03 September 2006

UN Security Council and Western nations need a wake-up call

I meant to write this a week or so ago, but personal circumstances prevented me from getting it done. As you are all well aware, this has been a busy summer with regard to "the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression." Israel, the world leader in failing to grasp the concept of a proportional response, went and blew the hell out of Lebanon in a failed effort to rescue two of their captured soldiers. The peace agreement in Darfur has effectively collapsed and only succeeded in creating a shift of alliances on the ground. And yet at the same time, international responses to these and other crises have been half-hearted at best.

On the Lebanon front, the UN Security Council managed to approve a resolution that called for a cease-fire and a 15,000 strong peacekeeping force (sans Chapter VII mandate), but only after weeks of wrangling. Even then, the European countries that had been so adamant about the need for a strong peacekeeping force then initially refused to cough up any respectable number of troops for it. Indeed, getting troop committments from them required an extended period of
"intense prodding and pleading" by the UN from Kofi Annan and others.

In Darfur, the situation on the ground continues to detiorate, in spite of the May peace agreement, and possibly because of it. Again, the UN Security Council has authorized a peacekeeping force, this time of 24,000 personnel, but on the contention that the Sudanese government must approve the mission's deployment. Sudan, of course, has said no. After all, they're pursuing a genocidal policy, so why should they agree to letting the world curtail such activities?

There are two main lessons here that the world, especially the wealthy and powerful nations, seem to be missing.

1) All peacekeeping missions have a certain element of risk. Contributing nations (usually developing nations with big militaries) should be aware that some of their soldiers and police may be injured or killed. These peacekeeping operations don't just go anywhere, they deploy in places where there is a genuine need to prevent further violence, and the role of such forces is to basically stand between combatants and then work to consolidate a more durable peace arrangement. For the French (or any) government to assert that the potential loss of even one of its troops is too high a cost for the protection of a substantial group of people is preposterous on any number of levels.

2) The UN General Assembly opening summit in 2005 agreed that all nations have a "responsibility to protect" (R2P) their own civilians from genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, and that the international community has an obligation to ensure that this responsibility is met both at home and abroad. Clearly, in Darfur, Lebanon and elsewhere, this principle has been violated. Honestly, R2P is a pretty basic concept that should have been adopted well before 2005, but that's beside the point. The fact remains that governments have agreed that this is a core concept of international relations, and thus it needs to be enforced.

To be perfectly honest, I'm tired of sitting around and waiting for the world to respond to the various crises that pop up each year. I'm tired of Nigeria, Pakistan and Bangladesh being the biggest peacekeeping troop contributing countries. If the Western world has all these wonderful values about protecting civilians and ensuring international peace -- the U.S., after all, essentially wrote the UN Charter -- then they should step up and do something about these conflicts. To fail to act smacks of everything from irresponsibility to racism. Yet to claim these lofty values from some higher level of morality while refusing to stand up for them simply reaks of the most arrogant hypocrisy. We need to not only reform the United Nations. We must also reform the way our leaders here in the West act and think.

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