Archive | February, 2014

Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) Presents Joint Declaration for Afghanistan

17 Feb

Editor’s Note:  GAPW has had a long and fruitful association with both FES and with Lia Petridis Maiello.   We are grateful to the FES for keeping the issue of Afghanistan in the forefront of our policy work and to Lia for her reporting on/analysis of this important event. This article was originally featured in the Huffington Post: 

An equally ambitious and politically sophisticated project was recently launched by the German political foundation Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES), at United Nations headquarters in New York City. “Envisioning Afghanistan Post 2014” brought together political representatives of Central Asia and other policy experts last week to discuss options for a peaceful future for the still politically unstable country of Afghanistan and surrounding region. The discussion was based on a strategic initiative, “Afghanistan’s region: 2014 & Beyond – Joint declaration on regional peace and stability,” that will be executed and implemented by FES and several, regional, political interest groups.

“A truly regional document, not just an academic paper,” FES regional coordinator for peace and security policy, Sarah Hees, called the joint declaration. The idea was born in 2012 after the region was confronted with the withdrawal of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). The ISAF mission was established by the United Nations Security Council in December 2001, based in part on provisions in the Bonn Agreement (May 2001). ISAF has since been training the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) as well as supporting the Afghan government in rebuilding core government institutions and battling an ongoing conflict with insurgent groups, including of course the Taliban.

With ISAF minimizing its significant role in stabilizing and rebuilding Afghanistan, the main responsibility will be transferred to the ANSF in corporation with a smaller NATO-led mission to advise the ANSF. As mentioned in the preamble of the declaration: “The scenario is uncertain: Will the ANSF be able to counter and defeat terrorism and other national and regional threats? Is the region ready to embrace Afghanistan with its myriad of challenges beyond 2014 while helping to guarantee its security, stability and prosperity? And will the region work towards a comprehensive and mutually beneficial outcome based on multi-faceted regional integration, in harmony with legitimate interests of non-regional players?”

A shift in approach, from looking at Afghanistan as more of an isolated incidence to more of an inclusive, regional attempt to bringing peace and stability, is what FES is trying to achieve with this initiative. Critical to the process was the development of regional policy groups, “providing a platform for them to engage in robust discussions,” as explained in FES’ concept paper. All-in-all, four policy groups were established, namely the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan; Central Asia, which consists of the Republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan; the Republic of India; and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Further relationships were established with the Institute of Political and International Studies (IPIS) in the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Chinese Institute for Contemporary International Relations (CICIR) in China. “When considering the historical grievances and differences, the region having achieved consensus on deliberations and policy recommendations is a remarkable feat,” concluded the FES paper.

Included in this regional process were former and acting senior diplomats, parliamentarians, civil servants, military generals, civil society members, analysts, and journalists with connections to decision makers and authorities in their respective fields.

The declaration drafted by FES and the regional experts reaffirms the “respect to the sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and national unity of Afghanistan.” Furthermore, acknowledging the highly sensitive geo-strategic crossroads location of Afghanistan and the implicated political challenges regarding the cooperation with neighboring countries. Among the call for trust-building measures the declaration also expresses the need “for an early resolution of the Iran-US standoff, which would create a conducive atmosphere to better coordinate and implement development projects in Afghanistan.”

One of the medium-term recommendations functions as a reminder to the international community that “in order to enable Afghan ownership, increase economic sustainability as well as build and upgrade state capability to deliver public services effectively and accountability, the international community and the Afghan Government must honor their mutual commitments beyond 2014 and through the Decade of transformation.”

Last week’s discussion at the UN made clear where participants in the joint declaration still see deficiencies or difficulties regarding future implementation of the declaration. The outcome of the upcoming elections in Afghanistan in early April will play a crucial role for not only the country’s future, but that of the region. The consensus among the participants appeared to be that fraud and irregularities during the elections will very likely take place, but the extent of those problems is unclear. The Guardian newspaper commented, “The election is the third presidential poll since the fall of the Taliban. It should pave the way for the country’s first-ever peaceful democratic transfer of power, because the constitution bars the incumbent, Hamid Karzai, from standing again. The fact that Afghanistan has never managed such a handover before is an indication of how fraught the process could be, even without the complication of a raging insurgency.”

As is widely known, voting can be very challenging for many Afghans. Often, casting a ballot involves hours of travelling while enduring serious risks to well-being. The level of fraud in previous elections has left many disillusioned about the process and therefore unwilling to take risks to reach the polls. The Taliban have disrupted voting and threatened anyone who tried to participate in previous elections. During the elections in 2009, Southeastern Afghanistan had the most incidents with 10 suicide attacks, 10 mine blasts and three other attacks according to data provided by the ministry of defense, as was reported in the Christian Science Monitor.

Security for these upcoming elections will primarily be provided by Afghan security forces, although the shrinking NATO mission has offered help with logistics, including air transport of ballots and other supplies. “Afghanistan’s rugged mountains, harsh deserts and limited infrastructure mean organizers of past elections have relied heavily on both high-tech air transport and traditional solutions such as donkeys to get ballot papers and boxes to more remote areas.”

Beyond elections, the call for the United Nations to play a stronger role in brokering Afghanistan’s peace process united all attendees at last week’s discussion at UN headquarters. The UN has been involved in the region since 1946, the point at which Afghanistan joined the General Assembly. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has been carrying out aid and development work since the 1950s. The UN continues to operate UNAMA (United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan), established in 2002 by the United Nations Security Council, primarily to support humanitarian, not military efforts in the country.

In an interview with the Global Policy Forum from November 2011, Kai Eide, former UN Special Representative in Afghanistan and former head of UNAMA explained some of the challenges the mission has been experiencing, “There were tensions already in our mandate; the UNAMA mandate said that we should work closely with the military. But of course, many of the UN agencies did not want us to work closely with the military, but wanted the UN to maintain its independence and not be seen as being part of the war against the Taliban. And I think that was important. For me, it was very difficult to position myself between the military, which wanted more and closer cooperation, and the UN agencies, which wanted a distance from the military. My instinct was to keep a distance and that was what prevailed.” Eide explained that many other obstacles came into play, for instance difficulties in getting the international community to speak with one voice on political issues, as well as to bring assistance from international donors together in one strategy. “On the last part, I must say, we did not succeed very well. We managed to set some priorities with the Afghan government, but when I arrived, the international aid effort in Afghanistan was chaotic, and when I left two years later, it was not much better.”

During the FES discussion at UN headquarters, the Central Asian representatives highlighted that the declaration needs to focus stronger on national responsibility to be taken up by Afghanistan, “which Afghans are keen to show,” as well as pointing out that in particularly socio-economic recommendations are crucial for the long-term stability of the region. While explaining the process of establishing this declaration, FES coordinator Sarah Hees pointed out that trust building between individual groups had been proven to be difficult at times, with some participants “remaining in Cold War rhetoric” and others, while neighbors, still exhibiting a fundamental unfamiliarity with each other.

It seems that no matter how complex the implementation, no matter how small the outcome or impact in the end, initiatives like this one by the FES are crucial to keep Afghanistan in the international community’s collective eye. There is a need to support the effort of policy and decision makers to establish a safe and prosperous society in Afghanistan, while closely paying attention to the manifold voices and perspectives of its people.

Lia Petridis Maiello, Media Consultant

Solidarity Across Religious Lines: World Interfaith Harmony Week at the United Nations

15 Feb

Editors note:   This essay by Lia Petridis Maiello first appeared in the Huffington Post:

There are few places other than the United Nations where the fruitful seeds for complex global paradigm shifts of ethical and political concern can be planted so effectively. As a result, cultures, traditions and with them, international policy, can be affected in the longer-term, and often fundamentally reformed for the advancement of societies.

The World Interfaith Harmony Week provided UN audiences with varying views on faith, religion and social responsibility. One of these opportunities was a well composed panel on “Engaging Religions to Prevent Atrocity Crimes,” co-organized by the Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, The United Religions Initiative, The Partnership for Global Justice and the Department for Public Information (DPI) Outreach Program on the Rwanda Genocide.

The acknowledgement that religion in the past has indeed played a significant role in the promotion and execution of atrocity crimes, including genocide, thereby reinforcing the fact that any religion can be modified and abused by political leaders for the promotion of hatred, levels the playing field for those that are of the conviction that “true belief” is represented by only a few.

However, if religion can work this way, it can certainly work in a conciliatory manner as well. The UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, stated how most religions indeed teach the equality of all individuals and the unity within the diversity that considers differences within race, gender or nationality as a gain and fundamental to healthy, contemporary societies. He also described how religious leaders in the ongoing unrest in the Ukraine have physically positioned themselves between angry residents in order to prevent violent clashes.

Carol Rittner, Distinguished Professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies, confirmed how historically some religious institutions and leaders became “part of the engine of genocide,” and how others used their influence to protect those minorities who faced grave danger of being persecuted or killed. “Unfortunately,” she noted, “religions have failed to teach and create solidarity across religious lines and between people, so that they can stand together against any form of degradation.” Rittner further explained the complex role that religion played in the Rwandan genocide.

Author Timothy Longman described in his book, Christianity and Genocide in Rwanda (2010) how some members of both the Catholic and Protestant churches helped to promote the genocide by giving moral legitimacy to the killing:

Churches had long impacted ethnic politics in Rwanda, first by favoring the Tutsi during the colonial period, then switching allegiance to the Hutu after 1959, inadvertently sending a message that ethnic discrimination and favoritism could actually be considered as consistent with church teaching.

Both author Longman and Professor Rittner refer in their remarks to the helpful role that certain Muslim leaders played during the Rwandan genocide as protectors of Tutsis, preaching a message of tolerance rather than hate. As a result, many Rwandans converted to Islam when the humanitarian catastrophe was over.

Understanding how religion can function as a tool for peace, rather than an ideology for marginalization and division, is a message that needs to be relearned in numerous places, worldwide, including in international institutions and many houses of worship.

Lia Petridis Maiello, Media Consultant

Practice Makes Perfect: Another Step towards Effective Prevention of Mass Violence

13 Feb

Yesterday’s Security Council debate on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict under the presidency of Lithuania was the latest in a series of efforts by Council members and other states to outline the road ahead regarding what has become a welcome, urgent preoccupation of diplomats and policymakers – strategies to effectively protect civilians from violence perpetrated by state and non-state actors.

Valerie Amos and Navi Pillay, among others, gave their typically comprehensive and passionate overviews of what, for them and for many of their colleagues, are surely quite painful markers on the long road ahead until responsibilities under international humanitarian and human rights law are fulfilled by all relevant actors as a matter of course. Ms. Amos in particular noted unresolved ‘stresses’ between humanitarian workers and PKOs implementing coercive mandates, and also reflected on the fact that, despite increased social media scrutiny, ‘siege’ strategies to terrorize and humiliate civilians are still prevalent.

States, too, were thoughtful about the policy directions that should be pursued and the infrastructure gaps and working methods that need to be addressed. Uruguay underscored the need for accurate information to assess POC operations and reassurances that coercive measures such as the DRC Brigades – which tend to blur the lines between traditional peacekeeping and atrocity crime response — adhere to core PKO values.  Indonesia highlighted the need for POC mandates to do more to understand local contexts and work with local conflict prevention capacities.  Both Slovakia and Cuba linked POC to larger efforts to abolish war, while Brazil underscored the ‘mirage’ of military solutions and urged more attention to conflict prevention strategies. As they have done previously, the UK rightly urged that ‘politics and protection’ not be mixed, though without what would surely be a helpful confession of the numerous, diverse incarnations of that ‘mixture’ to date.

In the end, while many delegations conveyed helpful insights, it was New Zealand which most forcefully reminded Council members and others in the room that we already have many Council statements on POC that are not yet fully integrated into country-specific resolutions.   Nor, we might add, are they fully reflected in Council working methods which continue to encourage ‘deliberations’ without the necessary feed-back loops to help identify any concrete impacts from such discussions.  While resolve was in evidence throughout this debate, it still seemed more rhetorical than practical.   For those who make a living around the UN, this hardly constitutes a surprise.

Thankfully, though, this debate was more than a ‘talk shop,’ more than yet another effort to build support for additional coercive mandates. The resolve in the room was mostly directed towards helping the UN system to ‘get on the same page’ regarding protection responsibilities, available (and required) implementation tools, the need for more robust and transparent regional partnerships, etc.   It was also (between the lines) about getting capacities such as the C-34 to take more leadership on POC; about states cooperating more through the PoA process to stop illicit arms flows; about the Council paying closer attention to the Special Advisers on genocide prevention and RtoP — and to others with expertise on development and climate — providing early warnings of potential humanitarian disasters; about listening more closely to working journalists doing important and dangerous reporting in volatile country contexts.   There are many more steps to be taken and, if yesterday’s debate was any indication, sufficient skill and capacity to take them.

The small part of the wider world that tuned in for this debate surely came away with the sense that, despite the desperate headlines from CAR and Syria, the international community really is trying to address their POC responsibilities with proper seriousness.   One next step is to ensure full-system accountability for those in danger of being victimized.   As Italy noted during the debate, we must say ‘loud and clear’ that there is no excuse for abusing civilians. The UN must ‘grab the reins’ if states will allow it.   Despite misgivings about the working methods of the Council, the clarity and ‘selectivity’ of POC mandates, or the ‘inconsistency’ of much of the UN’s general response to conflict, many states seemed ready to support Italy’s call.

Dr. Robert Zuber

Forewarned is Forearmed — Thoughts on the Looming Threat of Pandemic and What We Can Do About It

11 Feb

The deadly influenza outbreak of 1918 swept across the globe, claiming tens of millions of lives. The more conservative estimates place the death toll at around fifty million people though the number may have been far greater. My grandmother lost her older sister during that outbreak, but with the advent of more advanced medical technologies and increased understanding of how pandemics spread, my generation has so far experienced these deadly global outbreaks largely through the study of history. However, as the flu virus continues to mutate and scientists push the boundaries of experimental manipulation of pathogens, I wonder if we are adequately prepared to meet the biological security threats of tomorrow.

A recent article in Foreign Affairs by Laurie Garrett, “The Next Pandemic”, offers a comprehensive look at how the evolution of pathogens may shape our future and highlights the lack of governmental capacity for dealing with this urgent security threat. Due to several mergers in the 1990s and the high risk associated with investment in vaccines, there are now only a few companies that produce an influenza vaccine. Furthermore, as of 2003, the entire market for all vaccines accounted for less than two percent of the global pharmaceutical market. Thus if disaster strikes, manufacturers will have trouble ramping up production sufficient to meet dramatically increased demand. Garrett notes that “manufacturers have never produced more than 300 million doses of flu vaccine in a single year”, a disturbing figure given that in order to inoculate the entire population in the event of a global pandemic, the US alone would require roughly 300 million doses.

Should a pandemic strike now, given our current level of preparedness, tragic consequences seem inevitable. The world would be thrown into turmoil – widespread panic and drastically reduced law enforcement make for a bad mix. Peacekeeping operations would be weakened by loss of personnel, leading to a worldwide rise in conflict potential. Inter- and intrastate tensions would be further exacerbated by a severely limited supply of lifesaving vaccines and medication. In addition, a vastly reduced workforce, as well as an almost inevitable global stock market meltdown would lead to major economic troubles throughout the world. The combined effects of these outcomes would lead to global chaos and discord, exactly what security experts around the world spend their lives working to prevent.

In addition to formulating a response to the natural evolution of pathogens, we must also decide how to deal with the challenges that manmade pathogens pose to global security. Laurie Garrett offered some thoughts on this issue in “Biology’s Brave New World: The Promise and Perils of the Synbio Revolution.” She notes that “[i]n May 2010…J. Craig Venter and his private-company team started with DNA and constructed a novel genetic sequence of more than one million coded bits of information known as nucleotides.” This heralded the beginning of a new era where scientists could both manipulate the genetic code of existing organisms and create new ones. This is the age in which my peers and I will experience our adulthoods, and it has the potential to be a time of exciting innovations – everything from “smart” materials to artificially grown organs. However, this new era brings with it the potential for frightening innovations in the realm of biological warfare, as well as warfare triggered by biological catastrophe.

It is vital that we ask ourselves what the boundaries of exploration are and whether there are experiments that simply should not be conducted. In 2011, Ron Fouchier of the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam announced that he had “mutated the hell out of H5N1”, turning it from a disease confined mainly to birds and transmissible only to humans who had direct contact with infected animals, into a possible human-to-human flu. Initially, he created a virus that could infect ferrets – ferret flu susceptibility is similar to that of humans, and thus they are often used as human stand-ins in labs. Fouchier then did what he described as “something really, really stupid” – he swabbed the nose of infected ferrets and then used the gathered virus to infect more of the animals, repeating the process until he had produced a strain of H5N1 that spread through the air. Fouchier defended his actions, arguing that the experiment served to alert that world that H5N1 could become airborne. However, the experiment set off a debate about what should and should not be allowed in the lab, with people raising concerns about what would happen if such a virus fell into the hands of terrorists.

Certainly, one way we can learn about these potential killers is by experimenting with them. However, Garrett raises an interesting point noting: “When HIV emerged in the early 1980s, nobody was sure just how the virus was transmitted…Had it been technically possible to do so, would it have been wise to deliberately alter the virus then, giving it the capacity to spread through the air or through casual contact?” In all fairness, although both are infectious, flu is very different from HIV, and the chance of H5N1 naturally mutating to become airborne and human-to-human transmissible is significantly higher. However, there is also a very real risk that the blueprints of experiments like Fouchier’s could fall into the wrong hands, with catastrophic consequences.

Perhaps the endless predictions of the coming storm have deafened us to the far off thunder. So far we have avoided a pandemic, but it is likely that eventually a highly contagious, deadly strain of influenza will emerge on a large scale. Whether that influenza kills hundreds of millions of people or not depends on how well we prepare for it. Stockpiling enough vaccines to inoculate the global population is not a viable option, but perhaps policymakers can offer companies incentives to enter the vaccine market and increase production capacity. Furthermore, by augmenting controls on and monitoring of scientific experimentation and weapons development, world leaders can help assure that no manmade biological weapon is ever unleashed. Our world is full of threats as well as opportunities. For the moment, we might well be missing the opportunity to proactively prepare for the threat of a pandemic, natural or otherwise. Through conducting a global dialogue on this potential danger to all humanity, we can share ideas on how to prepare and hopefully both prevent the malevolent use of biological agents and also mitigate the effects of a naturally occurring pandemic.

My generation is eager to add our brainpower and our voices to this discussion as we take on the mantle of tomorrow’s innovators. For now we must still rely on those at higher policy and scientific levels to take the lead on such initiatives and protect all our futures. I would urge those in authority to consider the consequences of failure to take proactive action. As Cervantes once noted, “to be prepared is half the victory.”

Carly Millenson, Student and WIIS New York Coordinator

Here’s to you, Mary Robinson: Thoughts on Intertwining Security and Development Goals

9 Feb

It is not news to anyone who follows this space that Mary Robinson is one of our favorite global civil servants, someone who is thoughtful, courageous and committed.  Her ideas exploring the human rights dimensions of climate change is just another example of her encyclopedic understand of the multiple facets of UN policy activity and her skills in bringing those facets into some harmonious, intentional relationship.

As the final sessions of the Open Working Group unfolded, Ms. Robinson was called upon to reflect on the security-sustainability dynamic, one which preoccupied the last phases of this long interactive process and which resulted in many thoughtful presentations by delegations.  As she has done previously, Ms. Robinson hit the mark for many listeners, describing security (and gender) as “cross cutting” concerns impacting any and all consensus Sustainable Development Goals, and reinforcing the need for goals that address the “causes and consequences of conflict.

Many delegations also wrestled in these final interactive sessions with the implications of adding security-related objectives to a lengthening list of SDGs that themselves will likely defy full achievement. For instance, in its statement, CARICOM expressed worry about having too much of the SDG process tied up with security concerns, not because they dismiss such concerns (they have been for instance major supporters of efforts to control illicit small arms, narcotics smuggling and the global arms trade), but because they like other delegations are concerned about the volume of development objectives that states will ultimately be held responsible for.   We share much of this concern, in part because we do not yet feel that we have learned enough from our limited successes with MDG implementation, in part because of the elusiveness of quantifiable definitions of ‘peace,’ and in part because we do not believe that the post-2015 SDG process to date has sought to engage sufficiently other, relevant components of the UN system.

Returning to Ms. Robinson’s remarks, it is important to maintain the dual meaning of ‘cross cutting.’   Often when we use this now familiar phrase, we refer to issues that have to do with each other in the sense that illicit arms contribute to an escalation of violence against women or deteriorating climate can lead to conflict over water and other resources.  But there is another dimension, not about issues and objectives but about structures of implementation.  If peace and security are fashioned into development objectives alongside clean water and poverty reduction, whose responsibility does this become?   To address this question, we need to look beyond the structures normally associated with the development community to the broader capacities of the UN system (and beyond).

There is little doubt among delegations and other participants in the Open Working Group that peace and security are indispensable requirements for just, transparent and sustainable communities, a “development enabler” as it was referred to by the African Group and others. However, as we seek to reduce violence (and as Brazil noted, reduce military expenditures) that impedes participation in civic life, restricts the pursuit of educational or economic opportunity, and exacerbates unsustainable ‘footprints,’ we must look beyond the institutional infrastructure most directly relevant to development to those other agencies and capacities that can help to illumine and address key security challenges.  When we do, we would surely also reaffirm the ways in which pursuit of development priorities are, themselves, ‘enablers’ of more secure communities, fewer illicit weapons, a more reliable system for preventing mass atrocities, a resolution to existing negotiating stalemates on nuclear weapons, and other hopeful outcomes.

Even in a time of budget restraint, the UN as a system maintains many security-related capacity options to support successful development outcomes.   “Cross cutting” is as much about infrastructure effectiveness and responsibility as about issues.  As Mary Robinson’s presence in the Open Working Group reinforced, it is possible to appreciate and draw upon resources beyond the most familiar.   As interaction gives way to negotiation, we urge delegations to integrate a more thorough embrace of the ideas and capacity resources of the entire UN system, not only the parts that have ‘development’ imprinted on their mandates.

At the closing of this interactive process, we would like to thank the co-chairs for their hard work in keeping this process on track, as well as to NGLS and others for their good leadership on a wide range of issues pertinent to the work of setting post-2015 goals as well as other members of global civil society that have sought to impact development priorities.

Dr. Robert Zuber