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Boston Globe: The United Nations Can Save Burma

Ivo Daalder and Paul Stares argue for Security Council action on Burma.

The United States and Britain should join with the French government and introduce a resolution in the UN Security Council demanding that the Burmese government immediately allow the entry of international relief supplies and personnel into the country and allow the UN to take charge of the relief mission. To make the case, Washington should show detailed imagery of the suffering and the extent of devastation in Burma (as it did so effectively in the cases of Bosnia and Darfur to shock a disbelieving United Nations).

The resolution should hold open the possibility of additional measures – including air drops of relief supplies – if the government did not comply at once. And the Security Council could commit to return to the matter in 24 hours, assess Burma’s response, and consider additional actions.

I completely agree with the sentiment expressed, but the authors do not address the tricky question of what happens to the relief after its been airdropped. As a number of UN aid officials have warned, simply dropping in supplies without setting up proper distribution mechanisms can be as dangerous as not dropping in supplies at all.

Their broader point, though, makes sense. Taking this to the Security Council could help pressure to the junta so that they do cooperate with relief efforts. They key here is China. Should Beijing lend its support to a Security Council measure demanding the junta cooperate with UN relief agencies, we may just see the junta budge.

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Tuesday Morning Coffee

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>>China – A 7.8 magnitude earthquake jolted Sichuan yesterday leaving nearly 12,000 dead so far. The shock, felt as far away as Bangkok, severed road, rail, air, and phone links to the region, hampering relief efforts and forcing some Chinese troops to march as much as 100 miles to reach affected areas. Tens of thousands are still trapped in collapsed buildings, including 900 teenagers in a school in Dujiangyan city. Prime Minister Wen Jiabao flew to the scene and made an emotional statement on CCTV.

>>Iraq – Violence flared again in Sadr City yesterday, as U.S. troops were attacked by who are thought to be supporters of Moqtada al-Sadr. These attacks put into question the agreement reached on Saturday between the government of Iraq and Sadr to end fighting and the amount of control that Sadr has over his supporters.

>>Lebanon – Yesterday, as violence eased across Lebanon, the Lebanese Army, long seen as a neutral institution, said that it would begin to use force to stop fighting between government supporters and Hezbollah. The army remains deployed to the mountains east of Beirut and northern Lebanon as part of an agreement for them to take over militia positions and collect arms. Reportedly, some government supporters are beginning to distrust the army because it did not stop Hezbollah from seizing control of western Beirut on Friday.

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Gareth Evans on Myanmar Situation and R2P

One of the original co-authors of the doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect weighs in on the debate over whether or not the situation in Myanmar warrants the invocation of R2P. Gareth Evans:

My own initial concern, and it remains a serious one, with Kouchner’s invocation of the “responsibility to protect” was that, while wholly understandable as a political rallying cry – and God knows the world needs them in these situations – it had the potential to dramatically undercut international support for another great cause, to which he among others is also passionately committed, that of ending mass atrocity crimes once and for all.

The point about “the responsibility to protect” as it was originally conceived, and eventually embraced at the world summit – as I well know, as one of the original architects of the doctrine, having co-chaired the international commission that gave birth to it – is that it is not about human security generally, or protecting people from the impact of natural disasters, or the ravages of HIV-Aids or anything of that kind.

Rather, “R2P” is about protecting vulnerable populations from “genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity” in ways that we have all too miserably often failed to do in the past…But here’s the rub. If what the generals are now doing, in effectively denying relief to hundreds of thousands of people at real and immediate risk of death, can itself be characterised as a crime against humanity, then the responsibility to protect principle does indeed kick in. The Canadian-sponsored commission report that initiated the R2P concept in fact anticipated just this situation, in identifying one possible case for the application of military force as “overwhelming natural or environmental catastrophes, where the state concerned is either unwilling or unable to cope, or call for assistance, and significant loss of life is occurring or threatened”.

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Monday Morning Coffee

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>>Sudan – The rebel Justice and Equality Movement launched an attack on a Khartoum suburb Saturday, the first time in decades that the civil war has touched the capital. The Government rebutted the attack and severed diplomatic ties with Chad, who President al-Bashir blames for fomenting the attacks. JEM, which is seeking a stronger voice for regions in Sudan’s central government, fields only a few thousand soldiers compared to the government’s force of 100,000. JEM leader, Khalil Ibrahim, vowed more attacks.

>>Serbia – In Serbia’s general election yesterday, the President’s pro-EU party, the Coalition for a European Serbia, appears to have secured a surprising victory over the anti-EU nationalists, represented by the Serbian Radical party. The Coalition did not win an outright majority, and it is still unclear whether it will be able to form a government as many smaller parties may side with the Serbian Radicals. The Socialist party, formerly led by Slobodan Milosevic, made unexpected gains and could be crucial in forming the new government. Prior to the vote, analysts had predicted that international support for Kosovo’s independence would be a boon for the Serbian Radicals.

>>Lebanon – Hezbollah gunmen clashed with pro-government Druze in the mountains east of Beirut, killing 36. Hezbollah fighters overran positions of those loyal to Walid Jumblatt in the Chouf mountains before an agreement was struck for the Lebanese army to deploy in the area. The violence over the last five days, the worst since the civil war of the 1900s, has caused the Arab League to send a delegation headed by Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim, the Qatari foreign minister, to help end the crisis.

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UN Plaza: The Crisis in Burma

In this segment of UN Plaza, Matthew Lee and I discuss the UN’s response to the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Burma.

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The Pop Becomes Political

bfiron.jpg

Apparently, in the new Iron Man blockbuster, Robert Downey, Jr. is fighting off villains to defend the United Nations. (To which I joke: checking the IMDB page, though, I don’t see Cliff Kincaid or Phyllis Schlafly on the cast roster.) From the Guardian, via All America Blog.

It’s nothing new that Iron Man, the latest in Marvel’s pop-icon pantheon to hit the big screen, is coming to the rescue of the United Nations. In a specially customised comic book, Ol Shellhead and his costumed cohorts will battle that most terrible of supervillains, a tarnished public image, by demonstrating the UN’s positive, proactive roles. Will it work? It’s debatable: over the years these earnest, message-laden stories have not always been too effective as weapons of mass persuasion.

[snip]

As for the UN, superheroes have come to its rescue before. In November 1967, The Justice League Of America featured the UN symbol on the cover of issue 57, in a very right-on plea for racial harmony called “Man, The Name is – Brother!” The UN even had their very own team of superheroes devised by Wally Wood for Tower Comics in the 60s. Called the THUNDER Agents (The Higher United Nations Defence Enforcement Reserves), they were led by Dynamo, dressed in the UN’s blue and white colours. Rather than relying on Marvel’s characters, the UN could have resurrected this team, but THUNDER Agents vanished after only 20 issues and only aging comic collectors remember them now.

Hmm…considering the peacekeeping’s troubling capacity shortage, consider me all for resurrecting The Higher United Nations Defence Enforcement Reserves.

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