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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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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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John Negroponte on engaging the human rights council

Listen to former UN Ambassador, former Director of National Intelligence, former Ambassador to Iraq and former Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte explain why the United State's decision to join the Human Rights Council.  As an added bonus, Negroponte also extols the virtues of UN peacekeeping.   From NPR. 

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Haitians love Bill Clinton

So says S-G Ban, at least, in this press conference announcing Clinton's appointment as UN Special Envoy to Haiti. If Haitians feel good about President Clinton, then he feels pretty good about them, too -- he says that "this is the best chance the Haitians have ever had." Clinton also had strong praiseworthy words for the UN peacekeepers in the country, who contributed, in his words, to an environment of "children walking without fear" in Cite Soleil, one of the worst slums in Haiti's capital city. Challenges aplenty remain. Clinton's chief priority, at first at least, will be in getting donor countries to contribute the money they have pledged for Haiti's reconstruction. While money issues obviously loom large for this impoverished country, it's encouraging that Clinton's plans also include some ambitious long-term projects, chiefly the development of a robust alternative energy industry. All this on Clinton's plate and more, for a lucrative $1/year salary.
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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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Mystery, Inc. weapons inspectors

Passport's Annie Lowrey is "charmed" by my reading a legality-based counter-terrorism approach into "Scooby Doo," but she doesn't quite think it's up to snuff.  In her view, maybe Velma and the monster-hunting gang are more akin to Hans Blix and his team searching for WMDs.

If anything, I think of the Scooby Doo Five as a decent analog for the United Nations weapons inspectors: mobile and peripatetic, spooked by the astral, often kicked out of the amusement park, much derided but really fairly decent at digging out the truth.

I guess the lesson here is that if you are a little too eager to dole out Scooby Snacks (or "yellowcake" and aluminum tubes) to an paranoid, excitable title character (or leader), then the rest of the team can't do its job, and the whole operation goes awry like a hungry Great Dane barreling into you at full tilt.  And how's Rummy or Cheney as the incorrigibly pugnacious Scrappy Doo...?

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Miliband on Bolton

Well said, from David Miliband, the blogging British Foreign Minister:

Today the latest round of talks on a successor to START finish in Geneva. Last week former US Ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, argued in the New York Times that START negotiations with Russia are no more than "a fast way" for the US to "lose the arms race"

This zero-sum Cold War mentality, that sees US cooperation as a win for Russia, misses the point - cooperation brings gains for both the US and Russia, and it allows them to draw closer together on meeting the real, shared threats they face.

Today's major threats to the US and its allies come not from Russia but from states like North Korea and Iran, and from asymmetric warfare carried out by groups like AQ. Our resources and energy should go into combating these far greater threats. START is right for the new, more joined-up world.

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Settlement or not, the U.S. is still an ally of Israel

The Israeli press is seizing on the line in the Helene Cooper story that Mark discusses that suggests that the Obama Administration might consider "stepping back from America's near-uniform support for Israel in the United Nations if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel does not agree to a settlement freeze." It's not hard to see why this "could get the attention of the Israeli public," as a quoted administration official opines. But lest anyone get caught up in a tizzy of paranoia that the United States will be "abandoning" Israel to the wolves any time soon, it seems pretty obvious that Israel will remain a major U.S. ally, in the United Nations and out.

Policy-wise, the portrayal of a "threat" here is a ruse: exerting pressure for a settlement freeze will not result in the United States delegation allowing any anti-Semitic or Israel-bashing resolution to go through the UN. I cannot envision a scenario in which the United States will "condition support for Israel," as Ha'aretz scarily forecasts, in any of the Security Council scenarios in which it would need to use a veto. The veto -- or more often, the threat of the veto -- is a step that is used to remove certain language, or when a country cannot convey any support for a resolution whatsoever. The United States will rightly use its veto whenever a resolution attempts to malign Israel or criticize its existence; this rarely if ever happens in the Security Council, but the position is not going to change.

The issue of halting settlement growth is crucial to achieving peace in Israel and Palestine. The Obama Administration has been refreshingly honest in emphasizing this point, but it is not going to throw Israel under the bus over it. Whatever pressure it exerts on Israel to stop building settlements will be related to the issue of settlement construction. If a juvenile attack on Israel's existence is somehow raised in the Security Council, I'm sure the United States will not shy from wielding its veto. To imply otherwise is simply creating a controversy that doesn't exist.

(image of an Israeli settlement in the West Bank, from flickr user Decode Jerusalem under a Creative Commons license)