The New York Times published the full text of a July 2009 directive from Secretary of State Clinton to embassies around the world directing intelligence gathering on all manner of things at the United Nations. This ranged from collecting information on efforts to reform the Security Council, to views of UN member states on the UN mission in Darfur, to efforts to create a standing fund for the World Food Program.
After reading through the lengthy cable I can’t help but feel…relieved. Aside from a few extra-curricular activities (like collecting Ban Ki Moon’s frequent flier number) these efforts were by and large directed toward making the United Nations a more effective institution. This is particularly apparent in regard to US intelligence collecting on human rights and peacekeeping issues.
For the most part, the United States engaged in the kind of well intentioned intel gathering activities that most in the human rights community can get behind. Consider the following:
Top on Secretary of State Clinton’s list of things on which to gather intelligence at the UN is Darfur. Specifically: “Views of United Nations (UN) member states on contributing troops and air transportation equipment, such as helicopters, to the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) and the African Union (AU)-UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID).”
Keeping a close eye on Robert Mugabe and Zimbabwean leadership: “Views of UNSC and other member states on Zimbabwe’s government policies on human rights, humanitarian assistance, democracy, and candidacy for any UN leadership positions.”
It looks like the Obama administration was trying to gauge support for a UN special envoy for Sri Lanka. (Keep in mind that this cable was issued shortly after the Sri Lankan government concluded a brutal campaign against the Tamil Tigers which ended up killing several thousands of civilians.) E.g: “Views and intentions of UNSC, UN human rights entities, and members regarding Sri Lankan government policies on human rights and humanitarian assistance; UN views about appointing a Special Envoy for Sri Lanka.”
Monitoring the efforts by UN member states to advance harmful “defamation of religions” resolution that would criminalize free speech. “Plans of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) to sponsor resolutions or conventions in the UN restricting freedom of speech under the rubric of criminalizing “defamation of religion.”
Collecting member states views on Genocide prevention: “Plans and perceptions of member states toward establishment of new measures to prevent genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and other systematic human rights abuses.”
Making disaster response more efficient is another key them of the cable: “Efforts of UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), World Food Program (WFP), UN Development Program (UNDP), UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), World Health Organization (WHO), and other UN entities to respond to and to coordinate activities in humanitarian or refugee crises, including environmental disasters.
Peacekeeping effectiveness in Africa: “Extent to which UN peace operations in Africa are straining the resources of the UN and member states; impact of current operations on future operations and readiness.”
Conflict prevention: “Willingness of UN leaders and member states to support UN peacekeeping efforts and utilize preventive diplomacy in areas of potential conflict.
This is just a small sample of very lengthy memo. To be sure, there are some things in the memo that might make the human rights community cringe (like efforts by the United States to oppose UN plans on Guantanamo) but by and large, the memo sketches out very progressive agenda for American engagement at the United Nations.