypt in my blog posts but I was more focused on the Nile River itself. The international system seems to be a dominance of developed countries. How do you think we should go about providing more attention towards developing countries? Will countries like Iran, Egypt, Botswana ever catch up in the international system?

  2. Emmy Yacoub Avatar
    Emmy Yacoub

    Thank you, Caleb, for your post. I agree with your point that international factors during times of conflict tend to be harmful and hinder states from working toward the UN SDGs. Aside from how the powerful states act in their own self-interest, there are other negative spillover effects like war spreading to neighboring countries or a war affecting the economy, so the states who are in bad position economically take a further hit.

    Do you think states would be more successful in working toward the SDGs by initiating the projects themselves or do you think it would be better for them to have external help from other states?

    1. chastaic Avatar

      They would probably have more success initiating projects themselves. That way they can be free of the outside interests of other states that could potentially dilute the effectiveness of those projects.

  3. rileyw Avatar

    Good post, I like how you used involvement in conflict as a method to determine if a government was achieving the SDGs. I agree that conflict is undoubtedly going to harm the ability for states to achieve the STGs. However, unfortunately conflict may not be easily overcome or the costs of defeat may be too high. I wonder what states that have no realistic choice but to stay in conflict should do to achieve the SDGs.

  4. Yusr Mohamed Avatar

    Caleb, firstly, I wanted to say I really enjoyed working with you on the project and reading your post. Your point on needing to look at conflicts as a means of looking at the progress of the SDGs is interesting. I feel it is not a measurable factor. Yes, conflicts place high economic burdens on states, but in looking at the Global South, many of these nations are still faced with these burdens outside conflict. As we’ve seen time and time again, the international community does close to nothing to get nations out of conflict, and in a world striving for sustainable development, it seems to me that the North and South divide is growing larger every day, with or without conflict. I can say I agree with you on the point that much of the contact made with international factors by the global south to progress in the SDGs is usually for the benefit of the world’s most powerful nations, simply because any international institution or governments with the means to aid these developing countries is working within its best interest or the interest of the Global North.
    I would love your insights on how you think the international community can be redirected to better aid underdeveloped countries in achieving SDGs. What can really be done, or are these goals overly ambitious.

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