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Blogging Iraq’s Upcoming Elections

An innovative way to prepare for Iraqi elections:
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A new United Nations-supported blog site just launched in Baghdad is the latest initiative to engage voters in the nascent democracy and motivate them to go to the polls on 31 January 2009 during the country's provincial elections. The blog, called "Vote for Iraq" can be found on http://voteiraq.maktoobblog.com and was launched with the support of the UN-led International Election Assistance Team (IEAT).
Voters will just have to make sure not to get too much purple ink on their keyboards. (image of the dyed finger of an Iraqi voter in 2005 elections, from flickr user carcollectorz under a Creative Commons license)
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Politics and Pessimism in Somalia

Regarding the most recent of Somalia's tumultuous political twists, Jeffrey Gettleman asks the right question:
Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, the cantankerous president of beleaguered Somalia, resigned Monday. The question now is, will it make a difference? Could it be the death knell of Somalia's transitional government, whose zone of control is down to a few city blocks in a country nearly as big as Texas? Or will it be the government's saving grace?
The answer, as should be expected, is that no one really knows. Everyone seems to be optimistic, though. Yglesias calls it "good news (by Somalia standards)," and the U.S. State Department and UN Special Envoy are both aboard the glass half-full train. And while the fact that a (unpopular and probably corrupt) leader did step down peacefully from a national leadership position in a traditionally, ahem, undemocratic state is certainly to be applauded, the magnetic pessimism in Mogadishu is tough to resist. One context in which I am surprised not to have seen this latest development analyzed is one with regard to Yusuf's last attempted initiative before bowing out -- his botched effort to (illegally) "fire" his prime minister, Nur Hassan Hussein. It seems pretty clear that this was a last-minute power gamble by Yusuf, and upon its failing, he felt obliged to step down. Whether this makes Yusuf's resignation equally politically waterlogged is unclear. The quotation, from a former employee of Yusuf, with which Gettleman chooses to end his piece, however, is telling.
"Maybe on the outside, to the international community, the resignation will matter," he said. "But not on the inside."
Here's hoping it will at least matter on land and on sea in Somalia.
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Peacekeeping and Expectations

Julia Keyser at the great new Enough Said blog takes on the thorny issue of whether UN peacekeeping "take-overs" help or hurt efforts undertaken by regional missions in conflict zones.
There is ample evidence that UN missions may actually prolong a conflict -- if there is no peace to keep. With Somalia once again facing serious violence and humanitarian crisis, the members of the UN Security Council must remember that UN missions are not a substitute for genuine political will, effective diplomacy and a practical plan to end a conflict.
The question of whether there is something about the dynamic of the actual take-over itself of a mission -- the process of transitioning from the African Union-led efforts in Darfur to the "re-hatted" hybrid operation under UN control, for example -- that improves or diminishes chances of success is clearly subsumed by the broader one of whether any peacekeeping mission is feasible and potentially beneficial in a given conflict scenario. The expectation that the UN will do a "better" job than a regional organization is simply an extension of the misguided belief that cobbling together some sort of peacekeeping force will be a silver bullet for a problem. In cases in which a peacekeeping operation cannot halt conflict on its own -- which is to say, never, though the chart that Julia cites does show that conflicts in which peacekeepers are deployed do reignite less often and take longer to do so than those without -- this perverse international response to crises sets up a predictable double-dip of disappointment. First the world sighs when a beleaguered regional cannot impose peace on a chaotic society (e.g. Somalia); then it chastises the UN when its blue helmets also cannot square the circle of keeping a peace that does not exist. It would save a lot of time, money, and lives to recognize this pattern before precipitously looking to peacekeepers as a one-size-fits-all panacea to any problem.
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The Republic Formerly Known As Macedonia

The Ambassador At Large points out some rather tongue-in-cheek suggestions from Gregg Easterbrook on how to resolve the, er, name problem of the so-called (and very strictly so, if you ask a Greek) Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
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  • The Republic Formerly Known As Prince.
  • Steve. Wouldn't Steve be a cool name for a nation?
  • An Obscure, Landlocked Mountainous Region Along the Vardar River.
  • Emmanuelle. Really sexy woman's name might increase tourism.
  • ROM. Subliminally suggests Republic of Macedonia, but the official name would be just initials -- like KFC -- thus frustrating Greece's objection.
  • Skopje and So Much More!
  • The Greatest Nation in Human History. This would force the United Nations to say, "Now we will hear from the delegate representing The Greatest Nation in Human History."
  • The United States of America. Leading national brand in the world, yet cannot be copyrighted.
  • Easterbrook's suggestions rest of the logic that, as he exasperatedly reminds Greece, "titles cannot be copyrighted!"
    Anyone may publish a book called "Gone With the Wind." Any country can call itself France, though it's not clear what the incentive would be.
    Perhaps. But I don't think Macedonia would improve its prospects of joining NATO among, say, the French if it tried to call itself "France."
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    LRA Responds With Massacre

    The last thing Congo needs is another out-and-out war. The Washington Post's Stephanie McCrummen reports:
    A Ugandan rebel group known for its horrific cruelties has massacred 189 people and kidnapped at least 20 children over three days in northeastern Congo, U.N. officials reported Monday. ... The group killed 40 people in the small town of Faradje on Thursday, and over the next two days, it attacked the villages of Doruma, where rebels massacred 89 people, and neighboring Gurba, where 60 were killed, Brandau said, citing reports that the United Nations received from local authorities.
    The group, of course, would be Joseph Kony's murderous Lord's Resistance Army, and the massacre seems to be in response to a joint offensive launched by Sudan, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo a few weeks ago. If there was any doubt that Kony wasn't interested in peace talks before, there can be none anymore.
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    R2P Reductivism

    In an op-ed in The Guardian, Julia Gronnevet replicates many of the false assumptions lining the debate over the "Responsibility to Protect" doctrine. Here's how Gronnevet misleadingly characterizes the doctrine.
    Of course, this being not just UNHQ but also Acronym HQ, the whole discussion has been boiled down to R2P - "responsibility to protect", the formal name of the doctrine that says borders are nothing and human rights are everything.
    Just as R2P does not simply prescribe invasion every time a government fails to protect its citizens, it does not create a simple binary between "borders" and "human rights," nor does it fall wholly on the latter half of this false dichotomy. If we are to use these two terms to describe R2P, the best way to do so would be to interpret the doctrine as an attempt to reconcile the existing state-based international system (yes, complete with its borders and all the difficulties they bring) with the paramount global need to protect human rights. This does not require the elimination of borders, or even the disregard of them in cases of various states of emergency. Rather, the doctrine provides a carefully considered program of steps to navigate the tricky divide that Gronnevet depicts so starkly with both circumspection and urgency. Casting R2P in a role of the intrepid human rights defender, severing borders left and right, come what may, is a tempting image, but ultimately inaccurate and unhelpful. This fanciful caricature unnecessarily divides R2P's audience into two divisive parts: the righteous and the rights-abusing. The entire point of the doctrine -- even though some countries may be less comfortable than others with relinquishing the unchecked inviolability of their sovereignty -- is that it is a global compact. Addressing it as such -- and as a pragmatic schema in an interest-based global political system -- is the only way to dispel the fears and misconceptions about it that continue to abound.