08 February 2007

In which I'm mildly worried about humanity

It's becoming increasingly obvious to me that the world simply cannot handle any new humanitarian crises at the moment. We're stretched thin. Response capacity is just about all used up. There are some 18 UN peacekeeping missions at present, with more on the way. Trouble is, there aren't enough troops to staff them. One more disaster and we're stuck wringing our hands in grief.

In class the other day, we were discussing what could be done about Darfur. Obviously, the U.S. is "otherwise engaged" and so can't do much. Someone suggested sending in Europeans. They're skilled and have money and stuff, right? I pointed out that Europe has pretty small military resources compared to the United States, and those resources are basically already committed in Afghanistan and Lebanon. With East Timor getting shaky too, and who knows what might go down in other parts of Southeast Asia, Australia is pretty tied up. China and Russia have big militaries, but are so non-interventionist that they'll be incredibly unlikely to use them. As Victoria Holt points out, there is a serious need to sit down and figure out just how much response capacity the world currently has.

But it's not just military forces that are stretched. The high volume of ongoing crises/rebuilding from crises stretches civilian capacities within governments, international organizations, and NGOs as well. Do we even have the first idea of how these organizations are currently holding up under the strain?

This wouldn't be quite so scary if there weren't already big problems festering and receiving inadequate attention from the international community, even in some cases where there isn't a lack of will, per se (Darfur is probably a decent example here), but the funds and personnel just don't seem to be available to do what needs to be done. Admittedly, Western nations continue to be guilty of grossly underfunding their aid targets, but even if funds were forthcoming, would there be enough people to make use of them? Even if Ban Ki-moon restructures the UN Secretariat to make managing peace operations more efficient, will the organization even have the capacity to meet increasing demands?

All told, this seems like a bad time for human security. I hate to be so pessimistic, and I'm sure that present circumstances are temporary and likely to improve over the long term, but what do we do until then?

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