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No night of the long anti-R2P knives

As Emily reported yesterday, the President of the General Assembly convened a panel discussion yesterday that wasn't exactly friendly toward the Responsibility to Protect. This was, as I explained earlier, part of an unfortunate PGA power play (no, that's not a mixed sports metaphor) to back off from R2P. But to hear The Economist tell it, it was practically an anti-R2P putsch.

Contrary to The Economist's salacious wording, I don't think it's worth affording this week's discussions the gravity of a "campaign to sabotage R2P." Nor did it occur "in defiance of Ban Ki-moon," who gave his remarks a couple days before the actual debate, making the savvy argument to not replace the "substance" of R2P with the "rancor" of politically fraught debate.

There are critics of R2P, to be sure, some legitimate, but many brandishing misconstructions of the doctrine as a sort of handy fig leaf for neocolonialism. What they are brandishing, however, are the sharpened "knives" with with The Economist claims certain governments are attempting to "unravel" R2P. The responsibility to protect is not going to collapse because of this week's discussion, past Security Council resolutions are not going to "un-invoke" R2P, and, hopefully, the debate will progress to the level of how best to prevent mass atrocities and protect civilian populations.

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How to stop desertification?

Build a giant wall.  6,000 kilometers long.  Made out of sand.  Stuck together with bacteria.  No, seriously.

"The threat is desertification. My response is a sandstone wall made from solidified sand," said Mr Larsson, who describes himself as a dune architect.

The sand would be stabilised by flooding it with bacteria that can set it like concrete in a matter of hours.

Take his word for it; he's a dune architect.  And desertification is not something to mess around with.  It's poised to affect over 2 billion people in 140 countries if left unchecked.  But with a gigantic, bacteria-reinforced dune wall, buttressing a "Great Green Belt" of trees, unchecked it will not be.  As long as we can figure out minor details like politics, funding, and where to obtain "giant bacteria-filled balloons."

If this seems similar to ad hoc geo-engineering schemes of righting the climate, well, it does to me, too.  Except that I'm more comfortable building walls to stop desertification than, say, attaching tubes to giant zeppelins that pump the air full of sulfur dioxide to block the sun and cool the planet.

(image from flickr user John Spooner under a Creative Commons license)

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UN Foundation name invoked by “phishing” scamers

As regular readers know, UN Dispatch enjoys the support of the UN Foundation.  It would seem that the UN Foundation's good name is being used in an email phishing scam.  Needless to say, if someone calling himself "Dr. Mack Smith" sends you an email from a UK hotmail account informing you that, "You have been choosen by the U.N Foundation to receive a grant donation of 1,000,000.GBP," don't believe it. 

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Angelina Jolie makes third trip to Iraq

The UN Refugee Agency's most active goodwill ambassador makes her third trip to Iraq.  A UN spokesperson offers some details:

UNHCR has more on her trip, which is meant to call attention to the estimated 1.6 million Iraqis that remain displaced in their own country.

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Flogging a dead horse?

Well, let’s hope not.  But, according to Gareth Evans, this is what we’re at risk of if the General Assembly session on the Responsibility to Protect continues casting the debate in terms of humanitarian intervention. 

Contrary to what Noam Chomsky would have us believe, R2P is not humanitarian intervention.  In fact, the concept involves a wide range of policy options short of the use of force to prevent military intervention when mass atrocities are already occurring. 

As Gareth Evans, co-chair of the historic International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) clearly stated, “the core theme [of R2P] is not intervention but prevention”.  Instead of dwelling on morally questionable cases of “humanitarian intervention” past, States should look forward to define policy options across the spectrum of prevention, capacity building and response, to ensure such unthinkable crimes as the 1994 genocide in Rwanda are never repeated. 

Fiery rhetoric which re-ignites neo-colonial fears will do nothing to ensure Kofi Annan’s famous words of “never again” are realized.  Let’s hope this afternoon’s session, where States will have the opportunity to make formal remarks on the Secretary-General’s report, will move the debate forward, not back.

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Max Boot’s UN mercenaries

Max Boot takes issue with Gideon Rachman's assumption that conservatives are reflexively opposed to the very idea of the "UN army" that Rachman raised in his FT column the other day. Boot avers that he -- unlike, he admits, most conservatives -- is not in fact is not opposed to the concept, only Rachman's specific proposal.

Rachman suggested that troop contributing countries "give the UN first call" on some of their military personnel. Boot objects to this model, but before doing so he laments that UN peacekeepers "have a disturbing propensity to commit sex crimes and other offenses for which they are currently not punished." He even says "that's why" he doesn't agree with Rachman.

First of all, the insistence that blue helmets are more likely to commit sex crimes than other military personnel is greatly exaggerated. Abuse by UN peacekeepers is reprehensible, but, since it has been built up into a meme by conservative hysteria, it shadows the equally reprehensible abuse committed by men in militaries all over the world -- including, yes, the United States' own.

But Boot's real gripe with Rachman's plan is that his UN army would still be composed of troops from countries like "Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia, etc.," which Boot calls "the bottom of the barrel." It's hard not to read into the juxtaposition of his words an assumption that soldiers from these developing countries are more likely to commit sexual abuse than those from Western countries.

Even giving Boot the benefit of the doubt -- that his argument bespeaks not ethnic prejudices, but a somewhat legitimate comment on differing accountability standards among more and less well-trained militaries -- his counter-proposal makes little sense. He fails to acknowledge that the reason that UN peacekeepers are drawn from "the bottom of the barrel" is because top military nations like the United States do not offer troops to UN missions.

Boot would fix the problem by adopting a Blackwater-esque (gulp, no issues of war crimes there...) approach, suggesting that the UN hire veterans from Western militaries. But beyond the issue of legitimacy (how would this differ from a Western intervention?), Boot again does not consider that of cost. Who is to pay for these UN mercenaries? To attract talent willing to go to the most dangerous places on Earth, you need to have a source of funding, and unless he's in favor of providing more money for the UN, which I feel safe in assuming that conservatives generally oppose, then he'll have to come up with a more realistic alternative.

(image from UN Photo)