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Might the U.S. contribute more personnel to UN peacekeeping missions?

U.S. Permanent Representative Susan Rice suggested as much, in a statement during a Security Council debate on peacekeeping yesterday:

The United States, for its part, is willing to consider directly contributing more military observers, military staff officers, civilian police, and other civilian personnel—including more women—to UN peacekeeping operations. We will also explore ways to provide enabling assistance to peacekeeping missions, either by ourselves or together with partners. Let me single out one immediate priority: we will assist with generating the missing forces and enabling units required for UNAMID, MINURCAT, and MONUC to better protect civilians under imminent threat of physical, including sexual, violence. [emphasis mine]

Both of these would be pretty bold promises.  The United States currently contributes just 75 police officers and 10 military observers to UN peacekeeping missions, good for 68th place in the ranking of troop-contributing countries (right behind Romania and Mali) and a tiny fraction of the almost 100,000 personnel operating around the world.  This paucity of U.S. personnel in the field has long been a blight on U.S. support for the UN, and it will be quite the accomplishment for Rice’s team if she succeeds in increasing the numbers.  The United States supports every UN mission that currently exists, and the country should be honored to send its troops police officers and military observers (U.S. troops are not likely to be forthcoming, because that “would mean putting American soldiers under U.N. command” — a condition that no other country seems to find an impediment) alongside the others who risk their lives for the sake of global peace and security.

The second part of Rice’s statement above — that the United States will work to fully deploy the heinously understaffed missions in Darfur, Chad, and DR Congo — may just prove even more difficult than contributing a few dozen more American personnel.  Thousands of troops for these missions have been supposed to arrive for many months, but due to a combination of host government resistance and reluctance on the part of troop-contributing countries, the missions have struggled on short-handed, unable to fully carry out their mandates.  Nudging the right countries behind the scenes will require deft diplomacy, and finally gathering the equipment and vehicles that these troops need will take an investment from wealthy nations that we have not yet seen.  One thing’s for sure, though: Ambassador Rice will have a hell of a lot easier time going around asking other countries to contribute troops if her own country coughs up a few of its own.

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Ban Ki-moon is “second best in the world”

We knew he was hip, but “second best in the world?”

United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon is the second-highest ranked world political leader who has the confidence of many people around the world.

Ban Ki-moon inspired more confidence than any other political leader polled, except United States President Barack Obama, the United Nations information centre in Pretoria said on Tuesday, referring to a survey by WorldPublicOpinion.org.

Coming in second behind Barack Obama — whose public speaking, I think we can agree, is a little more inspirational — is not too shabby for the South Korean.

The poll asked nearly 20,000 respondants in countries that represent 62% of the world’s population their impressions of world leaders.  From World Public Opinion:

US President Barack Obama has the confidence of many publics around the world – inspiring far more confidence than any other world political leader according to a new poll of 20 nations by WorldPublicOpinion.org. A year ago, President Bush was one of the least trusted leaders in the world.

What difference a year makes!  And for his part, it would seem that Asian publics propelled the Secretary General to second place.

Views of Ban Ki-moon are particularly positive in Africa and in Asia – nearly all Asian nations give him positive confidence scores led by South Korea (90%). Indonesia is an exception: views are divided. Large majorities in both Kenya (70%) and Nigeria (69%) express confidence in him.

Countries polled in Western Europe have confidence in the Secretary General, including Britain, Germany, and France, but Poland and Russia do not, and Ukraine is divided. A majority of Americans (57%) report little confidence in him, while Mexico leans toward having confidence (38% to 33%.)

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Ban Ki-moon is hip — but then, we already knew that

Evaluating the S-G’s performance thus far, Stephen Schlesinger looks at some of the places where Ban has accomplished quite a lot, but which haven’t received that much attention: places like Kosovo, Haiti, and Sri Lanka, where Ban’s frequent trips have all brought about at least some level of improvement in extraordinarily complex circumstances. Schlesinger sees the point that many like to make, that Ban is less charismatic than certain other S-Gs. But, he argues, Ban can be pretty hip himself.

The problem for Ban is his diffident manner, which stands in stark contrast with that of his predecessor, Kofi Annan, a larger than life secretary-general who dominated the scene through his flair, eloquence, and star power. Ban, by contrast, is neither charismatic nor an inspirational speaker – indeed, his English is not as good as Annan’s. In his own way, though, he is an engaging, polite man, hip to contemporary cultural icons, and even given to singing at public occasions with wry lyrics and verses. [emphasis mine]

This seems as good a time as any to repost Ban’s success in breaking it down with Jay-Z:

Rapping skills aside, Ban’s legacy will be judged, as Schlesinger concludes, by “what he has accomplished rather than by personal foibles or flatness of style.”

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(Collective) Security Council

Andrew Bast adds to Mark’s takedown of David Rothkopf’s bit of indiscriminate UN-bashing:

To begin with, Rothkopf repeatedly refers to the “U.N.,” when it’s clear that he’s talking about just the Security Council, the instance of the organization that handles matters of international peace and security. But to reduce it to a mechanism for conflict resolution, as Rothkopf does, misses the point. The theory underpinning the composition of the council, rather than elementary, is a rather nuanced and high-minded concept in international relations known as collective security. Put simply, an attack on one member state constitutes an attack on all. The logic behind the theory is to create significant disincentives for aggression, thereby increasing stability among the society of states. The best example of collective security at work was the council’s response to Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

This is a good point — that the complexity underlying the Security Council system is often taken for granted, or, worse, misinterpreted as simplicity. Now, one might quibble that the composition of the Council as it actually exists means in reality that an attack on one member state that is supported by a permanent member of the Security Council constitutes an “attack on all.” But in this respect, one could even see the relative polarization of the Council’s permanent members — with the U.S., UK, and France often on one side, and Russia and China on the other — as a sort of benefit. Every country in the world is probably an ally of one of these five, so an attack on any will be strongly dissuaded.

The problem, of course, is that aggression is not limited solely to state-on-state invasion, and that the same alliances that dissuade this sort of aggression can make it more complicated to take collective action to stop a country’s internal strife (see, for example, Sudan). This dynamic, though, is not a fault of the construction, or peace and conflict function, of the UN Security Council; it is a development in geopolitics, with which international security norms, writ even larger than the Security Council, have not yet fully caught up. How to make “collective security” incorporate the safety and well-being of a particular state’s citizens, without impinging on that state’s sovereignty, is a question even bigger than the Security Council. As a mechanism for resolving conflicts and maintaining peace, the Council is in fact evolving along with international relations, as it has to — but, as, say, the contrasting cases of Kosovo and the second Iraq war suggest, this progression is not a neat and linear one.

(image from flickr user Dipp under a Creative Commons license)

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We are the World

He never wrote a song about the United Nations, but this Jackson vehicle comes pretty close.  

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The “idiot from the U.N.” who actually cares about minority rights

The invaluable IntLawGrrls blog features a great guest post from Gay McDougall, who is by no means an idiot, but who does proudly work for the UN, as its Independent Expert on Minority Issues. Her work takes her all over the world, to every country where minority populations face issues of discrimination and disadvantage.

McDougall is an American, and her country should be proud to have one of its own helping to uphold the rights of millions of human beings worldwide. Unfortunately, she has apparently not always had such a warm reception here in the U.S.:

An example: The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Housing and I intervened a while back when the City of New Orleans revealed a post-Hurricane Katrina plan to tear down much of the its remaining public housing. Our assessment was that to do that would violate the right to adequate housing that is guaranteed without discrimination by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The local response? New Orleans’ daily newspaper, the Times-Picayune, accused me of being a meddling outsider “idiot from the U.N.”

That response is nothing short of despicable. Being part of the UN does not mean we are better than it. Even anti-UN types often (rightly) decry, for example, the abused rights of Uighurs in China; they should respect the part of McDougall’s mandate that brings her closer to home as much as they do the part that sends her to more overtly oppressive countries like China.  With a little more attention to the rights of the U.S.’s own minority populations, she would not have to do nearly as much of what too many American voices call “meddling.”

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