Archive | September, 2015

A Papal Pilgrimage:  Ramping up Hope at the Center of Global Governance, Dr. Robert Zuber

27 Sep

As the Pope’s FIAT pulled up to UN Headquarters last Friday, it slowed just a bit so that Francis could wave at a group of children dressed in white and sitting on the stairs of (ironically perhaps) the Trump Building.  This was only the beginning of an outpouring of attention, enthusiasm and even yearning, the likes of which most of us have never seen at UN Headquarters.

Many have written about the Papal visit to the UN.  Twitter literally exploded with comments of all sorts, almost all of the ones I saw falling anywhere from cautiously positive to positively gushing.  The newspapers proclaimed that “hope had come to New York.”  (God knows we need it.) These reactions cannot be attributed to our embrace of celebrity or fame; neither are they a function of the rarity of papal visits.

This outpouring of positive energy was more likely related to a long-suppressed search for meaning as well as for the encouragement to abandon cynicism and despair, to recalibrate our emotional depth, to provide a genuinely viable future for our children, not merely an education, an IPad, and an allowance.

The Pope said some very helpful things from the podium in the UN General Assembly.   He took up the challenges of healing our climate and eliminating our weapons of mass destruction.   He spoke about us as biological beings that need to stop soiling the beds that we still need to lie on.   He reminded us that no policy, regardless of its textual nobility or comprehensiveness, is likely to succeed unless we recover the practices of listening and caregiving, while committing in policy and practice to the pursuit of fairness and an end to inequalities.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with Francis on the substance of issues, it was clear from his speech that he sees in those many souls clamoring to hear his words what most of the rest of us at the UN cannot.   Francis was not trying to be clever or even strategic.  He was not “purchasing the surfaces” of things nor was he caving in to political expediency.   His words were largely measured, urgent, kind.   But most important, it was clear that he is looking at the world and its people differently.  His vision seems to penetrate deeper – deeper than our pretense and personal branding, deeper than our compromises and our rationales for each, deeper than our professional titles, entitlements and immunities.

This ability to see differently is extraordinary and most worthy of emulation. And to my own eyes, the speech was not the only extraordinary aspect of the Papal visit. Watching Francis move from one responsibility to another inside the UN, navigating the crush of well-wishers including political dignitaries seeking a momentary ‘audience’: the press of flesh and the multiple distractions of noise and perpetual movement seemed overwhelming.

And yet the Pope maintained his attentive gaze.  He didn’t look as tired as he must have been.  If he has any vestiges of claustrophobia, he found the grace to overcome them.   If he found all of the noise and crowding annoying, he never let on. Perhaps Francis throws things around his prayer room to re-establish his emotional equilibrium and vent his frustrations.  His time at the UN gave no evidence that he has this urge.  (His visits to both Harlem and Philadelphia have seemed downright joyful.)

Amidst the diplomatic chaos, Francis even made time to thank UN staff for their dedication and service, paying special attention to peacekeepers and members of UN country teams who lost their lives in the service of the institution, its values and constituents.

In some important ways, this demeanor of Francis was even more telling than his words.   If anything, the latter made the former more believable, more compelling.  There is a lesson here for all of us.   As our colleague Annie Herro reminds GAPW often, all of us at the UN are in one way or another “norm entrepreneurs.”   As such the success of our work, perhaps ironically, has less to do about money and status and more to do with trust building and other character concerns – the ability to be where we say we’ll be, to resist unthoughtful policy solutions that are destined to unravel, to practice courage and kindness so that we can get better at both, to be willing to give to others what we expect from them in return, to communicate hope to persons and communities in ways that do not excessively raise expectations to levels that we know are unlikely to be fulfilled.

Character issues are largely out of fashion, but they are not beyond relevance for good policy. At the UNGA on Friday, we had an example of someone whose demeanor prior to his UN speech – as well as the “depth” at which he routinely casts his gaze – gave added power to the words that eventually came out of his mouth.   The “social fragmentation” to which Francis pointed with alarm is closely related to a fragmentation of personal character that manifests itself as a proclivity to “dispose” of things and people, as well as to horde what we should share and destroy what we cannot easily replace.  These are some of the implications of our current policy and personal choices that Francis, by virtue of the quality of his living and his seeing, was particularly well placed to highlight.

The hope displayed by Francis at the General Assembly podium is imperfect. It does not by itself resolve political differences and logistical challenges, nor does it guarantee that we will find the courage to turn away from our predatory and self-interested actions to save this planet – and ourselves along with it.

But the thousands waiting for hours for a glimpse of the Pope in the Fiat, not to mention the many diplomats who rose to their feet to celebrate a man who presides over a faith often not their own, if these are any indication, then the hope of Francis is truly a hope we can believe in.

For Whom the Bell Tolls: The UN Rings in a Commemoration of its Core Mandate and our Common Obligation, Dr. Robert Zuber

21 Sep

Peace Bell

On Monday, September 21 at 9:00 AM, the UN held a ceremony at the Peace Bell — given to the UN by Japan in 1954 — to commemorate the International Day of Peace.

The event was a bit somber, held in blustery conditions and only modestly attended.  The themes shared by the Secretary General and others related to the need to “lay down weapons” and substitute armed violence for negotiation and sustainable “cease fire” arrangements.

In some ways, as the Secretary General himself seemed to recognize, this international day fell a bit short on enthusiasm, certainly not because the world is particularly ‘peaceful,’ at present, but because it isn’t – violence rages if many regions, refugees angrily bang at the doors of reluctant recipient states, our climate’s very health is increasingly called into question, our oceans are, ironically, drowning in plastic, trafficking of drugs and arms is making life hellish for too many poor and indigenous peoples.  Thus, the day is less a celebration in the conventional sense and more a reminder of the challenges that lie ahead and which are to some considerable degree of our own making.

The pursuit of peace is now less about ending cross-border conflicts and more about ensuring stability, equity and safety within states, some failing and others at death’s door.   The peace and security environment envisioned by the framers of the UN Charter bears little resemblance to the one we now inhabit, and we still struggle with how to care for this new world while employing the tools, habits, and other limitations of our past.  More and more, though perhaps not with sufficient urgency, people recognize the impact of some things on other things – discrimination on governance, armed violence on development and migration, illicit weapons on mass atrocities, and so forth.  But while we increasingly critique our policy “silos,” we continue to fund them and overly honor their narrow brands.

Global Action has gone through its own evolutionary path in an attempt to maximize our modest contributions to more globally peaceful outcomes.   We have largely abandoned, for better or worse, grand policy narratives and their often arrogant and inflammatory political rhetoric, preferring to place our limited energy on being attentive to global policymakers , offering hospitality and organizational support to global civil society, and providing guidance for what we hope will be the next generation of policy leaders.

Beyond the peace platitudes that at times still define our collective mission in the world, we see our role as reinforcing connections between issues and people, and helping in our small way to end inequalities of all kinds – including power imbalances within the UN itself.  We try to accomplish this without forgetting to sit in front of the mirror that we are so quick to hold in front of others, to understand better the violence that lurks at the core of our material obsessions, to confess our largely unearned privileges; and to stay connected to the erstwhile ‘end users’ of policy who, more often than we like to think, don’t find those policies so ‘useful’ at all.

And we do what we can to examine and at times expose the cultural obsessions and distractions that impede peaceful progress, including the willingness of people to prefer branding to substance; who use language to manipulate outcomes rather than to forge meaningful connections with others; whose narrow ambitions have largely turned their attentiveness and compassion into emotional side shows.

We have learned, in ways that are sometimes enlightening and sometimes discouraging, that peace in the world is elusive in part because peace within ourselves and our communities still largely lies beyond our grasp – and that presumes we are willing to “grasp” in the first place.

This International Day has not been (at least as of this writing) marked by cease fire agreements or by any other commitments to lay down arms and beat swords into ploughshares.  It will not likely herald a breakthrough in Syria or Yemen, nor will it motivate masses of people to renounce their material addictions, pay attention to the world around them, and live a simpler, more community-engaged, less materially ambitious existence.

The ringing UN bell mostly “commemorated” what those standing at the event already knew: that the world remains in peril from our consumption excesses, our appetite for weapons, even our resistance to the inclusiveness we say we want. We need better policies, healthier communities, happier families, more creative schools, more attentive governance.    But we also need more hands in this work, more minds to help us sort out our limitations and inconsistencies, more ‘heart energy’ to remind us – and not only on international peace day – that our policy triumphs have limited shelf-life and must continually adapt to new and sometimes discouraging circumstances made possible in part by our collective indifference.

We are in the ‘peace business’ not because we are so clever and virtuous, but because it is our responsibility and there are still too few others with the time or inclination to respond to these difficult challenges. Fortunately, there may be more people at the UN and in diplomatic missions and NGO offices worldwide committed to peaceful societies than has been the case previously.  We work with some and know of many others in every corner of the planet.

While we do what we can to honor those existing commitments, our collective efforts remain insufficient. We need to find stronger hands, sharper minds, more caring hearts.  We need to recruit for a common cause rather than for our narrow organizational interests.  Without setting up barriers to participation, we need to help people from many walks of life — healers and teachers and drivers and actors and parents – to actively identify with the hope of peaceful societies.  In the absence of major peace developments, this building of our common capacity for peace constitutes a useful, tangible response to today’s ringing of the UN bell.

The UN’s Anniversary Season:   September Barricades and Ritual Benefits, Dr. Robert Zuber

14 Sep

This past week, the UN hosted three events – on the 10th anniversary of the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP), on promoting a Culture of Peace, and on ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) – all of which are now annual events on the UN’s September calendar.   On Monday the 14th (today) there is another commemoration, 10 years of addressing threats posed by incitement to commit terrorist acts based on Security Council Resolution (SCR) 1624.  Later this fall, Spain will preside over a 15 year celebration and review of SCR 1325 on Women, Peace and Security.   Other commemorative events will quickly fill the UN calendar in its 70th year.

Anniversaries can be the stuff of Hallmark Cards, full of sentimentality and, at times, optimism bordering on escapism.  We’ve all “celebrated” anniversaries in one form or other – marriages, birthdays, work tenure, institutional longevity.   Some of these milestones represent true celebrations of high achievement – productivity, loyalty, innovation – while others chronicle sorrows, disappointments and unfulfilled expectations.  Probably most fall somewhere else, in that uneasy space between knowing we’ve done well with what we’ve been given, and knowing that we haven’t yet done enough.

Such is the case as well for our small office, now honoring and assessing 10 years of Global Action’s (GAPW) current leadership.   We’ve done some good things, made some stable connections, helped launch new initiatives, written books and blogs, tweeted across the social universe, mentored many extraordinary young people, etc.   And still the ice caps melt, refugees gather desperately at sometimes hostile borders, human rights take a beating from Yemen to Ukraine, species are pushed towards extinction,  pandemics are one unsuspecting host away from emerging, weapons continue to flow in many deadly directions.

Have we “done our jobs,” or have we not?   Some days it is hard to tell.  Clearly the problems that persist on our watch and that have defied resolution over many years should make us pause – and keep our advocacy strategies humble.  But pausing is not the same as giving in, and humility is the proper accompaniment of hopefulness, not its adversary.

Yesterday, friends of GAPW hosted a Garden Party to honor our past 10 years of mostly modest achievements.  Among its other benefits, the Party was a reminder of how important it is for persons, communities and institutions to invest in ritual celebrations of many kinds.  Such rituals serve as ‘place markers’ for people in the midst of so much change, so much turmoil.   In a world of such a pace as ours, with so many demands and accompanying distractions, it is important for all of us to double back on the memories and symbols that help to define our life paths.   It is important for us in this work to smile a bit more and also to renew pledges not to lose touch with the values and aspirations that motivated participation in our loftiest projects in the first instance.

But as intimated by CTBTO’s Lassina Zerbo during last week’s session, there is always more to be done than honoring and remembering.  There is also assessing and changing to address new circumstances.  In practical terms during this “anniversary season,” there is also the need to ask how we can best expand efforts towards full CTBT ratification, how we can push the Responsibility to Protect norm into a broader diplomatic engagement within the UN General Assembly (as several states in last week’s interactive debate suggested), how we can advocate for cultures of peace when there is sometimes so little peace within us or around us.

Soon to come at the UN is another “anniversary” of sort – that time each September when we are all reminded of our true place in the global hierarchy.  The conference rooms that we visit many hours each day will become largely off limits to us.   For this short period, we apparently become more of annoyance to the UN system than a valued accompaniment, a security threat more than a welcome advocate for a fair and inclusive global system.

There are currently no rituals to give meaning to these annual restrictions, and probably no taste for developing any.  But for us and perhaps for others on the non-state side of the UN system, this has now become our time for seasonal assessment of the ways in which we are – or are not – fulfilling the responsibilities entrusted to us. This is our time to ensure we are doing all we can with whatever means we have at our disposal such that the “high level” doors to access for the needs and aspirations of diverse civil society are not closed to all, even if some are temporarily closed to us.

For this office in its 10th year, the “promised land” still largely exists in the form of a promise. During the UN’s anniversary period, as so many temporary access barriers are being erected, we will lay plans for engagement – both policy and ritual – to offer our best guidance, attentiveness and hospitality to the diplomatic community once our freedom has been restored to resume walking the long road that now lies in front of us.

Life after 70:  The Security Council Labors to Articulate Accomplishments and Limitations, Dr. Robert Zuber

7 Sep

Last Monday, the Security Council under the leadership of Amb. Ogwu of Nigeria took time to assess a few of its accomplishments and functional liabilities as the opening of the 70th UN General Assembly approaches and Russia assumes the Council presidency.

While the Council has increasingly made time to such vetting in front of other members states, there was no such meeting in July under New Zealand’s presidency.  Thus this session served as a combination of two months’ worth of summer assessment with much justifiable praise tossed about towards both New Zealand’s and Nigeria’s leadership.

As with many of the Council’s formal sessions, this event also had its moments of political scripting.  With a few exceptions, permanent members spoke primarily of what they understood to be Council achievements (often related to their own national interest) with some subtle and occasionally not-so-subtle finger pointing at states (mostly aimed at Russia) that blunted progress on key Council matters such as creating an international tribunal to prosecute persons responsible for the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. For its part Russia reminded its Council colleagues that despite much discussion there was “no light at the end of the tunnel” regarding Libya and Yemen, while mostly ignoring the Syrian misery for which Russia has endured ample criticism from other Council members.

There were two notable statements specifically by permanent members regarding Security Council conduct.  The US reflected on the peacekeeping scandal that has plagued the UN for much of the summer and urged members to “examine their own levels of tolerance” when it comes to peacekeeper abuse.  The UK picked up on the theme of ending impunity, placing it in the context of maintaining the UN’s institutional credibility.  Amb. Rycroft also urged more opportunities for the Council “to air its limitations in public,” wise advice from a trust-building standpoint, especially if accompanied by visible, active resolve to actually fix those limitations.

That said, most of the interesting commentary from this meeting came from then-president Nigeria and the other non-permanent Council members.   Indeed, it is the non-permanent members that have been more likely to initiate what the UK encouraged, airing Council limitations in public and seeking ways forward to make the Council more fair, functional and even far-reaching in its engagement with global security crises.

Suggestions at this review session from non-permanent members came fast and furious and often mirrored suggestions that we and other observers have made. Jordan sought more Council engagement on Security Sector Reform and more tangible measures to aid Palestinians.  Spain urged commitments to more effective working relationships linking the Council and other UN organs, especially the General Assembly.  Chile recommended more urgent efforts to address sexual violence in all its forms, including by peacekeepers. Chad and Nigeria urged more attention to the quality of Council engagement with regional organizations, especially the African Union. Venezuela noted the devastating crumbling of public institutions and infrastructure resulting from what it called “reckless military interventions” authorized by the Council. Angola joined with other members in pleading for more Council “unity” to address major security crises on its agenda. New Zealand, as it did during its own presidency, urged more frequent discussions, including with all UN membership, on Council working methods.

In addition to these comments, there were other methods-related concerns. Chile urged “pen holders” on Council resolutions to make documents available sooner for consideration by the full Council membership.  This was in support of Malaysia’s contention that information on the important Council resolution (2235) establishing a Joint Investigative Mechanism for Syria was not able to be fully vetted by non-permanent members before the vote.   This incident seemed to give some credence to Venezuela’s claim of “anti-democratic” SC practices that marginalize the views of non-permanent members.

Beyond this, there were efforts by some Council members, especially Lithuania and Chile, to urge consideration of Council reform measures focused on “veto restraint” and a “code of conduct” for Council members as proposed by the states of ACT – Accountability, Coherence and Transparency.  These ACT recommendations compliment, but are on a somewhat separate track from reforms that seek to increase and/or reorganize Council membership largely along geographic lines.

We – our office and partners — have written previously about issues regarding the reform of the Council and its use of the veto.  Here we would like to share a couple of additional thoughts.

While we certainly understand the desire of Angola and others for more Council unity in decision making, it is important that such unity not be achieved at the expense of Council thoughtfulness. We have seen too much in the recent history of the UN of what we refer to as the cult of like-mindedness, seeking out “allies” and then branding proposed solutions rather than helping constituents to fully understand their value – and especially their limitations.  There is no magic bullet for the violence in Syria or for the health of our oceans.  There is no one-stop policy that will reverse climate change or bring Libya back from the brink.   There is no norm or treaty which, by itself, will eliminate mass atrocities or the migrations of millions of second-hand weapons. These are complex matters to address, we generally address them too late in the game, and trust is compromised when we claim more for any of our individual policy preferences than they can possibly bear.

On veto restraint, the assumption is that the use of vetoes prevents action that could lead to the successful resolution of disputes. Perhaps. But in a highly politically charged environment such as the UN Security Council, vetoes also prevent dubious responses from becoming normative, such as a preference for bombing or other coercive measures rather than recourse to diplomatic prevention or mediation. The need to “do something” must be tempered by a sober view of what is to be done, when it should be done and, especially, the consequences of “doing,” the genies that we so cleverly release without the slightest clue of how we will get them back in their bottles once our erstwhile “mission” has concluded.

We have written previously about the two criteria that should accompany any veto restraint if it is to become anything more than a “get out of jail” card for the P3 – a more horizontal power dynamic within the Council, and depoliticized findings that can mandate Council deliberations at much earlier stages. The fact that Council members supporting restraint are now complaining about their limited access to key documents is a sign that power balancing has a significant way left to travel. Moreover, until the Council demonstrates that it can heed genuinely depoliticized warnings of pending mass atrocity violence — at a stage when those warnings can reasonably be addressed without coercive impositions — calls for military intervention are likely to remain numerous, if almost always misguided.

Our position is that the most effective reform of the Security Council is best facilitated through the active, robust engagements of non-permanent Council members. For the past several years, and especially during these last two cycles of non-permanent membership, we have witnessed a welcome leveling of the Council playing field – members “crying foul,” demanding Council accountability and assuming their own full responsibility rather than accepting as inevitable the massive power imbalances that have traditionally reinforced the UN version of a security “caste system.”

Despite these welcome changes, more reform is needed and the various proposals floating about the UN to make the SC more democratic and accountable deserve a wider hearing. The Council can help the cause of legitimacy by “working and playing” more effectively with the General Assembly, ECOSOC and other UN agencies at a time when the security implications of human rights, sustainable development, climate change, etc. are becoming more widely acknowledged.  It can also help the cause by making a sincere and sober commitment to truly “maintain” peace and security rather than attempting mostly to restore peace once societies have already “surrendered” to violence.  As Nigeria rightly noted during the recent monthly assessment, “we pay too much attention to symptoms and not enough to causes.” We need to row harder upstream and arrive as quickly as we can on a more prevention-oriented shore.

Paying attention to causes is less about restraining the veto and more about restraining a Council culture that too-often copes with crises mostly at the stage that they can safely be addressed without fear of meaningful “intervention” from the rest of the UN membership. To counter this culture, to broaden member state involvement in the current, complex, multi-dimensional security challenges, leadership from the non-permanent members is critical.   Amplifying and fortifying those member’s voices, and especially their thoughtful engagement with global crises – those on the Council’s active agenda and those knocking at the window — should command the highest priority for both UN member states and Council reformers.