The Israeli press is seizing on the line in the Helene Cooper story that Mark discusses that suggests that the Obama Administration might consider “stepping back from America’s near-uniform support for Israel in the United Nations if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel does not agree to a settlement freeze.” It’s not hard to see why this “could get the attention of the Israeli public,” as a quoted administration official opines. But lest anyone get caught up in a tizzy of paranoia that the United States will be “abandoning” Israel to the wolves any time soon, it seems pretty obvious that Israel will remain a major U.S. ally, in the United Nations and out.
Policy-wise, the portrayal of a “threat” here is a ruse: exerting pressure for a settlement freeze will not result in the United States delegation allowing any anti-Semitic or Israel-bashing resolution to go through the UN. I cannot envision a scenario in which the United States will “condition support for Israel,” as Ha’aretz scarily forecasts, in any of the Security Council scenarios in which it would need to use a veto. The veto — or more often, the threat of the veto — is a step that is used to remove certain language, or when a country cannot convey any support for a resolution whatsoever. The United States will rightly use its veto whenever a resolution attempts to malign Israel or criticize its existence; this rarely if ever happens in the Security Council, but the position is not going to change.
The issue of halting settlement growth is crucial to achieving peace in Israel and Palestine. The Obama Administration has been refreshingly honest in emphasizing this point, but it is not going to throw Israel under the bus over it. Whatever pressure it exerts on Israel to stop building settlements will be related to the issue of settlement construction. If a juvenile attack on Israel’s existence is somehow raised in the Security Council, I’m sure the United States will not shy from wielding its veto. To imply otherwise is simply creating a controversy that doesn’t exist.
(image of an Israeli settlement in the West Bank, from flickr user Decode Jerusalem under a Creative Commons license)
“It is very unfortunate (and) alarming that the (U.N.) Secretariat submitted to the Russian blackmail,” Georgia’s U.N. Ambassador, Alexander Lomaia told, Reuters.
This is getting silly. At issue between Russia and Georgia is Abkhazia’s national status; it is still an autonomous part of Georgia, but after declaring its sovereignty after the war last August, Abkhazia’s independence was recognized by Russia (and Nicaragua). At issue for the UN here, though, is quite simply the status of its observer mission, regardless of what you call where it is stationed.
The geopolitical situation is complicated, contentious, and needs to be resolved, to be sure. But it shouldn’t impede on a relatively anodyne report on the current security situation in Abkhazia. The question of wording is tricky, but in not using this report to wade into a Russia-Georgia sovereignty dispute, the UN Secretariat is not being “blackmailed” by Russia. It’d help for both sides to stop levying accusations of bias at the UN and to focus on coming to a meaningful accord over Abkhazia instead.
(image from flickr user openDemocracy under a Creative Commons license)
If the response were coordinated by a global agency, those local officials would not be so empowered. Power would be wielded by officials from nations that are far away and emotionally aloof from ground zero. The institution would have to poll its members, negotiate internal differences and proceed, as all multinationals do, at the pace of the most recalcitrant stragglers.
Brooks has constructed an entirely fatuous false dichotomy: the uniform, heavy-handed, slow, and weak response of a global agency, versus the rapidity, efficiency, and experimentation fostered by multivarious national efforts. The point is not that the response to swine flu can be carried out only through either a centralized or uncentralized response. The WHO coordinates individual countries’ responses, making sure that no efforts are ineffective, wasted, or not in line with what must take the form of vigorous international action.
Brooks’ mean-spirited (what is “emotionally aloof from ground zero” supposed to imply?) caricature of his WHO stand-in is entirely exaggerated. Far from a plodding bureaucracy struggling to mount a response, WHO has garnered accolades from various quarters for its handling of the situation. And, more importantly, it’s the only organization around to fulfill the broad transnational coordination role that’s needed in the case of a global pandemic threat.
It doesn’t help Brooks’ case that he evidently misread international relations giant G. John Ikenberry, whom he cites as the proponent of Brooks’ fictional monolithic central response schema. According, at least, to international relations giant G. John Ikenberry (in an email to Dan Drezner):
The problem with David’s analysis is that he thinks the two strategies – national and international – are alternatives. We need both. National governments need to strengthen their capacities to monitor and respond. International capacities – at least the sorts that I propose – are meant to reinforce and assist national governments. This international capacity is particularly important in cases where nations have weak capacities to respond on their own or where coordinated action is the only way to tackle the threat. When it comes to transnational threats like health pandemics everyone everywhere is vulnerable to the weakest link (i.e. weakest nation) in the system, and so no nation can be left behind. [emphasis mine]
That’s a bit harder to misread.
(image of David Brooks, from flickr user DoubleSpeak with Matthew and Peter Slutsky under a Creative Commons license)
Here’s Bill O’Reilly last night: “So far, the United Nations has not responded to the pirate threat. Are you surprised? ‘Talking Points’ believes the U.N. could blockade the Somali ports where the pirates live, thereby crushing the threat. Is that hard? No, all it takes is will.”
This is a cheap shot. The United Nations has been on top of this for several months. In fact, the UN’s World Food Program is the single entity most directly affected by piracy off the Somali coast. Some 95% of all humanitarian aid to Somalia and other east African countries passes through the region. Indeed, WFP humanitarian aid en route to WFP’s Kenyan headquarters was the cargo of the Maersk Alabama. Back in June, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1816, which called for international coordination of anti-piracy efforts in the Indian Ocean. It also authorized the use of force to combat piracy, providing the legal foundation for things like sniper shots and attacks on pirate vessels. The international fleets in the Indian Ocean today are there precisely because the UN took action. Oh, and back in December the Security Council passed Resolution 1851, authorizing “land pursuit” of pirates. Also, for the record, the United Nations does not have a navy. It cannot “blockade” the Somali ports. Of course, “blockade” seems to imply that the action would be geared toward denying the enemy access to goods that it would otherwise receive absent the blockade. What exactly would a blockade of Somalia accomplish? Intercepting humanitarian aid before it reaches Somalia? Wouldn’t that sort of defeat the whole purpose of fighting the pirates in the first place? UPDATE: Two thoughtful op eds explain what, precisely, a blockade would entail. Still, “the UN” does not have a navy. Conducting a cordon of Somali ports would require the cooperation of a multi-national coalition of the willing.
This is a cheap shot. The United Nations has been on top of this for several months. In fact, the UN’s World Food Program is the single entity most directly affected by piracy off the Somali coast. Some 95% of all humanitarian aid to Somalia and other east African countries passes through the region. Indeed, WFP humanitarian aid en route to WFP’s Kenyan headquarters was the cargo of the Maersk Alabama.
Back in June, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1816, which called for international coordination of anti-piracy efforts in the Indian Ocean. It also authorized the use of force to combat piracy, providing the legal foundation for things like sniper shots and attacks on pirate vessels. The international fleets in the Indian Ocean today are there precisely because the UN took action. Oh, and back in December the Security Council passed Resolution 1851, authorizing “land pursuit” of pirates.
Also, for the record, the United Nations does not have a navy. It cannot “blockade” the Somali ports. Of course, “blockade” seems to imply that the action would be geared toward denying the enemy access to goods that it would otherwise receive absent the blockade. What exactly would a blockade of Somalia accomplish? Intercepting humanitarian aid before it reaches Somalia? Wouldn’t that sort of defeat the whole purpose of fighting the pirates in the first place?
UPDATE: Two thoughtful op eds explain what, precisely, a blockade would entail. Still, “the UN” does not have a navy. Conducting a cordon of Somali ports would require the cooperation of a multi-national coalition of the willing.
Even if you’re the president of the country in question, even if some of your frustration is justified, and even if you’re not feeling particularly thrilled with the UN at the moment, this should still not be how you commemorate the 15th anniversary of a horrendous genocide. “Lambast[ing] the ‘cowardice’ of the UN,” as the BBC juicily titles its account of Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s speech today, is neither productive nor justifiable, and it does nothing to honor the memories of over 800,000 Rwandans who perished in the brutal 100-day span that began 15 years ago today.
When the scant contingent of UN peacekeepers all but departed Rwanda during the genocide, over the protestations of General Romeo Dallaire, it was indeed a shameful exhibit of cowardice. The cowardice, however, was not that of those UN blue helmets, ten of whose comrades were slaughtered at the genocide’s outset and who were pulled out of the country by forces beyond their control. Nor is it the cowardice of “the UN” cum blanket entity that deserves reprehension. The community of nations writ large bears no small share of responsibility for allowing the genocide to develop, accelerate, and climax, and each country in that mix — including post-conflict Rwanda itself — needs to deal with that painful legacy. But scapegoating a few UN peacekeepers, whose mandate was beyond their control, and who were the only token response that powerful countries deigned to allow, sidesteps the real questions of justice, culpability, and reconciliation in Rwanda.
The United Nations Department of Peacekeeping (DPKO) learned a great deal from the tragic experience of Rwanda. Its failure there, coupled with others in the 90′s, spurred the development of the seminal “Brahimi doctrine,” a 2000 report outlining the appropriate circumstances for UN peacekeeping engagement and the overriding imperative of garnering adequate support for missions. While DPKO — and, more importantly, Security Council members and troop contributors — could probably stand to refresh themselves with the dictates of the Brahimi report these days, the UN and the international community have unquestionably learned lessons from Rwanda.
It couldn’t be that President Kagame’s pot shot at the UN is in retaliation for this critique of Rwanda’s human rights practices, now, could it? That wouldn’t make much sense; not only are DPKO and the UN Human Rights Committee completely different entities, but such a petty gesture certainly would not befit such a somber anniversary. Plus, you’d think France would be more deserving of Kagame’s ire.
(image of Rwandan President Kagame, speaking in front of the UN in 2007)
Newly in the minority, conservative heavyweights Robert Kagan and Bill Kristol have started up a new advocacy group, the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), to combat the specter of isolationism they see looming in the United States. The problem is, the worldview that they have set out to oppose is just that — a specter. According to the comments of another of the group’s co-founders, Dan Senor, to FP’s Laura Rozen, the Foreign Policy Initiative’s mission seems to be relying on a whole bunch of straw men:
“We believe America is the indispensable nation, as President Clinton said,” Senor, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, told Foreign Policy. “And we believe it’s the exactly wrong time to demote America’s role in the world. And we are seeing an emerging bipartisan consensus on a range of issues from cutting the defense budget to a minimalist approach in Afghanistan to the importance of currying favor with the Russian government at the expense of democratic allies Ukraine and Georgia. We think there needs to be consensus on the other side of these issues.” [emphasis mine]
They’re right — America is an “indispensable nation.” What’s disturbing about this critique is the suggestion that, by engaging in more multilateral efforts, by emphasizing diplomacy over confrontation, the United States is somehow “demoting” its role. Foreign affairs is not a zero-sum game — just the opposite, in fact. By enhancing relationships and improving cooperation between countries, everybody wins; America’s role — not as bully, but as leading partner — is validated, its alliances are strengthened, and its objectives are more easily achieved. In my eyes, this is a promotion of America’s role in the world.
As for the “emerging bipartisan consensus” that Senor alludes to, I’m not exactly sure what government he is observing. The Obama Administration actually plans on increasing the defense budget (and Republicans are certainly on board for this as well), and the President’s Afghanistan/Pakistan strategy being unveiled this morning certainly does not curtail current U.S. presence in the former. And again, the beauty of a more open foreign policy is that the United States can both replace saber-rattling with Russia with rapprochement and retain good relations with its democratic neighbors.
A good foreign policy think tank from the minority is a very healthy part of American democracy; hopefully FPI will begin by contesting policies that actually exist.
The SG: In Ethiopia over the weekend, the SG is now in the United Arab Emirates. Today he met with Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashed Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, where the two discussed developments in the region, including Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan, and in the Middle East Peace Process.