Your wrangling over the name of the UN mission that was scheduled to be extended last month, in a fairly de rigueur process, has resulted in the departure of the 130-odd UN observers that many in Abkhazia — from government officials to everyday people — trusted as the only effective objective presence in the border region.
“We were interested in the mission continuing its work,” Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba said.
“(The mission) opened contacts for us, making it possible for us to participate in the international (diplomatic) process; our problem would be discussed at U.N. Security Council meetings.” There are more than 200 E.U. observers in Georgia itself, but they are not allowed to enter Abkhazia. The E.U. observers only patrol the Georgian-controlled part of the conflict zone.
“The U.N. cars used to patrol our village, and we would feel more secure,” said a 72-year-old woman who lives in Nabakevi in Abkhazia and declined to give her name. “The end of the mission to me means the end of the hope for peace.” [emphasis mine]
The concerns about Georgia and Russia gearing up for a another war should not be taken lightly. Last year’s confrontation was completely unnecessary, a result of foolish provocation from both sides. The short-sighted step of forcing out UN observers is a rash move down the same counterproductive line. Their departure may not be the end of peace prospects, but it certainly makes them look a lot dimmer.
S-G Ban is briefing the Security Council on his recent trip to Burma today. And while Britain’s Foreign Minister may have praised Ban’s trip, others were less sanguine about the outcome of his meetings with Burma’s ruling junta. Most of this criticism has focused on the fact that Ban was not able to meet with jailed “on trial” opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. But Refugees International’s Sean Garcia has a different objection, which I think is more worth looking at: that Ban was too focused on his political mission.
Garcia argues that by calling on Burma’s generals to adopt political reforms — and receiving blithe promises to transition to civilian rule in exchange — he fed their insecurities about an international agenda of regime change. Putting political pressure on recalcitrant leaders-for-life is of course important — but, because of their very recalcitrance, this is also very likely to only strengthen their anti-democratic resolve. It also made Ban look worse for not securing a meeting with Daw Aung; as unfortunate as it may be, there was very little likelihood that the Burmese generals would have consented to more than a superficial meeting between the two, and there is little that Ban Ki-moon can do to ensure that the opposition leader’s trial will be anything more than grossly unfair.
Yet I am also not as optimistic as Garcia that Ban could have achieved too much more in the way of allowing humanitarian aid into the country either. The international community did succeed, eventually (and sort of), in convincing the junta to permit aid to reach the population after last year’s devastating Cyclone Nargis. But as that case demonstrated, for such a ruthless and desperate cadre of leaders, even (or especially) the humanitarian assistance is political.
This is not to say that Ban’s visit was in vain, or that his pursuit of both tracks, that of political reform and that of human rights and humanitarian aid, were dead ends. The Secretary-General’s office is one of the bully pulpit, even if his rhetoric is not of the brow-beating variety. Than Shwe and company do not need any further reasons to oppress their own people; but they know that they are pariahs, and that joining the community of nations as a respected member requires some modicum of both political and human rights. Conveying this is the balance that the S-G needs to strike every time he opens his mouth, no less in an environment as fraught as Burma’s than in the Security Council chamber.
Will a new U.S. Special Envoy to the Great Lakes region (that’s Congo-Rwanda-Burundi, not Michigan-Wisconsin-Illinois) solve MONUC’s difficulties? Well, no, but it’s still good to see the United States engaged in the oft-neglected region. And the man tapped for the job, Howard Wolpe, is, as his informed introductions of many a speaker over at the Woodrow Wilson Center indicate, one of the more knowledgeable Africa hands that President Obama could have picked.
The world’s largest carbon emitters, meeting at the tail end of the, er, rather tumultuous G8 summit in L’Aquila, Italy, look like they’re going to take an unfortunate step backward (or at best sideways) in the rapidly dwindling months before global climate negotiations in Copenhagen begin in December. The promises of these countries have gone from, a year ago, a pledge to reduce emissions by 50% by 2050 — albeit passing over the very relevant detail of specifying 50% of levels from which year, 1990 or 2005 — to an agreement to drop all numbers whatsoever from this year’s text.
Instead of set targets, the 17-nations in the forum, which is chaired by U.S. President Barack Obama, will acknowledge the “broad scientific view” that global warming must not be allowed to exceed two degrees centigrade, these officials said.
Ignore the scare quotes — they are de rigueur for the Wall Street Journal. If global temperatures increase two degrees centigrade, we are beyond serious trouble. The point of these summits is to figure out how to ensure that from happening, and dodging the tough question of what targets to set does not help solve that problem in the least.
The blame here, of course, is diffuse. Developing countries like India and China don’t want to commit to stringent reductions just when their economies are booming, and poor countries are worried they won’t be able to afford the new technologies that such adaptation will necessitate. I’m going to have to pin good deal of blame on countries like the United States and Japan, though, which have more or less conceded that they are not going to be able to even try to hit the more ambitious targets. Candor is appreciated, but I fail to see how lowering the numbers — let alone leaving them out entirely — will spur developed economies to bring about the admittedly costly changes of ensuring that the planet doesn’t boil over.
During the past two decades, the quantity of weapons-usable nuclear material safeguarded by the [International Atomic Energy Agency] has increased tenfold without a corresponding growth in funding.
The thrust of the piece — that Amano is facing some really difficult challenges — underscores a point that we didn’t really make in our coverage of the contentious IAEA elections: that whoever its director is, be (s)he from the global North or South, the IAEA’s success will depend mostly on the countries that make up its members — and, of course, donors.
Point is, IAEA countries will have to pony up. The Obama Administration has requested a twofold increase in funding from the U.S., which is good, so long as it follows through. It also makes current director Mohamed El Baradei’s request for an 11% budget increase seem eminently reasonable.
On the operational side, the countries that aren’t meeting their commitments to the agency — or are flouting them — need to either fall in line, or face the possibility that the IAEA be strengthened enough to be able to levy automatic sanctions on rule-breakers, which is an option that Weitz raises in his piece.
Let’s hope Amano is getting ready for his tenure to begin in November, but, even more so, let’s hope that every country — from the nuclear powers to the nuclear longshots — will support him more than they have his predecessor.
Recognizing that the issues on which the United States and Russia are extremely unlikely agree to are limited to a relatively small sub-sphere is, unfortunately and erroneously, not enough for some commentators. Dave Schuler, at Outside the Beltway, for example, finds nothing on which the former Cold War foes can build a relationship. Yet how Schuler can argue in one paragraph that “[t]here is no more important bilateral relationship between nations than that between Russia and the United States” and in the next that “[w]e don’t really need Russia’s cooperation on pressing world issues like climate change” is utterly baffling to me. His point is that, as much as the two countries need a good relationship, “there isn’t much basis” for one. On the contrary — I’d argue quite easily that the very need for this good relationship — evidenced by, say, their ability, cited by Schuler, “to destroy the world” — is more than basis enough.
Dan Drezner respectfully disagrees with the logic Schuler uses to connect Russia’s strategic position with its U.S. relationship. The flaws in the logic that he uses to dismiss the mutual needs and interests of this relationship, I’d add, are encapsulated by that flabbergasting statement: “We don’t really need Russia’s cooperation on pressing world issues like climate change.” As a country, Russia is the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases. China, the United States, then Russia. How, pray tell, could any global emissions reductions system have any success whatsoever without inducing Russia to stopper its smokestacks?
(This is precluding, of course, the admittedly rather faint possibility of one particularly environmentally interested country, or billionaire, saying “screw it” and sucking all of the carbon out of the atmosphere themselves.)
(image from flickr user otodo under a Creative Commons license)
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.