Tag Archives: peacekeeping

Cooking School:  The UN Primes for Community-Driven Peacebuilding, Dr. Robert Zuber

26 May

Clean Cooking

It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan. Eleanor Roosevelt

The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found.  Calvin Trillin

For a moment, or a second, the pinched expressions of the cynical, world-weary, throat-cutting, miserable bastards we’ve all had to become disappears, when we’re confronted with something as simple as a plate of food.  Anthony Bourdain

Cooking is a kind of everyday magic.  Juliet Blackwell

When the leg does not walk, the stomach does not eat.  African Proverb

This was another diverse and busy week at the UN, literally overflowing with potential policy significance as well as more than the usual number of government and UN Secretariat interventions reminding us that this state-centric institution is rightly judged less by what we have to say about global policy and more by how we impact the lives of people on the ground.

One key to this impact for the UN is its peacekeeping operations, an increasingly complex and multi-faceted undertaking that seeks to blend nationally-seconded contingents (often with “caveats”) and then engage them in what are often a staggering array of tasks – from the physical protection of civilians and UN personnel to community outreach, support for elections and peace processes, and even the projection of force in areas where insurgencies threaten.

This week, UN corridors were filled with women and men in uniform, in part to participate in moving ceremonies to honor the fallen and in part to help address what the Republic of Korea referred to as our “reality gap” that places insufficient attention on what it called “holistic” and “prevention-oriented” responses to conflict.  The USG for peacekeeping LaCroix made a complementary point during the peacekeeper honoring ceremony when he noted that the safety and effectiveness of peacekeepers requires, among other things, that peace operations be tied closely to a political process that “can advance lasting solutions” to conflict.

To the UN’s credit, despite the limitations inherent in our collective policy bubble, there has been in recent years much more of an effort to ascertain the multiple dynamics and expectations of peacekeeping missions beyond ceremonies honoring the service and sacrifices of peacekeepers. To our mind, this is more important than it might appear.  In the US but surely elsewhere, people across the board seem to know less – and in many instances care less than they profess – about what military personnel do “in our name” than at any point in my lifetime.   We have written about this before and won’t repeat it here, but the substitution of what a recent Washington Post article calls our “sanitized way of remembering our troops” for a deeper attentiveness to the complexities of security threat and response, is both demeaning to the troops and dangerous for the rest of us.  We need to know more and care more about military matters regardless of our stances on the use of armed violence; this in part to guarantee that troops are not needlessly sent into harm’s way, but also to help ensure that those so sent (and the weapons that accompany them) are not doing significantly more harm than good.

Thankfully, the UN continues to wrestle sincerely with the many challenges of peacekeeper safety and effectiveness.  Moreover, led by several current UN Security Council members, notably Peru, Poland, Belgium and Indonesia (May’s Council president), we have witnessed a more robust, if still subtle shift in peacekeeping discussions; combining concerns for force generation and legal accountability mechanisms for abuses committed with an interest in communities – not only their concerns and impediments, but also their capacities to build and keep the peace.

Just this week alone, the aforementioned states and other stakeholders reinforced the importance of enabling greater community resourcefulness in the service of peace.  In Friday’s helpful Arria  Formula discussion on the relationship between peacekeeping and peacebuilding, Peru reminded colleagues that guaranteeing access to services and resources people need to improve their family and community circumstances is critical to peacebuilding success, especially to what the Ambassador referred to as the “recovery of the social fabric” after conflict.  Belgium was even more pointed, noting that at the end of the day, “states don’t make lasting peace so much as people do.”  This echoed Belgium’s excellent intervention during this week’s Security Council debate on protection of civilians in which it urged peacekeepers to “master the skills of community engagement” and remain attentive to the ways that “communities remain essential to peace.”

As Thailand rightly noted during that same debate, a durable peace is much less possible “when civilians and communities feel themselves under threat.” And as I was reminded this week by one of our remarkable former interns, not all of that threat is attributable to matters such as terrorism and corrupt governance.  Indeed, much is related to circumstances affecting families and communities, circumstances that the UN has pledged to address in other conference rooms, in part by exploring how best to help people access public services and ratchet up the contributions they are capable of making to the building of more peaceful societies.

One of those human security-related “circumstances” raised this week was on our collective progress on Goal 7 of the 2030 Development agenda related to “affordable and clean energy.”   One speaker after another conveyed the news that while some strides have been made on issues such as “greening” our energy sources and the electrification of rural areas, we are now (as a recent set of policy briefs makes clear) “playing catch-up on almost all of our energy goals and targets. For instance, we are still widely subsidizing fossil fuels and using available energy resources in inefficient and uneven ways.  And despite growing public interest in sustainable energy options, we remain reluctant to finance the full (if socially complex) shift to renewable energy resources despite the many climate and employment benefits that would thus accrue.

But perhaps more germane to this post, as explained by UN Energy co-chair Rachel Kyte, we also remain reluctant to “think about the people behind the numbers,” the children without power in their schools, the persons displaced by conflict who lack even the most basic access to energy for lighting and communications, the mothers (and fathers) for whom “clean cooking” is still a pipe-dream.

This issue of clean cooking touched me deeply.   My own cooking skills are barely sufficient to keep me upright, but I have many friends and acquaintances –including married folks living in a St. Louis (US) suburb — for whom cooking is a major form of self-expression, a joyful bonding exercise that contributes to their general well-being well beyond mere nourishment, providing a respite from our “world weary” selves.

Thus it is sobering to consider the many millions of people worldwide who must cook but who cannot cook cleanly, those who may well face gendered food insecurity and related struggles to provide family sustenance, and yet whose cooking may inadvertently become a death sentence for themselves and others.  Indeed, well over 3 million people each year die as a consequence of cooking without access to the (often simple) equipment and ingredients that could make it safer. Even during a week filled with testimonies to fallen peacekeepers and conflict victims, this narrative saddened me.

It may seem like a long distance from peacekeeping missions to the “everyday magic” of clean cooking, but it isn’t really.   If Brazil was right this week – if effective and robust community skills and resources provide the formula best able to fill our “protection and accountability gaps”– then we have a responsibility to ensure as best we can the general well-being of those community members, to listen more and impose less, to recommit to access to the health, food, energy and other basic needs that will allow citizens, peacekeepers and diplomats to build (and sustain) a durable peace together.

In the Security Council this week, Indonesia’s Foreign Minister insisted that, above all, “We must not let the people down.”  To get there, we have much still to learn about both the abundant skills and often-simple needs that remain resident in our communities. Much like with military matters, our attentiveness to the complex expectations, needs and assets of diverse populations will help us monitor, plan and collaborate for building peace with greater effectiveness.

Mother Load: Easing the Burdens of Clinging and Mourning, Dr. Robert Zuber

12 May

Tapestry

It’s the one job where, the better you are the more surely you won’t be needed in the long run. Barbara Kingsolver

Children are knives, my mother once said. They don’t mean to, but they cut. And yet we cling to them, don’t we, we clasp them until the blood flows.  Joanne Harris

No one is ever quite ready; everyone is always caught off guard. Parenthood chooses you. And you open your eyes, look at what you’ve got, say “Oh my gosh,” and recognize that of all the balls there ever were, this is the one you should not drop.  Marisa de los Santos

I dream of giving birth to a child who will ask, Mother, what was war?  Eve Merriam

There is a part of her mind that is a part of mine. But when she was born she sprang from me like a slippery fish, and has been swimming away ever since. All her life, I have watched her as though from another shore. Amy Tan

As virtually everyone recognizes here in the US and in much of the rest of the world, today is the “designated day” to honor mothers in ways both concrete and, at times, overly sentimental.

It’s been a while since I had a mother around to fuss over, but I am mindful this week of those in my life for whom the pain of mother-loss is still fresh, persons now immersed in a bit of holiday-inspired wondering if they did enough, said enough, honored enough while mother was still with us to ease and enrich her transition from this life to whatever might come next.

And then there are those new to mothering, including persons close to me, mothers who understand the challenges of the moment, who wince at the ubiquitous news stories about some of the issues on the UN agenda this week:  weapons of mass destruction and mass deforestation, climate-related displacements and the violence and lawlessness that seems to be engulfing places like Libya.  And yet, despite the possibility of bringing into the world a life filled more with challenges than satisfactions, these mothers have decided to bet on a human future in the most tangible manner possible – a life to which a mother will surely and steadfastly cling, even when it cuts.

Amidst the flowers and Hallmark cards, the birth notices and family brunches, there is yet another dimension of truth to Mother’s Day – the times when mothers must say a final and mournful good-bye to those “slippery fish” of children later felled by disease or armed violence, by circumstance or service.  This past Monday, the UN held its annual event honoring some of those “children,” those serving under the UN flag who perished while pursuing with often great courage what we all fervently strive to ensure even if we’re not always sure how:  a world at peace.

As one might expect, many of those honored fallen were serving as UN peacekeepers, including in some of the most dangerous conflict zones on earth – in Mali and South Sudan, in Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.   The list of the fallen was painfully long again this year, a point also taken up in earnest the following day in the Security Council under Indonesia’s leadership, during which delegations explored the means – especially through better training and equipment – to more effectively ensure the safety of the women and men mandated within peace operations to protect others under circumstances that are uncomfortable at best. Delegations on Tuesday clearly reaffirmed their full support and respect for those who serve in peacekeeping operations or in related assignments such as in Hodeidah port (Yemen). Such support was aptly summarized by Ireland whose Ambassador proclaimed that “we are as proud of the blue helmet as we are of the Shamrock.”

Not only peacekeepers were honored at this solemn Monday event but also fallen humanitarian workers and food security experts; people providing shelter and provisions for refugees and other victims of violence and natural disaster; people facing “unfriendly fire” during the course of their service or simply reserving a seat on a malfunctioning airplane. Indeed, people who for various reasons were now being saluted and mourned at the UN by mothers and other family members, not because they were perfect but because they were loved; and because they willingly put themselves in harm’s way, at least we believe, not so much for the sake of the UN or other institution, but so that a world could be birthed in which armed conflict and its consequences are more a childhood curiosity than the pervasive threat we now experience in far too many places on this planet.

During this annual honoring, I often find myself wondering what it would be like to sit in a UN conference room and mourn the loss of a child, even a child who long-since “swam away” and might only have acknowledged episodically the place from which their life first arose. I can wonder but simply can’t imagine what it must be like to have the ball “you should not drop,” being dropped instead by a too-often violent and indifferent world.   What do you say in response to that?  Indeed what can anyone else say to narrow this chasm of “missing?”

The UN surely does not honor enough and often not appropriately.   As a community, we are too focused on protocol and position to recognize in the way we should the many who actually uphold the large and small promises that still take up residence in this place. But this Monday ceremony conveyed genuine dignity as well as the insistence that we will collectively, somehow or other, continue to “answer the call” until our yearning for peace, our dream of a war-free world, have finally been realized.

In this age of digital scheduling, I carry around (and actually use) a small paper calendar courtesy of a modest donation I made recently to the remarkable St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. Inside that now-scribbled calendar are pictures of children in some cases stricken by cancer even before experiencing the diseases we more commonly associate with childhood. In some of those pictures are the parents, mostly mothers who, like so many others, must find within themselves the means to bear this deep wound, to remain strong and resolute amidst this existential threat to children who, much too often, have not yet learned how to ride a bicycle or tie their shoes.

The reason that we do what we do, despite the ever-apparent absurdity associated with limited resources and even-more-limited wisdom, is because we know that for every mother whose child is given a ray of hope by places like St. Jude’s, millions of others must watch – often helplessly –as violence and disease, hunger and displacement exact their horrible toll.  At the Monday ceremony, several speakers expressed “pride” that so many are still willing to take risks for the sake of global peace. Indeed, more risks will be required of all of us if we are to emerge only semi-scathed from this difficult period in our collective history. But for many of the mothers in the room, I suspect, pride was less in play than wishing for that day when no mother would ever again be required to sit and mourn the loss of her own flesh, the loss of one to whom she once clung tight.

For us and for many others around the world, the possibility of that day makes what we do every day worth our best effort. Blessings to all whom we honor and all who mourn on this Mother’s Day.

Passion Play: The UN’s Drowsy Acknowledgement of Racist Violence, Dr. Robert Zuber

31 Mar

Old Man

It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.  Audre Lourde

No human race is superior; no religious faith is inferior. All collective judgments are wrong. Only racists make them. Elie Wiesel

Racism is not merely a simplistic hatred. It is, more often, broad sympathy toward some and broader skepticism toward others.  Ta-Nehisi Coates

We first crush people to the earth, and then claim the right of trampling on them forever, because they are prostrate.  Lydia Maria Child

White privilege is an absence of the consequences of racism: an absence of structural discrimination, an absence of your race being viewed as a problem first and foremost.  Reni Eddo-Lodge

Three hundred years of humiliation, abuse and deprivation cannot be expected to find voice in a whisper.  Martin Luther King Jr.

This past week at the UN was reminiscent of some of the energy surrounding the opening of the General Assembly in September.  Many heads of state and foreign ministers were in the building weighing in on climate change and sustainable development, on peace prospects for Mali and its Sahel neighbors, on pledges to enhance the UN Secretary-General’s Action for Peacekeeping (A4P) initiative, on collaborative actions to stem the financing of terrorism, on ways that the General Assembly and the Peacebuilding Commission can collaborate on conflict prevention and building “national ownership for sustaining peace,” and on the largely-US-initiated controversy around sovereign jurisdiction over the Golan Heights.  Beyond the rooms where the political dignitaries could be found, the UN also hosted some excellent side events on the preservation of biodiversity in the ocean waters beyond national jurisdiction, one piece of a larger treaty-based effort to promote global ocean governance in the vast, threatened, open ocean.

It was all breathtaking and challenging for us to process while running from one conference room to another to catch and share (@globalactionpw) the most important moments of too-often parallel events .  Much of the energy of the week, especially on peacekeeping and peacebuilding, was positive, though in some instances not always sufficiently urgent.  As was duly noted in several conference rooms, both our climate and our oceans are deteriorating more rapidly than our collective responses are ratcheting up, threatening small island states and regions such as the African Sahel, the latter of which is already groaning under burdens of drought, weak institutions of governance, and unwelcome external interference including in the form of pervasive violence from armed groups operating across multiple borders.

With all that was taking place in the worlds inside and outside the UN, there were three distinct images from this past week that touched a not-particularly-happy chord.  One of these, courtesy of CNN, was of the town hosting the so-called “doomsday vault” (Svalbard Global Seed Vault) that is apparently now warming faster than anywhere else on earth, threatening the integrity of the vault’s precious storage.  Back at the UN, the Security Council discussion on the validity of what Israel called the “just proclamation” by the US on the Golan deteriorated at the end into a bit of a shouting match with the Syrian and Israeli Ambassadors attempting to “shame” one another, as though there isn’t already plenty of unacknowledged and unconfessed shame at the UN to go around, certainly by these two states but also by myself and others who need to do more than the modest part we are playing now to help keep this UN ship steered in the right direction.

The third disturbing image for me was not about melting and shaming, but about absence.  After two weeks of crowded hallways, overflow conference rooms and passionate speeches from UN officials courtesy of the Commission on the Status of Women, the General Assembly held two events on Monday, essentially back to back, ostensibly to reflect with the international community on the scourges of racial discrimination and the slave trade, including its grave contemporary manifestations.

For both events, the GA Hall was largely empty at all seating levels, including the section where we were stationed. Only a half-dozen or so non-diplomats were witness to the first morning conversation in a level of the Hall that can seat hundreds.  One of those was an elderly African-American woman seated in one corner of what was otherwise a vast sea of empty seats. We wondered if all the open space disturbed her.  It disturbed us.

Some salient insights were communicated during this day though the speeches were often uttered without much passion, “whispers” easily swallowed up by vast, empty spaces.   There were exceptions: participating states including Cuba, Kenya, San Marino and Guyana exposed “doctrines of racial superiority” and the “hatred that could lead to genocide” while insisting that the UN take the lead in educating people about what Guatemala called “pernicious” and all-too common racism and discrimination.

The president of the General Assembly, María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés added some important dimensions to this discussion in what, for her, became quite a remarkable week of events and interventions. She underscored that the UN has not kept its “never again” promise; that “stereotypes and micro-aggressions” persist and inflame conditions that lead to racial intolerance.  And she restated the commitment of the General Assembly to the 2030 Development Agenda and its promise to eliminate the gaps that leave space in our world for race-based discrimination and abuse, for the hate crimes, abuses of authority and family-separated children that stain our very souls.

But it was two other insights from the president that particularly piqued our interest:  her lament that “inhumane subjection” continues to take so many ugly forms in our modern world, and her call to honor the (trans-Atlantic) slave women who endured “physical exploitation” but who nevertheless reached beyond their own suffered indignities to “uphold the dignity of others.”

In the aftermath of the CSW (whose side events we regularly attended), the implications of these two comments seemed clear.   First that “inhumane subjection” now casts a broad and nefarious shadow over the entire human condition, affecting too many women to be sure; but a shadow that engulfs and shrouds persons of many racial and religious backgrounds, including indigenous people of course but also persons with disabilities and disabling diseases, the chronically poor and politically marginalized. And second, that if “physically exploited” women can find it within themselves to uphold the dignity of others, then surely the rest of us privileged folks have far fewer excuses for neglecting this fundamental duty towards the building of a world of genuine reconciliation and sustainable peace.

For all the chatter about “intersectionalities” around the UN, we seem to have misplaced a good portion of that (probably now overused) term’s implications.  It is not just about multiple forms of discrimination experienced by such as indigenous women, as pervasive as those forms are. It is also about extending meaningful solidarity to other “sections,” identifying with their diverse humiliating and abusive contexts, supporting their calls for justice and reconciliation and, as with this past Monday, showing up at events where the abuse and discrimination of focus are not focused specifically on “us.”

At the end of a week of so many UN discussions both exhilarating and frustrating, the most hopeful image for me was the one at the top of this post, a 95 year old man who traveled on four buses to make an appearance at a rally to show support for New Zealand’s mourning Muslim community, thereby adding his voice to what must become our common call to take racial, ethnic and religious discrimination – and the multi-layered “crushing” and “trampling” which it now spawns in all parts of our world – with greater seriousness.

We could have used his presence and inspiration in the General Assembly Hall this past Monday.

A Credible Path Forward for ASEAN on Climate Risks, Dr. Robert Zuber

29 Jul

Legitimacy is based on fairness, voice and predictability.  Malcolm Gladwell

A superior person is modest in speech, but exceeds in action. Confucius

Every action or perceived inaction shapes credibility. Mindy Hall

Claiming that you are what you are not will obscure the strengths you do have while destroying your credibility.  Tom Hayes

Thanks to the excellent organizing work of Dr. Catherine Jones of St. Andrews University, Scotland and colleagues from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta, Indonesia, Global Action was pleased to participate in a two-day seminar, “Peacekeeping, Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief.”  The seminar specifically looked at the relationship between peacekeeping assets and the growing humanitarian burdens facing Indonesia and its regional neighbors from a variety of natural disasters increasingly attributable to climate change.

The seminar group included Indonesian government officials tasked with national peacekeeping policy and scholars skilled in dissecting regional peacekeeping assets and policy concerns.  Assumptions were made – rightly I think though barely interrogated– that the already great burdens of humanitarian response to either emergency or “slow onset” disasters is only likely to increase across the region.  The questions then become:  How do we better prepare communities to face this growing threat? What role might peacekeeping play in emergency response and resiliency building? What other skills, capacities and “partnerships” (a term that came up often at these meetings) might we need to develop in order to ensure timely, comprehensive, competent and (dare we say) rights-based responses?  And in that light, how do we (to quote one of the participants) “capture” more of the stories of how local communities are responding to these evolving climate threats?

The backdrop for this discussion was ably articulated by several participants in this “Chatham House” format.  As readers of these postings are already familiar, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member Indonesia is set to join the UN Security Council in January to begin its 4th stint as an elected member.  Much has changed in the 10 years since Indonesia was last on the Council, including prickly conflict dynamics regarding Iran nuclear and Syria chemical weapons; peacekeeping mandates which are now generally more coercive, more protection-oriented and (thankfully) tied more closely to political processes; and formal consideration of a wider range of security-related global problems (including those related to climate), thematic obligations which demand attention from the entire international community.

As Indonesia is well aware from its leadership roles in the non-aligned movement, disarmament affairs and the Peacebuilding Commission, the UN system faces daunting challenges both in the world and within its own conference rooms.  Recent pleas for overdue assessed funding from the UN Secretary-General along with public threats to muiltilateralism from heads of some member states underscore the precarious nature of some of the UN’s most important commitments – to ocean and climate health, to the fulfillment of the sustainable development goals, to the maintenance of an effective human rights system, to timely and effective peacekeeping and peacebuilding, and to the resolution of conflicts from Yemen to Central African Republic that continue to drain funds and political will from the international community and compromise (at least for some states) the credibility of the very Security Council that Indonesia is set to join.

Amidst this uncertain policy climate, there appear to be growing calls for collaboration between the states of ASEAN and the UN along the lines of peace and security partnerships already well established with the African Union and European Union.  This is not the space to assess the pitfalls that a too-hastily-engaged alliance might ultimately expose, but seminar participants were right to point out the “long shadows” currently cast by China and the US over virtually all aspects of regional security, UN partnership or no.  What we would wish to see going forward is more analysis of the inter-sectional, climate- security risks facing small regional states as well as some of the current impediments to creating genuinely horizontal, inclusive, credible partnerships between the UN and regional bodies such as ASEAN. As a cautionary tale on partnerships, exhibit A might be the recent Council decision to impose an arms embargo on South Sudan over the objections of African Union and IGAD officials who have been at the center of efforts to broker a sustainable peace in that country.

Indeed, a case could be made that any ASEAN or other regional partnership with the UN should look beyond the alleged prestige from such arrangements to some of the functional limitations that would need to be overcome if such partnerships are to become context appropriate – sensitive both to the threats to be addressed and the most culturally-appropriate tools and methods for addressing them.  Rather than replicating the ambitions of regions that seem to have garnered “insider status” at the UN within and beyond the Security Council, ASEAN states and scholars such as those at this seminar would do us all well to help guide discussions that seek to preserve strategic autonomy, explore benefits and limitations in a more systemic manner, clarify inter-relationships among core regional threats –including climate events, nuclear  perils and super-power posturing and “ad hoc” policymaking– and examine the fitness of existing resources (sometimes presenting in “friendly” military garb) to create stability and integrate more fully than at present the skills and energies of community-based stakeholders.

Comprehensive peace arrangements sufficient to this vast region must account for many factors. The way forward to credible regional agreements and partnerships with the UN and other international organizations characterized by reliability, transparency, trust-building and attentiveness to political and cultural context lies still beyond the horizon.  Indeed, one valuable next step to bring the horizon closer might be a thorough examination of the “Plan of Action” to implement the Joint Declaration on Comprehensive Partnership between ASEAN and the United Nations (2016-2020).  This “plan” is under-developed and under-utilized to be sure, but it also contains elements that intentionally link peacekeeping, civil-military coordination and disaster management/response. Properly handled, this document could help ASEAN states “practice” forms of cooperation that both effectively address climate impacts and lay the groundwork for developing or deepening other forms of bilateral and multilateral security cooperation. Such “practice” is, from our standpoint at least, time well spent.

Our consistent view has been and remains that we have reached a dangerous tipping point on climate that is sure to result in an increased number of “events” – more and more of them catastrophic — that will test virtually all current response capacities and security arrangements.  From this point, we must do more to ensure that the right tools and capacities are available to stave off slow-onset crises and stabilize communities in the face of those less predictable, rapid-onset emergencies.   If the collective security will of ASEAN states affirms the need for deeper UN security and climate partnerships, these states should at least ensure that such partnerships focus on (as one participant noted) their credibility and effectiveness in addressing threats such as those from climate more than on establishing their “legitimacy” in the eyes of the international community.  ASEAN, to our eyes at least, already seems quite legitimate enough.

Indonesia is sure to deal with its share of Security Council headaches over the next two years. But along with its new Council colleagues, especially Germany and South Africa, Indonesia has the capacity to provide strong and (when needed) contrary policy guidance for a Council that is too often bogged down in its own security duties and disconnected from the duties of its UN colleagues. Helping to develop, test and implement a robust regional capacity for disaster response and stabilization – a capacity that fully utilizes all relevant peacekeeping assets but is not constrained by them — would pave the way for more reliable and trust-worthy security-related collaborations within and across the region.

During our seminar, Indonesia affirmed its commitment to the full integration of gender, conflict prevention and civilian peacekeeping capacities, all towards what one official referred to as a “global ecosystem for peace.”  For all who yearn for an end to armed conflict, and perhaps especially for those within the ASEAN region, it should be clear that sustained attention to the implications of our damaged eco-system must accompany, if not precede, any successful and sustainable peace.

 

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.

Storm Surge:  The UN Avoids Turning Obstacles into Impediments, Dr. Robert Zuber

9 Apr

daffodils_glowing_199026

Skillful pilots gain their reputation from storms and tempests.  Epictetus

Storms make the oak grow deeper roots.  George Herbert

Last month, an early spring storm and unusually cold stretch created a major challenge for March flowers.  The UN’s own daffodil patch suffered significant damage, made clear only as the snows finally receded.  But as some flowers lay dormant, victims of an unpredictable climate, other daffodils sprang to life.  For them, the snow and sub-freezing temperatures seemed more an obstacle to navigate and less an impediment to blooming.

Indoors, the UN faced storms of another sort, rocked by recent terrorist violence in Sweden, Somalia, Russia and (now) Egypt, and even more egregious violence in the form of sarin attacks orchestrated by the government of Syria’s Assad that left dozens dead and filled our media with images of children taking what might well have been a final breath.

Among its other sordid consequences, the attack laid bare (as France duly noted) the failure of that government to honor its commitments to eliminate its chemical weapons stockpiles;  indeed its apparent ability to deceive UN inspectors whose job it was to certify weapons removal has many sobering implications for other weapons inspections and removal efforts.

The Assad chemical attack was followed, as we all know, by another unilateral military response – cruise missiles fired from a US ship at the air base from which the sarin attack was believed to be originally launched.  That attack seems now to have been as much about “sending a message” as it was destroying a base, especially given that the air strip was reported “open for business” the following day.

Nevertheless, the US attack was the backdrop for an emergency Security Council meeting on Friday that brought more than a bit of simmering hostility into the open.  Such hostility threatened to undermine what was otherwise a period of relative Council consensus on matter related to Mali, South Sudan and the Central African Republic. It also threatened to obscure the impact of events elsewhere in the UN – including the honoring of 20 years of service by the UN Mine Action Service and preparations for major international conferences to promote Ocean health and the rights of migrants – which should have provided fresh evidence to the international community of the UN’s enduring value.

The attack on the Syria base — while relatively benign in comparison to the consequences of Assad’s chemical attack (a point made strongly by the UK and others) not to mention the massive air raids conducted by Assad and Russia on civilian infrastructure for much of the past six years — represented for some members another significant blow to the UN’s Charter and its seemingly ever-perilous reputation.  Bolivia perhaps was the most articulate in denouncing this latest unilateral measure by the US, citing concerns regarding the degree to which human rights are sacrificed at the altar of national interest; also that chemical weapons use might become the pretext for another, Iraq-style armed intervention. From our own standpoint, this attack is one with the potential to widen the already significant divide between permanent and elected Council members, one which the US has publicly threatened to repeat with or without UN support, and one which comes on the heels of other statements by the US implying that any future support for the UN – provided by this administration at least – is contingent on allowing the US to “fix” some things.

Certainly there are things that need fixing around the UN including as the US rightly suggested and which SG Guterres affirmed in the Council on Thursday as part of his “9 Point” areas of reform, the need to ensure that the UN’s peacekeeping operations are relevant and flexible such that mandates remain “faithful” to shifting security contexts.   Guterres also called for a new “surge in diplomacy for peace,” while ensuring gender balance in peace operations undertaken with the full participation of relevant regional and sub-regional stakeholders.

At this same session other Council members made their own reform suggestions on force generation (Kazakhstan), access to helicopters and other military equipment (Senegal), the slippery slope of peacekeepers taking on one or more aspects of counter-terror operations (SG and others), and the need for clear political objectives to which peace operations are then expected to contribute (Uruguay).

The concept note provided by the US for this particular meeting was helpful at several levels, though it does seem as though there is too much emphasis on the cost of peacekeeping and not enough on preserving and affirming what the UK’s Ambassador Rycroft called the “human face” of the UN.

And peacekeeping is not the only area where the US now appears to be “pulling up” some of the UN’s carpet.  From initiating a cutoff of aid to the UN Population Fund to insisting on its own (under-qualified) candidate to run the UN’s World Food Programme, this US administration has significantly upped the ante on costs, seeking new concessions from the UN to “fix” itself largely in accord with US wishes.  The US is certainly not the only country that throws its weight around the UN, nor is it by any stretch the only country that flaunts the values it has otherwise pledged to uphold; but it also tends to do more than its share of arm twisting albeit rarely in the form of such a “public dare.”

And so the UN now faces obstacles analogous to a major, early spring storm – Charter values under siege, disenchantment with our security-related performance, threats of funding withdrawal, stubborn power imbalances, inflexible and often unfeasible peacekeeping mandates, endless requests for humanitarian funding in response to conflicts we should have been better able to prevent (or at least contain) in the first place.

Beyond these, people continue to face discrimination, deprivation and despair in many global regions.  And the policy community has not yet demonstrated that we have listened long enough – certainly deeply enough – to grasp just how unequal our global systems of security, economy, education and health truly can be.

But even in the midst of unfulfilled global expectations and highly contentious discussions about chemical attacks and armed reprisals, there remain signs of recognition that we might just have the temperament to manage these stormy times. The UK’s Rycroft affirmed that, despite appearances, the UN remains “the place to negotiate when peace seems out of reach.”  Uruguay’s Ambassador Rosselli urged Council members to “keep calm, carry on, and continue to do our work.” And Italy’s Ambassador Cardi asked colleagues to “look ahead” and find more effective ways to hold offending states accountable to their obligations under the UN Charter and existing Security Council resolutions.

These suggestions by respected Council members are helpful.  When storms threaten the UN it isn’t necessary for us to choose between urgency and thoughtfulness, nor need we permit obstacles to become impediments to the changes our constituencies expect and need.   Instead, storm-related obstacles can become occasions for us to “test our mettle,” to build our stable of skills —- including in mediation and conflict prevention — and to nurture deeper, more reliable and more enduring institutional roots.

Justice League:  The UN Hesitantly Manages its Peacekeeping Expectations, Dr. Robert Zuber

26 Feb

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That was the thing about the world: it wasn’t that things were harder than you thought they were going to be, it was that they were hard in ways that you didn’t expect.  Lev Grossman

Expectations are dangerous when they are both too high and unformed.  Lionel Shriver

When I was a child, far back in the last century, I was enraptured by the exploits of a group of superheroes known as the Justice League.   This formidable group – from Wonder Woman and Green Lantern to Batman and the Flash – kept us on the edge of our chairs as they battled the forces of evil, sometimes alone, sometimes together, but almost always successfully.

In retrospect, what made these imaginary heroes so compelling is their complement of imaginary attributes.   They were mighty.  They essentially answered to no one.  They were kind to all but the evil doers.  They responded to crises without hesitation.  They possessed extraordinary skills allowing them to simultaneously fight the “bad guys,” repair damaged infrastructure and reassure nervous populations wondering if the values their make-believe parents taught them any longer had relevance in their make-believe world.

Our real world of “evil doers” is considerably more complex.  The lines that separate the “good guys” and “bad guys” are less obvious than our governments and media make it seem.   We tend to replicate the behaviors of our adversaries more than renounce them, fighting bombs with bombs, offering threatening rhetoric in response to threatening rhetoric,  demonizing those who demonize us.  And when we do renounce this pattern, our collective responses (such as through the UN) are often far slower than is optimal, based on preparations that are political as much as technical, that are often more about “what we can do with what we have at hand” rather than what is actually needed.

In real life, there is no Justice League available to resolve our conflicts, no heroes in costume with power on permanent standby, determination in their hearts and kind smiles on their faces.

We have written often in this space about the need for the UN to better manage the full complement of its expectations, which far too often run apace of any relevant strategies or capacities to end conflict and/or sustain peace.  Our public relations pitches, our Security Council mandates, our Commissions and Committees, all seem designed to convince the public (and perhaps ourselves as well) that we actually have what it takes – on hand right now – to discharge fully and successfully the weighty responsibilities to which we have been entrusted.

Within the UN, this burden of expectation falls heavily on peacekeeping operations, the most expensive of UN operations but also the operations that bear grave field responsibilities that are essential both to the UN’s peace and security reputation and to the successful implementation of other UN country team activities – from development to mediation.

Others more focused and knowledgeable on peacekeeping matters have written extensively about the extraordinary and widening responsibilities now laid at the feet of peace operations – seeking out “spoilers,”  interfacing with terror threats, rebuilding entire sectors of states under siege,  enabling access points for humanitarian assistance,  offering protective services to threatened civilians.

And defending human rights, a complex matter under the best of circumstances, but certainly for peace operations facing threats from insurgents in “ungoverned spaces,” staffed by recruits from Troop Contributing Countries” with limited knowledge of (or at times interest in) the intricate political and social circumstances of the places they are mandated to “defend,” seeking to fulfill expectations both robust and multifaceted,  expectations that more than a few commentators would call “unfeasible.”

An example of this “heaping” of responsibilities on peace operations is the last Security Council renewal (2323/2016) of the UNSMIL mandate, the peacekeeping and special political mission in Libya.  Despite a security situation that is so dangerous and unpredictable that many key UN functions (ICC, UNMAS) must operate largely from outside the country, UNSMIL peacekeepers are somehow expected to

  • help consolidate governance, security and economic arrangements of the Government of National Accord;
  • provide support to key Libyan institutions;
  • provide support, on request, for the provision of essential services, and delivery of humanitarian assistance and in accordance with humanitarian principles;
  • monitor and report on human rights;
  • secure uncontrolled arms and related materiel , and counter their proliferation;
  • coordinate the provision of advice and assistance to state-led efforts to stabilize post-conflict zones, including those liberated from Da’esh.

Faced with such daunting difficulties — and this mission’s mandate is not unique — it is miraculous that peacekeepers can be assembled with even a reasonable chance of successful outcomes.   I wonder if even the mythical Justice League would have signed on to such obstacle-laden responsibilities.

This week, in the margins of the (C-34) Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations, some of the inconsistencies of Peace Operations associated with our sometimes grandiose mandates came to the fore.   During an excellent briefing on “human rights at work in peace operations,” Sweden’s Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs noted the many places worldwide in which “dignity is now under pressure,” urging a higher level of rights consciousness in peace operations. A peacekeeper from Somalia cited the damage to the UN when peace operations commit (or fail to respond) to rights abuses, including (as noted by a peacekeeper in the DRC) those committed by host governments.   And, echoing a theme highlighted later in the week at another superb peacekeeping side event, this time hosted by Indonesia, several speakers urged higher levels of women’s involvement in peacekeeping in part to help open new pathways to community communication that could meet Sweden’s request for clear and “early warnings” of impending violence and the rights abuses which so often follow.

The promotion and protection of human rights is an indispensable pillar of UN activity.  And yet, we find that peacekeepers lack sufficient training in these responsibilities, nor are they equipped to manage the sometimes tragic dilemmas for which peacekeeping operations must find a way forward.   Perhaps the most challenging of these dilemmas was mentioned this week by both ASG (DPKO) Wane and ASG (DPA) Zerihoun who cited difficult ethical dilemmas faced by mission command – having to temper actions to defend human rights in order to preserve access granted by the host state; and having to engage in reconstruction activities – including security sector reform and civilian demobilization and disarmament – alongside persons who have themselves committed severe rights abuses.   Coupled with the ongoing tragedy of civilians in the field abused by the very persons (peacekeepers) tasked with protecting them, it is clear that peace operations continue to face human rights challenges that, one after the other, threaten to compromise expectations and undermine our collective credibility.

Our peacekeepers are not superheroes; nor are the government officials that create their mandates, fund their operations and raise (often excessively) expectations.   Given this, we would advocate for more attention to the front end of expectation management rather than the back end — when the unpredictability of politics and conflict intervenes to complicate and restrict performance in ways that, once acknowledged as they were in the C-34 this week, sound a bit too much like excuses for failure.

This past Thursday, a female Indonesian peacekeeper made reference to the “power of smiles” in peacekeeping operations, a power that can in its own way help expand community “access and acceptance” beyond what is granted through formal “status of forces” agreements and other political arrangements.   Perhaps this is one mostly-missing ingredient towards a more realistic merger of expectations and performance within the realm of our peace and security responsibilities?   At the very least, it’s a start.