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Kudos to Staffan

The UN announced yesterday that its top diplomat in Iraq, Staffan de Mistura, will be leaving his post to become the deputy executive director of the World Food Program. Congratulations are in order for Mr. de Mistura, who is by all accounts one of the best the UN has out there and who has presided over a critical period in Iraq's reconstruction.Appointed to his post in September 2007, de Mistura had been a close friend and colleague to the original head of the UN mission in Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, who was killed in the tragic August 2003 suicide bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad. De Mistura's tenure began just as the UN returned was returning full force to Iraq, revamping its mandate to include an ambitious agenda of promoting national reconciliation, supporting elections, and providing humanitarian assistance. As the surge got under way -- and got most of the credit -- in reducing violence in Iraq, it was de Mistura's small UN political mission that brought the credibility and expertise to actually achieve some of the important political goals in a very contentious climate.Throughout it all, de Mistura and his colleagues have risked life and limb; Iraq is still one of the most dangerous places in the world to work in, and security for UN personnel there remains appallingly thin. His successor will have to address this issue, as well as many other persistent or looming political difficulties, chiefly the solution to the dispute over the oil-rich regions of Kirkuk. We can only hope the UN's new representative in Iraq will do as admirable a job as his predecessors, Sergio and Staffan.
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Seeking refuge from the tides

This is a really powerful video produced by the United Nations University about how families on the Cartarets Islands of Papua New Guinea are being forced to evacuate their homes for the mainland. The increasing frequency of so-called "King Tides" are destroying the island's arable land and threatening homes. It's a pretty sad thing to watch, but quite powerful. Situations like this will repeat itself over and over again in the next decades as small island communities are forced out of their homelands by rising seas. This is the human face of climate climate change.

Local solutions on a sinking paradise, Carterets Islands, Papua New Guinea from UNUChannel on Vimeo.

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Russia says “nyet” to name of peacekeeping mission*

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.UPDATE: Chris Borgen at Opinio Juris has a smart look at Russia's "bilateralization" of the Abkhazia/South Ossetia issue.
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UN barges in Sudan attacked

Another place where providing food aid is not easy:
At least 40 south Sudanese soldiers and civilians were killed when tribal fighters ambushed boats carrying U.N. food aid, the latest in a string of ethnic attacks threatening a fragile peace deal, officials said on Sunday.Members of the Jikany Nuer group opened fire on 27 boats loaded with emergency rations destined for an area controlled by the rival Lou Nuer tribe on Friday, the U.N. World Food Programme said.
It's long been a rather obvious point among Sudan watchers that the country's fate is tied more along the North-South axis than to the more prominent (and no, not unrelated) Darfur issue. A referendum on southern independence is scheduled for 2011, and there seems little chance, at least in the current climate, that South Sudanese won't vote for separation. If another war is then in the offing, a strategy of the government is Khartoum would almost certainly be to arm certain tribes in the south, in an attempt to sow internal strife among their adversaries.It's not a good sign, then, that the Sudanese government appears to have armed the group that carried out the raid on Sunday.
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Rothkopf: Shunning the World

In a long and rambling post David Rothkopf froths that the recently agreed upon Security Council resolution strengthening North Korean sanctions means that the United Nations should be disbanded. Really.
"watching the UN continue its kabuki theater concerning North Korea makes me want to shut the place down, convert it to condos and remit the funds to the former member states. Even in a down New York real estate market it is almost certain to be a better return on investment for the dollars poured into that white elephant on the East River than "outcomes" like the proposed sanctions on Pyongyang."
I really wish that people who wish to be taken seriously as foreign policy commentators would refrain from this kind of hyperbole and give serious thought to the consequences of their words. Does Rothkopf really believe that recalling over 100,000 peacekeepers around the world, including places like Haiti, Darfur, Liberia and Lebanon, is a good idea? Does he think that sending humanitarian assistance to starving populations is a bad idea? Does he think that coordinating a global response to pandemics should be left to individual countries?The UN is an easy punching bag for pundits and politicians looking for a scapegoat. But posts like this from Rothkopf are simply irresponsible. To be sure, there are legitimate question to be raised about the utility of this latest round of Security Council action on North Korea. But, as Madeline Albright liked to point out, blaming the UN in these instances is sort of like blaming Joe Louis Arena when the Red Wings lose.Also, what's with his use of the term "bitchlet" to describe his daughter's elementary school classmate? Isn't it time we move beyond these derogatory gendered terms?
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No, providing tens of thousands of tons of food aid in Somalia is not easy

Quoting a Times of London article about sacks of food aid from the World Food Program disturbingly showing up for sale in a Mogadishu market, Ed Morrissey's unsurprising embrace of UN-bashing curiously omits the following from the very same article:
Many of the sacks for sale are marked: “A gift from the American people”, with the US government’s aid agency, USAID, providing $274 million last year in food and in humanitarian assistance for Somalia.
If food aid is not getting into the hands of those who need it, and is instead being re-sold for a profit -- whether the aid comes from the UN, the U.S. of A., or anywhere else -- that is a serious problem. It is also a problem that needs to be addressed in context; Somalia is the most difficult, dangerous, and complicated place for an aid worker to operate. Ensuring that every sack of food gets to the place it is supposed to go to is likely as impossible as accounting for every one of the ransom dollars that Somali pirates spend so recklessly. This is not an apology; it is a reality.Morrissey's indictment of the entire UN aid program in Somalia is all the less defensible because, again, the very article that he cites concludes with the WFP's Somali director characterizing the re-selling of food aid as a "minor phenomenon." This may go against the scandal-mongering tenor of the rest of the piece, but the fact is that the WFP does a lot of humanitarian aid work in Somalia, and the sacks that cannot be accounted for likely make up a very small percentage of this work. The WFP, though, is investigating the problem.
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Thousands defy protest ban in Iran

An amazing video via Nico Pitney.   The situation is basically this: thousands of Mousavi supporters are taking to the streets as riot police are readying themselves.  Things could turn very, very ugly.  The reporter seems genuinely frightened for these protestors.

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Keep it up Congress

Reports from the Hill suggest that the House and Senate conference committee have agreed on language for the final FY09 Emergency Supplemental, replete with language for the full repayment of UN arrears. That's $721 million to make up for the shortfall from FY04 to FY09 and $168 million for the voluntary peacekeeping account for Somalia. Apparently, the deal was struck after it was agreed that the debate on detainee photos would be left out of this bill and decided by the courts.Needless to say, this is great news, and Congress should be commended. If you see your representative strolling down the street today, or you're calling in to request Achy, Breaky Heart, or you're writing a letter to the editor about how your dog said "hi", how about working in a shout out for Congress?The $106 billion total is above both the Senate and House passed versions, which I've heard is due to their plans to use some of the money to “forward fund” programs in FY10. But, we shouldn't count our chickens yet. Both the House and Senate, particularly the House, will face contentious votes on the Supp, most likely tomorrow, over IMF funding and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.And, even if we're successful on this front, don't forget that it's an uphill battle in the FY10 budget. Stay tuned.
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New U.S. Ambassador at Large for Global Women’s Issues sworn in. But what will she do?

On Friday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton swore in Melanne Verveer, a longtime friend and former chief of staff to First Lady Hillary Clinton, to be Ambassador at Large for Global Women's Issues.  I've known people who have worked with Verveer and they have nothing but great things to say about her.  But I find this Daily Beast profile of Verveer deeply unsatisfying for the fact that it never actually describes what it is she will be doing at the state department.

Ambassador at Large for Global Women's Issues is a brand-new position.  The first person to hold this office will necessarily shape its agenda and its role in American diplomacy. To that end, I think it's fairly significant that the position went to someone who built a career as a confidante to the Clintons. (This is opposed to, say, the Ambassadors at Large for War Crimes Issues, who have all been more-or-less technical experts.)  The fact that someone who is so close to the Secretary of State is heading this new office suggests that it will not languish in the backwaters of Foggy Bottom.  But what it is this office will actually do is still very much in the air.