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Ban in Bucharest: “Stay the Course in Afghanistan”

From the UN News Center:

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today pledged the commitment of the United Nations to stay the course in Afghanistan to ensure peace, security and development in the strife-torn nation. “We shall not leave Afghanistan as long as we are needed by the Afghan people,” Mr. Ban told a high-level international meeting convened in Bucharest, Romania, as part of the summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

He noted the achievements of recent years such as economic growth, lower infant and maternal mortality rates and an increase in school enrollment. “But these welcome indicators of progress must not obscure the obstacles that we still face,” he added, citing the threat posed by the continuing violence and militancy in various parts of the country and the growing drug economy.

Mr. Ban acknowledged that the UN has not been as effective as it needs to be in coordinating the international community, adding that the new Security Council mandate will allow the world body to take a more assertive role in coordination.

Read more.

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UN Peacekeeping: More than a Punching Bag

rohrabacher4-2-08.gif

At a hearing on Wednesday before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights, and Oversight (watch the webcast here, and go to about the 1:07 mark for the fieriest bits), Representative Dana Rohrabacher took a host of unnecessary pot shots at UN peacekeeping, indiscriminately writing off nearly every mission as a “failure” and insulting blue helmets for “incompetence” and “cowardice.” The briefer at the hearing, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Jane Holl Lute wisely opted not to stoop to Rohrabacher’s level, particularly because none of the other committee members shared Rohrabacher’s outlandish views. As a former decorated member of the U.S. military herself, though, Lute understandably bristled at Rohrabacher’s downright insulting indictment of brave UN peacekeeping personnel.

While Lute refrained from making the following comparison — though the subcommittee’s chair, Rep. Bill Delahunt, did invoke Iraq several times — the principles of both logic and sound policymaking demand that it be made: if peacekeeping debacles were consistently attributed to troops’ “incompetence” and “cowardice,” U.S. soldiers would face a string of equally groundless defamations for the imbroglio they are facing in Iraq. That they do not is testament to the double standard that Rohrabacher so eagerly employs to slander UN peacekeepers. At the heart of Rohrabacher’s anti-UN agenda — of which his crusade is of course only an example — is his ruthless exploitation of a key difference in the political capital generated by two premises: on the one hand, the entrenched dictate of “Support the Troops,” and on the other, the much less well-established — while no less valuable — imperative to “Support the Peacekeepers.”I am consistently fascinated and dismayed by the extent to which politicians like Rohrabacher find it politically expedient to use the United Nations as nothing more than a punching bag. Though the extreme version of their argument by no means attracts common currency, the hollowness of this general line of thinking merits some investigation. By so intensely focusing their ire on the global institution, these politicians are committing an egregious straw man fallacy, excusing American inaction by obscuring the root causes of the problems they are attacking. As Mark so ably articulated, it is deeply disingenuous for the U.S. to posture that the slow deployment of UNAMID stems from the UN’s inadequacies, rather than from insufficient commitments on the part of Member States. Representative Rohrabacher’s blanket indictments of UN peacekeeping failures are similarly incomplete and self-exculpatory when they neglect to consider the simple formula that the UN’s actions — successes and failures both — are only determined by the decisions and support of UN Member States.

That the United Nations provides a convenient scapegoat for politicians is perhaps not surprising. But that some can use UN-bashing affirmatively as a surefire political slam dunk cannot help but puzzle me, when it is so clear that UN blue helmets are the only ones to risk their lives patrolling the many chaotic war zones into which the U.S. has consistently voted for their deployment. The death of a UN peacekeeper is as tragic as the loss of an American soldier, yet it does not create the same political flak generated by the loss of an American life. How is it that some politicians can so frequently and so eagerly urge other countries’ troops into harm’s way, in places where we would not or cannot send our own sons and daughters, yet give so little respect for — and even dare to impugn the bravery of — those who do undertake the arduous and unglamorous work of peacekeeping?

This question is particularly paradoxical when considering those U.S. officials and lawmakers who do indeed profess a high level of support for the UN’s role across the world. Even without sinking to the shameful low of slinging ad hominem attacks at UN peacekeepers, the U.S., while calling for an increased UN presence in country after country with one hand, consistently undermines the possible effectiveness of these missions by dramatically and dangerously underfunding them. Operating on a budget of just $7 billion, the U.S. currently owes a staggering $1.4 billion to UN peacekeeping.

Politicians and constituents both deserve some measure of blame for perpetuating the disgusting political game of vilifying the United Nations as is expedient, a tactic that helps neither peacekeepers nor those innocents they are tasked with protecting. While some of this exploitative scapegoating may stem from ideological opposition, at the base of the problem often seems to lie a shockingly unfortunate groundswell of ignorance. Secretary Lute attested to this large-scale unfamiliarity with the UN’s role at the outset of her statement, poignantly observing that “what people do not know about peacekeeping is more impressive than what they do know.” If people did know and appreciate the dangers faced by UN peacekeepers, we can most likely safely assume that they would be as loathe to defile the integrity of blue helmets — or even the value of the UN as an institution — as they are to blindly attack the character of individual U.S. soldiers.

| Leave a comment

UN Peacekeeping: More than a Punching Bag

rohrabacher4-2-08.gif

At a hearing on Wednesday before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights, and Oversight (watch the webcast here, and go to about the 1:07 mark for the fieriest bits), Representative Dana Rohrabacher took a host of unnecessary pot shots at UN peacekeeping, indiscriminately writing off nearly every mission as a “failure” and insulting blue helmets for “incompetence” and “cowardice.” The briefer at the hearing, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Jane Holl Lute wisely opted not to stoop to Rohrabacher’s level, particularly because none of the other committee members shared Rohrabacher’s outlandish views. As a former decorated member of the U.S. military herself, though, Lute understandably bristled at Rohrabacher’s downright insulting indictment of brave UN peacekeeping personnel.

While Lute refrained from making the following comparison — though the subcommittee’s chair, Rep. Bill Delahunt, did invoke Iraq several times — the principles of both logic and sound policymaking demand that it be made: if peacekeeping debacles were consistently attributed to troops’ “incompetence” and “cowardice,” U.S. soldiers would face a string of equally groundless defamations for the imbroglio they are facing in Iraq. That they do not is testament to the double standard that Rohrabacher so eagerly employs to slander UN peacekeepers. At the heart of Rohrabacher’s anti-UN agenda — of which his crusade is of course only an example — is his ruthless exploitation of a key difference in the political capital generated by two premises: on the one hand, the entrenched dictate of “Support the Troops,” and on the other, the much less well-established — while no less valuable — imperative to “Support the Peacekeepers.”I am consistently fascinated and dismayed by the extent to which politicians like Rohrabacher find it politically expedient to use the United Nations as nothing more than a punching bag. Though the extreme version of their argument by no means attracts common currency, the hollowness of this general line of thinking merits some investigation. By so intensely focusing their ire on the global institution, these politicians are committing an egregious straw man fallacy, excusing American inaction by obscuring the root causes of the problems they are attacking. As Mark so ably articulated, it is deeply disingenuous for the U.S. to posture that the slow deployment of UNAMID stems from the UN’s inadequacies, rather than from insufficient commitments on the part of Member States. Representative Rohrabacher’s blanket indictments of UN peacekeeping failures are similarly incomplete and self-exculpatory when they neglect to consider the simple formula that the UN’s actions — successes and failures both — are only determined by the decisions and support of UN Member States.

That the United Nations provides a convenient scapegoat for politicians is perhaps not surprising. But that some can use UN-bashing affirmatively as a surefire political slam dunk cannot help but puzzle me, when it is so clear that UN blue helmets are the only ones to risk their lives patrolling the many chaotic war zones into which the U.S. has consistently voted for their deployment. The death of a UN peacekeeper is as tragic as the loss of an American soldier, yet it does not create the same political flak generated by the loss of an American life. How is it that some politicians can so frequently and so eagerly urge other countries’ troops into harm’s way, in places where we would not or cannot send our own sons and daughters, yet give so little respect for — and even dare to impugn the bravery of — those who do undertake the arduous and unglamorous work of peacekeeping?

This question is particularly paradoxical when considering those U.S. officials and lawmakers who do indeed profess a high level of support for the UN’s role across the world. Even without sinking to the shameful low of slinging ad hominem attacks at UN peacekeepers, the U.S., while calling for an increased UN presence in country after country with one hand, consistently undermines the possible effectiveness of these missions by dramatically and dangerously underfunding them. Operating on a budget of just $7 billion, the U.S. currently owes a staggering $1.4 billion to UN peacekeeping.

Politicians and constituents both deserve some measure of blame for perpetuating the disgusting political game of vilifying the United Nations as is expedient, a tactic that helps neither peacekeepers nor those innocents they are tasked with protecting. While some of this exploitative scapegoating may stem from ideological opposition, at the base of the problem often seems to lie a shockingly unfortunate groundswell of ignorance. Secretary Lute attested to this large-scale unfamiliarity with the UN’s role at the outset of her statement, poignantly observing that “what people do not know about peacekeeping is more impressive than what they do know.” If people did know and appreciate the dangers faced by UN peacekeepers, we can most likely safely assume that they would be as loathe to defile the integrity of blue helmets — or even the value of the UN as an institution — as they are to blindly attack the character of individual U.S. soldiers.

| Leave a comment

With Great Progress Comes Even Greater Efforts

04-03-aids.jpg

A UN report released today shows significant progress in treating children with AIDS and preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV, but not without a call for greater efforts.

In 2005, only 11 percent of women were getting drugs to prevent transmission. Thanks to UNICEF’s Unite for Children, Unite Against AIDS initiative, 31 percent are now getting treatment. There’s also been a 70 percent increase in children who are receiving anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) to 127,000 per year. “That’s enormous progress,” says UNICEF Chief of HIV and AIDS Jimmy Kolker.

But obviously more efforts are needed. The report identifies improvements and challenges in four key areas: preventing HIV transmission from mothers to children (PMTCT); providing paediatric treatment, preventing infection among adolescents and young people; and protecting and supporting children affected by AIDS.

The report also addresses how various gender injustices call for women’s rights efforts to be embedded within the work being done to decrease the occurrence of PMTCT. Examples include how domestic violence is often a huge barrier to routine testing programs, or the ways that cultural stigmatization prevents many women from seeking PMTCT services. All are addressed in the report, as well as new working strategies to further the progress already made.

Make sure to check out the full report.

| 3

With Great Progress Comes Even Greater Efforts

04-03-aids.jpg

A UN report released today shows significant progress in treating children with AIDS and preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV, but not without a call for greater efforts.

In 2005, only 11 percent of women were getting drugs to prevent transmission. Thanks to UNICEF’s Unite for Children, Unite Against AIDS initiative, 31 percent are now getting treatment. There’s also been a 70 percent increase in children who are receiving anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) to 127,000 per year. “That’s enormous progress,” says UNICEF Chief of HIV and AIDS Jimmy Kolker.

But obviously more efforts are needed. The report identifies improvements and challenges in four key areas: preventing HIV transmission from mothers to children (PMTCT); providing paediatric treatment, preventing infection among adolescents and young people; and protecting and supporting children affected by AIDS.

The report also addresses how various gender injustices call for women’s rights efforts to be embedded within the work being done to decrease the occurrence of PMTCT. Examples include how domestic violence is often a huge barrier to routine testing programs, or the ways that cultural stigmatization prevents many women from seeking PMTCT services. All are addressed in the report, as well as new working strategies to further the progress already made.

Make sure to check out the full report.

| 3

Passing the Buck

Reuters gets its hands on a letter from the US Special Envoy on Sudan Richard Williamson to the Secretary General in which Williamson blames the UN for the slow deployment of UNAMID, the peacekeeping mission to Darfur. This kind of critique tends to infuriate me. The United Nations cannot waive a magic wand to summon the kind of troops and equipment necessary to make UNAMID a success. Rather, it depends on member states to pony up the cash, personnel and equipment. It is incredibly disingenuous to blame the UN for UNAMID’s slow deployment when one’s government is not offering troops or equipment — nor even living up to its basic treaty obligation to financially support UN peacekeeping as a whole. (Right now, the United States is $1.4 billion in arrears in the UN peacekeeping account, which is far from chump change considering that the UN’s peacekeeping budget is only $7 billion annually).

Even if the United States does not want to send troops or equipment to Darfur — which is understandable — it could still help the situation by using its diplomatic clout to press for peace in Darfur. UNAMID, after all, will only be successful if there is an underlying peace to keep. One obvious way the United States could help politically and diplomatically is to make Darfur a higher priority in its bilateral relationship with China, which has close ties to Sudan. But so far, many in the United States government have found it easier to scapegoat the UN over Darfur than empower it to succeed there.

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