It is sort of rare for a Secretary General — and Ban Ki Moon in particular — to say that the Security Council should take action on a particular issue. (The M.O. tends to be extreme deference to the Security Council.) So it was fairly notable that this morning, in reference to North Korea’s alleged sinking of a South Korean naval ship, that Ban told press: “I’m confident that the council, in fulfilling its responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, will take measures appropriate to the gravity of the situation.”
The Nuclear Security Summit currently underway in Washington represents more than just a chance for world leaders and their delegations to address pressing issues and concerns surrounding nuclear armaments. As with other high-level international conferences, it offers an opportunity for heads of state to schedule short, private meetings with each other, where they can discuss other, tangential political matters.
I ask because on his blog, the UK Ambassador to the United States Nigel Sheinwald identifies a sinister trend of bloodsucking Brits on American television screens:
Senator Edward Kennedy, who President Obama called “the greatest United States Senator of our time,” died today at age 77 after a protracted battle with brain cancer.
Though best known for his expansive body of work on U.S. domestic issues, he also lead Congressional efforts to right wrongs abroad by applying pressure to repressive regimes like the apartheid government in South Africa and the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, denouncing war (in Vietnam and Iraq), and promoting peace. He was granted an honorary Knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II for his role in the Northern Ireland peace process, which was “tremendous” according to Tony Blair on MSNBC this morning.
But, more importantly, he serves as the model for public service and diplomacy. Despite being a frequent target of partisan attacks, Kennedy’s legacy in the Senate is one of pragmatism, compromise, and, as countless colleagues and analysts have repeated today, unparalleled effectiveness. He stood above personal concerns despite suffering great personal tragedy, and, as an emotional Vice President Biden said today, “made his enemies bigger, made them more graceful, by the way he conducted himself.”
His eulogy for his brother Bobby echoes today: “[he] need not be idealized or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life, to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.” It is a simple, definitive, and profound paradigm for effective public service and statesmanship and is the most fundamental lens through which we should judge all world leaders and their representatives. Blair also said today that Kennedy is “a great icon not only in America but around the world.” I sure hope so.
Rest in peace Senator.
UPDATE: The S-G pays his genuinely heartfelt respects.
The Security Council is meeting to discuss how to respond to the conviction of Aung San Suu Kyi to 18 months of house arrest, effectively preventing her from running in forthcoming elections in Myanmar/Burma. The ever valuable Security Council Report succinctly analyzed the political dynamics surrounding today’s meeting.
There are basically two groups within the Council with quite different views on how to deal with Myanmar. The Western permanent members, together with countries like Costa Rica and Mexico, are likely to favour strong public collective action denouncing Aung San Suu Kyi’s continued detention. The other group, including China and Viet Nam is more likely to be influenced by the analysis that this is an internal matter and the Council should not react, at least not immediately and not vigorously.
The issue, then is that the Security Council will only take as hard a line as China will let it. So, what can make China nudge from its position that this is an internal matter not rising to the level of “international peace and security?” The answer may not necessarily be diplomacy at the Security Council. Rather, what has pushed China in the past to either thwart or join the western alliance on issues like this is the position taken by the relevant regional organization.
China effectively supported intervention in Sudan, international efforts in Somalia, and sanctions for Sierra Leone only after the African Union endorsed these efforts. On the flip side, Beijing refused to go along with sanctions on Zimbabwe that were opposed by the AU.
That pattern has been repeated on Burma. As a report from the International Crisis Group notes:
A key reason for the Chinese veto of a 2007 Security Council draft resolution on Myanmar was ASEAN’s lack of support for the resolution and its conviction that Myanmar was not a threat to international peace and security. In vetoing the draft resolution, Ambassador Wang Guangya noted, “None of Myanmar’s immediate neighbours, ASEAN members or most Asia-Pacific coun- tries believed that the current situation in Myanmar posed a threat to regional peace and security”. After the shooting of monks in Rangoon in September 2008, China’s critical statements on Myanmar in the Security Council and UN Human Rights Council mirrored ASEAN’s growing exasperation over the situation.236currently underway by the Africans.
This suggests that the real action this week may not be at the Security Council, but at ASEAN. To that end, Malaysia is pushing for an emergency meeting. Indonesian officials are also expressing frustration with the Junta.
My prediction: As ASEAN goes, so goes China–and the Security Council.
Conservative British journalist and historian Paul Johnson has a rambling op-ed in Forbes, supposedly on the possibility of an Israeli “surgical strike” on Iranian nuclear facilities. What’s worth pointing out is this error in logic that Johnson makes, which is similar to a flawed assumption made by many Iran commenters:
Knocking out Iran’s nuclear capability would be much more difficult because of the distance to be covered by Israeli aircraft and because the plants are underground. These difficulties must be weighed against the fact that the Iranian regime is unpopular everywhere because of its recent crooked election and the savagery with which protests against the results were put down.
The implication here is that, while the “con” to launching an attack on Iran is that it would be logistically difficult for Israel to do, the “pro” to this debate is that the Iranian government is unpopular and not very legitimate. Wait a minute. Wouldn’t bombing Iran be very unpopular with Iranians? Couldn’t this, just maybe, undo the very unpopularity and illegitimacy with which the Iranian regime is now saddled? Further on in the piece Johnson admits as much:
What we don’t know is if a successful Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities would discredit the regime to the point that it would be forced out of power or if such an attack would be used to discredit the opposition, causing Iranians to close ranks behind their extremist leaders. [emphasis mine]
Generally, when bombs fall on people, they get mad at the people doing the bombing. It’s a simple enough lesson, but one that many, in their unconsidered haste to bring about the regime’s downfall, miss quite entirely. The second of Johnson’s possibilities, or a version of it at least, seems much more likely to result from a missile attack; this would only enhance the government’s hardline posture, and give needless credibility to its attempts to focus attention on outside “enemies.”
Plus, who in their right mind would suggest a bombing campaign if we don’t even know what the results of a successful attack would be? Missiles fired by armchair hawks tend to do a lot less damage than those that actually create the messy carnage of reality.
Middle East: During the last 48 hours of the continued ceasefire, humanitarian workers have delivered food to hundreds of thousands of people, repaired water and sanitation infrastructure, re-stocked medical supplies, and some of the 520,000 displaced Palestinians have returned to their homes. However, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator remarked the scale of needs remains “unprecedented in the Gaza Strip.”
Middle East: At today’s informal session of the General Assembly on Gaza the SG remarked that the most recent ceasefire has held since yesterday at 8 a.m. local time. He noted that a durable ceasefire is necessary and UN shelters must continue to remain safe zones. The SG thanked UN staff in Gaza and will fly the UN flag at half-mast tomorrow in memory of those who died in the conflict.
Middle East: The SG commended Israeli and Palestinian parties for committing to a 72-hour ceasefire that took place at 8 a.m. local time today. He urges all parties to abide by the ceasefire and commence peace talks in Cairo to address underlying issues and agree on a durable ceasefire to sustainably stop the violence. The UN lends its full support toward these efforts.
Middle East: The SG condemned yesterday’s shelling outside of an UNRWA school in Rafah that killed at least 10 Palestinian civilians. The SG stated that the attack violated international humanitarian law and UN shelters must continue to be safe zones and not combat zones.
SG: Last night the SG spoke at a joint press conference with the Foreign Minister of Costa Rica where he repeated his call for an unconditional and extendable humanitarian ceasefire. Speaking about yesterday’s shelling of a UN shelter he said: “Nothing – nothing – justifies such horror” and demanded “that all parties immediately respect UN premises”.
SG: The SG met with President Ortega yesterday in Nicaragua where he visited a wind farm and praised the country’s commitment to renewable energy. The SG arrived in Costa Rica today where he is expected to lecture about “Costa Rica and the United Nations: Challenges and Opportunities in the 21st Century”.