Archive | June, 2018

Community Chest:  Escaping our Custodial Limitations, Dr. Robert Zuber

24 Jun

Community II

Heroes were ordinary people who knew that even if their own lives were impossibly knotted, they could untangle someone else’s.  Jodi Picoult

The real names of the environment are the names of rivers and river valleys; creeks, ridges, and mountains; towns and cities; lakes, woodlands, lanes roads, creatures, and people. Wendell Berry

I know there is strength in the differences between us. I know there is comfort where we overlap. Ani DiFranco

As long as the sun still shines and people still can plan and plant, think and do, we can, if we bother to try, find ways to provide for ourselves without diminishing the world. Michael Pollan

The UN was a place of diverse and competing interests this week.   A contentious Security Council meeting with the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court on Darfur and the withdraw of the United States from the Human Rights Council was balanced in part by positive news on efforts to develop a Global Compact on Refugees and regulate the ammunition indispensable to weapons-related violence. There was also the welcome sight of Yoga mats filling the UN’s North Lawn, persons sharing a collective moment of harmony within an often fragmented UN policy space now surrounded by a seemingly more politically polarized host country.

Much of our own time this week was taken up in discussions with NGOs and diplomats about our collectively shrinking space for access and dialogue, about the mean spirited-ness of so much of our political discourse, about the limited vision guiding our pursuits of international justice and communities safe from the threat of armed violence, and of course about the devastating rights and trauma implications of children separated from parents at the southern US border.

The weekend provided little relief from a week of difficult issues. Early this morning, while waiting for the start of the World Cup, I endured a series of commercials for cars, movies and more that, collectively at least, glorified materialism and crass violence, and reinforced the idea that the world is a fundamentally dangerous place full of evil villains who want to take what we have, interrupting our safe lives and traditional values with multiple iterations of threat.  Our only hope, it seems, is to buy our way out of trouble and, failing that, to support leaders or super heroes that will somehow keep these “dangers” out of our personal and family business.

These images can be relentless.  It takes considerable effort to avoid them and even greater effort to counteract their influences.   We have collectively accepted the “logic” of a world full of people trying to take what we have, trying to hurt and abuse us, trying to undermine the economic and social benefits to which we are “surely” entitled.   Some manage to scheme their way around this pervasive perception of trouble.  Others gather up “their own” in the psychological equivalent of the “circle of wagons.”  In either case, the reaction feeds the narrative rather than seeks to transform it.

The world can certainly be a dangerous place, but not mostly because of migrants crossing our borders but because of leadership that promises unity while preaching division, that promises peace while “arming to the teeth,” and that promises prosperity in the short term by choking off sustainable options for the children who will survive us.  This is not a problem that can be laid solely at the feet of any particular administration but rather at the feet of each of us, our deepening preference for abstraction and distraction over community and communion.  We prefer, as Wendell Berry used to say, to own a neighbors farm than have a neighbor, and we have all the tools and language we need to see such ownership as a savvy investment opportunity while failing to also see it as another nail in the coffin of communities who haven’t yet forgotten how to look neighbors in the eye and work out strategies together for their common prosperity.

The problems that we address through the UN will never be solved unless we change the terms of engagement.  We don’t apologize for our errors of speech or policy.  We don’t acknowledge the valid points of others.  We don’t take direct responsibility for the messes incurred on our watch.  There tends to be too much acrimony “on camera” and not enough vision off it.  One of the loveliest moments of this week at the UN, for instance, was when the Dutch Ambassador and ICC prosecutor walked through the Security Council after a difficult session on Darfur to a group sitting next to us – victims of Darfur violence that been brought into the UN from the Hague in part to assess and encourage prospects for justice.  The ambassador and prosecutor proceded to greet all the victims, thanking them for their presence and pledging that their quest for justice would not in any way be deterred by the Council rhetoric they just witnessed.

But such gestures are too few and far between.  In the US and some other states, we are now, according to some commentators at least, engaged in something akin to a “soft civil war,” a “war” where our relentless levels of criticism of people we barely know and policies we incompletely understand accomplish little other than harden positions and up the ante on hostility.  We know that when we are treated unfairly — criticism that crosses the ad hominem line — we tend to retreat rather than engage, to double-down on even our worst impulses rather than give in to our critics.  Indeed, a recent NY Times article that says support for the US president remains surprisingly stable, in part because people feel the need to defend themselves from what they see as a relentless assault on their social values and political choices. This is an entirely predictable result.  Acrimony against those who don’t “support” us only breeds more of the same.   And retreat can easily become the precursor to retribution, as we have seen over and over in this world.

There was a feed on my twitter earlier today from an otherwise “policy savvy” source claiming that anyone who supports president Trump on migration is “no longer human.”   I would urge this person to “hold that thought” when her adversaries make their own, similar, equally-abstract, human-denying accusations — which they will, which they are.  This goes beyond the often-empowering humor and fair-minded critiques directed at leadership to an ascription of “evil” that we are now much too quick to share, based on illusions we are too slow to own for ourselves.

The solution to the vast anger and mistrust building up in our “kingdoms of abstraction” will not likely be found in our consensus policy resolutions, nor in our public institutions, but in our communities.   When I asked a diverse group of young teens who gathered in the city hall of Arlington MA to meet with me early last week what things they were most concerned about, they mentioned a range of issues from climate change to gun violence.  They lamented all of the acrimony that they witness in the adult world (acrimony adults would not tolerate in children), all of the threats levied with and without weapons.  But mostly they wanted to find a voice, a chance to make the world they will soon inherit a bit healthier, more peaceful, even more predictable.

We talked together about the importance of “belonging somewhere,” of knowing a place and caring for a place, of allowing our senses and not our Instagram accounts to determine how we utilize our time, what we care about, how we protect and enhance the places we have come to love; but also how we share, resolve conflict, invest in others, promote mutual well-being.

When one of the teens asked me in return, “what keeps you up at night?” I responded that global challenges they did not create but will simply not be able to ignore keep me up at night: the plastics that fill our oceans, the mistrust that undermines our political discourse, the “remote” weapons that destroy from ever-greater distances, the “launch pads” for youth that so many of our communities have become, albeit with all the focus on the launch and virtually none on the “pads.”

This toxic brew of abstraction and suspicion that we have been so busy crafting is filled with potential peril for youth.  We are simply losing touch with each other, perhaps for a time, hopefully not for good.   Little positive can come of this distance. Future governments will inherit gridlock of our own making, and the next generation of adults will face the daunting task of opening the ears of people already pushed far into a corner in what might well, for them at least, have become a “diminished world.”

Thankfully, there are still moments of grace in our policy centers, still communities filled with young people determined to practice at local levels the skills and character we will desperately need at global ones.  We must not waste this opportunity to help them along.

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Modeling Agency:  The Gift of a Father’s Inspiration, Dr. Robert Zuber

17 Jun

My father would take me to the playground, and put me on mood swings. Jay London

I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdomUmberto Eco

Beauty is not who you are on the outside, it is the wisdom and time you gave away to save another struggling soul like youShannon Alder

I should no longer define myself as the son of a father who couldn’t or hasn’t or wouldn’t or wasn’t.  Cameron Conaway

A few weeks ago in this space, I posted an essay honoring mothers for their sometimes heart-wrenching task of accompaniment — helping children to overcome the challenges that we can no longer “fix” for them.   The images of refugee mothers dragging their children across hostile terrain, away from everything familiar but no longer safe, is a gut-clutching narrative that is repeated, in tone if not in substance, millions of times over in our fragmented world.

Fathers, of course, are hardly excluded from such painful and emotionally-draining experiences.  Indeed, two images in these past days have moved me beyond the dull ache that often results from long days in UN conference rooms.  The first is perhaps the more familiar:  a Honduran man who brought his child across the US border only to have them immediately separated by US agents. The man was subsequently taken to some sort of prison facility where he apparently hanged himself, taking with him we can only assume portions of shame and remorse for daring and then failing to seek a safer and perhaps even more prosperous environment for his family.

As angry as this story of separation made me, the other image was in some ways even more tragic.  A young Syrian boy awakens after surgery to discover that the landmine that prompted the surgery in the first place has left him dazed and confused, but also blind.  As he flails away in his makeshift bed, his father attempts to comfort that which might never be comforted, a boy who must now deal with the double trauma of injury and darkness, and the father who knows that, despite the destruction all around punctuated by the threat of more landmines, his son will now need more from him – and for a longer period — than he ever imagined.

The insights here for me are twofold and apply to most all parents and caregivers. The first is the extraordinary violence and indifference that characterizes our treatment of so many children in this world. How do we rationalize children forcibly separated from parents, having to play in a field with un-exploded landmines, recruited into armed insurgencies and brothels, forced to beg for provisions that might sustain their lives but won’t allow their brains – let alone their hearts – to grow?

And the second insight is the burdens that all of this places on caregivers – on fathers who take their protective and provider responsibilities seriously – parents and others who must bear to watch an often heartless world plunging their children into darkness and despair.  As many parents now recognize, we can stand sentry on the porches of our homes, but the storms that make more of our eyes suspicious and our souls frustrated are unlikely to be frightened away.  The wolves, it seems, have gained strength of wind and a more strategic predatory interest since they first appeared in our fables.

And our now-apparent propensity for short-term policy fixes is only likely to make our long term prognosis more alarming; that time, past our time, when our collective lack of vision and kindness that jeopardizes any sustainable peace will come home to roost.

I am not a father myself, and many of my closest father-friends know to take some of my reflections on fathering as worth only the smallest grain of salt.  But I think most would agree that if we want children of character, children who care about things other than themselves, children who have the courage and resilience both to face up to the threats from storms and rebuild better in their aftermath, then we have much that we now need to model for them.

The best fathers and others who accompany children known to me do this as a matter of course.  They eschew the “do as I say not as I do” method of child influence for lives that are transparent and accountable, lives that seek to demonstrate the perseverance, resourcefulness, kindness, duty and integrity that they would be pleased to see more of in the world, certainly more of in the children they raise and know.  These fathers and others inspire lives of sustainability and service by living lives of sustainability and service, lives of strength and resilience by adapting and persevering.  They know to fill an increasingly barren and distracted landscape, not with words but with active hands and a big heart.

If there was ever a time for us to reboot our responsibilities to the next generations, this just might be it.  As it turns out, the “little scraps of wisdom” that fathers impart are often the very scraps that get children out in the world rather than shrinking in the corner, that help them create circles of concern as large as their hearts can bear, that help them cash in their anxiety and suspicions for a curious, compassionate and confident engagement with life.

Today is the World Day to Combat Desertification, a day for me to reflect on both the reality and the metaphor of our creeping deserts; the lands that can no long support a harvest, the souls that can no longer sustain meaningful connection, sometimes not even to our closest of kin. In our climate-damaged world, we are losing more and more precious land by the day, thus sending more and more families on a perilous journey to find safe spaces for children, land that will yield its fruits and strangers willing to risk becoming neighbors.

At the end of our days, as those of us who dare to make policy for others will also discover, our children are unlikely to ask why we didn’t buy them the latest gadgets to distract them from life, but why we didn’t do more to fix what’s broken in our world and why we didn’t prepare them better to fix things once we’re gone?

For all the fathers out there who are prepared to fully and lovingly answer those questions, we are forever in your debt. Through your strength of character and willingness to model, you are doing your part to make the desert bloom again.

STEM Cells:   The UN seeks an Elusive Balance on Human Innovation, Dr. Robert Zuber

10 Jun

Medicine Bottle

If you are too careful, you are so occupied with being careful that you are sure to stumble over something. Gertrude Stein

A single decision can spawn a thousand others that were entirely unnecessary or it can bring peace to a thousand places we never knew existed. Craig Lounsbrough

Don’t sail out farther than you can row back.   Danish saying

This was an interesting week at the UN punctuated by important elections for the UN Security Council and for the president of the General Assembly.   The new Council members – Belgium, Dominican Republic, Germany, Indonesia and South Africa – will bring considerable policy savvy and expertise to the Council oval as well as well-crafted positions on how the Council can be reformed to more effectively serve the interest of the membership and more skilfully address peace and security challenges.

As for the incoming president of the General Assembly, we have high hopes for María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, currently Ecuador’s Minister of Foreign Affairs.  Our own twitter feed has been on overload all week as people reacted to the sound of a strong woman’s voice set to lead the UN’s most democratic chamber.  Ms. Espinosa Garcés, as has been noted often, is only the 4th woman to hold this post in the history of the UN.  But what excites us is the range and strength of her policy priorities – disarmament and indigenous rights, gender and environmental health, including ocean health.  She is well-positioned to continue the recent history of successful GA presidencies while keeping a watchful eye on challenges that now threaten a vibrant multilateralism.

In these and other policy matters, she has her work cut out for her.

Among the many policies elevated by the UN this week – from migration and criminal tribunals to counter-terror and the drive to end tuberculosis – the state of our environment took center stage. Of particular concern was the urgency of eliminating single use plastics that have created toxic islands larger than France in the middle of our oceans, endangering all marine life including (as noted in a side event) the birds that must rely on a now-plastic-infested and declining ocean bounty.

Former GA president Peter Thomson of Fiji is now heading the UN’s efforts on ocean policy and he held a series of meetings with diplomats and other stakeholders to promote a more urgent engagement with ocean health, including support for Law of the Sea treaty obligations and his own plans for a conference in 2020 to assess ocean-related progress.  Thomson, as per his reputation, did not mince words, noting that “we are losing the battle” on oceans, though at least now “we know we are losing” due to a series of dismal ocean indicators.  One can, he suggested, “plead indifference, but not ignorance” to the science that paints an uncertain future for human life as ocean life continues its own downward trajectory.

Later during one of his multiple engagements, Thomson suggested, much more hopefully, that we are all “ocean people” in this room, citing “snowballing commitments” to policies that can address an array of ocean related threats – desalination and depleted fish stocks, plastics pollution and commercial dumping – while we still have the opportunity to reverse conditions.

The question for us had something to do with ocean policy but more to do with the science which must direct such commitments, ensuring that remedial policy measures are correctly targeted, robust in their application, and sufficiently engaging of the widest range of global stakeholders.  As with other existential threats to our children’s future, we are long past the point where half-hearted, token gestures will reverse our current stable of “dismal indicators.”  For too long, we have ignored the scientific evidence of ocean decline.  But more than that, we have resisted the call to better understand the benefits and limitations of the scientific community. We have resisted allowing scientists to help create communities of learning in policy settings, in which global innovation and global ethics can combine to guarantee global health.

Ironically perhaps, as the state of ocean health was being debated in one UN conference room, the STI Forum (Science, Technology and Innovation) sponsored by the UN Economic and Social Council was taking place in another.  In the STI plenary meetings and side events, participants heard much about innovations that promise more accurate and comprehensive data to drive policy response on some of the crucial issues facing the planet.  Of particular note for us was the “integrated system” developed by the World Meteorological Association that seeks to ensure high-quality, real-time information on weather-related shifts and potential climate disasters necessary to accurate forecasting in a time of increasing climate volatility.

But much of what interested us at the STI is the interplay of those for whom technological innovation is now essential to our very being as a species and those who cast a wary eye at any innovation not attached to clear warning labels.  Indeed, the gap between these erstwhile “camps” seems to be widening a bit as more and more people place their bets on technology to solve global problems while others cringe at the increasing complexity of personal and institutional technology which is already running far apace of regulatory policies and structures of governance.  As a representative from Alibaba Group admitted, we are now “being split,” in part because we fail to recognize that all technological developments “are a two-edged sword,” a reassuring breeze in some instances, a tornado in others.

As someone probably more Luddite than acolyte, I have an innate sympathy with those with “stick up their noses” at the enticements of innovation that few actually seem to be asking for and that promise benefits as likely to increase inequalities as level them.   As Brazil urged this week, regarding this “4th Industrial Revolution,” we must “learn the lessons” from the 2nd and 3rd Industrial Revolutions.  Why are inequalities still so pervasive in this world?  In this “tech rich” (and tech-obsessed) age, how is it that so many people are still without toilets?  These are the questions that continue to preoccupy our office, even as our high regard for scientific inquiry remains unbroken.

There are important questions to ask regarding this seemingly widening gap, a gap in part driven by technological enthusiasm, in part driven by a neglect of growing global inequalities, in part driven by public disconnect from the science that can provide indicators of trouble at a moment when trouble can still be diverted.  With climate and ocean threats taking center stage, how do maintain the “culture” for scientific inquiry that keeps us creatively innovating but also mindfully regulating? How do we ensure that the regulation we endorse is robust and flexible enough to keep from “stumbling” over the next iterations of scientific advance?  And perhaps more relevant to the security policy community, how do we keep from running further and further behind the pace of technology for which “dual use” continues to communicate both the promise of progress and of existential threat?

On the table where I am writing sits a bottle of pills that I am “required” to take as part of my long-term recovery from my genetically-mandated heart surgery.  In many ways, these pills (and the complex surgery that preceded their use) represent a culminating moment in my personal interaction with science and technology, having been at least temporarily “cured” of a problem that apparently killed many of my ancestors, a cure that highlights the plight of many of my global contemporaries who, in this stunningly unequal world, do not have access to the high-tech, life-saving measures that I do.

This pill bottle, like many other of life’s affairs, comes attached to both a promise and a warning.   Take the pills as instructed and I am more likely to reap health benefits.  Take them otherwise and not only are the benefits threatened but other complications could ensue – including in this instance liver damage.  When medicines enter a complex organism such as the human body, it is essential  that we do our best to assess risk factors.  What can possibly go wrong here and how can we minimize adverse impacts?

The global community represents complexity on a scale that much more vast, and thus the responsibilities raised by our “ingestion” of technological innovation become more complex as well.  As the World Economic Forum’s Philbeck noted during the STI, we must “avoid language directed towards technology that either fears or romanticizes it.” Other speakers warned of the dangers of taking a passive stance towards technological innovation, noting that as science continues to move past conventional boundaries, we must ensure that any new resulting “tools” enhance sustainable development  rather than take us in another, less inclusive, less participatory direction.

As Philbeck also interjected, trust must be earned in the technological realm as in others, but trust must be grounded in our attentive awareness of potentials and pitfalls.  In an age where so many people are still denied access to the “fruits” of science and technology, where elites eagerly horde both the capacity and application of those “fruits,” and where regular folks increasingly demand the benefits of technology independent of any responsibility to assess its impacts and avert its addictions, we risk exacerbating a crisis of our own making.   We may, indeed, have already sailed further and faster on these technological “waters” than is in our best collective interest.

This is not the time for timidity or the excess caution that might cause us to stumble, to be sure, but it might be wise to slow down the pace of our sailing a bit and recalibrate our distance from the shore.

 

 

 

 

Youth and the Limits of Inspiration, Soren Hixon

7 Jun

Editor’s Note: Soren recently completed an internship with Global Action and shared with us this reflection (lightly edited) on some of the frustration he (and others passing through our office) have experienced in their interaction with youth-focused events at the UN.   Like many of his peers, Soren is a serious young person seeking to participate in serious policy discussions.

On May 30, the UN held an event to discuss the importance of youth involvement and empowerment. The meeting had great potential to be a driving force for youth-oriented policymaking worldwide, but some of the potential was squandered due to how the event organizers chose to run it.

The meeting opened with a statement that gave me great hope that the next few hours would be a whirlwind of discussion on better policies and laws concerning globally accessible education that meets predetermined standards of quality as well as ensuring availability of jobs that build off of skills taught in school.

But the meeting veered away from policymaking as Pita Taufatofua took the stage. He spoke passionately about his work with youth in Australia and shared some inspirational words about “becoming your own superhero.” Any talk of policies and reform was absent from his speech. The next speaker to take the stage was a young singer from Iraq named Emmanuel Kenny who had been orphaned and eventually sung his way to the X-Factor, becoming a YouTube celebrity along the way. He sang inspirational songs and spoke about his journey from “zero to hero.”

While these two speakers were both uniquely passionate and inspirational, the fact that they were chosen to be the focus of this youth dialogue highlights a problem with the mindset of the United Nations when it comes to engaging youth. The belief that applying inspiration like a Band-Aid to a gaping wound believing it will resolve the issues facing young people is a bit short-sided. It does not matter how inspired today’s youth might be if policies are not in place to allow youth together with their elders to modify their circumstances positively. Youth cannot do it on their own. They need the assistance of policy leaders who realize what a severe problem the lack of education is and then do what is needed (with the participation of youth) to rectify the problem sustainably and permanently.

This meeting was an opportunity to present a convergence of minds and power with potent ideas and strategies for policies to resolve global issues impacting youth. Instead it was largely wasted by providing youth only with what seemed like misplaced and superfluous inspiration. The problems facing youth will only continue to escalate as the population mounts. The number of young people is going up, not down. Next time the UN has the chance to hold meeting like this, hopefully, they will make it less about inspiration and more about policy change.

Service Contract:  Sharing the Burdens of a World At Odds, Dr. Robert Zuber

3 Jun

Service

You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. Martin Luther King Jr.

I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.  Rabindranath Tagore

One of the most important things you can do on this earth is to let people know they are not alone. Shannon Alder

I’m starting to think this world is just a place for us to learn that we need each other more than we want to admit. Richelle Goodrich

The UN had its moments of schizophrenia this week:  An historic decision to approve by consensus the Secretary-General’s proposal for reform of the UN Development System occurred on the same day that the chairs of the UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies held a rare and important discussion on the crucial role of these treaties in fulfilling our sustainable development goals, a discusson that few bothered to attend.   The Security Council, due in part to a US veto, fumbled away an effort by Kuwait to ensure a measure of international protection for Palestinians enduring deprivation and violence –especially in the Gaza strip– on the same day that the UN highly honored peacekeepers who sacrificed their lives attempting to stabilize and offer protection in what have become increasingly volatile and unpredictable conflict zones.

This particular honoring of fallen peacekeepers through the Hammarskjöld Medal Award Ceremony had special significance, both because of this being the 70th anniversary of UN peacekeeping and because the list of casualties to which we all properly call attention seems to be growing longer each and every year.  From Tanzania and Pakistan to Ethiopia and Morocco, troops volunteer to be placed in harm’s way to stabilize and protect only to find themselves on the receiving end of a bullet or explosive device.  As is well known, Mali (MINUSMA) has been a place of particular vulnerability for peacekeepers.  As explained by USG Lacroix during the honoring ceremony, MINUSMA forces directly experience one violent incident on the average of every five days.  These forces, much like their counterparts in places like the Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of the Congo, are not “keeping peace” so much as buying time for political agreements to be reached and take full effect, for armed elements to lay down their weapons and for national governments to assume not only control but also responsibility for the well-being of their citizens.

This is not the time or place to review in any detail the current status of peacekeeping operations, including ways in which such operations must be more tightly bound to “good faith” political dialogue, as well as the degree to which “protection” measures run the risk of appearing to be a “partisan” rather than a neutral activity, “taking the side” of the state or a particular party to the conflict.  There are also issues regarding troop reimbursements and equipment procurements that continue to plague at least some of these operations. But what is more important in this space (without assuming motives) is the remarkable sacrifice, the decisions that some make to place themselves in situations where they can remind the desperate and victimized that they are not alone, who choose the service of peace in settings where there is little or no “peace to keep.”

The notion of sacrifice itself now seems “old school” to many, in part because we have allowed ourselves to be overly determined by “preferences,” personal to be sure but also professional.   There is a Subway sandwich commercial now playing over and over on the few television shows I have the time to watch, in which the words “I want” crop up endlessly in the jingle accompanying the imagery.  Far beyond the food industry, “wants” it seems are being reduced at an accelerated pace to the immediate objects of our desire, more about fulfilling a craving than defining a relationship let alone a purpose.

Moreover, it seems, we have become more and more disconnected from the people who have made these often difficult choices to serve and protect. We might take the time to “honor” those who fight our fires, drive our emergency vehicles, report on dangerous conflicts and human rights abuses, or keep erstwhile “enemies” at bay, but we generally have little interest in the practical details of their lives, what it takes for men and women — often inspired by those who love and support them—to choose to place themselves in harm’s way for the sake of others, including “others” choosing to pursue “what they want” with hardly a second thought.

Even in the small sessions this week with the UN Treaty Body chairs, people who have indeed made choices to serve and defend the rights of others, there was evidence of this tendency to petition the skills and authority of others without sharing their sometimes considerable burdens. Indeed, some of the few NGOs who attended the Treaty Body meetings this week got a bit of blowback from the chairs, one of whom remarked a bit tongue-in-cheek that every time NGOs share their thoughts “we end up with more work to do.” The human rights pillar of the UN’s mission continues to buckle, in part because a lot of genuinely good and talented people have yet to fully master our “sharing of service” burdens, the requirement to participate more directly in the challenging and at times even dangerous activities undertaken “in our name.”

Over and over during the Hammarskjöld honoring ceremony, attention was given to the urgent need to increase peacekeeper safety including highlighting all that DPKO is proposing to better ensure that troops and other personnel sent to the field are returned intact to their families and communities.  Appropriate equipment would help.  Flexible command authority in the field would as well.   And certainly the Security Council can do more to ensure that peacekeeping mandates are clear, attainable and tied to both viable political negotiations and timely exit strategies.

But there is more to examine here, the culture behind the logistics.  We have written often (as have others) about the UN’s general propensity for being “slow on the uptake,” in terms of its attentiveness to potential conflict situations.  For instance, we and colleagues have been calling attention for some time to the still-ignored dangers of a wider conflict in Cameroon, but also to the cultural issues that prevent situations like this one from receiving UN attention at a stage when conflict is most likely to be contained.

Some of this problem will hopefully be resolved as the SG’s reform proposals for the UN’s peace and security pillar are rolled out.  But some is related to the institutionalized resistance of the UN system to invest in domestic security concerns until they have clearly reached a boiling point.  In this instance, the creeping tensions within states like Cameroon can be likened to someone with a smoking addiction.  Smokers might be told over and over by doctors, friends and others to quit their habit, but refuse the advice until the first cancer screens come back positive, at which point they frantically seek assistance from the very persons whose advice they originally scorned.

This pattern, one which has permitted so much pain and grief in the wider world, must give way to a system characterized by greater levels of institutional trust, better early warning and conflict prevention skills, and a greater commitment to the service which is indeed at the heart of the joy and meaning of life, helping to ensure that smokers can lay down their cigarettes before they need to consult an oncologist.

One of the most “liked” lines on our twitter feed this week came courtesy of the Department of Field Support which reminded the Hammarskjöld Ceremony audience that “the best way to honor the memories of fallen peacekeepers is to renew the commitment to peace that motivated their sacrifices.”  But beyond that, we should consider expanding our commitment to the service of others, service that the times now calls for and on which our own lives depend, service that can make available the skills and “grace” needed to build the sustainable peace that many millions worldwide now long for.