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Milliband Defends the UN

The new (and young) UK Foreign Minister David Milliband is blogging and appears to be doing it well. He's making an effort to directly connect with other bloggers. As Blake noted, he sat down with Steve, Sameer, Blake, and I at an event coordinated by UN Dispatch when he was in town for the opening session of the UN General Assembly. And, he's directly responding to comments. Yesterday, he defended the UN.

Quite a few of the comments on the blog so far have attacked the UN for various failings. It's not a perfect institution -- shock. It should be reformed -- of course. But don't fall for the argument that because it's not perfect it is not valuable. The UN deploys the second-largest number of troops and police (over 80 000) and in operating 15 peacekeeping and political missions around the world. It organises peace negotiations for the some of the most difficult places -- Darfur coming up. Its development fund has sponsored projects in over 100 countries for women's health and safety. It raises more than $2 billion a year for devastating natural and humanitarian disasters. It oversees criminal tribunals on Former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Cambodia and Lebanon. Immunisation rates for the six major vaccine-preventable diseases are up to over 75%. And it has unique authority to speak for decent opinion around the world.

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New Blogging Heads

In the newest installment of Blogging Heads TV, Matthew Lee and I discuss the thorny issue of Taiwan's UN aspirations, John Bolton's recent speech at the Heritage Foundation, UN ethics reforms, the new EU-led refugee protection force in Chad and CAR, the forthcoming General Assembly meeting, Ban's climate change bonafides, and of course, the discovery of cleaning product in UNMOVIC's storage facility. Enjoy!

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When Unesco Strikes Back

There are 830 Unesco World Heritage sites around the world, so designated for their "outstanding value to humanity." These sites include natural marvels like Yellowstone National Park and cultural landmarks like the Taj Mahal. Once Unesco designates something a World Heritage site, it is up to each country to take the necessary measures to protect it. And as this Conde Nast Traveler piece shows, not all countries treat their wonders with equal respect. So, Traveler reports, Unesco has started taking the unusual step of de-designating sites that have been unneccesarily molested. The idea is that designating something a World Heritage site helps boost tourism to the area. But Unesco has no desire to see a gaudy hotel complex sit atop breathtaking natural beauty. By starting to de-designate sites, Unesco is hoping to promote sustainable tourism. Sounds logical to me.
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Walking the Walk

The UN General Secretariat is going green. And a Business Week peek into the renovation plans for the ageing UN headquarters in New York says the building will be a "model of UN efficiency."
When completed in April, 2014, the U.N. will look as it does today from the outside. Or, as [project manager Michael] Adlerstein puts it, "Ten years from now, there will be no way to tell that the U.N. was renovated unless you look at the energy bill." While refusing to disclose specific details of that bill, officials claim that the new plans aim for a 30% reduction of energy use. And green is a sustaining principle of the whole redesign. On June 5, Secretary General Ban Ki Moon announced that he would like the new HQ to "become a globally acclaimed model of efficient use of energy and resources." As such, he's earmarked $28 million of the budget to ensure green principles are applied. Proposed initiatives include energy-efficient light fixtures, room sensors that turn off lights if a room isn't occupied, and solar energy systems. The interior of the Secretariat building will be redesigned with more open space to exploit the natural light that comes through the glass façade. Officials say they are aiming for, at the very least, a LEED Silver rating. LEED is a system run by the U.S. Green Building Council to judge buildings for energy efficiency.
Ban has made action on climate change an early priority of his administration. And forgive the pun, but it is heartening to see the UN, er, LEED by example. In all seriousness though, it is often said that the only power a UN Secretary General wields is the power of the pulpit. Kofi Annan used this power to advance a global human rights agenda. And though he has only been in office for eight months, it is clear that Ban ki Moon is endeavoring to make climate change his signature issue.
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UNIFIL One Year On

The Washington Institute on Near East Policy just released a very even-handed assessment of the peacekeeping force deployed to Lebanon following a ceasefire brokered through the Security Council one year ago this week.
The post-2006 UNIFIL is regarded as more robust than its predecessor, with units that include tanks as well as armored fighting vehicles. It also has ships in a maritime task force working in collaboration with the Lebanese navy. UN Security Council Resolution 1701 authorizes "all necessary action in areas of deployment of [UNIFIL's] forces," qualifying this by also stating "as it deems within its capabilities." Both Israeli and UN officials have reported that weapons are being smuggled to Hizballah across the border from Syria, although not in UNIFIL's area of operations below the Litani river in the south.
According to the report, Unifil's single greatest challenge is maintaining a visible presence and cordial relationship with the local population, despite the understandable urge to scale back patrols following a suicide car bombing that killed six peacekeepers two months ago.
Some UNIFIL officers favor adopting a more population-centric approach, working to build up personal relationships with the villagers of southern Lebanon and even local Hizballah representatives. Others seem content to simply wait out the rest of their tours in southern Lebanon behind the razor-wire fences encircling their bases. At the root of the problem is UNIFIL's greatest strength -- the fact that it comprises soldiers from so many different countries...The different contingents do not just vary in training and equipment, but also in the way they conduct themselves within their own sectors..
Success in Southern Lebanon is not a foregone conclusion. There is growing concern, for example, that Unifil may be targeted in the future, possibly to intimidate the international community as the Lebanese Special Tribunal gets off the ground. Still, it is worth recalling that just one year ago a barrage of rockets rained down on northern Israel while thousands of Lebanese civilians became displaced by Israeli bombing. But through diplomacy at the UN, catastrophe was contained.
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A US-ICC Detente?

The Citizens for Global Solutions blog points me to this recent speech by State Department Legal Advisor John Bellinger III on the United States and International Law. In one portion, Bellinger discusses his government's relationship with the International Criminal Court.
Over the past couple of years we have worked hard to demonstrate that we share the main goals and values of the Court. We did not oppose the Security Council's referral of the Darfur situation to the ICC, and have expressed our willingness to consider assisting the ICC Prosecutor's Darfur work should we receive an appropriate request. We supported the use of ICC facilities for the trial of Charles Taylor, which began this week here in The Hague. These steps reflect our desire to find practical ways to work with ICC supporters to advance our shared goals of promoting international criminal justice.
The ICC's three open war crimes investigations—Darfur, northern Uganda, and eastern Congos—are all in places that the united states has played a leading role in peace, justice, and reconciliation efforts. Bellinger's speech suggests that at least some in the US government may be finding that the ICC is, in fact, complimenting American foreign policy objectives in these places.
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More Pro-UN than You Think

The Chicago Council on Foreign Affairs and WorldPublicOpinion.org released a new poll affirming public support of the United Nations in the United States and around the world. Like similar polls in recent years, the new poll challenges the conventional wisdom about how one thinks the American public views the United Nations. For example, the poll asked respondents in 14 countries whether they would support "giving the UN the power to regulate the international arms trade." By a large majority (60%), Americans were in favor. Also, when asked whether publics believe there should be a standing peacekeeping force "selected, trained, and commanded" by the United Nations, a whopping 72% of Americans agreed. Publics in other countries, such as France, South Korea and Peru gauged equally strong sentiment for these proposals, as well as giving the UN the authority to investigate violations of human rights. Contrary to how one might assume Americans regard their country's relationship with the United Nations, it would seem that even in relatively controversial areas like regulating the arms trade and establishing a standing "international" army, Americans are remarkably pro-UN.
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Keeping the Peace, a plug

Last week BBC news ran a five part special report, "Keeping the Peace," exploring various aspects of UN peacekeeping. The final installment contains and interesting Q and A with John Bolton and the head of UN peacekeeping Jean-Marie Geuhenno, who discuss the political utility of peacekeeping missions. In a second installment, reporter Patrick Jackson speaks with a number of South Asian soliders about their experiences overseas. Collectively, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, make up 40% of all UN peacekeepers deployed around the globe. As Jackson points out, UN missions are highly sought after assignments for these soldiers. (Not surprisingly, however, the soldiers tend to prefer deployments to Cyprus over Sudan.) Yet another installment explores changing peacekeeping tactics forged in Democratic Republic of Congo and Haiti. In the last couple of years, these missions saw a new a new assertiveness in UN peacekeeping strategies that the Dutch General commanding peacekeepers in Eastern Congo described as the difference between being neutral and being impartial. "Being neutral means that you stand there and you say 'Well, I have nothing to do with it,'" Maj Gen Patrick Cammaert explained to Patrick Jackson. "While being impartial means that you stand there, you judge the situation as it is and you take charge." The whole series is well worth a read.