Archive | January, 2015

Rights and Wrongs:  The UN Seeks Discernment for Itself and Lasting Relief for Others Dr. Robert Zuber

25 Jan

This past week at UNHQ witnessed a flurry of interest in the human rights dimensions of the other UN pillars, from post-2015 development to the practice of peace operations and the protection of civilians from armed violence. Much of this activity was informed by the SG’s “Rights up Front” initiative.

On Tuesday The Netherlands sponsored a special Women, Peace and Security event, entitled “Seeking Synergy with the Reviews on Peace Operations and Peacebuilding.”  While there wasn’t much discussion of the review processes themselves, the skilled panel reinforced the need for greater vigilance both in terms of the full participation of women and in terms of how UN operations in the field treat women within their protection and care zones.

On Wednesday at Poland’s “Why have we failed in preventing genocides” event, DSG Eliasson noted the need to transform lessons “we already should have learned” into concerted action, a call that was echoed by others including the US and UK Ambassadors.  For his part, USG Dieng wisely highlighted the current, “scarce institutional investments” in preventive capacity while urging us all to do more to counter prejudice and other ‘triggers’ of mass violence.

On Thursday Switzerland organized a discussion on “human rights at work in peace operations, featuring among others ASG Šimonović and UNSMIL’s Cardone. Panel recommendations were based in part on ample documentary evidence of high level, ‘joint’ discussions that have taken place (and continue) between UNOHCHR and the human rights leadership of diverse peace operations from the DRC to Haiti.

That same day the General Assembly’s Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations (C-34) met for briefings on the important matters of conduct and discipline, as well as ‘protection of civilians’ doctrine.

And on Friday, Lithuania convened an informal Security Council meeting to help solidify the human rights dimensions of Council-authorized peace operations.  It is presumed that this discussion helped to set the bar for the upcoming Security Council debate on the Protection of Civilians scheduled for next Tuesday, January 27.

These discussions and others taking place around the UN are most welcome.  Anyone who believes that the UN system is largely insincere in its attempts to chart a humane and rights-based course for peace operations and peacebuilding is simply not paying sufficient attention.

That said there are, of course, caveats here that need to be explored.  As peace operations become more complex in their mission objectives and robust in their protection mandates, the human rights implications of peace operations grow in complexity as well.  So too, we would argue, does the level of vigilance required to maintain a human rights focus under the most challenging of field circumstances.

One example of this vigilance relates to the ‘intervention brigade’ authorized for the Eastern DRC ostensibly without ‘setting a precedent,’ a capacity which has recently seen an expansion in its focus but with little in the way of a sustained vetting of its limitations and implications for other UN country teams and humanitarian operations. Having witnessed some (welcome) security progress in the Eastern DRC, the government of Mali at a recent Security Council meeting had little apparent compulsion in asking the Council for a ‘brigade’ of its own, a call which is likely to be mimicked further as states wrestle with diverse security, human rights and governance challenges, and as vigilance regarding unintended consequences of such capacities remains elusive.

We have long cautioned against an overly militarized and de-contextualized response to the challenges of insurgency.  Not all insurgent movements are the same; some like the pastoralists roaming the ‘ungoverned’ spaces in northern Mali and border states, are arguably not ‘insurgents’ at all.   There are times when military response might well be appropriate; but for the most part, such responses are too –often a result of a clumsy (at best) process of ‘upstream’ political discernment on the part of the Security Council, as well as of the unwillingness of states facing security challenges to make the changes needed to eliminate discrimination and corruption towards regaining the broadest possible public trust.

In a UN system with its carefully worded Charter mandate for peace and security maintenance, the burden of proof regarding the effectiveness of any military response must reside with its Council authorizers as well as with those states seeking such authorizations.  Such ‘proof’ to our mind is too-often unconvincing or even lacking altogether.

Thankfully, awakenings of political, ‘upstream’ discernment were clearly on display in all of the week’s events where we were present, including the UK’s forceful declaration of need for more ‘early warning’ capacity at the “preventing genocides” event.  More pointedly, it was outgoing USG Haq at the event on peace operations and peacebuilding who reminded the audience that the pursuit of human rights pertains not only to those whom we defend, but to how we behave while defending.

Indeed, if we are not scrupulous about ensuring that our resolutions, response capacities and field conduct uphold our prevention and protection principles, we risk undermining both our own credibility and the dignity of those whom we presume to protect. The admonition by Haq for the UN “to look at itself” and curb its own abuses implies that the UN and its member states can do more to restrict the implementation of response doctrines that inadvertently perpetuate human rights abuse under the guise of eliminating it. We can only urge the full and careful incarnation of such discernment.

New ‘Developments’ in the Council’s Sphere of Concern Dr. Robert Zuber

18 Jan

On Monday January 19, Chile (president of the Security Council for January) will lead Council members and other state representatives in a debate on Inclusive development for the maintenance of international peace and security.  It is anticipated that the Secretary-General will brief the Council as will Peacebuilding Commission President, Amb. Antonio de Aguiar Patriota (Brazil), and 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Leymah Gbowee.

In preparation for the debate, Chile prepared and distributed a fine Concept Note that provided a rationale for Council deliberations on this important linkage at this critical time.  Indeed, consistent with Chile’s competent and comprehensive grasp of security issues, the Note squarely hit a number of high points, including a focus on women’s participation in all aspects of peacebuilding, a reaffirmation of the primacy of states in the prevention of conflict, and a clear signal of Council recognition regarding the corrosive influence of “exclusion” on efforts to preserve peace and security. Highlighting  contributions to these sorts of discussions from the 2010 Dili Declaration was also most appropriate.

From our standpoint, perhaps the most important affirmation in the Concept Note highlighted the role of armed conflict as an obstacle to development, noting its potential to destroy “the political, social, economic and cultural fabric of societies.”   Indeed, the impacts of armed violence on all dimensions of development – including environmental protection – are staggering.  This is in part what seems to be motivating so many in the development community to advocate for a ‘peace goal’ within the post-2015 framework as highlighted in, among other publications, WFUNA’s latest issue of Acronym.

In addition, as noted in our own forthcoming publication with Mexico’s Instituto Mora, in sectors of Latin America and other global settings the reverse is also the case – poverty, discrimination and broken development commitments exacerbating trafficking in narcotics, persons and weapons, all of which undermine social cohesion at many levels.   This ‘violence’ might not rise to the level of ‘armed conflict’ that triggers direct Council response, but its exacerbating characteristics are clear and compelling, precisely what Chile’s admonition to pursue more robust ‘early warning’ mechanisms should motivate us all to address more actively.

As usual, we will be in the Council on the 19th listening attentively to member state concerns, and there surely be many, from suggestions of enhanced linkages to concerns about Council over-reach.   We share these and other concerns.   Regarding linkages, there are few examples of Council engagement as ‘ripe’ for recognition of complementary efforts as this one.  Indeed, during the time of this Council debate, the GA will be meeting on stocktaking in the process of intergovernmental negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda.  The Disarmament Commission (not noted for its wide-ranging commitment to UN system complementarity) will also meet during this time to discuss its April session goals.   Moreover, the coming week is full of relevant side-events, including a Netherlands-sponsored event on Women, Peace and Security, “Seeking Synergy with the Reviews on Peace Operations and Peacebuilding.”

While recognizing that the Council is not structured to be a ‘bulletin board’ of overlapping events, the failure of the Concept Note to make more specific mention of the timely and far-reaching efforts by the UN system to harmonize the development and security pillars seems needlessly negligent to us.   The Concept Note does mention the work of the Peacebuilding Commission, and certainly with good reason. But given recent, dramatic, systemic efforts on post-2015 goals and growing, global concerns about security relationships (with or without support for a stand-alone ‘peace goal’), it would have been wise for the Note to have been more generous in its complementary recognitions, especially given the ‘downstream’ nature of much PBC activity and the compelling ‘upstream’ mood characteristic of so many post-2015 discussions.

And this leads to our second point, that the failure to recognize these other, active agents of change on security and development reinforces for some a concern that the Council still has not yet satisfied its ‘appetite’ for the control of thematic interests more skillfully engaged elsewhere in the system.  We have commented many times on why an expanding Council understanding of peace and security responsibilities must come attached to more humble and accountable ‘seizings’ coupled with a robust and generous recognition of related work taking place elsewhere in the UN system.   We strongly urge member states during Monday’s debate to offer this recognition at every relevant opportunity.

The Council simply must learn to better engage issues of interest without appearing to control policy outcomes or undermine colleagues active in other parts of the UN system.  As it rightly prepares for security-related challenges posed by development inadequacies and outright failures, the Council still has a small ‘development’ issue of its own to deal with.

Boko Haram: What is to be Done? – Professor Hussein Solomon

18 Jan

Editor’s Note:  Hussein Solomon, a longtime friend of GAPW, is a sensitive, nuanced, highly-respected commentator regarding many of the current mis-steps in African counter-terrorism policy, including an over-reliance on decontextualized military ‘solutions.’  This piece on the grave situation currently unfolding in Nigeria, Cameroon and neighboring states originally appeared as a policy paper of Research on Islam and Muslims in Africa

Even by Boko Haram’s own depraved standards, this month’s attacks by the Islamist group have gone beyond the pale. In one case, a woman in labour was shot dead. In another, a ten year-old girl was strapped with explosives and used as a human detonator in a crowded market[1]. Beyond the brutality of the terrorist atrocities committed is the sheer scale of the attack. In the case of the most recent attack on Baga, where 2,000 civilians were killed according to Amnesty International, heavily armed Boko Haram fighters arrived in trucks and motorcycles[2]. Following an initial attack with grenade launchers on the hapless citizens, survivors of the initial assault fled into the forest only to be gunned down by other Boko Haram fighters on motorcycles. The savagery of the assaults has even motivated the moribund African Union (AU) to act – calling for an AU force to intervene and defeat the insurgents[3].

I am convinced that Abubaker Shekau and his Boko Haram terrorists can be defeated. But what would a strategy of victory look like? First, is the issue of regional and international co-operation. Boko Haram is not only a Nigerian problem but a transnational one – consisting of fighters from as far away as Libya and Somalia[4]as well as having ties with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Somalia’s Al Shabaab (The Youth), the Movement for Unity and Oneness in West Africa and Mali’s Ansar Dine (Defenders of the Faith). Moreover, there is a discernible Boko Haram presence in Chad, Cameroon, Mali, and Niger. Currently each of these countries is trying to unilaterally take on Boko Haram. Whilst some successes have been achieved, for example, when Cameroon’s military killed 143 Boko Haram fighters after they attacked the Cameroonian military camp in Kolofata[5]; it is clear that neighbouring states need to think along the lines of joint military operations, sharing intelligence, coordinating border crossings, as well as starving Boko Haram of its financial resources emanating locally and abroad to conducts its terror campaign. The latter would necessarily entail greater help rendered to these states by the West as well as the UN’s Counter-Terrorism Committee.

Second, three caveats are important when discussing the employment of military force. In the first instance, the employment of force should not be at the expense of the political and developmental responses to counterterrorism. Rather the military should complement these other legs of a holistic counterterrorism strategy. In the second instance, where force is deployed it should take on board the African context. The focal point of African armies should be highly mobile 600 troop battalions as opposed to bigger brigades of 3,000 troops or a corps of 10,000 troops. This would allow for a more flexible force more in keeping with the counter-insurgency battle they have to wage. Finally, such a military force should take cognisance of the plethora of local militia groups which have sprung up amongst local communities in an effort to protect themselves from the ravages of Boko Haram. These could be useful force multipliers and working relationship could be established between the intervention force and these militia groups. Moreover, the intervention force could also provide training to these groups in the face of a common enemy.

Third, as any medical practitioner knows, prevention is better than cure. Whilst a military solution is needed in the short term, the underlying extremist ideology driving Boko Haram must also be addressed. Radicalisation among Nigeria’s Muslims is also growing[6] apace as a result of the internet and jihadi chat forums.[7] Boko Haram’s founder – Mohammed Yusuf – himself was a trained Salafist (a school of thought associated with jihad and the austere Saudi tradition of Islam known as Wahhabism).[8] Yusuf was also a great admirer of fourteenth century jihad ideologue, Ibn Taymiyyah.[9] Yet the government has done little to curb the spread of radical Islamism. This is surprising considering that the group seeks to convert Nigeria into a Muslim Wahhabist state[10] and the fact that it recruits from the Ibn Taymiyyah network of schools that Yusuf had set up.[11] This, in turn, also contributed to the difficulty that the state’s intelligence apparatus had in penetrating Boko Haram: recruitment seems to be taking place among disciples of a particular religious leader in a particular area.[12] These bonds of loyalty between disciple and religious leader are notoriously difficult to break.

Fourth, counterterrorism efforts are hobbled by the incapacity of the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) to gather intelligence and undertake scientific investigations. According to Amnesty International, most police stations do not document their work. There is no database for fingerprints, no systematic forensic investigation methodology, only two forensic laboratory facilities, few trained forensic staff and insufficient budgets for investigations.[13] Under the circumstances police tend to rely on confessions, which form 60 per cent of all prosecutions.[14] However, it often appears that such confessions are extracted under torture. In the process the guilty often escape punishment while the innocent suffer. In terrorism cases, it means that despite the multitude of arrests of alleged Boko Haram members and sympathisers, it hardly impacts on the sect’s endurance and capacity to carry out fresh atrocities. In addition, corruption within the NPF is rampant,[15] further undermining counterterrorism initiatives.

Such corruption has also become endemic within the Nigerian armed forces, resulting in widespread demoralisation and at least two mutinies in 2014 by soldiers against their commanding officers. While Nigeria’s armed forces are allocated US$6 billion of the annual budget, this hardly benefits the ordinary Nigerian soldier whose monthly pay was suddenly halved to 20,000 Nigerian naira (approximately US$130) in July 2014.[16] Ordinary soldiers have to go into battle against Boko Haram rockets and mortar rounds, in ‘soft’ Hilux trucks, since the money for armoured personnel carriers inexplicably dried up. In addition, each soldier engaging in frontline duty is supposed to receive a 1,500 Nigerian naira daily allowance and food is to be provided. However, this allowance does not get to them and often, neither does the food. Under the circumstances, desertions are increasing.[17] Worse still, soldiers accuse their superiors of leaking their plans and movements to Boko Haram in exchange for payment. In May 2014, 12 soldiers were killed in an ambush in Borno state. Angered by what they perceived as plans leaked to Boko Haram, the remaining soldiers returned to base and turned their guns against their commanding officer.[18] This situation cannot be allowed to continue if one wants to seriously end Boko Haram terrorism.

Fifth, counterterrorism efforts are also proving counterproductive because of the brutality unleashed by the security forces – in the process, losing hearts and minds. The Joint Military Task Force (JTF) in Borno State, for instance, has resorted to unlawful killings, dragnet arrests and extortion and intimidation of the hapless residents of Borno. Far from intelligence-driven operations, the JTF simply cordoned off areas and carried out house to house searches, at times shooting young men in these homes.[19] Similar tactics were pursued by the JTF at homes searched in the Kaleri Ngomari Custain area in Maiduguri on 9 July 2011. Twenty-five people were shot dead by security services, women and children were beaten, homes were burnt and many more boys and men were reported missing.[20] Such excesses on the part of the security services can only contribute to the further alienation of citizens from the state and its security forces – something that Abuja can ill afford. This situation is compounded by the fact that the Nigerian soldiers and police patrolling in northern states are national, not local, and therefore are unlikely to share either ethnic or cultural backgrounds with the local population[21] who view themselves as being under siege in an occupation by `foreign forces’.

Sixth, counterterrorism efforts fail as they do not recognise the wider context – the potential assets that extremists groups have at their disposal. A case in point is the existence of armed gangs throughout northern Nigeria. These number in their thousands and include such gangs as the Almajirai, Yan Tauri, Yan Daba, Yan Banga, and Yan Dauka Amariya. These gangs provide a ready pool of recruits for extremists.[22] The authorities therefore need to neutralise these armed groups as part of the broader fight against Boko Haram.

Finally, counterterrorism efforts suffer as a result of the credibility gap between promise and performance, rhetoric and reality. While promising to curb or eradicate the scourge of terrorism, government actions do not seem to reflect this urgency. As Abimbola Adesoji has reflected, ‘… the government response to Islamic fundamentalism seems neither adequate nor enduring. The prompt trial of arrested culprits, bold and firm implementation of previous commission reports, and a more devoted handling of security reports and armed gangs, as well as better handling of known flash points and hot spots, would, in addition to serving as a deterrent, portray the government as a responsible and a responsive body.[23] Unfortunately none of this has occurred.

This is a failure both at the political level and at the level of the security forces. Political mandarins have failed to adequately arm their security services or provide sufficient funds to engage in long-term intelligence operations to penetrate Islamist organisations in the country. Nigeria’s federal structure has unfortunately contributed to the poor coordination among the different security organisations. This is further exacerbated by, ‘…the inability of state governors as the chief security officers of their states to control the security forces, which are under the control of the federal government.[24]

There are however, failures on the part of the security services as well. The skill sets of those in the Nigerian intelligence community do not provide an adequate ‘fit’ to the challenges posed by sects like Boko Haram. Indeed most of those in the intelligence community seem to have a background in VIP protection – the protection of senior political officeholders – as opposed to intelligence proper.[25] A consequence of the lack of skill sets was evident in December 2011in the northern city of Kano, when security police were keeping the home of a suspected militant, Mohammed Aliyu, under surveillance. Arriving at his home, Aliyu immediately realised that his home was under surveillance and called members of his sect. Within minutes they drove up in three vehicles and fatally shot three undercover police officers.[26]

In addition, there is the on-going problem of nepotism within the security services – people being appointed on the basis of who they know as opposed to what they know. Agekameh[27] captured the sorry state of Nigerian security services by noting that, ‘Standards have fallen due to political partisanship. People now occupy sensitive positions in the security agencies not because of their ability to perform, but because they are either from one geographical location, simply wield some influence or know some people at the top who will nurture their career. The twin evil of godfatherism and favouritism has eaten deep into the entire gamut of the security agencies. Sycophancy rather than professionalism has been elevated as the most important criterion for career advancement.’

These failures help to explain why Nigerian security services were caught unprepared when Boko Haram made its vicious appearance on the scene. The fight against Boko Haram will therefore be a long one but it can be won with the requisite political will garnered to fix these problems and in the process protecting the innocent from the scourge of terrorism.

[1] Barbie Latza Nadeau, “Nigeria is Letting Boko Haram Get Away with Murder,” The Daily Beast, 13 January 2015. Internet:http://www.thedailybeat.com/articles/2015/01/13/nigeria-is-letting-boko-haram-get-away-with-murder.html. Date accessed: 15 January 2015.

[2] “Boko Haram may have killed up to 2,000 people in Nigeria: Amnesty International,” IBN Live. 15 January 2015. Internet: http://ibnlive.in.com/news/boko-haram-may-have-killed-up-to-2000-people-in-nigeria-amnesty-international/522297-2.html. Date accessed: 15 January 2015.

[3] “South Africa warned against fighting Boko Haram in Nigeria,” News 24, 15 January 2015. Internet: http://www.news24.com/Africa/News/SA-warned-against-fighting-Boko-Haram-in-Nigeria-20150114-2. Date accessed: 15 January 2015.

[4] Will McBain, “Nigeria plays down Baga bloodbath,” Mail and Guardian, 16-22 January 2015, p. 11.

[5] Krishnadev Calamur, “143 Boko Haram fighters Killed in Clashes with Cameroon’s Military,” NPR, 13 January 2015. Internet: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2015/01/13/376963249/143-boko-haram-fighters-killed-in-clashes-cameroons-military. Date accessed: 15 January 2015.

[6] Zalan Kira, ‘Assessing Terror Threats’ US News Digital Weekly, 3, 49, 9 December 2011, p. 10.

[7] Abimbola O Adesoji, ‘Between Maitatsane and Boko Haram: Islamic Fundamentalism and the Response of the Nigerian State’, Africa Today, 57, 4, 2010b, pp. 99-100.

[8] Toni Johnson, ‘Boko Haram,’ Council on Foreign Relations. 27 December 2011, <http://www.cfr.org/africa/boko-haram/p25739.&gt; (Accessed 21 January 2012), pp. 1-2.

[9] Ibid., p. 2.

[10] Ioannis Mantzikos, ‘The Absence of the State in Northern Nigeria: The Case of Boko Haram’, African Renaissance, 7, 1, 2010, p. 61.

[11] Ibid., p. 58.

[12]Abimbola O Adesoji, ‘Between Maitatsane and Boko Haram: Islamic Fundamentalism and the Response of the Nigerian State’, Africa Today, 57, 4, 2010b, p. 101.

[13] Amnesty International, Nigeria: Human Rights Agenda 2011-2015. London: Amnesty International, 2011, p. 8.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid., p. 9.

[16] Monica Mark, ‘Uphill battle for Nigeria’s ailing army’, Mail and Guardian, 30, 31, 1-7 August 2014, p. 19.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Amnesty International, Nigeria: Human Rights Agenda 2011-2015. London: Amnesty International, 2011, p. 30.

[20] Ibid.

[21] ‘Boko Haram: Nigeria’s growing new headache’, Strategic Comments, 17. International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), November 2011, <http://www.iiss.org/publication/strategic-comments/past-issues/volume-17-2011/nov.&gt;, (Accessed 9 January 2012).

[22] Abimbola O Adesoji, ‘Between Maitatsane and Boko Haram: Islamic Fundamentalism and the Response of the Nigerian State’, Africa Today, 57, 4, 2010b, pp. 112-113.

[23]Abimbola O Adesoji, ‘Between Maitatsane and Boko Haram: Islamic Fundamentalism and the Response of the Nigerian State’, Africa Today, 57, 4, 2010b, p. 100.

[24] Ibid., p. 114.

[25] Ibid., p. 114.

[26]David Smith, ‘Boko Haram suspects held after Nigerian shootout’, The Guardian, 19 December 2011, <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/dec/19/boko-haram-suspects-nigeria-shootout?newsfeed=true&gt; (Accessed 28 January 2012), p. 1.

[27] Omede  J Apeh, ‘Nigeria: Analysing the Security Challenges of the Goodluck Jonathan Administration’ Canadian Social Science, 7, 5, 2011, p. 94.

An Island Nation Prepares for its Next Invasion: Dr. Robert Zuber

12 Jan

The sudden and dramatic announcement by the Obama Administration of a ‘thaw’ in the lengthy chill in relations between the US and one of its nearest neighbors was welcomed by many in the policy community, especially its ‘left-leaning’ wing.

Certainly there is cause for relief if not for outright celebration.   The decades-long embargo with its origins in Cold War security concerns, an embargo not supported by most of the rest of the international community, has long-since ceased to create political or economic value for either of the two countries most directly involved.

But just as melting ice caps endanger island states, this ‘thaw’ also raises caution flags.   While the Obama decision seemed to catch many off guard, there is plenty of reason to believe that US corporate titans have had contingency plans in place for some time, ready for the opportunity to expand operations on an island deemed ‘ripe’ for consumption beyond the state-sanctioned, limited economic interactions with tourists already appearing from Europe and other ‘friendly’ states.

As one of our visiting fellows, Dr. Megan Daigle, noted informally, there is a real danger that the promise of increased quality of life and political will for “ordinary” Cubans will be swept away in the “invasion” which this change in policy likely forecasts.  As of this writing, there has been no indication that the US travel embargo will be completely lifted, so there will be at least some delay in the expected mad dash of US tourists.  And as our fellow also indicated, there is already foreign investment in Cuba from European companies though, thus far, the Cuban government has maintained 51% ownership of all joint ventures.  If the state maintains some vague semblance of that policy, it might have a chance of holding on and directing the growth themselves. But prospects for expanded growth will likely energize a political opposition that has been numerically small and geographically scattered, but could soon gain many sympathizers, especially if the government is seen as actively suppressing newly-‘thawed’ economic aspirations.

We rarely use this blog space to comment on the evolution of bilateral arrangements.  But this ‘thaw’ has economic, social and even security implications beyond Cuba and the US.   The fact that the US is now ‘ready’ to move on normalized relations does not mean that the Cubans themselves are sufficiently prepared for what is to come.  Cuba will surely need some space — and assistance as well — to determine the levels of cultural and economic interventions it is able (or willing) to reasonably assimilate.

There are diverse and even hopeful opportunities here to be sure, but managing them sustainably will require a mix of vigilance, restraint and bold thinking.   Hopefully part of this ‘thaw’ will involve a return for many Cubans who had taken their talents elsewhere, though there is certainly a danger of a new social schism as ex-pats seek to reclaim property long since ‘redistributed’ to locals by the government.

The processes emanating from this ‘thaw’ are ones that should sustain our collective policy interest. Let’s see if the ‘thaw’ reveals instincts to reconciliation and not simply to profit.  Let’s see if a generation of government leaders committed primarily to protection of its citizens from the demons of “US imperialism” can make the transition to a more nuanced, participation-based control.  Let’s see which aspects of government management of national assets can survive new waves of aggressive investors.  Let’s see if many locals currently with more resourcefulness than tangible assets can avoid becoming victimized by a new potential iteration of the economically marginalized.   Let’s see how levels of political participation, especially for younger Cubans, are permitted to change across the country.  Let’s see if environmental protection can survive a construction boom.  Let’s see how many mistakes made by western economies the Cubans can find ways to avoid.

And let’s see if the UN is willing and able to offer and sustain full-spectrum services to keep the “thaw” from setting off a tsunami of bitterness, greed and broken promises. This is a test of the UN system’s ability to help manage state transitions across a spectrum of interests and concerns.  And Cuba is clearly now ‘officially’ a state in transition.   Whether that transition results in more fairness or more predation is partially in the UN’s hands, whether the UN wants it there or not.

The Cubans have a long legacy of competent, hard-nosed diplomats in New York.  Getting some of the most appropriate UN agencies more deeply involved in managing the social and economic impacts of the ‘thaw’ might require a ‘softer’ competence.   In any event, we wish all parties attentiveness and sensitivity in finding the right policy balances so that this long-overdue promise of ‘thaw’ can result in positive, tangible, sustainable consequences for Cuba’s people.