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The Security Council’s Syria Cross-Border Aid Gamble

The Security Council just voted unanimously on a resolution that would authorize the cross-border delivery of humanitarian aid to Syria.  This is undoubtedly a necessary goal: there are 9.3 million people in need of humanitarian assistance inside Syria. Right now, only about 4 million people are being reached with food aid and medicine. There are a number of reasons for this huge gap, but chief among them is hat aid flows through Damascus. The government indirectly controls which needy populations get this aid–and which are excluded.

The Security Council’s proposal to remedy this is to authorize the delivery of humanitarian aid across border points that are not controlled by the Syrian government. This is a good idea in theory–after all, aid would reach about 1 million more of the people who need it the most. But in doing so, the Security Council is also taking a huge risk.

The delivery of humanitarian aid to a crisis zone like Syria requires some degree of cooperation from the government of the country receiving the aid. Despite the conflict Syria is still a sovereign country, and as such it treats its borders like most countries do, requiring visas, imposes customs duties, etc. In order to reach the 4 million civilians that are currently receiving international aid, agencies must work with Syrian authorities, as uncomfortable as that may be.  If the Assad regime objects to the cross border delivery of aid to areas it does not control, it may very well retaliate against these agencies by booting them from Damascus, which would disrupt aid flows to people currently receiving it.

But it gets worse. The Syrian government has said that it would consider the non-consensual delivery of humanitarian assistance as tantamount to an attack on Syria. In a letter to the Security Council last month, Syria’s Ambassador to the UN stated: “importing aid in coordination with terrorist organizations and without consultation with the Syrian State would amount to an attack on the Syrian State.”  This raises the very real possibility that the Syrian air force would bomb humanitarian convoys as soon as they cross the border.

The Security Council is betting that Russian support for the resolution would mitigate the risk that Syrian military would attack aid convoys. (The resolution contains a provision for the monitoring of the aid convoys, insisted by Russia, to ensure that no weapons are smuggled to rebel groups.) If Russia supports this resolution, then presumably Moscow would encourage Damascus to abide by its strictures–or at the very least, not retaliate against humanitarian agencies.

It’s logical to assume that Damascus would not cross it’s main protector at the Security Council by violating a resolution that Russia supports. And it’s welcome to finally see some unity at the Security Council. But this is still very much a gamble.

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Episode 25: Joseph Cirincione

Joseph Cirincione is on the line this week. The nuclear policy wonk and President of the Ploughshares Fund discusses Iran, Bush’s troubled non-proliferation record and why the jury is still out on President Obama’s nuclear legacy. He tells me about his first memories of living under the threat of nuclear war and how his life and career has tracked the ups and downs of American nuclear policy.

It’s timely conversation, kicked off with a brief discussion of the Iran nuclear talks, and also a timeless conversation about the history of America and the bomb. Enjoy!  

And remember to subscribe on iTunes. You won’t miss a show. Plus,  subscribing raises the visibility of the podcast in iTunes, helping other globally curious people discover the show! 

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Previous episodes

A Migrant’s Story: Why are So Many Children Fleeing to the USA?

Episode 23: Live from the UN 2014 (Volume 2)

Inside the Iran Nuke Talks

Episode 23: Jillian York, Digital Free Speech defender

Turkey’s Strategic Interests in Iraq

Episode 22: Live from the UN, 2014 (Vol 1); A special edition, featuring the President of the General Assembly,  the UN Ambassadors from Vietnam and Jamaica, the head of the UN Association, and more!

The UN’s View of the Iraq Crisis

Episode 21: Thomas Pickering, former Ambassador to the UN, Israel, Jordan, Russia, India and more.

Dying for the World Cup

Episode 20: Jessica Tuchman Matthews, foreign policy trendsetter

Egypt After the Counter Revolution 

Episode 19: Louise Arbour, human rights pioneer.

What Obama Left Out of His Big Foreign Policy Speech

Episode 18: Zalmay Khalizad, former US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the UN.

Why Libya is Suddenly on the Verge of a Civil War 

Episode 17: Gov Bill Richardson, he frees hostages.

The Foreign Policy Implications of India’s Elections

Episode 16: Carolyn Miles, CEO of Save the Children

What Boko Haram Wants

Episode: 15 Laura Turner Seydel, philanthropist

Episode 14: Douglas Ollivant, Iraq expert

Episode 13: Gary Bass, historian

Episode 12: Mark Montgomery, demographer

Episode 11: Kenneth Roth, Human Rights Watcher

Episode 10: Live from the UN, Volume 2.

Episode 9: Mia Farrow, humanitarian activist and Goodwill Ambassador

Episode 8: Suzanne Nossel, Big Thinker

Episode 7: Live from the UN, Volume 1. 

Episode 6: PJ Crowley, former State Department Spokesperson

Episode 5: Octavia Nasr, reporter

Episode 4: Arsalan Iftikhar, “The Muslim Guy”

Episode 3: Dodge Billingsley, filmmaker.

Episode 2: Laura Seay,  @TexasinAfrica

Episode 1: Heather Hurlburt, national security wonk

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France Sending Troops to the Sahel

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France to Significantly Extend Counter-Terror Operations Across the Sahel…With its operations winding down in Mali, France is planning to shift resources and deploy troops throughout the Sahel region. “The new operation, codenamed Barkhan, will kick off in the coming days and is being implemented in partnership with five countries in the Sahel-Sahara region, Le Drian said, without detailing which nations these were…the operation would consist of around 3,000 soldiers supported by drones, helicopters and fighter jets. (France 24 http://f24.my/1oUYnQr)

A Way Out of the Afghan Election Crisis? John Kerry to the rescue. “Secretary of state John Kerry said on Saturday both of Afghanistan’s presidential candidates were committed to abiding by the results of the “largest and most comprehensive audit” of the election runoff ballots possible. Kerry stood with the two candidates who are disputing the results of Afghanistan’s presidential election. He announced that finance minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah had agreed to abide by a 100%, internationally supervised audit of all ballots in the presidential election in Kabul.” (Guardian http://bit.ly/1oUYRWs)

Africa

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau has claimed responsibility for two blasts on June 25 at a fuel depot in Nigeria’s commercial hub of Lagos, AFP reported on Sunday, which, if true, would be the first recorded attack on the city by the militants. (Reuters http://bit.ly/1yca0X5)

Obtaining healthy food is difficult in the Central African Republic capital city of Bangui, where conflict has caused prices to soar, while across the country many peasant farms lie barren. (AFP http://yhoo.it/1ycb39p)

Central African Republic‘s mainly Muslim Seleka rebel group has reinstated Michel Djotodia as its leader, a spokesman said, months after international pressure forced him to step aside for failing to halt violence that erupted after he seized power last year. (Reuters http://bit.ly/1jEz0DB)

In Sierra Leone, people are accusing doctors of administering lethal injections to the Ebola patients or removing vital organs for sale in European markets. As a result, doctors and nurses in the hospitals have been attacked and many nurses are not wearing their uniforms on the way to work for fear of being attacked in the streets. (IPS http://bit.ly/1jEyJQS)

Women’s rights activists in the Gambia are insisting that more than 30 years of campaigning to raise awareness should be sufficient to move the government to outlaw female genital mutilation. (IPS http://bit.ly/1jEyS6M)

Pakistani teenage activist Malala Yousafzai is in Nigeria to campaign on behalf of the more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls abducted by the rebel group Boko Haram in northeastern Borno state. (VOA http://bit.ly/1ycayfu)

Goma, a city in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, sits by one of the world’s largest freshwater reservoirs and has some of Africa’s heaviest annual rainfall, yet it is a thirsty place. Most of the city’s one million residents, living close to the shores of Lake Kivu, have to struggle every day to fetch water home. (AP http://yhoo.it/1ycbZKZ)

MENA

Thousands of Palestinians were fleeing northern Gaza on Sunday after a night of intense Israeli strikes and an explicit warning from the army that the raids were set to intensify. (AP http://yhoo.it/1yccFjx)

The mother of a two-month-old Syrian girl rescued from the rubble of a bombed Aleppo building appealed on Saturday for help to raise her son. (AP http://yhoo.it/1jEzSbg)

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas is to ask the United Nations to put the state of Palestine under “international protection” in light of the worsening violence in the Gaza Strip, the PLO said. (AFP http://yhoo.it/1jFUzn1)

Heavy fighting broke out between rival militias vying for control of Libya’s main airport on Sunday, killing at least seven people and forcing a halt of all flights in the worst fighting in the capital for six months.(Reuters http://reut.rs/1oUYs6z)

Asia

Poor sanitation and lack of toilets may be a root cause of malnutrition in India (NYT http://nyti.ms/1oUYyeu)

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said today the BRICS summit to take place in Brazil next week will allow his country to strengthen ties with Latin American nations. (Prensa Latina http://bit.ly/1jFULTu)

The Americas

Venezuelan Environment Minister Miguel Leonardo Rodríguez warned against the negative effects of the severe drought that is affecting the state of Zulia, which is causing serious water shortages. (Prensa Latina http://bit.ly/1ycai00)

Opinion/Blogs

Can this Man Save Syria? (UN Dispatch http://bit.ly/1rivL4m)

Prabowo loses election, but how will he respond? (The Interpeter http://bit.ly/1tDJGpP)

A chat with Oxfam America chief rabble rouser Ray Offenheiser (Humanosphere http://bit.ly/1tDJQ0p)

What explains peace? (Rachel Strohm http://bit.ly/1rivFK3)

Creating Consequences for South Sudan’s Political Elite (The Daily Beast http://thebea.st/1tDKEm6)

Those Girls Haven’t Been Brought Back (NY Times http://nyti.ms/1riwXoq)

A Refugee Crisis, Not an Immigration Crisis (NY Times http://nyti.ms/1rixIh4)

West Africa’s Misguided War on Drugs (Policy Innovations http://bit.ly/1rixJ4P)

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Afghanistan; Middle East; Lebanon

Afghanistan: After meeting with President Karzai, UNAMA proposed an audit of Afghanistan’s polling stations at the request of both candidates in order to increase the credibility of the country’s election process following serious allegations of fraud.

Middle East: UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Pillay expressed alarm at the Israeli killings of Palestinian civilians in Gaza as well as the firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel. She called on all sides to abide by international humanitarian law and echoed the SG’s call for a ceasefire. The SG, Pillay, and humanitarian partners condemn and prohibit the targeting of civilians in these recent attacks.

Lebanon: Earlier today UNIFIL radars detected the firing of three rockets toward Israel from south Lebanon, and the Israel Defense Forces responded with artillery fire toward the source of the rocket. No casualties have been reported, but UNIFIL continues to investigate the incident.

Syria: UNHCR called on European countries to strengthen their response to the Syrian crisis as 123,600 Syrians have sought asylum in Europe since 2011.

South Sudan: UNHCR launched an appeal to donors for $658 million to respond to the deteriorating humanitarian crisis in South Sudan as the number of refugees is expected to reach 715,000 by the end of 2014.

Nigeria: The UN Special Envoy for Global Education called on the global community to support the Nigerian schoolgirls on July 22nd to mark the 100th day of their captivity by holding vigils and sending letters to the community for their safe return and for the Safe Schools Initiative.

Development Cooperation Forum: Yesterday marked the opening session of the 2014 Development Cooperation Forum where Ambassador Sadjik remarked that development cooperation will play a big role in supporting the implementation of the post-2015 development agenda. He stressed the need to explore other sources of financing and the necessity of domestic resource mobilization, business sector participation, and a renewed global partnership for development uniting the Monterrey and Rio+20 conference tracks.

World Population Day: In the SG’s message on World Population Day, he called on the world to renew its commitment to empower young people in order to progress toward a more sustainable future. The SG remains particularly concerned about adolescent girls and called for investments in health, education, training to aid youth in their transition to adulthood.

UN Direct | Leave a comment
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Can this Man Save Syria?

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Ban Ki Moon yesterday appointed Staffan de Mistura as his newest special envoy for Syria. He follows Lakdhar Brahimi and Kofi Annan as the latest international mediator for the conflict.

de Mistura is well-known in UN circles. He’s a duel Swedish-and Italian citizen, former foreign minister of Italy and top UN official in Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s a veteran diplomat and skilled troubleshooter. But can he succeed where Kofi Annan and Lakhdhar Brahimi failed?

Probably not. And that has very little to do with his diplomatic acumen and very much to do with the fundamental diplomatic dynamic that has so far stymied an internationally backed peaceful resolution to Syria’s civil war.  The Security Council is paralyzed on Syria, with the gaps between Russia on the one hand and the USA, UK and France growing wider by the day. Russia has vetoed four previous resolutions on Syria, and there’s no prospects for unity at the Security Council in the horizon.

This lack of cohesion at the Security Council has made it impossible to compel the Assad government to enter into good faith negotiations; and it has made it impossible to work cooperatively with the regional actors that are backing various sides of the conflict. No one wants to see the Syria conflict drag on, but there is a wide gulf between the outcomes that Russia seeks and the outcomes that the USA and the west seek.  Without unity, there is very little the Security Council can do to affect outcomes in Syria. It cannot sanction instigators of the conflict; it cannot compel compliance with a peace accord; and it cannot threaten coercive action to force the sides to the negotiating table.

This brings us back to Steffan de Mistura. He is set up to fail in the same way as Brahimi and Annan — two other exceptional diplomats. He is a lone mediator without the backing of the Security Council. Until the Security Council finds unity, there is very little he can do or say to affect the situation on the ground.  At this point, Prince von Metternich himself could come back to life and even he would not be able to mediate away this crisis.

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Kofi Annan Declares War on the War on Drugs

This op-ed by Kofi Annan originally appeared in Project Syndicate and is reprinted with permission. 

recent estimate by the United Kingdom’s Office for National Statistics that the market for illegal drugs adds £4.4 billion ($7.6 billion) annually to the country’s economy gives a sense of the astonishing scale of the illicit narcotics trade. For regions such as West Africa, with economies that are neither as large nor as developed as the UK’s, the impact of such activity can be even more corrosive.

West Africa finds itself increasingly enmeshed in the global drug trade. Its location makes it vulnerable to being exploited as a transit point between the Latin American and Asian production centers and consumer markets in Europe and the United States.

But, as the experience of Central America shows, transit countries do not serve only as a corridor for drugs. Illegal drugs and the money that surround them invade and destabilize their societies. This disturbing development – a byproduct of the failed “global war on drugs” – threatens to reverse recent economic and social gains in our region.

So far, West Africa has avoided the worst of the endemic and routine violence that accompanies the passage of drugs through Central America. But, with the stakes so high, there is no room for complacency. The scale of the cocaine trade alone in West Africa dwarfs the combined government budgets of several countries in the region.

We already know that the narcotics trade has played a direct or indirect role in political upheaval in countries such as Guinea-Bissau and Mali. National and international action against the traffickers must be stepped up, and it should include targeting those who run the networks, rather than expending scarce law-enforcement resources to pursue their foot soldiers. We need to pursue those who gain the most, whoever they are and whatever position they hold.

But it is not only the trade in illegal drugs that is destabilizing countries in the region; narcotics consumption is becoming a major problem as well. The West Africa Commission on Drugs, which I convened and former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo chairs, points out in a new report that cocaine, heroin, and locally produced methamphetamines have become increasingly available across the region. This has led to greater use and dependence, especially among the region’s young people.

Yet the region is simply not ready or equipped to deal with the spread of drug use and dependency. All too often, the response is to stigmatize and penalize drug users. But pushing them to the fringes of society or locking them up in ever increasing numbers will not solve the problem. On the contrary, it worsens health problems and puts enormous pressure on West Africa’s already over-stretched criminal justice systems.

The Commission’s report instead calls for a new approach to drug abuse, one that treats it not as a criminal-justice issue, but rather as a public-health problem. That means tackling the near total absence of drug-treatment facilities and programs and the lack of personnel qualified to manage and monitor drug abuse.

The Commission accepts that there are many urgent demands on strapped health-care budgets. But such is the importance of this challenge – and so dire are the consequences of failure to overcome it – that the Commission strongly recommends the adoption of a drug-treatment policy with minimum standards across the region.

This includes the establishment of drug treatment and related health services and facilities, and the implementation of harm-reduction approaches, such as needle-exchange programs, which have been proven to reduce the spread of HIV and the incidence of drug-related deaths. To date, Senegal is alone in West Africa in implementing some form of government-run harm-reduction initiative.

Tackling the impact of drugs through informed, humane, and coordinated policy will require leadership and a concerted effort by countries across the region. The Commission calls for a shared commitment from governments, civil-society groups, and regional organizations. We can no longer sweep this issue under the carpet or pretend that it is not our problem.

The report also urges increased support for these efforts from the international community. Governments in those West African countries that are the principal producers and consumers of illegal drugs should fund prevention, treatment, and harm-reduction initiatives, rather than only investing in interdiction and law enforcement.

Without a change of direction, drug trafficking, production, and consumption in West Africa will continue to undermine institutions, threaten public health, and damage development progress. But reforming drug laws, offering chronic users proper treatment, and vigorously pursuing high-level drug traffickers will reduce the damaging impact of illegal drugs on communities, families, and individuals. By having the courage to refocus national and international efforts, we can help to ensure that our young people grow up healthy and secure.


Kofi A. Annan, a former secretary-general of the United Nations, is the founding chair of the Kofi Annan Foundation and also chairs The Elders and the Africa Progress Panel. In 2001, he and the United Nations were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace.

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