Archive | December, 2013

Droning On: Inviting Straight Talk on Peacekeeping Operations

23 Dec

On the afternoon of December 19, the Permanent Mission of Pakistan and the United Nations Foundation presented an important, far-reaching seminar on United Nations Peacekeeping entitled “Blue Helmets: New Frontiers.”

The seminar featured a wide array of senior officials (including Susana Malcorra representing the Secretary-General), diplomats (including the Ambassadors of France, Guatemala, Croatia and Canada) and experts from academia (such as Richard Gowan of NYU and Jean Marie Guéhenno of Columbia University) tasked with planning and implementing what are increasingly complex peacekeeping operations.  The sobering backdrop for the conversation was fresh violence in South Sudan where three Indian peacekeepers were killed as local youths stormed the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) base in Akobo.

The complexity of peacekeeping operations alluded to over and over by speakers has been fueled in part by the demands of global citizens and governments for the UN to take a more active role in resolving the many conflicts that flare up on our television screens and twitter feeds.  We’ve written previously (and likely will again) about some of the negative impacts of the politics of ‘doing something.’  But as more and more graphic images fill our homes and as people feel themselves further and further removed from any agency regarding responses to those horrors, the pressure on those who have understanding, skills and agency to ‘take care of’  effective responses to violence and the need for civilian protection continues to grow.

So, too, do the controversies.

Some of those controversies are specific to the architecture of robust peacekeeping response (peacekeeping in situations where there is really no ‘peace to keep’), such as the use of drones or the development of allegedly non-precedent-setting capacities such as the Intervention Brigade used in Eastern DRC.  Some governments, notably at this event the French, seem to be strongly convinced that, in the new world of peacekeeping, we must not be skittish about using force when force is called for.   ‘Living in the past’ where peacekeeping is concerned is tantamount to conceding relevance.   Using the technology at hand to increase the effectiveness and safety of operations is, at least for some governments and policymakers, a strategic imperative.

The French have a good point of course.   Changing times call for changing strategies.  Peacekeepers face different threats now as they respond to more complex and coercive mandates.  We all understand our responsibilities to protect civilians differently now. As a system, the UN now lives under the burdens of increasing expectations and (as Gowan noted) deployments that are likely to become more and more dangerous. But as other delegations and observers have noted, changes in how we conduct operations have implications for human lives that must also be taken into account.  The fact that we can ‘do something’ of a more coercive nature doesn’t automatically mean that we should, especially if we have not first considered alternatives that can both competently protect civilians and other stakeholders while bringing violence under effective control.

The issue here is not merely Brigades vs. Binoculars, coercion vs. passive observing.  The issue here, as it is in so many other parts of the UN system, is the degree to which we can both respond rapidly and effectively and at the same time reassure the skeptical – governments of member states, of course, but also persons victimized by a lack of timely and preventive response – that we are all committed to getting our protection strategies in the best possible order. More than the champions of coercive response (and perhaps even more than the champions of coercive restraint) recognize, this is a matter of trust as much as technical competence.

In a highly politicized environment (and more than one speaker noted the ‘political objectives’ attached to all PKOs) trust is an elusive agent.  Getting peacekeeping ‘right’ means applying the right tools to the missions to which we commit, and to apply those tools in the most timely, humane and effective manner, ensuring the safety not only of civilians but of humanitarian workers and peacekeepers themselves. But it also means doing all that is possible to head off threats before assembling the troops. (The best deployments, after all, are the ones that never have to be authorized.)  And it means giving credence to the skeptical, especially skeptical end users, some of whom are desperate for assistance but who also have long and vivid memories of unwelcome intrusions of all kinds in their not so distant past.   Skepticism isn’t always warranted of course.  And it should never become an excuse for inaction.   But ‘action’ comes attached to a long string of options, only some of which require offensively minded, coercive measures.

As Ambassador Rosenthal of Guatemala rightly noted, “just sending in the troops” to calm down any situation is simply not enough.  Indeed, at times it might be too much.    With due regard for the restraints imposed by sovereignty, the lack of definition of preventive capacity, and the absence of reliable, rapid-response deployments, the ‘situations’ alluded to by Ambassador Rosenthal are becoming more complex and more resistant to calm.   We need earlier, more attentive engagements by broader sectors of the UN system, along with more transparent assessments of the many areas where there is more work to be done to address our still evolving challenges.

Dr. Robert Zuber

A Game of Drones

20 Dec

Editor’s Note:  For the past three months, Tereza Steinhublova has focused her attention on peace and security matters related to the First Committee of the UN General Assembly. While writing for Reaching Critical Will’s First Committee Monitor, she focused particularly on the issue of drones which, as she notes, must continue to receive much more policy attention, not only in the disarmament community, but in the human rights community as well.

The word drone comes up frequently in numerous contexts. Not only are drones brought up in the security world, but they are slowly growing in popularity in other fields as well. For instance, the computer game SimCity, which allows you to build your own virtual city, now comes with an option to replace the city’s entire security forces with drones. In fact, replacing the traditional police and security forces with drones gives the player many benefits! In the real world, Amazon announced its proposal of using small drones to deliver packages to customers within 30 minutes of their order. Similarly, big companies such as Google and Apple have also expressed their interest in robotics. Finally, the Internet continues to be flooded with political cartoons depicting controversies surrounding drone use.

Drone use is primarily justified as a counter-terrorism measure, including intelligence gathering. To what extent this is an effective method to fight terrorism is debatable. Although several high-ranked members of terrorist groups have been killed thanks to drone strikes, they have always been replaced instantly. Often in these cases the person taking over has more hardline views, thus posing a greater terrorism threat. Besides, many of those killed and identified as belonging to terrorist organizations are low-ranked members, rather than leaders. Furthermore, there have been instances where civilians have been killed either because of targeting errors or as ‘collateral damage’. On December 12, 2013, missiles from a US drone attacked a wedding procession in Yemen, killing over a dozen people. The drone is said to have mistaken the wedding vehicles for a militant convoy.  In response to this tragic event, the Yemeni parliament called for an end of the use of US drones in Yemen. This isn’t the only occasion of when a drone mistakenly killed civilians. On October 6, 2013, the President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, criticized NATO for its drone use, as five civilians died as a result of an airstrike. Earlier this fall a Pakistani family, who survived a drone attack that unfortunately killed their grandmother, came to Washington DC to speak to Congress about how drones are really affecting those living in areas where drones are frequently deployed.

It is crucial to note that not all drones are used solely for combat purposes. However, surveillance drones still pose questions about the extent to which these invade privacy and violate state sovereignty.  There are also questions about how to assess legal responsibility in cases where person are killed without cause.

In comparison with the frequency of drone appearances in the news, games or popular media, international policy deliberations on the use of drones remain surprisingly thin. During this year’s session of First Committee, I paid much attention to drones and fully autonomous weapons and much to my surprise the discussion on drones was minimal. The topic was mentioned by a shockingly low number of states, with most input from the delegation of Pakistan. Also, the First Committee did not create a single resolution focused on drones. This comes as a surprise, not only because of the many civilian casualties involved, but also due to the continuing controversy surrounding drones. In November, the 2013 Meeting of the States Parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) produced a mandate to discuss killer robots, which is a great development forward in the field of robotics and unmanned aerial vehicles. Nonetheless, the issue of armed drones as they exist now was once again unaddressed. I believe there needs to be a thorough discussion on drones in order to provide a basis for  a broader  dialogue on fully autonomous weapons.

Although drones are predominantly associated with the US, approximately 87 countries possess drones mostly used for purposes of spying. While the number of countries with armed drones remains low, it does not mean that this number will not grow. Much of the focus in the international policy sphere remains on preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons, for instance, while drone proliferation remains largely unaddressed. Warfare technology is already being developed in many states and if armed drone use continues, it is highly likely that more states will develop armed drones as well.  More importantly, if terrorist groups or non-state actors already considered as a security risk were to develop an armed drone, this would create a serious international peace and security issue, because drones would be used directly against civilians. The world could therefore ‘log on’ to this ‘game of drones’ before it has adequately prepared for it or attempted to prevent it from occurring in the first place.

Unfortunately, there are many political strings attached to the drone debate. With most armed drone use carried out by the United States, the number of states willing to officially criticize this policy remains low. However, it is important to consider how this debate would change if the affected countries’ roles were reversed, if the states using drones for military purposes had to deal with drone attacks themselves.  Drones carry many ethical and legal questions, namely with humanitarian and human rights law. The fact that drones are controlled through a computer from a base already creates controversy and brings up a debate about the wisdom of the ‘distancing’ of warfare. The relationship between drones and international law remains precarious. It is often argued that drones do not comply with international law, because they undermine state sovereignty and are incompatible with the legal definition of the zone of conflict. The international community therefore needs to work to create a space for a dialogue, which would clarify existing doubts and develop new guidelines. The international community must work towards establishing a reliable system of governance for these weapons before the ‘game of drones’ plays out beyond the reach of state’s control.

Tereza Steinhublova, Junior Associate

 

 

US gun policies – leading the world by example?

19 Dec

Editor’s Note:  This is the final blog for Marianne Rijke as our Disarmament Fellow.    Soon she will move to Vienna to work for the CTBTO and hopefully will stay fully connected to our office as well.  Here, Marianne addresses an issue that has caused pain and controversy in the US — gun violence and what to do about it.  Her piece is thoughtful and relevant, and GAPW will continue our struggle to find the most effective and viable policy options in her absence. 

December 14 may have seemed like an ordinary day to you and me, but for the people of Newtown (Connecticut) this day symbolizes a pitch black day in their towns history. It was on this day, one year ago in 2012, that Adam Peter Lanza shot and killed 26 people – of whom 20 children – at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Immediately after the shooting, there was talk again about how to prevent this kind of tragedy in the future, especially since it was hardly the first time this has happened in the US. From the beginning there was a great division in views. On the one hand, there were the people like President Obama, who said that getting a gun should be made a lot more difficult. And on the other hand, there were the people like the members of National Rifle Association (NRA), who proposed guns for everyone as protection. They argued that taking away the possibility to own guns would actually put the lives of children at risk because “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.”

In the year that has passed, several attempts have been made to make gun laws stricter in the US. President Obama suggested fingerprinting for gun permits as well ass background checks. These suggestions were shot down in Senate and stricter gun laws did not get the desired support in Congress. President Obama took the one year anniversary of the Newtown massacre as an opportunity to once again emphasize the need to do more to prevent dangerous people from getting a gun, and then added the need to heal troubled minds. In the year since Sandy Hook not much has been done. No federal gun laws have been changed and in several states gun laws have actually been loosened. And lawmakers in Kansas and Alaska have enacted laws nullifying federal gun regulations for guns manufactured and kept within state borders. In Colorado, where there was a shooting at a school exactly one year after the Newtown killings, a more strict gun law was recently reversed. This makes it even more clear that the present gun law system does not work, despite claims to the contrary.

The (mis)use of guns and other small arms is an often debated issue, not only in the US, but worldwide. During the United Nations First Committee debates, the need to combat the illicit transfer and use of small arms and light weapons (SALW) was stressed. Several delegations stated that “SALW are the real weapons of mass destruction of our time” and that action is needed to regulate their movements and eliminate illicit supplies. Agreements were made and resolutions were signed which will (hopefully) help in the struggle against the illicit transfer and use of guns in the future worldwide. But they will not be sufficient to prevent another ‘Newtown killing’.

What makes the gun violence in the US different than the (mis)use of guns in the rest of the world is the legality of owning the guns used. Whereas private gun ownership is largely regulated and even prohibited in the rest of the world, in the US everyone has a right to own a gun. This ‘right of the people to keep and bear arms’ came into effect with the signing of the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the US on December 15, 1791. The American War of Independence had just ended (1783) and people were fearful of violence and wary of government. In this time, life in the US revolved around protecting yourself, your family and your land. Rule of law as we know it now, whereby the state is obligated to protect its citizens, did not exist as a principle guiding state conduct. Giving citizens the right to bear a gun to protect themselves made sense, at that time.

But over two centuries have passed and the US has grown into a world leader and is seen as one of the most prosperous and civilized countries in the world. The US takes the lead in several international security issues and positions itself as the protector of the free and safe world. It is difficult for me to understand that this ‘protector’ has a hard time enacting laws that keep ‘crazy’ or angry people from purchasing a gun. In our allegedly ‘free and safe world’, people are still dying every day (and needlessly) because of gun violence.

Since December 14 2012, over 32,000 people have been killed by gun violence in the US alone. Change is needed — getting hold of a gun should be made a lot more difficult, if not forbidden. To make the world a safer place for coming generations, the US should take up its leadership role and start leading the world by example. It was Mahatma Gandhi who said it so wisely: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

Marianne Rijke – Disarmament Fellow GAPW

The Iran Nuclear Deal – “A new beginning for the people in the Middle East”

17 Dec

A master-class in balanced analysis was elegantly presented by Trita Parsi, founder and current president of the National Iranian American Council, at a recent UN meeting in the Economic and Social Council Chamber (ECOSOC) organized by the Women’s International Forum. The topic at hand was, “The Iran nuclear deal – how we got here and what it means.” This subject matter could have very well attracted controversy and heated exchange on both sides of the fence, if not handled with care, wisdom, expertise and a mindset that is willing to acknowledge the multiple facets that assemble a somewhat objective reality. Parsi managed to integrate all of these aspects, not by simply explaining the status quo but by highlighting the tremendous impact that the recent nuclear deal with Iran could well have for the entire region and as a result, the international community.

“Diplomacy is making some significant headway,” Parsi explained introductorily, referencing the nuclear deal set up between six major powers of the international community and Iran, but without neglecting the fact that the current compromise is no more than an “interim agreement” — albeit of historic proportion.

It is meant to put on-hold key elements of Iran’s nuclear enrichment in exchange for temporary easing on some of the economic sanctions that had been imposed by the U.S., the Security Council and others. The installation of new centrifuges for uranium enrichment that Iran had acquired has been stopped, and the measures in place make it virtually impossible for Tehran to build a nuclear weapon without being detected. In return, Iran will receive partial relief in regard to trade sanctions and renewed access to a number of its frozen currency accounts overseas. In case Iran violates the agreement’s terms, the sanctions can be re-employed at any point in time.

“This agreement, although yet to be implemented, is not only referring to Iran’s nuclear aspirations, but has an impact on the entire region and the very direction Iran is taking as a country.”

Parsi named a number of “decisive factors” that smoothed the way for the most current political breakthrough. “The Iranians recently elected Hassan Rouhani for president, the most moderate person among the candidates. With him, a centrist cabinet came into power that had made numerous proposals to the West before, which had unfortunately failed in the past.” Rouhani visited the United Nations in late September to the U.N.’s first ever High Level Meeting of the General Assembly on Nuclear Disarmament.

The HLM showcased the Iranian head of state as an authority on ridding the world of nuclear weapons, rather than acquiring them. Rouhani did not only get invited to present on this politically charged topic, but among the eight plenary speakers addressing the global leaders, he received the number three slot in the lineup.

Furthermore, Parsi explained how the Iranians had been cooperating more closely with the U.S. in 2001, only to then be added to the “axis of evil” by former President George W. Bush as a response to the terror attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. on 9/11. This led to hardened political statements in tones that were often infused with hostility. “In the eight years of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency, Iran and the West went in different directions, which could have escalated into a military confrontation.” With the election of Rouhani, “there was suddenly someone in power worth investing in by the White House.” Parsi was referring here in part to U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, “defending the nuclear deal to a very skeptical Congress only yesterday. There is now confidence that Iran delivers.”

Parsi stated that the pressure the U.S. administration experienced regarding an optional military intervention in Syria on behalf of the American public, “pushed Obama into deep diplomacy,” when he was confronted with the subsequent Iran negotiations. As a result, noted Parsi, Iran which had recently been considered “the most difficult issue within the region” became “low hanging fruit in comparison to the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict or the dangerous situation still in Syria.” Parsi repeated that the second step, the actual implementation of the landmark accord, will be the real difficulty the six negotiating world powers are facing. Earlier this week, expert level talks began in Vienna to work out specific details of implementation. Officials from Iran, The United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia met at the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the agency that will play a central role in verifying that Tehran carries out its part of the deal.

The interim agreement will also, in Parsi’s view, have tremendous implications for Iran within the region, specifically in improving relations with neighboring states. The agreement “implies de-containment, both politically and economically.” For some time, Iran has not had a recognized role within the region and the country has been excluded from meaningful participation in many international bodies. Parsi explained that the negotiation process would bring an image change for Iran, certainly a different approach to their policy on Israel, as well as positive, long-term repercussions for many Arabic states. “Nobody is going to lose out in the long run. Iran is not going to have a nuclear bomb, and it doesn’t lie in the interest of Israel or Saudi Arabia to continue a perpetual conflict with Iran.”

Parsi concluded, “Ultimately, this is about so much more than enrichment or centrifuges. If this agreement can be implemented, it will determine who will define Iran for the next decades. This can be a new beginning for the countries and the people of the Middle East.”

Parsi provided valuable lessons in contemporary diplomacy, and reminded the UN audience why the threat of war can no longer be accepted as the “continuation of policy by other means” in the 21st century.

 

Lia Petridis Maiello

 

This piece was originally published with The Huffington Post.

Declining Dignity for Journalists: The Dual Challenges of Violence and Access

15 Dec

On Friday, the Security Council held an ‘Arria Formula’ event, hosted by Guatemala and France, focused on the growing problem of violence against working journalists.

The event was largely ‘off the record’ and attendance was somewhat restricted.   The opening panel featured an extraordinary array of UN officials — including UNESCO’s Irina Bokova and ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda. These and other officials are tasked in part with ensuring that journalists are protected (and crimes against them are prosecuted) both by member states and by the international community, in part based on ‘protection of civilians’ mandates issued by the Council,  application of Article 8 of the Rome Statute, etc.   There was also important testimony provided by David Rhode of Reuters, who himself had been held captive by the Taliban, as well as by other professionals working to protect journalists from abuse.

Much of the discussion was premised on the language of SC Resolution 1738, which was the first Security Council text devoted to the protection of journalists in armed conflicts, expresses the Council’s concern regarding the lack of adherence to existing rules, and recalls the relevant body of legislation applicable.  Indeed, one of the best insights from a robust engagement with this issue was the call for a ‘consolidated document’ that summarizes all of the disparate UN efforts under way to better protect journalists.  This is clearly an issue for the UN system as a whole and not just for Council deliberations.

Beyond resolutions, the event made several things clear.   First and foremost, there was recognition that violence against journalists has reached epidemic proportions.   Speaker after speaker noted the frequent occurrence of murder and abduction of journalists, as well as the recognition that 90% or more of this violence goes unpunished.

It was also noted that violence against journalists occurs mostly away from conflict zones with most victims being local journalists.   Attempts to intimidate the community of journalists are widespread and corrosive of efforts to provide legitimate, impartial information that, among other things, can document and spread the word about massive violations of human rights.   As was noted on more than one occasion, murder remains the most effective form of censorship.

Finally and perhaps most importantly, there was recognition of the vital role that journalists – local and international – play in helping policymakers stay abreast of conditions in some of the most challenging and dangerous parts of our world.   There were welcome calls for new ‘journalist safety standards’ as well as more training of national security forces on the need to preserve freedom of expression.  These and other measures bring some hope for relief.

But violence is not the only challenge facing professional journalists.  There is also a problem with access to UN agencies, government officials and policymakers.  In addition, as more and more media becomes subsumed under corporate interests, the very same journalists who risk their lives to provide sometimes horrific images and stories of abuse from very challenging environments find that they must struggle harder than ever to ensure that at least some of what they investigate finds its way on to television screens and under newspaper bylines.

For its part, GAPW has been engaged with media professionals for over two years through our “Matching:Points” project directed by Lia Petridis Maiello.   Based on numerous interviews with working journalists and officials at the UN, Lia produced a report “Assessing UN Media Relations and Revitalizing Dialogue among Diverse Stakeholders (available at www.globalactionpw.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/media_diplo_brief.pdf ).  Her report makes clear the many ways in which journalists face barriers of access, in some cases regarding the very same officials and policymakers whom journalists are risking their lives and careers to keep informed.   Certainly there are few dangers covering the UN, but even in this environment there is much remaining to be done to respect and energize stakeholders so that we can all do our part to, as Lia notes, “help the global public understand the structure and activities of the United Nations, including its programmatic successes and political compromises.”

It is important that resolutions and related activities to protect journalists are accompanied by efforts to dignify their efforts in the field, to honor their courage with access to officials, straight talk, and more space for their work in existing media outlets.   Frank La Rue, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, offered an intriguing linkage at the Arria Formula event between the status of journalists and that of human rights defenders.   In our view, journalists who face challenging conditions in the field while bringing to our attention stories and images that the world simply must address are indeed upholding our collective commitment to preserve human rights for all.  Beyond social media, corporate media and disinterested media, these often courageous journalists deserve every bit of assistance from the international community to preserve their personal safety and professional dignity.   As the Council members themselves no doubt recognized, resolutions alone are an insufficient response to the growing global problems of freedom of the press, including freedom from violent abuse.

Dr. Robert Zuber

The Central African Republic: The politics of protecting

12 Dec

After considerable advocacy from a range of actors[1], the UN Council passed Resolution 2127[2], authorizing a joint French/AU operation in the Central African Republic. This has brought new attention to the country, the conflict, and ways to resolve it. As someone who deals in the broad field of peacekeeping, and not a subject specialist on the CAR, I felt a breakdown of the conflict dynamics in the CAR was beyond me, and best left to many others[3].  Moreover, in terms of the peacekeeping aspects, it will be difficult to note the effects of any operation for some time. Yes questions do exist – such as what will happen when the French wish to leave? Is a mandate predominantly under the headline of civilian protection been matched with necessary resources? What will a UN force look like if it is to deploy? Is this peacekeeping or peace enforcement? These questions though, may need a bit of time to answer.

To start, it is worth pointing out that the decision of the French Government, and contributing states to the AU mission is a welcome development. Conflicts of the most violent sort often require intervention from third parties, more so if the main target of such violence is the civilian population. Calls for rapid deployment of a UN Peacekeeping operation were unrealistic, given the UN’s slow timeframe of deployment (particularly into a landlocked country). Thus through their actions, French and AU forces are providing a critical contribution to the security of the civilian population of the CAR, thus heightening the chances of a cessation of violence.

Nevertheless, there are still areas where questions appear. These may not be so much related to the tough decisions peacekeepers make in a conflict zone, but more about the wider issues in deploying operations. The intention of this post is therefore to interrogate the use of narratives to explain intervention or justify past inaction. By doing so, the post (hopefully) will demonstrate where linkages appear between some of the wider critical assessment of peacekeeping, and the real-time actions of ‘policy world’.

Academic approaches to peacekeeping have, in the past 10 years, looked to apply a far more critical approach to understanding how peacekeeping works in global politics, questioning motivations of the actors in peacekeeping operations[4]. If one only focuses on the technical aspects of operations without questioning overall assumptions of the role that peacekeeping plays in global politics, then, in effect we are all missing the big questions concerning the ways in which ‘peace’ is implemented, and who ‘wins’ and ‘looses’ through such interventions. This line of inquiry is often criticized as moving away from ‘policy relevance’. It may also be open to the accusation of of criticizing an actor who is ‘doing the right thing’. In the case of responding to mass atrocity and civilian protection demands, this may be pervasive. France and the AU are saving lives – who are we to criticize that?

However, no intervention is apolitical – actors in peacekeeping and peace enforcement act for a reason – funders, contributors, those who give equipment, all have complex intentions. Actors also look to control the narrative and explain their actions in the most positive light.  Examples of this can be found in numerous studies (see for example critical reactions to the Tony Blair’s humanitarian rationale for intervention into Iraq[5]).

A more recent example of this can be noted from the Security Council meeting where UNSCR 2127 was adopted, in particular the opening statement by the French Permanent Representative, and Chair of the Council, Mr. Gérard Araud. In it, he stated that:

Hitherto, the Central African Republic had been a forgotten crisis of the sort in which the media were not interested. Given the crisis itself, however, indifference and inaction were not options. France felt it was our collective duty to support action by the African Union and the Economic Community of Central African States to prevent mass atrocities[6].

He went on to say ‘In his statement at the general debate in September, the President of the French Republic was the first to sound the alarm and call for resolute action by the Security Council’.

Here the narrative of the UN action is that France, standing alone against global ambivalence, perpetuated by an indifferent ‘media’ took the initiative and prevented mass atrocities. To an extent, this can be taken at face value – as said, France is indeed deploying forces alongside the AU and ECCAS in a fundamentally dangerous conflict zone to protect civilians. However this is also problematic. In creating a causal link between media ambivalence and global apathy, the statement is excusing the myriad of international actors who have had a presence in the CAR for a considerable time, and had capacities to call attention to (and even do something about) the deteriorating situation. The New York Times report from November outlines the external intervention in the CAR over the past few years:

France has had an almost continuous military presence since the country gained independence in 1960, including the 400 soldiers deployed at the start of the current crisis. The European Union has a delegation in Bangui and has been the main donor for 10 years. United States Army personnel arrived in 2011 as part of efforts to capture Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, who has been indicted on war crimes charges by the International Criminal Court and is believed to be hiding somewhere in Central Africa[7].

Simply explaining that CAR was off the radar until September, until France raised it with the world misses the point at least slightly. A range of actors have been involved in the CAR, and many of those actors had capacities to (and in some cases did) at least monitor the deterioration of the state into the situation it is in now. An argument thus exists that in using this form of narrative, the Security Council has neatly negotiated the ‘history’ of external actors in this conflict. By doing so, any accountability for the failure of external actors has been avoided, and the media has been highlighted as a possible scapegoat if turns out that the deployment is deemed inadequate in one way or another. This highlighting of the media also ignores the myriad of reporting and monitoring from a range of NGO’s, advocacy groups[8], and yes… reports from media outlets[9].

Importantly, this ‘recitation’ of recent history could have serious implications for future actions. Christoph Vogel (who has written extensively about conflict in Africa) highlights this:

Well, now we could argue that at least it made the UN Security Council debate on it and send the French (who have been there anyways, before) in to restore order. However, whose order? The French order? The UN order? The order of a smouldering conflict in which genocide needs to be prevented? The public authority of the Central African State? The City administration of Bangui? The ousted government of a longtime embezzling Bozizé? The remainders of a disintegrated rebel movement running the country? Hard to tell, as a myriad of interests are at stake[10]

Vogel’s words (and article) are pertinent, and link back to the critical assessments outlined above – thus demonstrating that what at first looks like an abstract theoretical critique is in fact a valuable lens through which to see how interveners seek to justify their actions in conflict situations. Narratives of conflict, intervention and protection cannot be left unquestioned. To do so is not healthy for those who intervene, and possibly less healthy in the long term for the ‘end users’ – the most vulnerable members of a population under siege.


[1] Amnesty International, Central African Republic: UN peacekeeping mission needed to avoid mass slaughter, http://www.amnesty.org/en/news/central-african-republic-un-peacekeeping-mission-needed-avoid-mass-slaughter-2013-12-02;

[3] For instance: Human Rights Watch, “I Can Still Smell the Dead” The Forgotten Human Rights Crisis in the Central African Republic, http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/car0913_insert_LOWRES_WITH_COVER.pdf , Sept 2013; Global Centre for the R2P, Central African Republic,

http://www.globalr2p.org/regions/central_african_republic; Good Governance Afria, From Terror to tyranny, http://gga.org/stories/editions/aif-18-fault-lines-africas-separation-anxiety/from-terror-to-tyranny/?utm_source=OpenNetworksCRM&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=OpenNetworksCRM

[4] Bellamy, A. J., & Williams, P. (2004). Introduction: Thinking Anew About Peace Operations. International Peacekeeping, 11(1); Pugh, M. (2012). Reflections on Aggressive Peace. International Peacekeeping, 19(4), 37–41; Cunliffe, P. (2009). The Politics of Global Governance in UN Peacekeeping. International Peacekeeping, 16(3), 323–336.

[5] Cooper, N, Review Article: On the crisis of the Liberal Peace, Conflict Security and Development, 7(4), 605-616; Pugh, M. (2004). Peacekeeping and Critical Theory. International Peacekeeping, 11(1).

[6] 5 December 2013 – CAR / Adoption of resolution 2127 – Explanation of vote by Mr. Gérard Araud, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations, http://www.franceonu.org/france-at-the-united-nations/press-room/statements-at-open-meetings/security-council/article/5-december-2013-car-adoption-of-7657

[8] For Instance, International Crisis Group, Central African Republic: Priorities of the Transition, June 2013, http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/regions/africa/central-africa/central-african-republic/203-central-african-republic-priorities-of-the-transition.aspx

[9] Reuters, Central African Republic’s ex-rebels went on rampage: rights group, 10 May 2010 http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/05/15/us-centralafrica-crisis-un-idUSBRE94E1CK20130515

Reuters, U.N. calls for sanctions on Central African Republic rights abusers, 15 May 2010, http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/05/10/us-centralafrica-rebels-idUSBRE9490RQ20130510

[10] Gencocide? Religious War? The inflationary use of Buzzwords in CAR’s violent imbroglio, http://christophvogel.net/2013/12/09/genocide-religious-war-the-inflationary-use-of-buzzwords-in-cars-violent-imbroglio/

Dr. David Curran, Peacekeeping Fellow

Mandela’s Footprint

6 Dec

The death of Nelson Mandela was a surprise to few and a shock to many.

It was a shock because we can never really grasp that our heroes succumb to the same limitations of life that the rest of us do.

But succumb he has, and now it is up to the rest of us to figure out what that means, how to incorporate a legacy for the ages into an ongoing, daily strategy for justice and fairness.   There was once a child (I cannot find the exact citation) who allegedly responded to a teacher’s question with the following:  “A hero is a celebrity who does something real.”  In an age with many alleged celebrities and few recognizable heroes, this is a helpful, powerful distinction.

But beyond this, a hero is someone who performs at levels beyond what their social contexts and circumstances would otherwise suggest.   In the parish where I used to work, such courage abounded.  The grandparents who had to raise their grandchildren and sent every one of them to college.  The couples who had long ago stopped “loving” each other but continued to care for one another, often through gruesome illnesses.  The formerly incarcerated who battled demons of addiction and despair each day and thereby kept themselves from a return trip to prison.   The parents who buried a child killed by gun violence and continued to build a hopeful life for the children who remained.

We love our heroes and secretly even wish for more of those “celebrities who do something real.”   But make no mistake:  heroes can inspire us to action but they can also provide a substitute for action.   It is so much easier to cheer the greatness of a Mandela than to embrace our own heroism.  It is so much easier to listen to voices of unusual courage than to allow those voices to penetrate through all of the emotional filters that keep such messages hopeful but not actively compelling.

For those of us who believe that, somehow, we are entitled to make policy when we have never stared hatred, or gratuitous violence, or poverty, or discrimination squarely in the eye, Mandela should be a lesson.   Greatness is not a function of our academic degrees or our genetic pedigree.  It is a function of our character, which in turn is forged from a willingness to stand squarely against our tormentors, insisting that they cease their torment but knowing that one day they will become something else to us – a friend perhaps, but certainly no longer an impediment to the world we say we want.

One of the loveliest tributes to Mandela that I have heard so far has come from FW de Klerk, an old adversary who alleged to learn so much from Mandela’s “lack of bitterness.”   The ones with whom we lock horns often understand and appreciate such strengths, more so than our supporters.    Moreover, we learn things from engaging with our adversaries as well, including the uncomfortable truth that, as the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr used to make clear, “the evils against which we contend are the fruits of illusions similar to our own.”  Locked away in our bureaucracies or blinded by self-delusion, we can get away with believing that we really are the ‘good ones.’   But the great ones know how elusive the ‘good’ truly is.   Our task is not to look away from the worst of which we as a species are capable, but literally to stare it down.

Mandela had three long decades in a horrible prison to test his capacity to stare down his tormentors rather than give in to them.   He wouldn’t read the statements that they held out for him to read.  He refused to be released from prison with ‘conditions.’ His moral and political ‘footprint’ was unmistakable, with both clarity of purpose and an absence of malice.  He kept his covenant with others similarly tormented.   His death challenges us to keep our own.

 Dr. Robert Zuber