Archive | October, 2014

Blame and Its Consequences, Dr. Robert Zuber

27 Oct

Over many years, I have been literally captivated by hundreds of Security Council meetings.   Even as more and more are available via webcast, the chamber itself remains endlessly interesting.   The body language of presenters; the degree to which diplomats are (or are not) actually paying attention to each other; the odd protocols such as inviting diplomats of states on the Council agenda to sit through votes or statements without allowing them to utter a word in support (or protest) of Council decisions; the ‘personalities’ of Council members, from the stoic pragmatism of the Chinese and mandate-fundamentalism of the Russian Federation to the thoughtfulness of current members such as Argentina and Rwanda, and the ‘moral’ stances so often enumerated by the P-3.

No one who sits in these meetings, day after day, can be confused about at least one facet of their underlying purpose.    Though the audience may be meager, these meetings represent opportunities for states to lobby their peers and the court of public opinion.  Given the branding opportunity for states (as in much of the UN as a whole), there are things you almost never hear: regrets over failed actions and/or policies; apologies to those victimized by bad decisions or for not living up to obligations to the International Criminal Court, Troop Contributing Countries, or other sectors of the organization; acknowledgment of valid points raised by political adversaries; and clear and humble explanations of why policies that seemed to some to be so right at the time (ie. Libya bombings, the re-hatting of CAR peacekeepers) have fallen far short of expectations and may have even triggered more of the violence they were designed to prevent.

The point of this post is not to bash the Council which already gets plenty of criticism from many quarters; none of which, so far as I can tell, has much potential to meaningfully divert Council energies or make members take on tasks they are reluctant to accept.

The point is rather that, in some ironic sense, the branding efforts by these powerful Council members also does not seem to have much power to persuade.  People and states that follow Council meetings on a regular basis remain skeptical of motives and strategies as much as convinced.   With all due respect to the multiple challenges on the Council’s agenda, it is apparent that there is precious little ‘maintaining of peace and security’ at present.  Instead, the Council bounces from one crisis to the next, usually too late in the game to maintain much of anything, and certainly to prevent the crises that are both ruining millions of lives and cluttering up its agenda.  I know this is frustrating to at least some of the Council members.  It is frustrating to watch as well.

It seems as though Council members’ often clumsy efforts to garner public support, whether for Russia’s Crimean adventure, the US’s ISIS bombing campaign, or other policy decisions of Council members are falling more and more on deaf ears.   One primary reason for this seems obvious.  What the global public longs to see (and is frankly losing hope in seeing) is Council members displaying less national branding and more introspection; less political posturing and more sober reflection on how we got to the point of so many insurgencies and refugees worldwide; more about the ways in which the UN is still relevant to the resolution of these crises; and much more regarding changes that need to be (and hopefully will be) made to ensure that the Council can live up to its Charter mandate and not simply reaffirm its privilege to cope with security challenges at its own discretion.

One of the ironies of the recent Council discussions on Ukraine and especially on the Middle East was the number of states urging an end to ‘finger pointing’ and then immediately setting out to point fingers.  At no point in these ‘analyses’ of current situations did any state admit to any responsibility for any part of the dangerous tensions on the Council’s agenda.   The crisis in Syria is solely about ISIS and Assad.   The crisis in Gaza is all about the actions of terrorists (with perhaps a bit of Israeli overstretch). The crisis in Ukraine is all about Russians pouring across still—insufficiently monitored borders.  And on it goes.  Localizing the blame more than sharing the responsibility.

Are these causal factors at all relevant?  Of course they are.  Is the list comprehensive?  Of course it isn’t.   Why is this deliberate limitation of causality not, at least once in a while, part of the conversation? It should not be such a rare and remarkable occurrence for a Council member to acknowledge that they, individually and collectively, had misread the policy ‘tea leaves,’ and thus had compromised one or more member states, either through politicized policymaking or through an unwillingness to engage a crisis at an earlier, more manageable stage.

It dismays many onlookers that a Council which jealously guards its prerogatives in the peace and security area is so very reluctant to accept public responsibility for the many situations in which their actions fail to deliver peace.   The unwillingness to publicly acknowledge these shortcomings actually constitutes a disservice to the most responsible Council members, threatens the credibility of the UN system, and insults both analysts and victims who know that things rarely are as they are described in these meetings.

The Council still rightly maintains the respect of UN members and much of the global public.   But this cannot be taken for granted.  The finger pointing and political blaming that seem by default to fill in gaps in what are often well-crafted and even well-meaning policy statements must give way to a more thoughtful engagement with both the origins and consequences of crisis.

We fully acknowledge the immense degrees of difficulty that accompany the pursuit of consensus policy to address a myriad of ugly challenges around the world.   We also understand that many of these challenges – Libya, Mali, Syria, Central African Republic — are barely, if at all, under any effective control at present.  What we need to see from Council members (what we should also require of ourselves in our own policy contexts) is more thoughtfulness about strengths and limitations, less pointing of fingers at others,  more candid admissions of the ways in which Council members (and the rest of us as well) have contributed to the states and structures burning around us.

The great US theologian Reinhold Niebuhr once remarked that ‘the evils against which we contend are the fruits of illusions similar to our own.’  At a moment of agony for millions, illusions are indulgences we just cannot afford.  A more publicly thoughtful Council, a Council defined by pragmatic, cooperative problem solving, a Council willing to “hold the mirror” inwardly as well as outwardly, would do much to maintain public confidence along the now-epic, arduous path towards a sustainable peace.

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Measuring Stick: Keeping Track of Disarmament Progress

12 Oct

At the opening of the General Assembly First Committee last Tuesday morning, and reinforced at a side event later in the day hosted by New Zealand and with the participation of Mexico, Indonesia and the First Committee Chair, High Commissioner for Disarmament Affairs Angela Kane made several upbeat, and even hopeful statements regarding the possibility of progress in both the machinery and objectives of disarmament affairs.

Two statements struck us as particularly pertinent, the first of which is her quite correct contention that there is an important relationship between progress on disarmament and the successful pursuit of other core UN goals.  This of course requires more dialogue between and amongst the goal setters. During this month, other General Assembly committees as well as the Security Council, UNODC and other agencies are addressing policy on terrorism and foreign fighters, stable and peaceful societies, strengthening the rule of law, rapid response peacekeeping, the trafficking in arms and drugs, and other issues that have important perspectives to contribute to First Committee deliberations.  As we have noted over and over in this blog, relegating disarmament discussions to one GA committee creates temptation to needless reiteration and even robs discussions of some of their urgency.  Aside perhaps from discussions on humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons, the compelling responsibilities to reduce weapons transfers, eliminate needless weapons spending and stop illicit weapons flows are often more keenly felt in these other security-related discussions.

The other intriguing statement by Ms. Kane focused on progress in developing “metrics” to guide and measure progress on the implementation of various disarmament resolutions and treaties. We need, she noted, significantly more in the way of results-based implementation.

Indeed we do. Her emphasis on metrics adds significant value.  We have long argued that, especially in the context of the Programme of Action (PoA) on Small Arms and Light Weapons, more disclosure of successful initiatives and less normative posturing would contribute much to confidence building in conventional weapons – confidence in the quality of interventions generated by the PoA and confidence in the ability of the entire UN system – including its often beleaguered disarmament machinery — to leverage meaningful progress on weapons spending and weapons systems.

But there are issues here as well that require some attention moving forward.  First, we need to maintain clear distinctions between outcomes and impact.   For many years, I ran a food pantry in an East Harlem neighborhood, the objective of which was not to pass out groceries – which we did in large amounts — but to use food security as a lever to enhance the health and participation of the community. That we did not always succeed at this was a failure of skill and stamina, probably mine specifically.   But we never confused full grocery bags with any outcome that was related to the achievement of full and meaningful lives.

Donors in many sectors are increasingly driven by ‘numbers’ which sometimes indicate and sometimes belie impact.  In its recent statement announcing cuts in its contributions to the UN budget, Norway underscored that its preferred development strategy must become driven by metrics that are more about impact than piling up statistics.  While we hope that Norway reconsiders levels of its general contribution to the UN, its point is well taken. The point of diplomatic and capacity support is not activity to generate numbers but meaningful, sustainable progress towards a more peaceful, stable existence for more of the world’s people.

Second, there are dimensions of metrics in this instance that go beyond ticking the boxes of disarmament progress, one of which has to do with a full accounting of stakeholders and responsible parties.   It is important not to horde credit for disarmament progress any more than we should horde information regarding ‘best practices’ on reducing or eliminating the impacts of specific weapons.  With all of the crises we face related to weapons, we must steadfastly resist any temptation to marginalize state and non-state actors willing to help address these challenges.

A potential example of misplaced metrics in this sense is a large and quite attractive display that can now be seen near the Vienna Café in the newly renovated General Assembly building.   The display marks the successful entry into force of the Arms Trade Treaty and is essentially a series of multi-lingual aspirations by government officials and select members of the NGO Control Arms about how the ATT is poised to become a ‘game changer’ when it comes to saving lives at risk from illicit transfers.

Putting aside the excessive claims of treaty impact that so often accompany the ATT sales force, the otherwise welcome display misrepresents – miscounts if you will – the footprint of a single NGO coalition and a handful of “supportive’ states in bringing the ATT into force.   As someone who watched and weighed in for many years as the ATT process took shape, who contributed daily to an ATT Monitor whose impact on the negotiations was considerable at least for some states, and who was in regular contact with NGOs in Geneva and in diverse global regions trying to knock down the ‘gates’ of policy access, I have some sense of how much more this display left out than it included.

In addition, I distinctly recall discussion and negotiating rooms over many years filled with diplomats from states far beyond the handful of (mostly benevolent, enthusiastic, well-meaning) co-sponsors.  Simply put, this treaty could not exist without these states as well and their many hours of deliberative investment. Indeed, from our reading it was the states who raised (what we felt were) often valid concerns, rejecting the easiest and most immediate consensus, that helped make this a better treaty in some significant aspects that it would have been otherwise. As we move beyond entry into force, some of these states (and civil society groups) still need convincing on one or more key points, and these concerns should remain tethered to the Treaty implementation process.

Let me be clear.  GAPW would never agree to be the focal point of any display on any of the issues with which it is concerned.  However, we do recognize that, states have the right to fund NGOs and even to brand them in UN spaces if they so choose.   But in the case of disarmament or any other field of UN activity, such branding comes with a reminder that metrics is more than counting the equivalent of grocery bags – it is also about assisting as best we can in all its aspects related to the building self-sufficient and resilient lives.  And it is about acknowledging to the best of our ability diverse and even essential contributions to complex processes beyond the most obvious and best funded suspects.

Dr. Robert Zuber

Taking temperature, taking stock: Sustaining global efforts to combat endemic (and emerging) diseases

4 Oct

Editor’s note:  This post is written by Karin Perro who is currently finishing up graduate study at John Jay College of the City University of New York.   During her limited time in the UN Security Council, Karin witnessed the Council’s efforts to address the peace and security implications of the Ebola outbreak.  As she notes, however, Ebola is not the only health-related threat to peace and security, or for that matter to the fulfillment of the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals.

Recently, the halls and chambers of the UN have resonated with horror over the growing specter of Ebola in West Africa. And rightly so – the current epidemic poses an urgent health threat to global human security, with the potential to undermine the already fragile economic and democratic vitality of afflicted states. While immediate, heightened efforts to staunch the deadly outbreak are imperative, we must be mindful that the current crisis not overshadow the need for continued vigilance in combating extant endemic diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, and cholera. Such diseases are largely curable with early detection and treatment, yet account for an alarming number of global mortalities, with some estimates attributing over five million deaths annually to endemic pathogens. The transmission of polio virus is on the rise after two decades of near eradication. The Center for Disease Control warns that the polio virus could conceivably paralyzed more than 200,000 children worldwide annually over the next decade if coordinated curtailment measures are not initiated now.

The combination of an insidious persistence of endemic diseases – and the potential for more Ebola-like emerging disease outbreaks – has the potential to undermine the objectives articulated in the Post 2015-Millennium Development Goals. Health is a fundamental human right, and crucial to global security. It needs to be prioritized.

New challenges continue to exacerbate the underlying malaise already stifling international health security. This month’s briefing to the UN by Every Woman, Ever Child (EWEC) noted impressive progress in reducing maternal and infant mortality, with Dr Robert Orr of the UN Executive Office of the Secretary General announcing that the lives of 17 thousand children are saved daily as a direct result of EWEC initiatives. While laudable, such goal attainments might ironically lead to an increase in those populations most susceptible to endemic diseases, and a further taxing of already resource-scarce national health plans. In addition, the disturbing proliferation of armed insurgencies worldwide are creating unrelenting burdens in delivering health care and essential medicines to those suffering in conflict zones.

Access to affordable, essential drugs and vaccines in developing countries is fundamental in combating endemic diseases. Greater political commitment and funding is needed to address the inadequate access to such drugs by undeveloped countries. In addition, many organized criminal networks have redirected their enterprises from the illicit drug trade to marketing in counterfeit drugs that often prove more lucrative. Current anti-counterfeiting policy measures have proven inadequate in stemming the flow of pharmaceutical counterfeits, particularly to developing nations where treatments based on fake essential drugs, such as anti-malarials, imperil the lives of millions in Africa, South East Asia, and parts of Latin America.

As we approach the final adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and initiate their implementation, it is incumbent on all stakeholders to take stock of the current overall global health “temperature” and reconfirm their commitment to their stated goals as they relate to global health security. The focus of the SDGs on eradicating poverty and promoting universal education is inextricably intertwined with the physical health of targeted populations. Poverty and endemic disease are tandem barriers to the overall socio-economic health of developing states, while the success of SDG educational goals are predicated on the physical well being of the communities they aim to serve.

Without adequate support for the prevention, treatment, and control of endemic diseases, malaria-stricken children will be incapable of attending SDG-inspired education programs and initiatives. Women debilitated by tuberculosis will be prevented from participating in community or regional governance in a sustainable and substantive manner. Adults weakened from cholera will be denied the ability to provide economically for their families through newly developed, SDG-inspired employment opportunities. And emergent diseases, conceivably affecting large swaths of regional populations, will only compound the severe obstacles already facing global health objectives.

For the moment, we must divert our energies to suppressing the dire Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The Secretary General’s formation of the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) is a positive step in addressing the current heath crisis. However, with unabated world deforestation and climate shocks, deadly new pathogens will certainly continue to emerge. We need to take proactive steps now to avoid dilatory, reactive attempts at squelching pathogenic wildfires in future. To that end, it is hoped that the recently developed Crisis Response Mechanism of the United Nations will provide an effective framework for predicting and then responding to current and future health crises. At the same time, the Global Health and Security Agenda (GHSA) calls for accelerated progress in combating biological threats, including control and prevention measures, through a five-year implementation plan. But timely and intensified responses are critical. As stated by the Chair of GHSA, “a biological threat anywhere is a biological threat everywhere” and “the consequences of not acting are unfathomable”.  ‘Health keeping’ now rivals the importance of peace keeping in the struggle for global security.

Synergy across sectors (a considerable UN refrain) will be essential in achieving not only SDG health initiatives, but also rapid response strategies to avert future epidemics. Triangular partnerships will need to be forged between governments, the private sector, and civil society. Uneasy alliances will be required linking corporate sponsors and health NGOs. Moving forward, corporate partners must demonstrate transparency in achieving local health objectives consistent with national health priorities. They will need to ensure that their efforts are not predicated on profit bottom lines, and must be open to accountability if their credibility as health actors is to be maintained. ‘Might’ in this instance rarely equates with ‘right’.

Likewise, NGOs must refrain from appropriating bureaucratic, big business practices that can stifle flexibility towards the achievement of urgent health response.  The inclusion of all stakeholders must be real and substantive, not sidelined as merely rhetorical participation. Perhaps most importantly, political will is paramount in avoiding what might be seen as ‘anemic’ responses to global health challenges. Eradicating the ‘ills of the world’, as articulated within the SDGs, could well be undermined by more literal, health-related ills if threats from both endemic and potentially emerging diseases remain inadequately addressed by all relevant stakeholders.

Karin Perro, GAPW Intern