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An Apollo metaphor for peacekeeping

Permit me to wade in on both of David’s comments and Mark’s initial input. Getting the mandate right is like getting the re-entry angle right on Apollo capsules return from the moon: too shallow and they’d skip off into space; too deep and they’d burn up. And they couldn’t be steered once re-entry started. Peacemaking and peace accords set the initial “re-entry angle” for peace implementation: too shallow and the polity doesn’t recover (Haiti 1994+); too deep and the commitment may burn out (Somalia then, perhaps Afghanistan now). As I tell my students, the international community has the resources for many shallow or a few deep interventions but not both and not in big places. Unlike Apollo, mandates can be steered, but ultimate results may be above their pay grade. Thus, MONUC in DRC evolved from protected observation into a big, violent holding action but its problems will not be solved by whatever the mission might do, even with different nationalities in its troop makeup, because the fundamental problem is higher-grade, in the political leadership decisions of Congo, the surrounding states, and those in Congo who periodically serve as their proxies. The “weight to do right” must be felt in those capitals. Darfur is not even, as yet, a holding action, its fate tied more closely to politics in Khartoum than to whatever peacekeepers might manage to do in the field.

Regarding David’s note on the novelty of developed state participation in complex UN ops: it was norm for a few years after the Cold War, with large Western contingents in UNPROFOR (Bosnia — Britain, France, Spain, the Netherlands, and the Nordics) and UNOSOM II (Somalia — US, France, Italy, Australia, Belgium). Plus Rwanda (Belgium again). Since then, command and control complaints have been the excuse for non-participation in UN ops but Western hands were all over the control levers in Bosnia, Somalia, and Rwanda. But the issue of whether UN C2 has improved enough in 15 years is mooted by western commitments of troops under other flags (NATO, EU).

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Great Powers, great baggage

I agree with Mark that the gap between the Security Council’s mandates and what is achievable on the ground has often been startling. In part, this is just hope prevailing over good sense. But it also reflects a deeper reality: when the Security Council authorizes a mission, it may actually be less concerned with the situation on the ground than it is with the political effect of the action at home or vis-a-vis other Council states. This points to an important political role that peacekeeping missions can play: providing political cover for the Great Powers. Historically, peacekeeping evolved in this way and, in a sense, little has changed. The early observer missions to Palestine and then the larger Suez mission in 1956 were explicitly designed to help major powers out of tight spots. Having small states provide troops made sure that the peacekeeping forces didn’t themselves become triggers for great power conflict. Obviously, there have been exceptions to the rule that peacekeeping contributors should be small states and “middle powers.” (The British have contributed large numbers of troops to several missions, including Cyprus and Bosnia.)

It’s important to keep this context in mind, however. In the larger geopolitical game, peacekeeping forces have been buffers between the major powers. Bill Durch suggests that the major powers — or at least more developed states — should start providing manpower for the missions. I think he may be right. But we should acknowledge that this would be a significant conceptual shift and that it might involve political complications. The danger of great power conflagration is much reduced, though it will obviously be prudent to keep certain great powers out of certain regions. China has shown increased interest in peacekeeping, and there was grumbling by human rights activists about the participation of Chinese personnel (mainly engineers) in Sudan. The great powers have troops, but they also bring some heavy political baggage.

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Great Powers, great baggage

I agree with Mark that the gap between the Security Council’s mandates and what is achievable on the ground has often been startling. In part, this is just hope prevailing over good sense. But it also reflects a deeper reality: when the Security Council authorizes a mission, it may actually be less concerned with the situation on the ground than it is with the political effect of the action at home or vis-a-vis other Council states. This points to an important political role that peacekeeping missions can play: providing political cover for the Great Powers. Historically, peacekeeping evolved in this way and, in a sense, little has changed. The early observer missions to Palestine and then the larger Suez mission in 1956 were explicitly designed to help major powers out of tight spots. Having small states provide troops made sure that the peacekeeping forces didn’t themselves become triggers for great power conflict. Obviously, there have been exceptions to the rule that peacekeeping contributors should be small states and “middle powers.” (The British have contributed large numbers of troops to several missions, including Cyprus and Bosnia.)

It’s important to keep this context in mind, however. In the larger geopolitical game, peacekeeping forces have been buffers between the major powers. Bill Durch suggests that the major powers — or at least more developed states — should start providing manpower for the missions. I think he may be right. But we should acknowledge that this would be a significant conceptual shift and that it might involve political complications. The danger of great power conflagration is much reduced, though it will obviously be prudent to keep certain great powers out of certain regions. China has shown increased interest in peacekeeping, and there was grumbling by human rights activists about the participation of Chinese personnel (mainly engineers) in Sudan. The great powers have troops, but they also bring some heavy political baggage.

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What Color is Earth Day?

I hope everyone had fun breaking out the organic snacks and the biodegradable party hats for Earth Day yesterday. I noticed that the public sphere was plastered with green-tinted news, content and advertisements. For one day, at least, everything was green, grün, verde, vert, or even lu se.

But in the green hangover following the ephemeral appreciation of that infinitely complex and awe-inspiring system that is our planet, I am reminded of something I read in the Economist back in December of 2007.

“Whilst chlorophyll is, without doubt, hugely significant to life on this planet, the anthropocentric, terrestrialist view of the world that dubs those that care as “green” needs to be challenged.”

Indeed, this is referred to as “The Blue Planet” and not the green one. The Economist goes on to explain that we have consumed 90% of the world’s large fish, destroyed much of the coral and created state-sized blooms of algae. There is also an ocean warming problem that will have numerous effects that we have not even begun to think about yet. Even beyond the obvious scale of any ocean-related disasters that are brewing are the disturbing implications of problems associated with fresh water. Fresh water disasters will lead to even further complications with our beloved green-scape.

So, this year, as you put away your bright green organic hair dye and face paint, remember that being “green” is really less than 30% of a commitment to the planet. Because yesterday was “Earth Day” and not “Land Day”, I want to remind everyone that going green is great, but without adding a lot of blue, blau, azul, bleu or lan se to our palette of awareness and activity, we could be destined to serve the agenda of less favorable colors.

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What Color is Earth Day?

I hope everyone had fun breaking out the organic snacks and the biodegradable party hats for Earth Day yesterday. I noticed that the public sphere was plastered with green-tinted news, content and advertisements. For one day, at least, everything was green, grün, verde, vert, or even lu se.

But in the green hangover following the ephemeral appreciation of that infinitely complex and awe-inspiring system that is our planet, I am reminded of something I read in the Economist back in December of 2007.

“Whilst chlorophyll is, without doubt, hugely significant to life on this planet, the anthropocentric, terrestrialist view of the world that dubs those that care as “green” needs to be challenged.”

Indeed, this is referred to as “The Blue Planet” and not the green one. The Economist goes on to explain that we have consumed 90% of the world’s large fish, destroyed much of the coral and created state-sized blooms of algae. There is also an ocean warming problem that will have numerous effects that we have not even begun to think about yet. Even beyond the obvious scale of any ocean-related disasters that are brewing are the disturbing implications of problems associated with fresh water. Fresh water disasters will lead to even further complications with our beloved green-scape.

So, this year, as you put away your bright green organic hair dye and face paint, remember that being “green” is really less than 30% of a commitment to the planet. Because yesterday was “Earth Day” and not “Land Day”, I want to remind everyone that going green is great, but without adding a lot of blue, blau, azul, bleu or lan se to our palette of awareness and activity, we could be destined to serve the agenda of less favorable colors.

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Nicole Kidman at the UN

nicole_kidman1_300_400.jpg

Interpreter star and UN Goodwill Ambassador Nicole Kidman is back at the United Nations today to promote the UN’s “say no to violence against women” campaign. Most coverage of this visit, though, seems to focus on the fact that Kidman is six months pregnant–and shockingly is showing a “baby bump.” Amazing how that works.

For a more thorough account of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM)’s ongoing campaign to combat violence against the women, check out the website. You can even sign the petition.

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