Archive | October, 2013

Restraining Order: Dampening Enthusiasm for the Use of the Veto on Atrocity Crimes

30 Oct

One of the trendy ideas floating around the UN system as we continue to wrestle with the implications of Syria refers to veto restraint – that is, pushing hard for permanent Council members (P-5) to voluntarily refrain from the use of the veto in situations where there has been a clear finding of existing or immanent atrocity crimes.

The idea seems simple enough on its face and, in most instances, reflects a sincere desire to make the UN more responsive and accountable to the horrifying violence that state and non-state actors have inflicted and are inflicting on civilian populations.  Once P-5 members commit to even the possibility of veto restraint, it then becomes possible to put pressure on these states in situations like Syria where atrocities threaten and where there are equally obvious geo-political impediments to Council achievement of consensus on coercive remedies.

The ability to exert such pressure would be welcome news for civil society and many non-Council states. As we and others have noted to senior UN officials, whether we like it or not and whether it is entirely fair or not, many in the world judge the UN by how quickly and effectively it can respond to the violence in Syria and elsewhere that fills our computer screens and televisions with often horrific images. It is possible that restraint of veto could lead to timely, life-saving interventions in certain instances.

Indeed, the need for the UN to ‘do something’ in such instances comes from a place that is politically and psychologically complex but largely based on a canon of responsibility.  Diplomats and UN officials have some sense of how deep the public longing is for that time when the threat of mass atrocity crimes can finally be laid to rest. And we know that the closer such violence comes to families and communities with which we have a living connection, the more that frustration and impatience is likely to grow.   As well it should.

That said, we have questions about how well the idea of veto restraint would play in a highly politicized environment such as the UN, an environment filled with good and dedicated people running a gauntlet of states interests largely generated from outside New York and playing on a field which, if anything, is heavily tilted in favor of certain states and their own political interests.

There are two essential conditions for a successful policy to restrain the use of the veto – sufficient de-politicized, evidence-based concern (political will) to protect lives, and the right (and fairly engaged) blend of institutional capacities and contexts.   While veto restraint may indeed increase functionality of those politically inclined to ‘do something’ of either a coercive or protective nature, it does not help to address more fundamental issues that continue to bog down the UN system.   Indeed, it may well be, for instance, that the UN turns out not always the place to manage atrocity crime response.   If the UN is going to maintain a central role in such response, the next phase in atrocity crime prevention might well see the Council authorizing regional actors rather than managing responses itself.   It may also be, indeed it should be, that in this next phase the Council will forge closer relationships with UN agencies, including and especially the Joint Office on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect.  Such relationships could help the Council to be seized of difficult circumstances at earlier (preventive) stages, but would also commit the Council to do more to encourage the development of less coercive options for response that can head off atrocities long before the missiles begin to fly.

The idea of veto restraint comes from a good place, but it is also largely a concession to a system that in fact has not yet found a reliable formula for effective prevention and which has exercised little ‘restraint’ when it comes to maintaining political and power divisions that are largely opaque to all but those who spend lots of time sitting and watching in UN conference rooms.

Many of those seeking ‘veto restraint’ are inclined to support the policies of the so-called P-3, all of which are NATO members and all of which sought coercive response in Syria if not for the concerns of China and especially Russia.  And indeed, If Russia and China had exercised veto restraint given what was, in the beginning at least, a clear example of a state inflicting grave violence on its own citizens, it might have eased the path towards more coercive engagements with such violence.  But would this lead to a less politicized Council regarding its attention to mass atrocity warnings, let alone the implementation of the full complement of its security responsibilities?  Would it lead to greater levels of commitment to develop and fund viable, robust preventive capacities that can simultaneously resolve tensions that trigger violence while preserving vestiges of sovereignty? Would it guarantee a less politicized engagement with findings by UN offices and UN member states of conditions ripe for the evolution of mass atrocities?   Would it help build durable, complementary relationships with regional authorities and capacities?  Would it help create viable, coercive implementation options to NATO, an organization which remains as a primary security competitor for two of the permanent Council members? Would it help states clinging to relevance in a Council overwhelmingly dominated by the “P3” find ways to ‘check’ that influence without offering up civilians to sacrifice in the process?   These are just some of the difficult institutional questions which veto restraint raises and which must be addressed soberly if the drive for such restraint is to avoid being the latest in a series of fads, albeit born of legitimate frustration, to make the UN a more relevant actor on the challenging path towards ‘never again.’

In our view, if proposals for veto restraint are to maintain both momentum and merit, they need to be grounded in a more sophisticated package of reforms such as those proposed by the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency (ACT) group chaired by Switzerland.   Veto restraint must not be seen as a stand-alone measure, but one that is tied directly to the functionality of the UN’s preventive mechanisms, levels of fairness and equity within the Council, and other considerations.    It is, like all other operations and activities, tied to a particular institution and its own contexts.  The more that the veto restraint advocates understand the system in which vetoes occur and the implications of such reform for member state conduct, including that of permanent Council members, the more likely they are to find success.

On Syria, it is perhaps too simple a matter to lay blame for the ongoing violence solely on Russian vetoes.   There were unheeded warnings, foot dragging over definitions, and geopolitical alliances that were resistant to amendment.  It will take scholars some time to sort out all of the angles and implications of this tragedy, including its relationship to earlier situations in Libya and elsewhere. Though we all wished for a decisive remedy for Syria with full justice for victims, the many complications of a conflict that evolved before our eyes — from an atrocity crime to an amoral and equally messy civil war– have long been evident.

We have all taken a ‘hit’ to our credibility and our humanity on this one.   It might be many years before we make even token gestures of justice to the millions who have been victimized by this conflict.   It seems clear to us that if the UN is to remain at the forefront of atrocity crime response, we need more than veto restraint just as we need more than impassioned speeches from Council members ready to roll out the fighter jets but not fight as hard themselves to resolve conflicts earlier and with less coercion.  Those who support restraint, and we are among them, are urged to invest energy as well in examination of other security policies and participation in ongoing reform efforts regarding the institutional structures responsible for enacting those policies.

Dr. Robert Zuber

Advertisements

Adding to the Priority List: Youth and Children in Post Conflict Settings

21 Oct

The past few weeks have been very busy for the new youth delegates along with organizations and networks working together to push the youth agenda forward. Several country missions have been organizing back-to-back side events for youth led organizations and youth delegates to get acquainted with each other. Recently, the Mission of Switzerland to the UN organized a meeting on ‘Children and Youth in post conflict settings’; a topic often neglected while discussing the youth agenda. The panel members consisted of Mr. Ishmael Beah, best-selling author of ‘A Long Way Gone, Memories of a Boy Soldier’; Ms. Saudamini Siegrist, Chief of Child Protection at UNICEF; Ms. Rosalie Azar, Political Program officer at the Office of the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict; and Ms. Subashini Perumal, focal point for the Youth and Women, Peace and Security Program of the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP). Mr. Paul Seger, Permanent Representative of Switzerland to the UN delivering the opening remarks at 8:30 am. The event also welcomed Deputy Permanent Rep. of Rwanda, Ms. Jeanne d’Arc Byaje sitting in the audience among other youth delegates.

Ms. Azar’s speech revolved around the technicalities of the UN and the urgent need to protect children and youth. Ms. Siegrist repeatedly emphasized on the need for providing education to those affected by war, since it is largely through education that youth can have a positive impact on post conflict settings. The key words of her speech were ‘accountability’ and ‘reconciliation’. Ms. Perumal shared her expertise on the role of women in post conflict settings, alongside promoting the “Youth for Peace” project started by GNWP.

Despite the sharing of considerable insight on these important issues, the panelists focused mostly on their individual agendas and failed to provide a common pattern that could better promote the main objective of the meeting – Children and Youth in Post Conflict Settings. The panel member who most effectively gathered all the scattered focal point together was Mr. Beah who shared his experience as a boy solider during the war in Sierra Leone and provided his feedback on some of the suggested policy recommendations.

“Youth are agents of peace; we need to provide education and economic justice to young people and children in post conflict settings. Only though this can youth and children contribute to a positive reconstruction process,” said Ms. Siegrist.

While Ms. Siegrist was making a valid point for bringing up the topic of the role of youth in post conflict reconstruction, her statement appeared to be just a bit sentimental. The young population does have the potential to impact society, but both positively and negatively. On the one hand youth gangs in South Africa continue to destabilize the country and young people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo continue to recruit other youth to fight in armed forces. On the other hand former youth combatants in Mozambique and Kosovo have contributed to community reconciliation and development projects. Furthermore, youth groups in Belfast have worked with local peace building organizations to promote social development in their communities. Providing primary and secondary education remains one of the highest priorities. However, in reference to the young people in post conflict areas, the impact of this priority needs to be carefully evaluated. Youth and children in conflict zones are often badly victimized by trauma; taking that into consideration is it rational to assume that they are motivated enough to receive and accept policy advice from outsiders after having lost everything they had ever known? Furthermore, after completing their education would there be a platform for them to execute those skills? If not, was schooling worth the trouble?

As Mr. Beah put it, “there is a remarkable level of intelligence needed to survive a war but no one gives us credit for that, instead they (international community) offer us two things – a program that ‘they’ thought of without asking us and the second thing is, pity.” During his 15 minute speech, Mr. Beah touched on various important points, for example, the need to reintroduce the idea of leadership, the blurry line between post-conflict and ‘on going’ conflict, and the need to be ‘aggressive’ for change in our thoughts and actions. He ended his speech with a thought provoking statement, “talent is universal, opportunity is not. What makes you delegates different from youth in conflict zones is that you had the opportunity to be here and they did not” – a statement that led to instant recognition and a loud round of applause for Mr. Beah and the other panel members.

As the ball gets rolling in the Third Committee of the UNGA where social development and youth issues are now being discussed, youth delegates have the opportunity to deepen their consideration of these thematic issues while helping to draft a youth-oriented resolution. GAPW will closely scrutinize this process and will regularly engage our audience in this space regarding issues affecting youth participation in global policy.

Kritika Seth, Youth Outreach

Briefing Note: The Rule of Law and Complementary Mandates

19 Oct

The peaceful settlement of disputes was the theme of this year’s plenary on the Rule of Law (RoL) in the Sixth Committee. As per Article 33 of Chapter 6 of the UN Charter, when there is a dispute likely to affect international peace and security, the parties involved shall try to resolve the dispute by pursuing “negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of their own choice.”[i]

Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliason highlighted that RoL is essential in the peaceful settlement of disputes and noted that Article 33 could help with the implementation of the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP). Reference was made throughout the plenary to the 2012 High Level Declaration on Rule of Law, which reaffirmed previous commitments on RoL and its importance in advancing peace and security, human rights and development issues.[ii]

Member states are placing emphasis on RoL within the post-2015 development agenda as well as within the current Millennium Development Goals, and highlighted links between RoL and gender equality, focusing especially on women’s participation in peace processes.

Argentina promoted the right to truth and reparations as essential elements to combat impunity, Kenya questioned the relationship between the International Criminal Court (ICC) and supporting states’ parties, the Nordic countries noted the significance of RoL in preventing mass atrocity crimes, and Liechtenstein called the recent political bias against the ICC unfair given the limitations imposed on the Court by the contemporary international legal order.

Attention was given to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) which is significant in resolving disputes among states, but only if states accept its jurisdiction. Switzerland, with the Netherlands, Uruguay, and the UK is working on a draft document to facilitate some of these jurisdiction issues. Liechtenstein reassured delegations that the ICJ’s compulsory jurisdiction is not meant to be a violation of sovereignty, but a step toward sovereign equality.

Moreover, the African Group called for equality in the application of international law to avoid double standards and called for reform of the Security Council (SC) and other international instruments. The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) voiced its concern about SC mandates that encroach on prerogatives of the GA, as well as the SC’s willingness to take on issues already within the purview of the GA. The NAM called for more collaboration among relevant UN organs to ensure that the entire Organization is responding to emerging challenges.

In conclusion, references between RoL and issues such as gender and development are more than welcomed especially since women’s active participation in peace processes is promoted by the SC in Resolution 1325 and women’s political participation is to be discussed during the 68th session of the Third Committee.

Moreover, Article 33 is particularly relevant to the third pillar of RtoP, which places emphasis on Ch.6 of the UN Charter, before resorting to collective coercive action under Ch.7. While support for Ch.6 is welcomed and promoted by GAPW and others, one cannot help but wonder how these measures can be strengthened to ensure disputes are resolved effectively and in time-sensitive manner? Shouldn’t it be a matter of ensuring that the existing tools are effective and efficient to minimize the civilian casualties targeted as violence unfolds?

Furthermore, the separation of the SC and GA mandates is a complex issue that affects RoL, disarmament and women peace and security debates, housed in the Sixth, First and Third Committees and can also be found on the SC agenda. It is disputable where these issues are better served. Arguably, it can be significant for the SC to throw its weight behind these thematics because it reinforces their importance for international peace and security. In contrast, it is generally known that the SC’s work on thematics is not always consistent and they might be better taken up under country-specific considerations in the SC’s agenda. It has always been GAPW’s mandate to highlight complementarity between different processes and thematics because issues do not exist in a vacuum. But when it comes to process and scope of mandates, a question rises to what extent is complementarity useful to the issues and to what extent it raises the political stakes for implementation?

Finally, calls were made for follow-up meetings to the High Level meeting on RoL. We will stay involved to see how this develops, if and how these calls for separation of mandates will be reconciled and the extent to which they should be separate.

– Melina Lito, Legal Adviser on UN Affairs

 

Securing the inspectors: Legitimacy, capacity and security dimensions of disposing Syria’s chemical weapons

17 Oct

Editor’s Note:  The following is analysis on options for protection of those disposing of Syria’s chemical arsenal by Dr. David Curran.  David teaches at the University of Bradford in the UK and is a Fellow in peacekeeping at GAPW for fall 2013.  David has taken leadership on joint conferences and publications with GAPW and has offered consults with diplomats on some of the important peacekeeping issues coming up in the Fourth Committee of the UN General Assembly. 

The UN Security Council’s endorsement for Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s three-stage strategy for the elimination of the Syrian Governments arsenal of chemical weapons marks a small yet positive step in its handling of the crisis. It has also set a rapid time frame between the passing of UNSCR 2118[1], and the eventual elimination of all chemical stockpiles belonging to the Syrian Regime. Destroying the stockpile contains a number of risks, at several different phases in the process, from transportation to sites, securing the sites, destroying stockpiles and the process of verification of the destruction. This is difficult enough in peace-time yet alone in the midst of a civil war. Thus in the implementation of UNSCR 2118 a question arises over the possible role of military and security assets which will be used to assist the joint OPCW/UN mission. In particular, the question of ‘who’ provides such assets will be of importance to the development of the operation.

The Secretary General outlined a three phase approach to the elimination of the chemical arsenal. Phases I and II make the first steps towards the destruction of chemical weapons, through initial investigation and destruction of production and mixing and filling equipment respectively. Phase III of the plan poses the most serious challenges for the mission, particularly regarding the safety and security of the inspectors. In Phase III, (to be completed between 1 November 2013 to 30 June 2014), the joint team will be expected to ‘support, monitor and verify the destruction of a complex chemical weapons programme involving multiple sites spread over a country engulfed in violent conflict’ [2]. This process is expected to require movement by the operation (and potentially certain types of chemical agents) through ‘active confrontation lines and in some cases through territory controlled by armed groups that are hostile to the objectives of the Joint Mission’ [3].  In a situation described as ‘dangerous and volatile’, with a range of belligerent groups (some attached to formal command structures, some not), there exists a potential for serious risks to the success of the operation and, more significantly, the health and wellbeing of those in the vicinity of the destruction sites.

The assessment of the Syrian opposition from the International Crisis Group outlines the range of factions fighting against the Syrian regime as being ‘pluralistic and deeply divided, their structures improvised and shifting and their foreign backers apparently altogether less consistent and coordinated’[4]. Moreover, as Al Jazeera has reported there has been a shift in the opposition whereby thirteen of the most powerful rebel groups have withdrawn their recognition of the Syrian National Council, leaving the free Syrian Army ‘increasingly splintered’[5]. There are also significant reasons for those in opposition to be skeptical about any process which leads to ceasefire

Surrender, they are convinced, would mean merciless vengeance at the hands of a regime that, already, has shot at peaceful protestors, killed untold numbers of detained prisoners, tolerated the slaughter of women and children, bombed villages and fired ballistic missiles into densely populated neighbourhoods[6]

It is in this environment that the Joint Mission will operate. It is therefore important to look through what options for military support have been discussed.

It appears that discussion on the topic has led to two main options being espoused. Firstly, a ‘coalition of the willing’ type arrangement formed from a lead nation, and supported by others. For example, towards the end of September, the Russian government offered to provide a security force comprised of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan troops[7]. The benefits of such a coalition would be in common operating procedures, and cultural familiarity (through joint training for example). However, such compositions may effect the legitimacy of the operation in a context such as Syria, where the conflict has become internationalized to a considerable extent[8], and a wide range of states are seen as being allied to one side or another. This is particularly true with regards to the generally hostile view held by opposition groups towards the Russian Government, a strategic partner of the Syrian Government[9].  Reflecting on this, Richard Gowan from NYU’s Centre on International Cooperation suggests that Russian personnel would be counter-productive for security

I think there is a very significant risk that rebel forces will try to disrupt this process, especially if they see significant numbers of Russian personnel involved in the destruction of chemical weapons, because for the hard-line rebels the Russians are almost certainly fair game[10]

An alternative solution would be some kind of force which would look similar to UN peacekeepers. The Secretary General’s letter to the Security Council highlights that in the process of developing a ‘viable operational concept’ there is a requirement for consultation with Member States ‘that may be in a position to contribute to the associated activities’, leading to questions of the extent to which the DPKO would be involved[11]. Involvement of a ‘type’ of peacekeeping is reflected in other areas. Richard Guthrie, a British chemical weapons expert, suggested that some kind of UN peacekeeping presence was needed as those who normally inspect weapons under the Chemical Weapons Convention are not military personnel, and ‘can’t stand there with machine guns in hand and protect the weapons,’ Guthrie adds that any mission ‘would have to be done in coordination with some kind of UN peacekeeping force — which would have to be armed guards and they would have to be able to deter any attack on those locations’[12]

A UN peacekeeping-style plan may however be more difficult to attain in practice. There are reasons for this. Firstly are the technicalities of raising a UN peacekeeping force. In particular issues of mobilizing forces, logistics, equipping and the levels of training have led some in the UN to suggest a Peacekeeping plan is not feasible’ [13]. Moreover, the requirement of a functioning peace process has also been highlighted by advocates of intervention as a necessary precondition for the deployment of UN peacekeepers[14]

However, one thing that the United Nations could represent is a degree of legitimacy in being able to cross lines of conflict. This legitimacy is not by any degree watertight, but it may mean (to use Gowan’s terminology) that UN forces are not seen as ‘fair game’. The internationalized nature of the conflict could well mean that conflicting parties rely on external funding and support. Attacking a civilian-led UN operation designed to uphold international law may not be the best way in which to maintain an external funding base. One of the guiding principles of UN peacekeeping is the perceived legitimacy of its operations, as they are derived from an institution which broadly represents the will of the international community[15].

This short review of response options has opened up an important issue. On the one hand (a ‘coalition of the willing’) there exists high levels of preparedness yet possibly less legitimacy in the eyes of all parties; yet any attempt to mandate a UN peacekeeping-style operation would likely have lower preparedness but a higher chance of maintaining legitimacy. Unfortunately it appears that the nationality of the security providers will matter, possibly as much as where the highest levels of expertise can be sourced. This means that there exists a fundamental need for creative solutions to blend competence and legitimacy in the operation, something which is already evident in Ban Ki Moon’s flexible design of the operation, as well as in the recent plea from the head of the OPCW to instigate short-term localized ceasefires[16], which may facilitate the removal of weapons. Possibly a ‘golden egg’ solution can be found which is able to draw on the best expertise whilst maintaining legitimacy in the eyes of those involved in violent conflict (a different type of coalition?). This is a large step into the unknown, and the stakes are high. This fact is not lost on the Secretary General, who stated in his letter that this will be an ‘operation the likes of which, quite simply, has never been tried before’[17].

Dr. David Curran, Peacekeeping Fellow


[1] United Nations, United Nations Security Council Resolution 2118 (S/Res/2118), 27 September 2013

[2] United Nations, Letter Dated 7 October 2013 from the Secretary General addressed to the President of the Security Council (S/2013/591), 7th October 2013, P6

[3] United Nations (note 2), P6

[4] International Crisis Group, Syria’s Metastasising Conflicts: Middle East Report N°14327, June 2013, P25, Found at

http://www.crisisgroup.org/~/media/Files/Middle%20East%20North%20Africa/Iraq%20Syria%20Lebanon/Syria/143-syrias-metastasising-conflicts.pdf)

[5] Al Jazeera, The Future of the Free Syrian Army, 6th October 2013, Found at http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/insidestory/2013/10/future-free-syrian-army-2013105155250560782.html

[6] International Crisis Group, (see Note 4), P26

[7] The Guardian, Russia offers to guard sites holding Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile, 26th September 2013, Found at

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/26/russia-guard-syria-chemical-weapons-sites

[8] Open Democracy, Syria, realigning the war, 10th October 2013, http://www.opendemocracy.net/paul-rogers/syria-realigning-war

[9] See: CNN, War of words between Russia, U.S. on Syrian crisis heats up, 6th September 2013, Found at, http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/05/world/russia-us-relations/index.html; The Moscow Times, Russia’s Syria Ties Boost Humanitarian Aid, Red Cross Says, 8th October 2013, Found at: http://www.themoscowtimes.com/news/article/russias-syria-ties-boost-humanitarian-aid-red-cross-says/487556.html

[10] Worldpress.org, Syria: Interview with Richard Gowan, 10th October 2013, Found at http://www.worldpress.org/Mideast/3985.cfm

[11] Inner City Press, On Syria, Questions of UN Trust Fund & Plans, Ban Said to “See From One Eye”, 8th October 2013, Found at http://www.innercitypress.com/syria1baneye100813.html

[12] Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Explainer: How Practical Is Russia’s Syria Chemical-Weapons Proposal?, 10th September 2013, Found at,  (http://www.rferl.org/content/syria-chemical-russia-practical/25101800.html)-

[13] The Nation, Racing the Clock, Chemical Experts Begin to Disarm Syria, 7th October 2013, Found at, http://www.thenation.com/article/176519/racing-clock-chemical-experts-begin-disarm-syria#

[14] The Guardian, MPs vote down military intervention in Syria: Politics live blog, 30th August 2013, Found at http://www.theguardian.com/politics/blog/2013/aug/29/mps-debate-syria-live-blog

[15] United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations, United Nations Peacekeeping Principles and Guidelines, UN, New York, 2008

[16] See: BBC, Syria chemical weapons: OPCW plea for short ceasefires, 14th October 2013, Found at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-24516303; New York Times, Syrian Rebels Urged to Let Inspectors See Arms Sites, 14th October 2013, Found at

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/15/world/middleeast/syria.html?_r=0

[17] United Nations, (see Note 2), P6

Memory Lane: The United States Documents Disarmament Progress

15 Oct

A recent memo from Randy Rydell from the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs announced the launch of the “Documents on Disarmament” series based on materials provided by the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (posted at:  http://www.un.org/disarmament/publications/documents_on_disarmament/).  Given Rydell’s long service to the UN it was appropriate that this announcement came from his email account.

The ACDA documents are a welcome reminder (especially for those of us who have been here a while) of the challenges, frustrations and sometimes high drama that have accompanied negotiations on weapons and weapons systems.   Only small segments of that affect come through in official documents.  Nevertheless, it is important to remember the ways in which triumphs in the disarmament field (CD, NPT, ATT and others) which we rightly celebrate and then so often proceed to ‘over sell’ can eventually lead to disappointment. This is especially likely to take place when we forget the following: 

  • That the political climate that largely influenced the content of these successes can also be their undoing, especially as ‘like-minded’ becomes a substitute for ‘clear minded.’
  • That the successes themselves are less like permanent, inflexible commitments and more like invitations to address longstanding security needs that people have long been clamoring for and expect global policymakers to address
  • That the solutions to current disarmament obstacles become more likely through both a consultation with the historical record and an honest clarification of future objectives.

For me, the ACDA documents were also a reminder of a larger truth and concern about the UN – the systematic shrinking of its institutional memory.   In fields both relevant to and far removed from disarmament, UN analysis often reminds me of the Oklahoma plains where I spent many early years – flat as far as the eye can see. As youths impacted by this type of environmental stimulus, we tended to have a better sense of what we needed and wanted than where we had come from and where we were headed. 

This is not really the best way to live, and probably not the best way to make policy either. 

As a system characterized by high turnover, shrinking term contracts, insufficient commitment to a leveling of its power dynamics, and NGOs too often content to play at the surfaces of policy, the UN has a growing memory deficit.   We have collectively embraced a ‘current events’ mentality that is increasingly disconnected from either past preparations or broader implications for the future of the planet.  Moreover, our mistakes often come in patterns, in part because we don’t sufficiently consult the people who have made similar mistakes in the past, and in part because people who have made those mistakes don’t appear to have learned enough to prevent them a second (or third) time around.

Longevity in any institution is clearly no guarantee of wisdom, of seeing the longer view.  But more institutional memory in more policy contexts might well help to ‘fill out’ some of our policy pronouncements so that people have important information not only about want we want and need but ‘where we came from’ and the direction that we want global security policy to go. 

“Where are we going?” is a question that we ask often in our private lives, and there are serious (and in my view justifiable) trust implications when we don’t get a suitable answer.  We need to ensure, all of us, that there are ample occasions to do more than simply replicate the present policy dynamics.  As part of that, we must be willing to think harder about goals and directions beyond ways to get as quickly as possible from policy challenge through national interest to adopted resolution. 

The billions of people who will have to live with what we collectively decide in this place need to know that we have done due diligence thinking through the implications of even our wisest pronouncements. In this task, our institutional memory — in the form of both documents and persons – can make a most precious contribution.

Dr. Robert Zuber

In Search of Solid Ground: A Student’s Thoughts on the Current Geopolitical Quagmire

11 Oct

Editors Note:  Carly Millenson is extraordinary young woman in high school who is working with Christina Madden on matters related to Women in International Security.  At her request, she prepared this essay describing some of the anxieties of her generation as she and her peers prepare to take up adult responsibilities. 

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way” – so begins Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, a truly timeless classic that describes the present as well as it did the era it depicted. To a student who hopes to one day pursue a career in international security this seems as accurate and concise a description of the pathos of our day as any. Times have certainly changed since Dickens penned this famous phrase, but human nature has not. As international tensions rise in an age when technological advances make the stakes of conflict higher than ever before, my generation is greeted with a bewildering and concerning mix as we begin to leave the stability of the classroom for the uncertainty of the real world.

A 2011 article published in Foreign Affairs warned that a nuclear Iran would “upend the middle east”, and crafted a disturbing narrative of rapid nuclear proliferation across the region resulting in an exponential increase in the risk of the outbreak of nuclear conflict. Meanwhile, pictures of Netanyahu drawing his famous “red line” interspersed with belligerent messages from North Korea and increasingly horrific reports on the violence scorching Syria have made for a grim new cycle, even by the standards of someone whose political consciousness begins with a post-9/11 world.

More recently, there have been some feeble glimmers of hope, yet these have been tempered by murky facts and unclear intentions. Iran’s new President, Hassan Rouhani, has taken a surprisingly conciliatory line, ending a three decade freeze on direct interaction with the US through his September phone call with President Obama. In his speech at the UN, he stressed Iran’s desire for peace with the international community and offered increased transparency in order to eliminate “reasonable concerns about Iran’s peaceful nuclear program” and said that his country “is prepared to engage immediately in time-bound and result-oriented talks to build mutual confidence and the removal of mutual uncertainties with full transparency.” If taken at face value, such statements mark a critical turning point for the better in regional politics and seem to signal a crucial step towards reducing tensions. However, in the world of politics, little is as simple as it seems and not everyone has a rosy take on Iran’s overtures. According to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, “the facts are that Iran’s savage record flatly contradicts Rouhani’s soothing rhetoric.” He added that “[i]f Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone.” In a similar vein, a recent Foreign Affairs article warned that “Rouhani is no reformer. He is a man of the system, which is why he was allowed to run in the first place.”  The confusing mire of claims and counterclaims surrounding the Iranian nuclear question has become the norm for most major international issues. Understanding the news and drawing conclusions from it has become less about cutting to the quick and more about wading towards the least unstable ground.

It is in this foggy atmosphere of uncertainty and looming threats that my generation must find its feet. I hope to one day pursue a career as a policymaker in international security and promote peace by working to contain nuclear proliferation and to reduce international tensions. At the moment though, I am mostly limited to excelling in my studies and dreaming about the future. But what kind of future will it be? With the advances of technology the stakes have gotten progressively higher. Weapons have gotten more deadly and our growing dependence on complex equipment has brought with it new vulnerabilities – my world is one where enemies armed with hacking skills are quickly becoming just as dangerous, if not more so, than those armed with bombs. I hope that tomorrow will bring with it a new era of peace and worry that I am experiencing the prologue to an age of widening conflict and increasing bloodshed. In these delicate times, miscalculations by international policymakers will have major repercussions for decades to come. What they decide now will determine how I will spend my adult life. In the next thirty years, will international security be defined by closing rifts, preventing backslides, and blocking radicalism, or will it instead be characterized by putting out fires, minimizing damage, and trying to restart the peace process? Most likely it will fall somewhere in between those two extremes, but it is up to policymakers today to decide which way it leans.

My generation is slowly evolving from being today’s passive newsreaders to tomorrow’s active newsmakers, but most of us aren’t quite there yet. However, as with any group of people, there are always leaders who race out far ahead of the curve. At sixteen, Malala Yousafzai has gained international fame as a courageous champion of girls’ education rights whose close brush with death at the hands of the Taliban has done nothing to silence her voice. Her impact today could be the impact of my generation tomorrow. I want the chance to build a better, safer world. However, a world in conflict is not a ripe place for peacebuilding. Strife must be contained before we can take the next steps towards building trust. It is up to today’s leaders to lay the foundations for improved relations by preventing tensions from spiraling out of control. My generation is ready to step into the turbulent times and contribute to the search for clarity, however most of us won’t have a significant impact for a few more years. In the meantime, my hope is that policymakers understand our concerns and have a vision not only for short-term political expedience but also for long-term solutions that will last into our adulthoods. International politics has become a fog of paradox and contradiction, but I hope, perhaps with the idealism of youth, that the winds of change will eventually sweep away some of the uncertainty and reveal a trail – whether the road to war or the path to peace, only time can tell. In baseball terms, I am waiting for my turn to step up to the plate. Until my time arrives, I can only hope that the players who have gone before me will have already ‘loaded the bases.’

Carly Millenson 

The Sixth Committee Talks Terrorism

10 Oct

The Sixth Committee (hereinafter 6C) of the General Assembly opened this week with measures to eliminate international terrorism as the first agenda item. The general discussion focused on a wide-range of issues, including support for the draft comprehensive convention on international terrorism and convening a high-level conference under UN auspices. Member states noted the significance of international law, especially international humanitarian law (IHL), international refugee law (IRL) and international human rights law (IHRL) in combating terrorism. In this regard, member states emphasized that terrorism is not affiliated with any particular race, ethnic group or religion, and a distinction should be made between terrorism and the legitimate struggle for people’s self-determination.

In addition, the importance of strong rule of law mechanisms was recognized as well as more attention on the financing of terrorism and ransom payments. References were also made to arms proliferation including support for the Arms Trade Treaty.  Moreover, welcomed attention was given not only to relevant General Assembly Resolutions, but to the Security Council and the sanctions committees, especially regarding the listing/de-listing process. Finally, Liechtenstein noted in its statement the complementarity between the work of the Security Council, General Assembly, the Secretariat and the contributions of the 6C therein. Given the forthcoming counterterrorism discussion in the GA plenary, Liechtenstein suggested that the 6C consider the terrorism agenda item on a biannual basis so as not to overlap with the GA’s agenda.

Procedurally, one of the main items considered in this agenda was the adoption of a working group, which ultimately failed to be adopted.

The General Assembly had recommended the creation of a working group in 2013 to both facilitate the drafting of a convention and carry on discussions about the high level conference.[i] The working group was also recommended by the ad hoc committee in its report to the 6C.[ii] The ad hoc committee was created in 1996 to “elaborate an international convention for the suppression of terrorist bombings” and nuclear terrorism; this would build on existing instruments and develop “a comprehensive legal framework of conventions dealing with international terrorism.”[iii] In 2000, the Committee’s mandate on the convention was extended and the conference was added as an agenda item “to formulate a joint organized response of the international community to terrorism.”[iv] In 2012, A/RES/67/99 extended the Committee’s mandate with a report due to the 68th session.[v]

The report provides draft text for the preamble and articles 1, 2, and 4-27, which address jurisdiction issues, conflict of laws, extradition, adopting relevant domestic legislation, etc.  Speaking as Vice Chair of the ad hoc committee, Guatemala noted that while the committee provided an opportunity to engage in discussions, they were not able to reach a conclusion. More political will is necessary to address the challenges. In its statement, South Africa raised concerns about continuing to hold meetings especially in instances when consensus has not been reached; nevertheless South Africa hopes that consensus will be facilitated before next year.

From the report, it appears that one of the outstanding issues surrounds the scope of the convention, including the definition of terrorism, the actions of the state military, and actions of “armed forces” vs. that of “parties,” etc.[vi] Regarding the conference, the objective is to increase political support for negotiation of the convention.[vii] While there doesn’t seem to be much opposition to the conference per se, there appears to be a preference among delegations to hold it after negotiations are completed.[viii]

Overall, most welcomed are the references to human rights especially since the right to self-determination is provided for in appropriate human rights instruments including the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, respectively. References to the ATT are of course welcomed, but it is important to also give attention to complementary instruments like the UN Programme of Action on Small Arms, which provides for commitments to eradicate, prevent and combat the illicit flow of small arms. Procedurally, it remains to be seen how this agenda item will develop and to what extent there will be more coordination and collaboration with the GA plenary.

–          Melina Lito, Legal Adviser on UN Affairs

ENDNOTES


[i] A/RES/67/99, OP.24.

[ii] A/68/37, para. 12.

[iii] A/RES/51/210, OP.9.

[iv] A/RES/54/110, OP. 12.

[v] A/RES/67/99, OP. 25 and 29.

[vi] A/68/37, para. 23-29.

[vii] A/68/37, para. 37.

[viii] A/68/37, para. 39.