Author Archives: John Boonstra
As Mark forecasted, The Hague’s Permanent Court of Arbitration handed down a ruling today on Abyei, the contentious border area that could prove the tinderbox for renewed civil war in Sudan. A bit surprisingly, the ruling effectively favored the North, shifting the borders of Abyei to award valuable oil fields to the government in Khartoum. Even more surprising, though, is that — for now at least — everybody seems happy with the decision.
Mutrif Siddig, the Sudanese foreign ministry under-secretary, said that Wednesday’s decision was a “step forward”.
“We respect this decision. And this decision is final and binding because all the parties agreed from the beginning that the decision of the court was binding and final,” he said.
Riek Machar, a representative of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), which heads an autonomous regional government in the south, said that he hoped that the ruling would increase the chances for peace.
“We want peace. We think this decision is going to consolidate the peace,” he said. “We came to see justice and it’s a decision we will respect.”
Such punctiliousness is nice and all — particularly on the part of the South, which could be aggrieved at the ruling — but I don’t exactly share U.S. Sudan Envoy Scott Gration’s robust optimism at these rhetorical promises. It’s worth remembering that a deal was reached four years ago, through an objective commission that determined fair boundaries for Abyei, and that that ruling was also supposed to be “binding and final.” Diplomatic niceties were followed up to — and no farther than — the point of actually implementing the agreement.
One of the authors of the previous Abyei commission report, the very knowledgeable Douglas Johnson, says that “each side can come away feeling that they have been given something from this arrangement.” If that’s all it takes to get a viable resolution of the border dispute, then an oil field or two seems worth trading for peace. Let’s hope both North and South Sudan agree.
(image from UN Photo)
The United Nations Tuesday revealed a record $4.8 billion (2.9 billion pound) funding gap for its 2009 aid projects as a result of strained foreign assistance, widespread economic trouble and a ten-fold increase in needs in Pakistan.
“This recession is driving up humanitarian needs,” U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes told a news briefing in Geneva, where he held meetings with donor nations who will soon set their 2010 aid budgets.
A financing report prepared for those sessions stressed that the United Nations has received less than half the $9.5 billion it sought for humanitarian work this year. Yet some 43 million people need assistance this year, up from 28 million in 2008.
The $4.8 billion shortfall for 2009 affects all major U.N. humanitarian projects, which involve supplying water, food, medical care and shelter, clearing landmines, and helping vulnerable people improve their agricultural output.
The temptation may be for countries to skimp on foreign aid in tough economic times; but ultimately, this will only prolong the recession in the places that have been impacted worst by it.
Kate Cronin-Furman at Wronging Rights lists the top five (only five?) “reasons it sucks to be a refugee.” The suckiest, IMHO, seems to be number four: “Your brain might swell up and kill you.” Because if you’re a refugee, you aren’t facing enough pressure from your home country, the country where you’ve been displaced, and the dire conditions in which you live; no, your own brain has to come after you.
But to continue this line of morbid thinking helpful understanding of refugees’ plight, I thought I’d add a few reasons that it sucks to be a refugee that we’ve mentioned over the past few months:
- You lose contact with your friends and family — and hope that someone invents a sort of “search engine” to help you out.
- You could drown while making your escape, in pirate-infested waters, to boot.
- You could be accused of witchcraft.
- You could be rejected for asylum by the very country that started a war in your backyard to begin with. And struggle if you are lucky enough to get there.
- And, perhaps most deadly, you could get bitten by a mosquito. And contract malaria. (Send a net, save a life.)
(image from flickr user hdptcar under a Creative Commons license)
In September 2005, countries of the United Nations took a momentous step and endorsed the “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine, a framework designed to protect civilians from mass atrocities in cases in which their own governments prove unable or unwilling to do so. The doctrine is contentious, and it has only become more so with misinterpretation — a common caricature is that it means that “borders are nothing and human rights are everything” — and discussion of the concept in inappropriate contexts. Yet the basis of Responsibility to Protect remains universally endorsed, as expressed by the General Assembly three years ago: the international community must find a way to ensure the protection of innocent civilians, using mechanisms that neither abridge nor are effaced by the concept of state sovereignty.
Today the Secretary-General presented his report on R2P, and tomorrow the potential for controversy grows when the GA meets to discuss the doctrine. As it was the GA that endorsed R2P in 2005, it is in a position to reaffirm its support. The possibility, however, given some countries’ growing discomfort with (at least a misinterpreted version of) the concept, as well as GA President Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann’s particular style, exists that the GA will try to water down R2P or back off from the UN’s embrace of it.
This would be a grievous, and terribly counterproductive, mistake. In adopting R2P three years ago, GA countries signaled their commitment to helping the doctrine progress, making its laudable goals an achievable reality. The emphasis on R2P shifted to the more powerful Security Council, which officially incorporated the next year in Resolution 1674, then applied it to the specific case of Darfur. It has been hard enough to implement R2P; the misguided notion that it provides carte blanche for military intervention by Western powers is entirely fictitious, but it carries with it easy political points for the leaders of developing countries.
The GA naturally has many such leaders, and it would be regrettable if the current structure and politics of one UN body were to undermine — or just treat without its due seriousness — a seminal accomplishment in the UN’s history. Efforts should be focused on operationalizing R2P, strengthening its robust protection imperatives, and negotiating the global means to provide protection when it is needed. Provocative, and utterly substanceless, conceptions of R2P — those that claim that it is merely a vehicle for neocoloniasm — only detract from these efforts. I echo the plea Ban Ki-moon made this morning:
First, resist those who try to change the subject or turn our common effort to curb the worst atrocities in human history into a struggle over ideology, geography or economics. What do they offer to the victims of mass violence? Rancor instead of substance, rhetoric instead of policy, despair instead of hope. We can, and must, do better.
This is not about an R2P #2; this is the same Responsibility to Protect, one that countries still share as their crowning objective. Rather than mar its integrity in a raw publicity stunt, it’d be helpful for the GA to take note of the S-G’s report and move forward in a positive direction.
In his Financial Times column today, Gideon Rachman makes the argument for a “United Nations army.” His test case, interestingly, is Somalia, where offshore piracy has galvanized international cooperation, but 18 years of onshore violence and instability has rumbled on unchecked. Would it be easier, or any more advisable, to send UN peackeepers to Somalia if there were, as Rachman proposes, “a proper UN force on permanent stand-by?”
Maybe, but many of the same problems with deploying UN personnel in Somalia would still apply: militants would be all too eager to turn their violence onto UN blue helmets, the presence of foreigners could inspire radical nationalist sentiment, and the ensuing deaths and difficulty would only make countries more skeptical of contributing their troops to UN peacekeeping.
And herein lies a problem that Rachman does not consider. In his view, the chief obstacle to creating a “UN army” is a general wariness, primarily on the part of conservatives, to cede such power to an internationalist institution. He cites the proverbial UN “black helicopters” synonymous with world government and counters conservative skepticism by quoting the Gipper himself:
Even perfectly sane American conservatives regard the idea of a permanent UN force with horror. They might be surprised and enlightened to learn that the hero of the conservative movement, Ronald Reagan, once spoke approvingly of the idea of “a standing UN force – an army of conscience – that is fully equipped and prepared to carve out human sanctuaries through force”. And, of course, to take on the Martians, whenever they finally invade.
But a problem possibly even greater to overcome than (conservative) discomfort with the idea is the reluctance of UN member states to contribute troops. The mission in Darfur has been short on personnel for over a year and a half, and its counterpart in DR Congo can’t even muster a requested addition of 3,000 troops. However one conceives of this “UN army,” the soldiers would have to come from somewhere, and countries that don’t contribute troops now (ahem, the United States) wouldn’t be likely to sign on to a permanent deal.
Rachman’s Martian example — that fighting an alien invasion is a perfect example of when a global UN force would be appreciated — is also revealing. For as I’ve argued before, UN peacekeepers are not invasion-repellers. They are peacekeepers. So I’d hope that the powers that be on Earth would be smart enough to only deploy them after a peace has been reached with these hypothetical invading Martians.
The IAEA’s Director, Mohamed ElBaradei, published an op-ed in the Guardian yesterday, outlining five global problems that he sees undermining the goal of nuclear non-proliferation. He also suggests an innovative step that needs to be taken, one that reminded me of Jeffrey Lewis’ idea to “multinationalize the fuel cycle.”
Last month, I proposed a key measure to strengthen non-proliferation to the IAEA’s board of governors – establishing an IAEA bank of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to guarantee supplies to countries that need nuclear fuel for their power reactors. LEU cannot be used to make weapons. Some such mechanism will be essential in the coming decades as more and more countries introduce nuclear energy.
My proposal is to create a physical stockpile of LEU at the disposal of the IAEA as a last-resort reserve for countries with nuclear power programmes that face a supply disruption for non-commercial reasons. This would give countries confidence that they can count on reliable supplies of fuel to run their nuclear power plants, and therefore do not need to develop their own uranium-enrichment or plutonium-reprocessing capability.
I’m enthusiastic about the idea, which would seem to navigate the balance between the legitimate pursuit of nuclear fuel and the unacceptable one of nuclear weapons. But my skepticism comes into play when thinking about whether countries would be willing to come to an international fuel bank for their nuclear energy (one presumably run, or at least provided for, by Western or current nuclear powers), rather than develop it themselves. It certainly undercuts the rationale of a country that spurns such an international offer, but would the ensuing isolation be enough to dissuade its own nuclear-nationalistic ambitions?
ElBaradei does stress that “[n]o state would be required to give up the right to develop its own fuel cycle,” but in that case, I’m struggling to see how this fuel bank would replace the model whereby each country undertakes its own nuclear fuel process, and thereby acquires the potential to develop nuclear weapons. And the problem is that this model is not only dominant today, but it’s fraught with nationalistic overtones. Once an issue is made an object of national pride or greatness, as it has in the Iranian case, it’s difficult to undo its symbolic importance. So while I’m a proponent of a multinational organization to monitor and even control countries’ fuel cycles, I’m not optimistic that this will fully deflate the incentives for beginning one’s own nuclear program.
Here’s the ArmsControlWonk himself:
The SG: In Ethiopia over the weekend, the SG is now in the United Arab Emirates. Today he met with Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashed Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, where the two discussed developments in the region, including Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan, and in the Middle East Peace Process.