Archive | February, 2015

Renewing Vows: The Security Council’s Marriage of Convenience, Dr. Robert Zuber

28 Feb

Last Monday, under China’s presidency, the UN Security Council held a most welcome general debate inviting states to “reflect on history and reaffirm the strong commitment to the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.” Representation in the room was quite robust with a number of Foreign Ministers having made the trip to New York to reflect on their national responsibilities to the UN’s multi-lateral framework.

The debate itself was a mixed bag as one might expect.  Some states used the occasion to recommit to what they understood to be the core principles of the UN Charter.  Others took advantage of the opportunity to remind the Council that, in the eyes of some states, the current system of maintaining peace and security is still uneven, unrepresentative, even politically biased. Still others used the occasion to point fingers at states (mostly at Russia on Ukraine) that they believed were gravely undermining the most important of Charter principles.

A few states were even in the mood to talk a bit of reform. One of the ideas raised by several delegations, including some Council members, was in support of the French proposal for ‘voluntary restraint’ on the use of the veto in cases where mass atrocities have been determined. This idea has been growing in popularity, especially among certain NGOs focusing on atrocity crime response.

We have written about this idea previously and mostly cautiously.   In our view, there are conditions for such voluntary restraint that should be honored if the proposed change is to solve more problems than it creates.   The primary conditions for restraint are a more horizontal Council power structure that is less inclined to ‘politicize’ findings from UN officials tasked with monitoring the potential for mass violence. There is also need for greater Council willingness to “work and play” better with other UN agencies responsible for diverse aspects of violence prevention.

While listening to the Charter debate, another wrinkle on “conditionalities” came to mind.  This ‘condition’ was courtesy of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of New Zealand, a delegation that we greatly respect but where, in this instance, there seemed to be an attempt to ‘pair off’ two principles that probably need a bit more time to sort out their individual business.

For New Zealand (as for Spain and others) priorities were joined that really don’t seem ready to ‘marry’ each other, despite pressure from the relatives.  The most welcome priority is to get the Council more involved in supporting other UN efforts focused on the preventive side of conflict – heeding early warning and working more closely with other UN capacities devoted to mediation and other preventive tools.  The other is related to veto restraint, which is touted as a solution to difficult, “gridlock” situations like Syria and comes from an urgent desire both to save lives and to protect the reputation of the UN and its partner institutions.

Unfortunately, the discussion on restraint comes attached neither to carefully verbalized conditions nor to a helpful overview of the Council’s coercive measures now underway despite the presence of the veto in a manner, perhaps unfortunately if not inconveniently, consistent with the Charter.

For instance, the current “lack” of veto restraint has not impeded what a number of states see as the Council’s over-reliance on coercive peacekeeping operations to solve international problems. It did not prevent the ongoing carnage in Libya traceable in part to implementation of SCR 1973.  It has not prevented the (mostly ineffective to date) bombing raids against ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq, nor the imposition of US/EU sanctions against Russia.  It has not impeded French military exercises in support of threatened governments in Mali or CAR.  It has not prevented Council endorsement of the still-somewhat-dubious Force Intervention Brigade in the DRC.

Indeed, if there are lessons to be learned here, it is that the veto is used relatively sparingly (though it is threatened more often), and that it is generally used (or threatened) in the most coercive contexts – sanctions and militarized responses.   Spain’s important messaging on mediation capacity might be insufficiently heeded, but it is not vetoed.  Early warnings from the Joint Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect might be tossed into a metaphorical drawer until a full-blown crisis erupts, but neither are these findings candidates for veto.

And it is not at all clear to us, in a situation characterized by voluntary veto restraint, how the Council’s actions on Syria (the poster child for such restraint) would be so very different.   What would the Council be advocating now on Syria that is distinguishable from its current practice?  How much of that ‘difference’ would be military in nature?  And why do we think that military activity directed at Syria would produce peace and security outcomes less like Libya and more like Sierra Leone?  If these questions have answers, they would help make the case for veto restraint.  If they cannot be answered then we should be careful advocating a step that might well satisfy our need to ‘do something’ more than it clarifies what needs to be done, when action is needed, and how we should respond.

During Monday’s Charter debate, the US made what might have been a ‘slip’ during its statement, though it was a telling one – citing the Council’s ‘restoration’ responsibility alongside its maintenance function.   ‘Restoration’ of course is not specifically a Charter-mandated activity of the Council, though the term accurately describes much of current Council practice – fighting raging fires while accusing other states of ‘arson,’ rather than responding in a timely manner to smoke warnings.   We recognize that much about any Council assessment is related to our own expectations; how we judge is in large measure a function of our assessment of capability and culpability.   But we feel that the amount of institutional energy put into ‘restoration’ of conflict settings that the UN system could surely have done more to prevent in the first instance is a most sobering thought, one that, in our view, does not yet recommend veto restraint.

Our fear is that, without addressing the larger concerns related to Council working methods, veto restraint represents permission for downstream “business as usual” to continue or even grow.   Indeed, there is reason to believe that the preventive architecture that the New Zealand Foreign Minister rightly advocated would become even less likely in situations where the international community, and specifically its permanent members, didn’t have to make their full (and hopefully even non-political) case for recourse to coercive measures.

Despite some welcome changes in transparency, in large part motivated through more vigorous involvement by non-permanent members, an ‘unrestrained’ Council still acts too often (and too coercively) without sufficient discernment regarding longer-term security implications or the need for engaged consultations with its many UN partners.  We aren’t anxious to have those temptations magnified.

A Health Regimen for Peacekeeping Operations:   Becoming “Fit” for Purpose, Dr. Robert Zuber

22 Feb

One of the exxiting things about working with GAPW is having access to so many persons, some still  a bit too far off the UN’s radar, who are thinking and sharing ideas that can help ‘get into shape’ our guiding norms and strategies of implementation.

Recently, we received reflections from Paul Okumu of Africa Platform ( which he recently shared at an African event intended to contribute to the UN’s peacekeeping review initiated by the UN Secretary General.  In his “We the Peoples: Will Civilians Triumph in Latest Review of UN Peacekeeping Operations,” Okumu wonders if this review will “deliver anything new” or end up as one of the “many reports that drown every year?” Many others are inclined to wonder the same, including those of us who highly honor peacekeepers and greatly respect the work of DPKO.

Okumu registers other noteworthy assessments of existing peacekeeping operations at the same time that he affirms the central role that PKOs should be (and sometimes are) playing with regard to the protection of civilians. Perhaps the best of these refer to the “elite bargains and quick elections” that constitute the UN’s “beaten path” to address threats of violence, a path that too easily compromises both conflict prevention and civilian protection which Okumu (and many others) consider to be core objectives of UN practice.  As we have noted often ourselves, peacekeeping is in danger of being discredited (and even of placing other UN staff in danger) the moment it is seen as a militarily ‘partisan’ substitute for robust diplomatic engagement to prevent violent conflict, a ‘substitute’ now tasked with managing the complex carnage left in the wake of our diplomatic inadequacies.

Okumu also points out the extent to which peacemaking and peacebuilding are being taken up, each and every day, by community residents, leaders of civil society, and other stakeholders.  We act, he notes, as though civilians are only the beneficiaries of our peacekeeping largesse but are not also and increasingly the drivers of sustainable peace.  Why, Okumu wonders, do PKOs so often ignore “the power of citizen-led mediation, the power of citizen mobilization?”  As peacekeeping mandates become more and more complex, and as we default too quickly to militarized responses to problems that should have been addressed at earlier stages, ignoring relevant local capacities is questionable practice. We have allowed ourselves to become too much in the business of ‘restoring’ the peace rather than maintaining it in the first place, and then attempting this restoration with far too many skills neglected on the sidelines.

Of course, the view of PKOs from UN headquarters, especially at this moment as the GA’s Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations (C-34) deliberates on its own contributions to peacekeeping doctrine and practice, is a bit different from Paul’s in Nairobi.  He asked GAPW to reflect on some of the gaps in his paper.  There are no gaps to speak of, but perhaps some different points of emphasis.

First of all, we have to be careful insisting on more robust civilian protection measures without also insisting that the best ‘protection’ lies in prevention.   Once the house is fully in flames, options for more carefully crafted, humane response become more limited.   As Paul knows well and as some inside the UN articulate often, attention to the ‘drivers’ of conflict, including poverty, discrimination and environmental decay, are far less expensive in energy, money and lives than our seemingly endless efforts to restore destroyed infrastructure, broken lives and failed states from armed violence that probably didn’t need to occur in the first place.

Secondly, at the same time that many acknowledge stubborn limitations (albeit fixable) in peacekeeping training, in timely deployment, in logistical support, and in ready availability of highly skilled peacekeepers, we continue to heap more and more responsibility on peacekeeping operations.   This policy is a bit like asking nurses in an overstretched urban hospital to perform emergency surgery, counsel distraught families, clean messy hospital rooms and cook ‘special’ meals for sick patients.   It’s hard enough just being a nurse.   It’s hard enough being peacekeepers encountering deadly violence from actors in a culture not their own, while also being asked to monitor elections, counter terrorism, restore legal institutions and rebuild infrastructure – and all this while attempting to protect both civilians and the physical integrity of related UN operations.   Peacekeepers should never become the ‘secretaries’ on whom bosses can dump piles of confusing paperwork and other responsibilities for which they are still largely unprepared.  And real-life secretaries rarely, if ever, have entire human communities that they are obligated by mandate to protect.

Finally, it is essential to re-attach the business of “keeping the peace” to other UN business – eliminating poverty and other inequalities, ending impunity for gender based violence and human rights abuse, and many other responsibilities consistent with the three “pillars” of UN policy.  As there are assets “in the field” that could more fully be incorporated into a spectrum of peacekeeping activities, there are also assets at UN headquarters that should be energized and encouraged to contribute to a world where peacekeepers are not needed so very often.  The pillars, after all, are intended to identify with a full-fledged system of global governance, not with a series of discrete (and often distracted) policy offices.

Whatever “Health Regimen’ for PKOs arises from ongoing C-34 discussions and the SG-mandated review, it must insist on open and expansive access while affirming that ‘health’ is a fully systemic endeavor not given to restrictive obsessions over one or another part of the ‘body.’  If conflict prevention and civilian protection are to fully emerge as cardinal principles of UN response, that response deserves comprehensive, careful policy attention system-wide.   Such response must leave no relevant stakeholder behind, either as agents of conflict prevention or as recovering victims of operations that have become too complex and too militarized to protect the peace long-term. We must do more, consistently and respectfully, to encourage Council members and other policy leaders to interpret robust, militarized ‘protection’ mandates, not so much as a triumph of multilateral consensus but as more of a collective failure of preventive discipline.

Values Clarification:  Fixing Terror, Facing Ourselves. Dr. Robert Zuber

15 Feb

On February 10, under Lithuania’s leadership, the Security Council held an important discussion, “The Importance of the Rule of Law in Countering the Current Terrorist Threat,” pursuant to SC Resolution 1373. The event featured the presence of France’s Minister of Justice, HE Christiane Taubira and Deputy Secretary General Eliasson.

The event also highlighted some fundamental truths, one of which was in the form of a welcome reminder from Minister Taubira not to allow threats of terror to motivate us to ‘abandon our values’ and ‘restrict our freedoms.’

Of course, a review of our recent history suggests that this is easier said than done. It was DSG Eliasson who urged that we not accept the prospect of societies living in fear.  He surely understands the degree to which fear paralyzes thoughtful action; but also the degree to which it impedes the implementation of a sound, balanced security policy. Fear tends to remain riveted on its source – imagined or real – leaving little inclination to self-reflection. It tends to produce morality plays with good guys and evil doers, not comprehensive analyses of threats, causes and consequences.

For her part, Minister Taubira rightly reminded the audience that ‘decent institutions humiliate no one.’ However, especially in the current psychological climate, it would be a considerable, if inconvenient stretch to suggest that the institutions committed to addressing threats of terror in the world have themselves achieved this high benchmark.

While countering their values of ‘brutality,’ as the UK and others frequently ascribe to ISIS and Boko Haram, we need to do more than identify and address the ‘loneliness,’ ‘social isolation,’ and other factors that we seem to have concluded are the primary pathways to extremist ideology. Other, less comforting pathways are tethered to our own, long, collective history of inflicting humiliation and economic subjugation on one another, a history that we are thankfully doing much to address, but not yet in full measure.  We still make (and sell) too many weapons, pollute large swaths of our oceans and waterways, ignore the rights of the disabled and other marginalized persons, and persist in economic policies that, as Romania’s Amb. Miculescu, Chair of the recently concluded Commission on Social Development noted, are addicted to ‘growth models’ that compromise efforts to address poverty, climate health, inequality, discrimination and other persistent social ills.  Few of these global threats, if any, can be neatly packaged and then dropped off at the doors of the terrorists.

Nothing justifies the brutalities of Boko Haram and other groups.  Nothing.  We don’t have to change much in ourselves to fully acknowledge that reality.  We might, however, need to change a bit further in order to find a sustainable solution to the fear and carnage that such brutalities engender.

In the end, it might not be too much more complicated than adopting a somewhat sophisticated application of two the west’s most enduring value formulations—“doing unto others as we would have them do unto us,” and “to whom much is given, much is expected.” The focus here, of course, is on the doing, not on the branding.   It’s about specific commitments to build the kind of world that terror cannot easily undermine, a world in which there are more winners, less hypocrisy, less bitterness. During the Feb. 10 discussion, Malaysia suggested that terrorism, like climate change, affects us all.  We might add that much like climate change, the roots of terror are inclusive of many factors and agents, certainly more inclusive than a collection of bad guys with black hoods, sharp knives and stolen mortar canons.

On Feb. 12, the Security Council passed resolution 2199 that increases pressure needed to dry up terrorist sources of funds.  This is a welcome step, but as the Council itself recognizes, it is well short of that elusive, final resolution of the terror challenge. Indeed, DSG Eliasson reminded us that there likely is no “universal solution” to terror threats. He urged diplomats working on such threats to commit to practice both cooperation and attention to context. Indeed, Lithuania’s Amb. Murmokaité and colleagues recently embarked on what was hopefully a context-refreshing trip to Niger and Mali. Such visits can only help craft policies that effectively address both threats of terror and the vast and growing social voids left in their wake.

But part of honoring ‘context’ involves fidelity to the‘doing unto others’ values that we need to practice more than espouse, values that become harder for insurgents to ‘dismiss’ as their potency in the world becomes more apparent. Such values include refraining from activities that might well be deemed humiliating by others; upholding ‘rule of law’ standards ourselves that we insist on for the rest of the world; addressing inequalities across borders and not simply within our own; and rooting out the corruption and institutionalized self-interest that undermines trust in government, thereby needlessly blurring the lines separating legitimate authority and illegitimate insurgency.

These are large and complex matters that continue to challenge the policies and values of global governance.  It is unlikely that we can effectively ‘bomb’ our way out of our terror dilemma, nor should we deceive ourselves that the ‘problem’ of terrorist brutality is only about the behavior of evildoers in the lightly governed spaces on the margins of overly ‘shocked’ African and Middle Eastern states. It seems more likely that any short-sidedness regarding the motivations and objectives of terrorists – or of ourselves — will serve to prolong the agony of terrorized populations and reinforce the paralyzing fearfulness of media consumers.

Money Ball:  The UN Navigates Investor Expectations and Urgency for Policy Innovation, Dr. Robert Zuber

8 Feb

This past week at the UN, in the shadow of the Commission on Social Development, a modestly attended but most suggestive event highlighted what is an increasingly perplexing conundrum for policymakers and their donors:  finding the proper balance between fiscal accountability and program innovation.

The event was actually a joint meeting of Executive Boards of diverse UN agencies including UNICEF, UNDP and UN Women. All agency heads and participating diplomats wrestled with, as the Secretary General put it, the task of remaining ‘fit for purpose;’ learning as much as we can from our failures but doing so without neglecting established patterns that have already yielded positive results.   While flexibility is to be praised, the SG noted, innovation must never be seen as an end in itself.

The dilemma of innovation is hardly unique to the UN:  Sports teams, entertainment corporations and many other businesses struggle with the dual demands of ‘staying fresh and relevant’ while satisfying the expectations of their investors.   But there is so much on the line at the UN, so many lives potentially impacted by policy decisions that can err on the sides of recklessness or caution. Given this, the willingness of senior UN officials to both interrogate their failures and offer new ideas to address stubborn development and security patterns with the potential to foment social unrest (as cited by the ILO’s Torres at a separate event) was most welcome.

The stakes in this discussion are higher than they might at first appear, and the SG’s remarks are one starting point.  The largest state contributors to UN operations are responsible to their own local constituents who are in some cases coping with economic crises at home.  But even those supportive of government assistance to UN programs seek assurances (as Japan has urged in several UN forums) that funds dispersed are used for the purposes intended.   Beyond this caution, Zambia urged more attention to ‘predicting’ failure caused in part by a lack of policy attentiveness to social and political context.

If states are not provided the assurances they seek, there is risk that donations will dry up further, or in the case of small states like Zambia that the trust issues lingering with respect to some UN agencies will grow larger.  In either case, the ability of the UN to deliver on its promises – from fulfilling SDGs to drying up sources of illicit arms – will be compromised.  Unlike the private sector, UN officials have hands that are tied a bit tightly by state interests, especially by the largest donor states.  But some of this ‘tying’ as Denmark noted has positive value – insisting that innovation in policy never be divorced from issues of cost effectiveness.  Clearly it is important to avoid throwing money at problems recklessly; but it is also important to think creatively beyond the matching of the most obvious short-term needs with the most immediately available resources.

It seems more and more apparent that currently funded policy and implementation strategies employed by the UN and its partners continue to lag behind both global challenges and response opportunities.  For all our good and reasonably well-funded efforts, we have not yet found the means to eliminate terror threats or gender-based violence, reduce weapons flows, stem chronic unemployment, or reverse the melting of the polar ice caps.  And it is equally clear that money, for all of its potential benefits, can have a negative impact on the innovation we still desperately need.   We see this in the NGO community all the time, where access to funding is as likely to breed caution as creative engagements with UN objectives and working methods. But even at senior Secretariat levels, funding impacts loom large, or at least larger than might be optimal for the development of more innovative approaches to longstanding planetary challenges.

As UNDP’s Helen Clark noted, it might not be funding per se, but rather the assessment of results that funders rightly require that leads to ‘risk phobia’ among some leaders, a sentiment echoed by UNICEF’s Anthony Lake.  While important, “results” can be like puzzle pieces essential to a fully completed puzzle but not to be equated with it.  There are formidable challenges afoot that require creative, if humble engagements beyond piecemeal measures.  And while there are certainly financial risks attached to creative innovation, we need to be reminded, as UNICEF’s Lake noted, that there are also staggering costs from NOT innovating.  It is widely recognized that we already throw too many of the world’s resources at problems that have already proven resistant to our standard working methods and operating procedures.   We would thus do well to share more openly the potential benefits and risks of our innovative policy options; not only with over-stretched donor states but especially with their increasingly anxious constituents.  And, as UNDP’s Clark noted, we should do more to create systemic ‘safe space’ for innovation, inviting the innovation-minded to leave the margins and find a place closer to the center of policy formulation.  Sports franchises and other corporations shrivel in the absence of such space.   International policy also suffers when innovation has no safe space to test assumptions and offer alternatives.

Some of this need can be addressed through greater institutional investment in creative policymaking that reassesses resources and their modes of application.  As one step in that investment, UN Women’s Lakshmi Puri floated an idea that we have also advocated previously – the need to promote the UN as more of a ‘learning community.’  This ‘community’ would not only take account of the SG’s urging that we learn more from our failures, but that we also take heed of opportunities to learn more from each other – including updates on current challenges, and how we might respond – and respond differently – if we are to one day fulfill the trust placed in us to bring ‘big’ matters such as climate change, atrocity crimes and weapons proliferation to successful resolutions.

Clearly we need to be more open to innovation in light of the evolving needs of constituents who, at the end of the day, constitute the core of our mandate.   UNOPS’s Grete Feremo noted with some irony that only small children seem immune from ‘change resistance.’   And UNICEF’s Lake noted that we who set the agendas for global policy must learn to ‘leave our egos and even our logos’ at the door.

This is wise, if elusive counsel.   Needless to say, the UN was not chartered to protect bureaucratic turf or provide employment opportunities for diplomats and NGOs.  It was chartered to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war (and, we might add, other threats to human security).  To ‘win’ at this ever-more critical responsibility, we must spend wisely but also learn sincerely and innovate constructively.  We cannot continue to stifle policy innovation while the global challenges we are tasked to address continue on their own, dangerous, evolutionary path.

Working Assets: Development Infrastructure Worthy of Development Aspirations, Karin Perro and Robert Zuber

1 Feb

The UN’s final working day of January featured an odd mix of events, including a seminar dedicated to teaching about the UN, a full-day event promoting social media, and the Security Council’s debate on the Protection of Civilians with a special focus on women and girls.

The last of these is particularly germane to GAPW’s work and, as noted by the UK, represents perhaps the singular lens through which outsiders view the value of the United Nations. And there was much of value in the discussion which we attempted to capture through @globalactionpw. Not surprisingly, some of the presentations represented a mixture of now-familiar POC assumptions and a few needlessly repetitive political grievances.  And despite some passionate and convincing articulations on the common theme of Women, Peace and Security and its implications for protection, a number of delegations noted that 15 years after the WPS norm was consummated, it still ‘feels’ more ornate than embedded.

This lament is relevant to what could well have been the most far-reaching event of the day, held in Conference Room 2, a surprisingly small venue for a discussion as potentially significant as this one could turn out to be.  ECOSOC’s “Dialogue on the longer-term positioning of the United Nations development system” attracted a roster of high-level presenters including UNDP’s Helen Clark, Timor-Leste’s Amb. Sofia Mesquita Borges, and Colombia’s Amb. María Emma Mejía Vélez, vice president of ECOSOC.

GAPW’s Karin Perro spent the morning listening to UN officials and others discuss ways to make the full UN system more accountable to and engaged in the fulfillment of development goals, another one of those ‘core lenses’ for public assessment of UN effectiveness. Among the insights she gleaned were Helen Clark’s ‘delivering as one’ approach.’  Such an approach includes what Clark referred to as a ‘relevant and nimble’ institutional structure for SDG implementation. This warrants more sustained attention with caveats to ensure room for innovation (as the US suggested) and also to guarantee (as Albania noted) that UN development priorities avoid policy silos and fully embrace national contexts.

Perro also reported some echoes of skepticism in the room that went beyond caveats.  Amb. Borges wondered aloud about the ability of states with fiscal, security and governance limitations to successfully coordinate implementation of what will likely be wide ranging development goals.  And several African states bluntly questioned the UN system’s ability and effectiveness in coordinating with other development partners, including states.  Ghana was perhaps the boldest of these states, intimating that development ‘competition’ indulged by UN agencies can result in disrupted development flows, duplicated efforts, disempowered (or frustrated) non-UN development partners, and neglect of legitimate, country-specific needs.

As it turns out, space for this important and even innovative discussion was a non-factor as perhaps 2/3 of the seats in CR 2 were filled.  Apparently ensuring a robust and responsive development infrastructure isn’t as sexy for some in the UN system as formulating text outlining largely normative goals and objectives. Or perhaps state and NGO representatives were busy sharpening their twitter messaging in another conference room.

Regardless, the implications of this event for fulfilling the new goals of the UN’s development pillar were clear to all who participated.  All seemed to recognize that there is limited value to establishing development goals in the absence of viable development infrastructure. On this point, GAPW noted a general, if guarded optimism from delegations, including from those seeking more attention to national context, but also from those wondering if structures of governance in some states are sufficiently fair and robust to handle our new and expanded set of development commitments.

It was also clear that unless all relevant institutional and national assets can find complementary service in our development workplaces, our SDG efforts are likely to create the equivalent of lovely sprinkles on an ice cream cone that itself is not fit to be eaten. We are all the ‘responsible parties’ here, responsible to guide implementation of fair and transparent development priorities, but also responsible to prevent possible damage to the UN’s reputation from development goals and objectives that could regrettably turn out, once again, to be as ornate as substantive.