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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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Monday morning diversions: UN Edition

“In honor of United Nations Day on Wednesday,” the NY Times published an interconnected series of UN-based puzzles in yesterday’s paper.

Don’t cheat.

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UNESCO chief condemns murder of Somali radio executive

The Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has condemned the recent assassination of the chief executive of a popular radio station.

UNESCO chief Koïchiro Matsuura said “I am gravely concerned about worsening violence against journalists and media personnel in Somalia who are brave enough to fulfil their professional commitments in such a dangerous environment.”

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Trashing the UN on the way to the Ballot Box

The United Nations often suffers in election years. Last year, for example, the pollster Frank Luntz advised office seakers that the UN could be made into a “wedge issue” prior to the congressional elections.

This election cycle is no different–so far. Prior to the UN Summit last month, a primary candidate demanded the US withhold funding from the United Nations unless the UN prevent Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from addressing the General Assembly. Now, as Matt Yglesias and Paul Kiel have noted, the same candidate has called for the withdrawal of the United States from the United Nations Human Rights Council — never mind that the United States is not a member of the council.

Fortunately, some candidates in the race have first hand experience at the UN. And from that knowledge stems statements like this:

“[The] United Nations…is a necessary and important framework for building the international cooperation that will be necessary to confront problems like environmental degradation and poverty.”

In a speech addressing 21st century global threats, [Governor Richardson] said the U.N. is vital to peacekeeping, humanitarian relief, and solutions to global climate change.

“As a former U.N. ambassador there — your ambassador there — I, more than anyone in this race, understand the shortcomings of that institution,” the New Mexico governor admitted. “But I also know the incredible power in the legitimacy of international cooperation.”

What’s interesting here is that politicians typically do not step out of their way to defend the United Nations while running for office. But perhaps this is a sign of the times. With American foriegn policy burdened by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, politicians recognize that voters understand the United States needs the kind of international support that the United Nations can provide.

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Lesotho launches anti-measles drive

With financial backing from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Lesotho has launched a major drive against measles. The campaign aims to reach nearly a quarter of a million children under the age of five.

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Malaria vaccine on the way?

Martin Elmund from Malaria No More, who has also been covering the Gates Malaria Forum, writes today about news regarding “RTS,S, the world’s most clinically advanced malaria vaccine candidate.” Elmund explains:

A joint project between GlaxoSmithKline and the Gates-funded Malaria Vaccine Initiative, RTS,S works in two ways. First, it prepares the defense mechanisms of a person to recognize and respond to the malaria parasite before it encounters the genuine article. Second, it helps t-cells attack the parasite as it emerges from the liver (the first stop in the body where it multiplies some 40,000X) and begins to infiltrate red blood cells.

In 2004, RTS,S was shown to provide greater than 50% protection against infection in children 1-to-4 years old. The new study finds that among children under one, the vaccine provides 65% protection against new infections over three months.

This is significant because children 18 months and younger bear a disproportionate burden from the disease: 30% to 50% of the severe disease and deaths occur in that age group. Until now, it was unknown whether the vaccine could help shield them from malaria.

The Times also picks up on the same story save this nugget, ‘Time and again scientists have been on the brink of success only to have their hopes publicly and painfully dashed. The height of false hope, perhaps, was in 1984 when the NY Times ran the headline “Malaria Vaccine is Near.”’

According to Elmund:

Researchers were so confident they’d cracked the code that they tested the vaccine on themselves just before flying to a conference where they expected to declare victory. They came down with malaria symptoms the morning after they landed.

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