A brief description of the Secretary-General’s most recent report on Darfur alleges that cooperation between the Sudanese government and the UN peacekeeping force “has improved.” This is true, but considering the low baseline of Sudan’s “cooperation,” it is unfortunately not altogether helpful. As the S-G’s report itself observes, before sounding that somewhat optimistic note:
It is also important to acknowledge that there continue to be instances where Khartoum-based decisions to support UNAMID work are not implemented locally. This relates especially to freedom of movement for UNAMID personnel and customs clearances to allow equipment into the Sudan.
Official government cooperation has never been the problem. Khartoum has typically stated — when not making outlandish threats, that is — that Sudan would comply with the UN Security Council resolution establishing UNAMID, and would work alongside the force to bring peace and stability to Darfur. The problem has long lay in the implementation of this compliance on the ground. And to read that this is still flagging is discouraging indeed.
(image from UN Photo)
Danger Room’s David Axe has the skinny on the kind of weaponry that (U.S.-backed) African Union peacekeepers are using to keep a few blocks of Mogadishu out of the control of insurgents:
The A.U. troops are low-tech, by American standards. But compared to Al Shabab, they’re freakin’ Stormtroopers. “We have the arsenal,” Capt. Paddy Ankunda told me during my visit to Somalia, two years ago. He gestured to the A.U.’s machine-gun nests, its mine-protected trucks, and the handful of T-55 tanks stationed at the palace and the seaport. I asked him if the tanks were truly useful, considering the A.U.’s already overwhelming firepower. “We have them so that people know we could use them,” Ankunda explained. But it wasn’t until this week, that the A.U. needed to use them. “Our troops were in an imminent danger, so we had to take some limited action,” A.U. spokesman Bahoku Barigye said. “That does not mean we are fully involved in the combat.”
Axe makes a good point that using the tanks shows that the Obama Administration is serious about protecting Somalia’s vulnerable government — and that it is doing so in a smarter way than prodding an ill-advised Ethiopian offensive to occupy the country. Still, even outfitting AU peacekeepers with tanks is relying on a military solution, and I don’t expect anyone to be able to explode Somalia’s enduring culture of violence away.
An informative look from Al Jazeera on MONUC, the UN peacekeeping mission in DR Congo and the largest in the world.
One minor issue: MONUC is no longer just dealing with the “aftershocks” of the Rwandan genocide. Congo’s conflict, while tied up in dynamics that cross the border into Rwanda, has long since morphed into its own multi-headed problem. But that’s still more than enough for MONUC to deal with.
Not everyone, evidently, is as unconvinced as we are that Ban Ki-moon is “the world’s most dangerous Korean.” Pegging off the rather tendentious Jacob Heilbrunn FP piece of that title, Michael Keating at World Politics Review concurs that Ban’s tenure at the UN has not been far short of failure.
There’s no need to pussy-foot around the UN’s shortcomings, and, for his part, Keating acknowledges the tremendous pressures put on the S-G office, as well as the enormity of the challenges that the UN confronts. Yet Keating’s claim that “[i]t’s not that anyone expects the U.N. to solve these problems” belies, I think, the lofty expectations that most people actually have of the UN, and particularly of its most visible personage, the S-G.
You see people’s high expectations most anytime you hear someone lament that “the UN” isn’t doing enough about whatever geopolitical issue happens to be boiling that day. So even when a top UN official does issue a strong statement about, say, the trammeling of human rights in Iran, the organization as a whole is panned for not “doing” enough to protect Iran’s people. And with pretty much no one else paying attention to the ghastly continuing conflict in eastern DR Congo, the UN is the only one on whom to hang our hopes for a solution. Unsurprisingly, those outsized expectations turn out to be quite the albatross for the UN when, in fact, a war that few countries are actually interested in resolving painfully deteriorates.
But the deeper flaw in Keating’s criticism — and one that I think most people simply silently assume — is the way he dismisses out of hand those UN operations in tough climates that actually have worked.
With the exception of softball assignments like Liberia — an acknowledged success story — U.N. peacekeeping operations have hardly been worth their expense.
Why must an “acknowledged success story” be condescendingly equated to a “softball assignment?” The fallacious implication here is that what the UN does well, it does well because it is easy. Liberia was wracked by years of civil war, torn apart by rebel groups, devastated by human rights violations and child soldiery, and driven into the ground by one of the most rapacious of recent dictators, Charles Taylor. If that’s “softball,” then I don’t even want to know what the major leagues are like.
Yet into this volatile mix came some 15,000 UN peacekeepers, and, over the course of the last six years, they have, in fits and starts, helped Liberia reach the state it’s in today: relatively peaceful, with improving infrastructure, a growing economy, and Africa’s first elected female head of state. And all this for about $600 million a year — a bargain compared to, say, what the United States is paying in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Not all peacekeeping missions have been as successful as the one in Liberia, to be sure. But neither, I would contend, have any of them been abject failures. In even more difficult cases like DR Congo and Darfur, UN peacekeepers are the only ones doing anything on the ground. To suggest that these missions “have hardly been worth their expense” — especially when that expense is so comparatively low — offends both the very real successes they have had and even the notion that something should be done about these conflicts at all. Not every brutal civil war in an oft-ignored part of the world, it turns out, is that easy to solve.(image of an UNMIL medical officer, from UN Photo under a Creative Commons license)
Even when Georgia and Russia both disagree on something, there’s one teeny tiny little difference: Russia has a UN Security Council veto. Moscow used the full force of this “nyet” yesterday, when it vetoed a resolution agreed upon by ten of the Council’s 15 members that would have extended the UN’s 135-person observer mission in the border region of Abkhazia.
At issue — still — was the rather mundane matter of the name of the mission, which has for 16 years been known as the UN Observer Mission in Georgia. Russia objects strenuously to this name’s implication that Abkhazia is part of Georgia, which, of course, it is according to every country in the world except Russia and Nicaragua. Coupled with the resolution’s entirely pro forma affirmation of Georgia’s “territorial integrity,” this dastardly affront was too much for Russia to bear.
This Russia Today video gives a good perspective of, well, the Russian side of things: it’s quite simple, really; Georgia started a war last year and just can’t deal with the “new republics in the region” that have emerged.
The full picture is, of course, much more complicated. And, as far as the UN Observer Mission in GeorgiaAbkhazia whatever you want to call the region is concerned, the debate should be utterly moot. The point is to have monitors there, to help with disarming and to ensure that there are no border violations or military escalation from either side.
With OSCE monitors similarly booted from South Ossetia, and EU observers unable to enter either region, this leaves no objective eyes on the ground in the region. In this light, it’s easy to understand Georgia’s fears that Russia’s strategic design is exactly to deprive the area of witnesses or a disincentive for war. Georgia has its own political objectives in invoking the proverbially aggressive Russian bear, but the fact is that the UN observer mission had no dog in this fight and should be allowed to continue doing its job, whatever one calls the place where they are doing it.
*I owe the title to IntLawGrrls, whose helpful post reminded me too to stop reading about Iran and focus a little to the north.
Greg Scoblete at RealClearWorld highlights the following from a speech on foreign policy from Mitt Romney that, to use Greg’s rather charitable words, “doesn’t add up.” Comparing the U.S. military to that of Russia and China, Romney makes this claim:
And then consider all the things we expect from our military that they do not expect from theirs. We respond to humanitarian crises, protect world shipping and energy lanes, deter terrorism, prevent genocide, and lead peace-keeping missions. [emphasis mine]
I’m finding it hard to recall American troops rushing in to prevent genocide in Rwanda or Darfur…and a quick check of the numbers reveals that the United States currently contributes a whopping 96 personnel (75 of whom are police, and only 10 of whom are troops) to the 90,000-plus involved in UN peacekeeping missions around the world . Not exactly leading the way. Russia, by the way, has contributed almost four times that many, and China has contributed over 2,000 personnel. Though at least the U.S. is on track to pay its full bill for peacekeeping this time around…
(image of a Chinese peacekeeper — a particularly musically inclined one — in DR Congo, from UN Photo)
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.