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Happy Birthday to the United Nations!

Today marks United Nations Day, the anniversary of the entry into force of the United Nations Charter on today’s date in 1945.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today, “More people and governments understand that multilateralism is the only path in our interdependent and globalizing world,…Global problems demand global solutions – and going it alone is not a viable option.”

So Happy Birthday, UN. Party on.

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“Captain” misses the boat on MONUC

Confusing the Hutus and Tutsis is the least of the mistakes Ed Morrisey made in a post on the Democratic Republic of the Congo this morning. Ostensibly he uses the new Human Rights Watch report on North Kivu as shaky foundation for an attack not only on the MONUC force, which he spuriously claims “has done little but act as observers as the situation has deteriorated,” but on UN peacekeeping in general, which he accuses of “successive failures.”

The “Captain” clearly values his talking points over any semblance of nuanced reporting or opinion. Even the most cursory research (we can suggest UN Dispatch’s new full-text RSS feed) would have revealed that UN workers in this incredibly complex conflict zone have been far more than “observers.” In fact, 81 UN peacekeepers have been killed as part of the mission in the DRC. Morrisey is not only being disrespectful to those who gave their lives to the mission but is insulting those who continue to put themselves in harm’s way as they try to pull the war-torn country together. Mark summarizes the situation (emphasis mine):

From 1998 to 2003 nearly 4 million people are thought to have perished in a civil war stoked by Congo’s neighbors….
For 37 years Mobutu Sesse Seko ruled Congo (then called Zaire) by enriching himself and impoverishing his citizens …. To prevent spoilers from undermining the [2003 peace] agreement, the Security Council authorized a deployment of peacekeepers …. These peacekeepers face grueling tasks. The country is the size of Western Europe, with few roads to support armored personnel carriers and other heavy military equipment. There were some setbacks. In 2004, an armed group overran UN forces and took over the town of Bukavu, killing many residents and looting their possessions. In response, the Security Council reinforced MONUC with additional 6,000 troops and expanded its mandate to ensure civilian protection. A newly emboldened Monuc force in Ituri began to experiment with more assertive peacekeeping tactics. Rather than simply provide protection to civilians and humanitarian workers, peacekeepers in Ituri sought to roll back militias by in aggressive tactical raids.

By 2005, MONUC’s most important task was deterring spoilers from undermining national elections planned for 2006. These elections, which took place in late July, were a logistical accomplishment of historical proportions. The United Nations registered some 25 million people throughout the country. Ballots were transported by truck, plane, helicopter and even canoe. 80% of the population voted, and after a runoff selected Joseph Kabila. For the first time in 40 years, the Congolese people had voted for in a multiparty election.

After years of war, the DRC remains a broken country. It consistently ranks near the top of Foreign Policy’s failed states index. Kabila’s government is unable to deliver basic services to most of its citizens and depends on foreign assistance. The largest, most expensive, and most accomplished peacekeeping mission in the world, however, continues to offer the Congolese people a blanket of protection while democracy takes root.

It should also be noted that the DRC only has 300 miles of roads despite being the size of Western Europe. Kivu alone is three times the size of Sierra Leone, where the UN had 13,000 peacekeepers.

Although we recommend it, Morrisey doesn’t have to tune in to UN Dispatch to get a less dogmatic view. In 2005, James Traub wrote a thorough and balanced piece about the situation in the DRC. If he doesn’t read the Times or the New Republic, he could have read Eric Shawn’s column for Fox News. In fact, he could have just read the full Human Rights Watch report. Their recommendations to MONUC and the UNHCR are a small section of a slate directed also at the Congolese government, the government of Rwanda, the “Forces of Laurent Nkunda,” the FDLR, and the “International Community.” And the report points out the difficulties MONUC faces:

MONUC had to redefine its role after the election to take account of the newly elected government. This process was particularly complicated in eastern Congo where Nkunda’s troops, officially part of the Congolese army, were engaged in military operations against the army, and where the FDLR was said to be a negative force to be eliminated, yet sometimes benefited from the tacit support of Congolese army soldiers.

and MONUC’s successes:

Observations and conversations of Human Rights Watch researchers with residents of North Kivu during 2006 and 2007 showed that most residents appreciated the protection afforded civilians by MONUC. In February, for example, MONUC peacekeepers escorted some 100 civilians to safety, sandwiched between two tanks, after Nkunda’s forces had attacked Katwiguru. Opinion surveys organized by international NGOs confirmed a general popular appreciation for MONUC efforts at protection.

To be sure, MONUC has been far from perfect. But it’s the height of hypocrisy to pen this post and then follow it up with a cry that we pay attention to the “facts” in Iraq (and an implicit ask for patience in a complex security situation).

I needn’t devote much space to Morrisey’s insane assault on peacekeeping in general (in fact, I’ll just rebut in parentheses: here and anecdotally here), but I would like to note that his choice to bash UNIFIL in particular is bizarre. Again, Mark is a rockstar:

[I]t is worth recalling that just one year ago a barrage of rockets rained down on northern Israel while thousands of Lebanese civilians became displaced by Israeli bombing. But through diplomacy at the UN, catastrophe was contained.

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Yo, Ho, Ho

The brilliant Kate Sheppard lays out why we need to support the Law of the Sea.




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In Retrospect

In the inaugural issue of the brand new Guardian American Allen Gerson, a former aid to the late UN Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick, tells the heretofore unknown story of how the United States sought to justify the Iraq war before the now defunct UN Commission on Human Rights(UNCHR).

Few can challenge the neo-conservative credentials of Kirkpatrick, so it is surprising that Gerson reveals Kirkpatrick’s deep discomfort with the administration’s attempt to jettison the UN Charter and justify the invasion of Iraq as a pre-emptive war.

Here’s the story: On the eve of war, the State Department sent Kirkpatrick to UNCHR headquarters in Geneva to try and block a resolution condemning the imminent US invasion. Foggy Bottom told Kirkpatrick to make her case by “defending the merits of the US action as justifiable on the grounds that Iraq was engaged in producing and hiding weapons of mass destruction and were ready to export them to terrorist groups like al-Qaida.”

Kirkpatrick, though, was not prepared to advance this position. In fact, in her time at the UN she consistently argued that the right of self-defense (as defined in article 51 of the UN Charter) did not include the right to launch pre-emptive wars. Rather, Kirkpatrick sought to appeal to the rule-of-law to stave off the opposing resolution. To that end, Kirkpatrick argued that the US-led invasion could be justified because Saddam was in material breach of the ceasefire resolution ending the 1991 Gulf War. In other words, military action against Iraq could be seen as a police action to enforce the UN Charter. Incidentally, Kirkpatrick’s argument won the day in Geneva and ended up undermining the a resolution condemning the United States.

The administration, obviously, chose to ignore this position and instead sold the war to the American public and allies as a war of self defense and pre-emption. Had the administration chosen to endorse Kirkpatrick’s position — that the war could be justified as an act intended to defend the UN charter — Gerson suggests that we might have seen a different outcome than we have today.

So what is the takeaway from all this? I think Gerson nails it here:

In the changing American political climate, where a Democratic presidential victory in 2008 seems highly likely, both of the leading Democratic contenders, Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton, have spoken, in varying degrees, of championing the rule of law. The rule of law in international affairs requires nothing less than a recommitment to America’s past, as a champion of the UN Charter.

But his advice is not limited to the democrats. Gerson, after all, is a Republican and identifies himself as a conservative.

Conservatism, at its core, is about carefulness, prudence and restraint – a far cry from the banner of those who rushed to war in Iraq, and sought to legitimise it by a rationale that has had far reaching consequences beyond that of the Iraq war

In other words, reclaiming America’s role as the champion of the rule of law in global affairs is not a partisan argument. It is one of principle.

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David Beckham teams up with Nothing But Nets

David Beckham joins forces with Nothing But Nets; find out how you can get involved here.

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Traub on UN in Iraq

The New York Times’ James Traub (perhaps most famous for being the first-ever guest in our Delegates Lounge) just released a smart analysis of the UN in Iraq, which was commissioned by the Stanley Foundation. The PDF is here.

The UN, says Traub, will inevitably assume the responsibility for negotiating a political settlement in Iraq. It the only body capable of acting both as an impartial mediator of Iraq’s internal disputes and as a neutral platform to entice the support of Iraq’s neighbors. The Bush administration is certainly pushing for this expanded UN role — and the Secretary General is receptive.

The problem, of course, is that Iraq’s factions do not want the UN — or anyone — to arbitrate their disputes. Violence is still seen as a profitable way to secure political power, or deny it to others. Further, the United States has not made clear the extent to which it is willing to cede power to the United Nations to accomplish this task. Asks Traub, “Would the White House back a UN diplomat trying, say, to limit Kurdish control over Kirkuk? What if that diplomat needed to promise a timeline for the withdrawal of US troops in exchange for Sunni concessions?” At least for the moment, this does not seem to be the case.

Even if the UN were fully empowered by key member states, success if not ordained. Still, this is the last best option for Iraq. Explains Traub:

The prospects are so daunting, and the likelihood of success so low, that one would never contemplate this act of diplomatic legerdemain were there any meaningful alternative. But there isn’t. The American military presence is not, itself, changing the key political facts; and an American withdrawal, by itself, will not suddenly bring the parties to their sense.

From an institutional point of view, there is the danger that member states direct the UN to lead a political process, but not actually cede to the UN the requisite power to do so. (And then, when the peace process fails, blame the UN.) But, says Traub, the UN is willing to assume this risk. After all, the UN will be bogged down in Iraq long after foreign armed forces leave the country. There are already two million Iraq refugees and hundreds of thousands of internally displaced being looked after by the UN. These numbers will only augment as violence spreads.

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