Tag Archives: Security Council

Editor’s Desk: Moving the UN Closer To its Masterpiece, Dr. Robert Zuber

19 May

The last temptation is the greatest treason: to do the right deed for the wrong reason. T. S. Eliot

Growing a culture requires a good storyteller. Changing a culture requires a persuasive editor.  Ryan Lilly

Focus on making yourself better, not on thinking that you are better.  Bohdi Sanders

Edit your life frequently and ruthlessly. It’s your masterpiece after all.  Nathan W. Morris

One of the satisfactions of being inside the UN each day is to see the multilateral system generating effective outcomes:  elevating the formal status of indigenous people and persons with disabilities; calling practical attention to our (so far) too-tepid responses to threats from our plastic-filled oceans, our rapidly warming climate and our shrinking biodiversity; dodging bombs and bullets to reach literally millions from Yemen to the Central African Republic with humanitarian aid; helping states like the Gambia transition to more inclusive governance, Burkina Faso hold the line on a fresh wave of terror attacks, or Bangladesh manage its Myanmar-responsible refugee crisis.

But we also recognize that world remains messy with so divergent policy goals, so many values and expectations, so many vested (and often unacknowledged) interests.  It is also “messy” in the sense that the institutions which have been in the forefront of efforts to navigate and even “referee” the mess, including the UN of course, have been and remain intensely political in nature, not only in terms of the “politics” of negotiating some version of consensus, but “political” in the sense of telling less than the truth we know, the truth that serves the interests of our national policy hierarchies but not necessarily the needs of the global commons we allege to represent.

We have made this point before, but it bears repeating here:   we have enabled formation of a “culture” within our multilateral settings where “straight talk” is too-often at a premium, where norms and resolutions are not expected to be implemented, and where articulated policy preferences and recommendations mask as many dimensions of our sometimes existential problems as they clarify.

This past week at the UN was in part an exercise in why the system where we spend our days could use an editor of sorts for organizational culture.   The General Assembly discussion this past Wednesday on “inequalities within and between nations,” especially in the introductory session, outlined  a growing crisis that many at the UN believe rivals climate and weapons of mass destruction as existential threats to our future.  As often this year, GA president María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés set a tone that was part restating the UN’s commitment to fulfilling SDG 10 and part potentially culture-shifting storytelling, noting that we live in a world where some children are fortunate to eat once a day while others eat “whatever and how often they wish.”  She also quoted an African proverb that “injustice is like a snake that only strikes those who are barefoot.”

But what gave this session its “legs,” moving the room beyond mere outrage at the growing gaps between the rich and the rest, were the specifics provided by other speakers to address in practical terms the Egyptian Minister’s call for the rapid, intentional “removal of obstacles” to the reduction of poverty and inequalities.  States and other stakeholders shared diverse practices designed to improve domestic revenue streams, eliminate corruption, improve access to education and other public services, and even consider income floors for citizens.  With due regard for national context, what the session lacked was someone to clarify and distill common priorities and help build specific lines of support for hopeful and replicable initiatives by states and other stakeholders.  As the “operational activities” segment of the UN’s Economic and Social Council opens this week, we hope that more persuasive “editing” of the activities that can incarnate our development goals is on the near horizon.

But of course inequalities are not confined to the vast spaces separating barrios from corporate board rooms.  There are also inequalities – sometimes vast – when it comes to how states are able to manipulate the levers of power and influence the narrative in multilateral settings.  The Security Council is often “ground zero” for the display of such inequalities — permanent members who cast blame but rarely accept it; members who make statements that share a portion of the global truth, but mostly the portion that serves more parochial interests; members who adopt resolutions for others but are all-too-willing to bend international obligations to suit themselves and their allies; members who resist efforts at significant reform that could alter the very fabric of the Council’s  culture and working methods, including how it engages with the rest of the UN system.  The culture of the Council is not even remotely “edited frequently and ruthlessly” nor is there now any candidate for the task who would be trusted by more than a handful of members currently serving.

To find examples of the varying levels of policy effectiveness in a largely “unedited” Council, one would only have to consult last week’s meetings:  a largely successful review of the G5 Sahel Force with the Foreign Minister of Burkina Faso; an urgent session seeking to preserve what remains of the cease fire in Idlib, Syria in the hopes of preventing the renewed bombing that would signal a humanitarian disaster beyond what the UN and other agencies could possibly handle; a session on Yemen which celebrated the demilitarization of the Hodeidah ports while continuing to blame only Iran and Houthi rebels by name for the still-considerable violence across Yemen, mentioning Saudi Arabia only in praise for their generous donations to ease the suffering of the many thousands of Yemenis put at deadly risk by Saudi bombers (with weapons from the US, UK and others) in the first place.

And then there was the discussion on Cameroon, held outside the formal chamber in an Arria Formula format, but which nevertheless represented a breakthrough of sorts regarding a conflict with many victims that has directly impacted our office and that we and others have been warning about for many months.  Convened by the US, the session was noteworthy for the sometimes-gruesome truth-telling of USG Lowcock and two Cameroon briefers, especially the director of Reach Out Cameroon who was known to us from previous trips to the country and who gave what she called a “human face” to the vulnerabilities of so many living in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon – including those who have “lost it all” and are now “trapped in the bushes” or “living in petrol stations.”

We have sat with many of these images already; no doubt some of the diplomats have also. However, despite the concerns of the UK that the Council is now at risk of having to “discuss Cameroon more often,” there seemed to be little other interest in taking this matter on to the formal SC agenda.   There was no plan floated (let alone agreed upon) to confront Cameroon whose representative remained defiant throughout.  Some states were concerned about jeopardizing Cameroon support for counter-terror operations around Lake Chad and for the care of refugees from the Central African Republic.  Others were concerned about putting Cameroon on the formal Council agenda when risks to International Peace and Security were not yet persuasive.  Still others expressed concern about placing yet another African state on the Council’s agenda without clear strategies for entry and exit.

We were dismayed to note that despite the compelling testimony, especially from the Cameroon briefers, not a single other speaker directly referenced any segment of their stories.   Not one.  Caveats to a deeper involvement by this Council appeared to win the day.  “Partnership” with Cameroon commanded a higher priority than rescuing women and children from the bushes.

Beyond the Cameroon briefers, there were certainly truth-tellers in the Council this week – including ASG Keita on fresh threats from terrorist violence in the Sahel, USG Lowcock on the incontrovertible links between violence, deprivation and displacement in Cameroon and NW Syria, Special Envoy Griffiths on the “corrosive nature of extended war” and the still-perilous, still-fragile security and political context in Yemen. Added to that has been the constant and welcome refrain from May president Indonesia that the primary purpose of this Security Council is “to save lives.”

But if this SC as to achieve this “masterpiece” of a purpose going forward it must focus more energy on “making this better,” to  embark towards what could represent a profound cultural shift, one in which states are expected to take responsibility more often than they cast blame; a shift that encourages the “right deeds for the right reasons,” that confesses more often the “mixed” that constitutes motive, that not only consults the truth on the ground but allows such truth to fully infuse its policy decisions, that honors security alliances which don’t require women and children to hide out in petrol stations.

In our current, hyper-active and crisis-defined system, one that is driven by state interests and large state interests above all, I don’t know from whence that fully “persuasive editor” of our institutional culture is most likely to emerge. But for the rest of this year and perhaps beyond, our small team of interns and fellows will remain on the lookout.

.

 

Advertisements

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.

Turning the Page:  Recovering the UN’s Relevant Responses, Dr. Robert Zuber

28 Apr

UN Stamp

If we don’t all row, the boat won’t go. Unknown

If everyone helps to hold up the sky, then one person does not become tired. Askhari Johnson Hodari

Laugh as long as you breathe, love as long as you live. Nujeen Mustafa

Many times a day, I realize how much my outer and inner life is built upon the labors of people, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received and am still receiving.  Albert Einstein

In the hot and stormy future we have already made inevitable through our past emissions, an unshakable belief in the equal rights of all people and a capacity for deep compassion will be the only things standing between civilization and barbarism.  Naomi Klein

While contemplating the content for this post, I took a walk in a nearby Manhattan park in what has been a particularly lovely season for flowers and blossoms.   While strolling and admiring I came across a Parks Department worker and thanked her for making all of this wonder possible.

She looked a bit stunned, as though this simple recognition was akin to a message from Mars.  But I remember well a time when my jogs through this very park were exercises in reckless risk taking, when park benches and pathways screamed out for repair, when “security” was largely based on “street smarts,” when flowers bloomed in defiance of neglect rather than as the result of loving care.

Part of the “care” of this park now is a function of a largely-unfortunate gentrification. We didn’t “deserve” a functioning green space, apparently, until the neighborhood became “safe” enough to absorb copious quantities of downtown money.  But even so, the park is now a place where flowers are planted and benches painted, where playgrounds are truly playful for children rather than being the dangers they once were for their parents, where teenagers play ball near a pond with turtles, egrets and feral cats, and folks trying to get in better shape are encouraged to jog around the now-even pavement meandering around the park’s edges.

And I contributed to virtually none of these improvements, as I tend to contribute too-little to so many of the things I use and (too often) take for granted.

This is intended less as a “confession” and more as a punctuation to what was an exhausting and instructive week of UN business.   From indigenous people straining to protect biodiversity and achieve formal UN recognition to some policy-challenging conversations on identifying and addressing what the UN Office of Drugs and Crime called “chilling” threats from nuclear terrorism and the increasingly convergent interests of terrorists and organized crime, it was difficult for us to keep track of (let alone contribute to) these multiple challenges or identify threads of what might constitute an effective response.

Fortunately, there were other UN events this week where the positive potential was easier to spot.

One of these was in the Security Council where Germany (April president) reinforced a discussion on the security and humanitarian issues affecting Syria by scheduling a poignant briefing from Nujeen Mustafa, a remarkable young woman with a disability who, from her wheelchair, schooled Council members on the many persons much too “invisible” in times of peace who become even less visible in times of conflict.  She reminded all in the Chamber that the figures quantifying humanitarian need have human faces, and that some of these faces already experience grave difficulties in this world which armed conflict merely intensifies.

And in the General Assembly, President María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés convened the first International Day for Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace.  While some delegations rightly lamented that such a day would even be necessary, and some used the opportunity to settle political scores, most understood that ours is a system that needs to be fixed rather than cast aside.  The president herself understands that a future for the UN lies in its ability to help build “a fairer world in practice, beyond our UN rhetoric,” a world that reaches persons living with poverty, with disabilities, with grave discouragement. And, as noted by the Finnish Foreign Minister, a world pointing to a future that does not belong only to “the rulers and the strong.”

In preparation for this post, I looked through my grandfather’s collection of UN stamps from 1951, the first year that UN stamps were issued.  The themes were revealing:  stamps highlighting the work of UNICEF and the ILO, stamps honoring the commitment of the UN to human rights.   And there were two others from 1951 of direct relevance to this post – one touting the UN’s commitment to capacity support and the other (at the top of this post) implying that the doors of the UN are open to all peoples of the world, and that it is the “common” people – and not only their diplomats and bureaucrats – who must be able to find something akin to an attentive and respectful haven in this place.

Taken together, this combination of hopefulness and tangible support is a legacy that is worth preserving, a legacy that certainly demands more of each of us, more thoughtfulness, more tangible contributions, more honesty, even more compassion.  It requires many more of us to commit to “hold up the sky” and row the boat, but also a willingness to burden-share, to refuse to “hog the oars” or avoid getting near the boat in the first place.

I recognize every day the degree to which our own little project has become a bit of a dinosaur, wedded to obsolete technology and pushing values that are important at one level but haven’t always served the global interest well as they should have. I also recognize that there is significant interest now in many corners of the globe to simply turn the page, to move on from rowing and holding, to dismiss the institutional arrangements of the past that have led to undeniable progress but also to exclusion and broken promises; arrangements that have allowed existential risks to become near-certainties, and that have extended cooperation with one hand while hording power and resources with the other.

Our fervent wish is for people to read the page before they turn it.

Read the page about the many issues – from sexual violence in armed conflict and nuclear terrorism to climate change and pandemics – for which the UN remains an indispensable point of policy reference.  Read the page about the people like Nujeen Mustafa whose “invisibility” is steadily giving way to recognition and respect.   Read the page about the many delegations reminded of their responsibility to both contribute more to the world they want and offer more tangible encouragement for the contributions of others.  Read the page about those who have dedicated their lives to protect human rights for those who labor and those who protest, for those who are mere bystanders to conflict and those whose vulnerabilities have compromised their very agency.   Read the page where coordinated pressure from UN agencies and member states has created conditions for the dramatic reduction of numerous human scourges, from torture and malaria to state corruption and the recruitment of child soldiers.

This page certainly contains its share of hypocrisy and protocol substituting for genuine gratitude and compassion, but it also contains evidence of a willingness to grow and change, to give a good-faith attempt to resolve its lapses of effectiveness and address the legitimate skepticism of some of its global public. We routinely spend 10 hour weekdays inside the UN, and there are days when we shake our heads so often that our necks become strained.  But we know that this place retains some capacity for self-reflection, occasionally even humor. Together we can fix this place, making it more effective but also more human, insisting that its constituent parts contribute more to the global commons and uphold more fully the values that gave rise to its existence 74 years ago.

At the General Assembly this past week, the Irish Ambassador spoke of the “problems without passports” for which the UN is uniquely if not yet fully equipped to address.  Hers is the section of the page we need to be sure to bookmark.

Bomb Squad: The UN’s Struggle to Give Disarmament a Chance, Dr. Robert Zuber

7 Apr

Peace Bell

Who needs immortal strength when you’ve got weapons of mass destruction?  J.A. Saare

Before he danced with his weapons, now he danced with me.  Kara Barbieri

The people most reluctant to use weapons are the ones who can best be trusted with them. Christopher Bennett

Let the silence rise from unwatered graves and craters left by bombs.
Let the silence rise from empty bellies and surge from broken hearts
. Kamand Kojouri

Can bombs heal our souls or set our spirits free? Aberjhani

During a week in which armed groups ominously marched towards Libya’s capital and the world pondered what has changed and not in the 25 years since the genocide in Rwanda, Tuesday was the day for the UN to take up another of the existential threats that have found their way on to its agenda – weapons in all shapes, sizes and destructive potential that can continue to intimidate populations, enforce discriminatory practices, impede sustainable development, undermine trust in neighbors and governments, and (too) much more.

As some of you recall, Global Action invested much of its early years in disarmament-related activity, helping to provide attentive feed-back to governments on their disarmament responsibilities and sharing office space with colleagues such as the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, with which we continue to commiserate regularly on a range of arms related matters.

That work still matters greatly, though we came to believe some time back that for disarmament to be successful it must find a broader engagement, specifically with policy communities that can make helpful connections between weapons procurement and the “deterrence” with which such weaponry is often associated and justified with other efforts to end racial and gender discrimination, protect our environment, uphold human rights obligations, eliminate the use of child soldiers, promote “DDR” with former combatants, and address terrorist threats.

Not only are these issues linked, but indeed our contention has been that there has been more policy space at the UN and elsewhere for discussions that involve weapons than for discussions that are solely focused on weapons.   Of all the policy architecture on display in the many UN conference rooms to which we are attention, it would be no stretch to conclude that the disarmament architecture is among the least flexible aspects of the current multi-lateral system, the structure most likely to double down on failed resolutions and treaties (or what passes for treaties in the disarmament world), largely squandering the energies and ideas of the often-remarkable diplomats and civil society representatives who choose in good faith to throw themselves into these essential but too-often frustrating processes.

And yet on this past Tuesday diplomats were back at it in the Security Council (which has yet to fulfill its Charter obligation to provide a plan forward on disarmament) as well as in the Disarmament Commission, a process that we followed closely for years but now only engage episodically given its political malfunctions and redundancies, as well as its almost legendary inability to move past hard statements and political maneuverings to embrace the deliberative space that could result in more thoughtful recommendations on disarmament to a UN system that hasn’t yet found them elsewhere.

On Tuesday, the Disarmament Commission could not even get through a single plenary session before politics intervened – in this instance a complaint filed by the Russian Federation against the “host state” for failure to issue visas to Russian delegates to the Commission.  While visa denial is a serious matter, this particular complaint eventually necessitated the shutting down of the day’s session, hardly a crisis in its own right, but surely a “red flag” for states and civil society organizations struggling within multiple venues to address the many challenges related to excessive arms production and deployment in all its aspects, including space weapons, nuclear weapons modernization, non-proliferation threats from the DPRK, “autonomous” weapons systems, alleged chemical weapons uses, “craft” IED production, and the biological weapons which perhaps represent the most covert and devastating of the weapons-of-mass-destruction triumvirate.

This is, at face value, an extraordinary list of threats, surely long enough and grave enough that diplomats and other global constituents could be excused for wanting more – much more — from a Commission that can barely agree on a three-year work plan, let alone transcend its national interests (legitimate and contrived) to enhance prospects for global well-being through meaningful weapons reductions.

As for the Security Council, with the Preparatory Committee for the 2020 Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) soon to convene in New York, Council co-presidents Germany and France smartly put non-proliferation and disarmament at the head of this month’s deliberations.  Implementing the NPT’s “three pillars” (nuclear power being the 3rd) has been a bit of a slog, individually and collectively, though German Foreign Minister Maas claimed (and a Council press statement largely affirmed) that without the NPT “mutual distrust would be much higher” and dangers greater. Indeed, the FM evoked a popular Joni Mitchell song that “you don’t know what you’ve got ‘till it’s gone,” a sentiment in part echoed by High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Nakamitsu, who lauded the NPT’s “staying power” while rightly lamenting recent trends that preference “individual over collective security.”

This “it would be worse for us if the NPT weren’t here” claim can fairly be scrutinized, but the core issue is whether or not, given rising threat levels, the good is still good enough.   During this discussion, many Council members including Poland and Indonesia reflected on these three NPT pillars under stress, noting that the disarmament obligation remains the least implemented of the three. Indonesia’s MFA further reminded Council members that it is precisely tangible progress on this disarmament obligation that lends legitimacy to non-proliferation demands, progress that has been insufficient at best.

For his part, the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Amano was forceful in proclaiming the work of his organization, specifically work focused on weapons monitoring and compliance deemed indispensable to the eventual fulfillment of the NPT’s promises. Indeed, that some NPT parties seem to put so little political stock in what Amano rightly deemed “powerful verification tools,” is a bit unsettling.  But more to the point, given that the health of the NPT is tied to its access to “state of the art” verification mechanisms unavailable in other weapons contexts, that key NPT members would then set out to “question” or even undermine the validity of these mechanisms is the sort of disconnect that should be called out in UN contexts more often.  No state should get a pass while voicing support for the NPT as a key component of the “rules based order” and then simultaneously creating distance in any form (including on financial support) from the one agency capable of verifying that the progress we claim on reducing nuclear weapons threats is actually being made.

An important issue for us is the extent to which a piece of our weapons-related monitoring and compliance can segue from states that might be guilty of undermining resolution and treaty obligations to the states and stakeholders that have — in UN and other contexts — turned an existential weapons threat into an occasion for trust-eroding, political posturing.   The question of how much we can trust the proliferators has largely been answered.  The question for this NPT Prep Com and for all subsequent NPT activities is whether or not we can trust the erstwhile disarmers?  If IAEA monitoring and compliance is as reliable as we believe it is, then we should support it.  If it is not as reliable as we believe it is, then we should fix it.  And if the problem is, as this Prep Com approaches, that some states simply don’t think that threats from nuclear (and other mass destruction) weapons warrant their best, “good-faith” diplomatic and technical efforts, then they simply (and quickly) need to think again.

 

Deprivation Nations:  The UN Struggles to Measure a Sustainable Life, Dr. Robert Zuber

10 Mar

species

An animal’s eyes have the power to speak a great language. Martin Buber

Your cravings as a human animal do not become a prayer just because it is God whom you ask to attend to them. Dag Hammarskjold

We’re simply not as different from the rest of the animal kingdom as we used to think. Jane Goodall

You have to steer a course between not appalling people, but at the same time not misleading them. David Attenborough

Today we stand with the brains of hunter-gatherers in our heads, looking out on a modern world made comfortable for some by the fruits of human inventiveness, and made miserable for others by the scandal of deprivation in the midst of plenty.  Richard Leakey

The UN completed yet another busy and, from the standpoint of effective policy, uneven week.   The Security Council held its collective breath as it contemplated a way forward for peace in South Sudan, but also warmly welcomed back H.E. Miroslav Lajčák, former president of the UN General Assembly, who is now responsible for, among other things, coordinating the work of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) with that of the UN more generally and the Security Council more specifically.  In addition, several Council members sponsored a side event on the protection of health workers and facilities in armed conflict, a core tenet of international humanitarian law literally under assault in recent times.

Earlier in the week, the Peacebuilding Commission struggled with what seems to be an endless dilemma over how to navigate the challenge that is Burundi, specifically how to balance development and human rights commitments within a political and security environment that clearly (as evidenced by the conversations taking place on our twitter feed) alarms many stakeholders in Burundi at much higher levels of urgency than those of us in the policy community here in New York.

The week also witnessed abundant (and mostly welcome) references to International Women’s Day.  Amidst a few awkward “tributes” and near-zero-sum attributions of “exclusion,” the events and testimonies this week served as prelude to this week’s high-profile Commission on the Status of Women and also perhaps a bit of a blueprint for how we might successfully navigate other pervasive exclusions in economics, politics and peace processes that are directly related to ethnicity, race and social class.

Even more than these other concerns, the UN was dominated in recent days by ECOSOC’s Statistical Commission. Commission discussions can appear dry and disconnected at times, but are essential if we are to accurately track our collective responsibilities under the Sustainable Development Goals.  Some Commission side events — specifically one on “Knowledge and Politics in Setting and Measuring the SDGs,” hosted by the Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung and the UN Development Programme and another on “Measuring Child Poverty in Sierra Leone” hosted by UNICEF —  were noteworthy for their acknowledgement of the statistical burdens that accompany fulfilment of the Sustainable Development Goals, but also of some of the pitfalls that occur when we employ reductionist data modeling, allow our investigations to be tainted by political considerations or access limitations, or fail to innovate data collection to respond to evolving understandings of community needs and expectations.

In this regard, the Sierra Leone event was a special breath of fresh air.   Moving beyond poverty indexed almost exclusively to household income, the speakers in this event spoke instead of “deprivations” that collectively provide a more accurate lens on conditions of poverty than income figures alone.  By attempting to measure a wider range of factors associated with the “quality of life” of children and families – housing, nutrition, education, vaccination rates, clean water access, even “connectivity” to the wider world — statisticians and UN officials together can insist that the data they now collect is much better able to contribute to more comprehensive and sustainable reductions in poverty, especially for children.

The skilled presenters also seemed mindful of the fact that their expansive indexes don’t necessarily capture all of the “deprivations” from which children in diverse urban and rural settings need to be protected.  Indeed, one deprivation that largely eluded “capture” is related to the need for a healthy environment, certainly for clean air and water, but also for healthy forests and the biodiversity they support – from large mammals to the exponentially more numerous (and equally-threatened) insects — essential to maintaining environmental well-being for current and future generations.

While threats to climate and oceans rightly dominate UN conference rooms, “other” environmental issues too-rarely appear on our common agenda.  This changed a bit this week as meetings to examine the role of “corruption” in the illicit wildlife trade and to prepare for the upcoming UN Forum on Forests brought together a number of stakeholders concerned with shrinking biodiversity and the forests (among other ecosystems) that support such life.  The corruption discussion was more elaborate, citing examples of the profligate and illegal wildlife trade made more profitable by virtue of the ability of traffickers to purchase inattentive silence from officials ranging from park rangers to environmental ministers.  Moreover, efforts to arrest and prosecute wildlife trafficking are impeded by funding limitations, themselves a product of an often indifferent public sentiment willing to endorse protection for only the most visible and iconic species – as though such species can possibly thrive independent of numerous “non-iconic” life forms on which their survival ultimately depends.

The original title of this piece was to be “animal crackers,” a form of warning about that time when our relationship to even the most visible parts of the current natural order will be confined to flour-concocted replicas rather than to direct and nurturing experiences.  Our current efforts to “save wildlife,” noble at one level, fail to communicate adequately the degree to which we are only “saving” what we ourselves have brought to the brink of extinction; moreover that we are “saving” mostly the top end of food chains that are literally disintegrating at lower levels, victims of our pesticides, our deforestation, our addiction to plastics, but mostly our collective indifference.

As I look out from the kitchen window of my apartment of many years on to a street that has been gentrified and layered in concrete almost beyond recognition, I can see only a couple of tired-looking pigeons and one solitary tree, and then only if I strain my neck.  While my neighborhood probably has more accessible “green options” than most in this city, the view out my window surely reflects deprivation conditions of a too-common kind, our too-often-unrequited longing to connect with the “great language” of the natural world of which we have so-far proven to be a mostly predatory component.  Thankfully, this “comfortable for some, deprived for many” world we still conspire to create lies in the “cross-hairs” of the 2030 Development Agenda, an agenda which reminds us that we are now well past the point where our planet and the human communities it labors to support can be healed with half-hearted or single-lens measures. Such measures fail on data quality but also fail to promote a vision for a world capable of shifting the “green” that enables our “cravings” into the green that nourishes and sustains our children, indeed our collective soul.

The ability and willingness of these national statistical experts to name and count the world that can nourish and sustain, that can underwrite hopeful policy for children and other living things facing often-unique configurations of deprivation, was among the most encouraging and gratifying aspects of a packed policy week.

 

Sounds of Silence: The Security Council Endorses Ambitious Disarming, Dr. Robert Zuber

3 Mar

Guns at Rest

Does not everything depend on our interpretation of the silence around us?  Lawrence Durrell

And at last you’ll know with surpassing certainty that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth. And that is not speaking.  Audre Lorde

People never expect silence. They expect words, motion, defense, offense, back and forth. They expect to leap into the fray. They are ready, fists up, words hanging, leaping from their mouths.  Silence? No. Alison McGhee

Talk, talk, talk: the utter and heartbreaking stupidity of words.  William Faulkner

The UN this week, much like the world at large, was replete with motion and “talk” on a variety of related fronts.  From dueling Security Council resolutions on Venezuela with acrimony to match, to renewed resolve (under the Kimberley Process) to turn remaining pockets of “conflict diamonds” into “peace diamonds” (as Romania and others insisted), the UN and those seeking to cover its many events had our collective hands full.

We of course welcomed all of this week’s interest by diplomats in security in all its diverse manifestations.   From a Norway-sponsored event to honor the 20th anniversary of the highly effective Mine Ban Treaty to a Japan-led event to commemorate the 25th anniversary of “human security” –an integrative concept beyond “hard security” preoccupations with weapons and alliances — we support (as most of you already know) holistic initiatives that seek to impact both over-produced weapons and under-inclusive governance; initiatives that seek to reduce weapons-related threats in part by addressing complementary challenges related to state corruption, climate-induced disasters and the persistent rights abuses and social inequities that provide too-easy rationales for so many to acquire and use weapons in the first place.

We urge states to address, as Poland mentioned this week in the Security Council, the “destabilizing acquisition” of weapons by states which cannot easily control their movements nor guarantee that weapons replaced by such acquisitions will not fall into the hands of non-state actors.  But we also urge action on the “destabilizing production” of weapons, the shiny new toys that are unlikely to provide any more “human security” than the toys states have already grown tired of.  To these ends, we have doubled down on support for efforts such as the Peace Angel’s “USA Weapons Destruction Campaign,” an initiative which seeks to repurpose weapons used to kill into works of art that can both inspire more peaceful communities and help identify ways to address the “triggers” of conflict that lead too many in these unsettled times to believe in the power of weapons more than in the power of the human spirit.

From the standpoint of a more secure world, this week’s main event was Wednesday in the Security Council where many delegations and a few civil society voices addressed the successes and gaps of the “Silencing the Guns in Africa by 2020” initiative.  Under the leadership of the Foreign Minister of Equatorial Guinea, the Council session was noteworthy for its verbal and active support of an aspiration that has proven to be more ambitious and complex than was perhaps originally envisioned, but which has inspired actions likely to accrue lasting benefits for more secure African societies going forward.

As 2019 reaches the “quarter pole” it would be foolish to suggest that gun-related “silence” across this large continent is likely to occur in nine months’ time.   Armed violence in many forms continues to impact African states from Burundi and Cameroon to Libya and Somalia. Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram insurgents are among the non-state actors indulging regularly in armed threats against civilians and government forces, and governments themselves have been responsible for armed attacks in South Sudan and elsewhere.  Moreover, the Security Council has authorized responses to insurgent threats, including the G5 Sahel Force, which have resulted in the importation of yet more weapons into theaters of conflict, albeit weapons lodged in the hands of “legitimate” authorities.  Whatever the merits of such supplemental and robust coercive measures – whether in Mali, South Sudan or DR Congo – at the end of the day these guns must also eventually go silent if the goals of this African initiative are to be fulfilled.

And yet, despite some notable setbacks, we have seen over these past few years an awakening of cross-regional capacity and resolve among Africans and their leadership which, together with UN and other supporters, have shifted at least part of the playing field regarding our responses to threats of armed conflict.  As evidenced by Wednesday’s Security Council meeting, the African Union and regionally-focused organizations such as ECOWAS and IGAD have undertaken a series of important measures to help ensure fair elections, mediate disputes within and between states, promote inclusive sustainable development, uphold the rule of law, and provide incentives for state leaders reluctant to share or relinquish power to rethink their alleged “indispensability.”

In Liberia, Eritrea, Guinea and elsewhere, threats of armed violence and rights abuses have given way to a welcome “silence” of sorts that must be fully utilized to consolidate gains and ensure that such abuses once renounced are not allowed to return.  These and other successes, perhaps even now in the Central African Republic as well, are in part a function of rapidly-evolving security architecture across Africa that will increasingly be able to “flag” emerging conflicts, mediate active conflicts, protect those displaced by conflict, and call attention to the many development and “human security” benefits that could well accrue in societies that have succeeded in finally silencing the guns.

Noteworthy for us in Wednesday’s Council debate were the pointed warnings from ACCORD’s Gounden and even a few diplomats about the need for vigilance in defusing the “time bombs” that tick loudly when guns proliferate in environments characterized by limited employment, governance challenges, unplanned urban growth and criminality.  The Council must, Gounden insisted, remain strongly engaged on the causes of armed violence in Africa.  The danger, he rightly noted, is that the guns will not be silenced but only the active and supportive voices of Council members.

And yet across seven “talkative” hours, it was apparent to most diplomats that “silencing of the guns” must continue and in concert with other “silencings” – of rights abuses and neglect of the rule of law (Belgium); of  discriminatory practices affecting the safety and access of women and cultural minorities (Ireland); of the constant march of development-desperate persons displaced by drought, flooding and conflict threats (Equatorial Guinea); of economic inequalities and illegal efforts to exploit natural resources for criminal gain (European Union); of the failure to include youth in policy decisionmaking, especially on conflict and employment (Botswana and Kenya); of impediments to education and health access (Angola), and much more.   Silencing the guns remains the essential condition that makes these other “silencing” tasks more likely to succeed.  Thus the key, as noted by South Africa, is to ensure that “that countries exiting conflict do not return to conflict conditions,” that guns once silenced are not permitted to roar again.

As the Foreign Minister of Equatorial Guinea noted during his opening remarks, “a conflict-free Africa will likely remain a utopia unless we promote inclusive development and put to use all available conflict prevention and resolution tools.”   This is, of course, sound advice, especially as the year 2020 inches closer.  Through this commitment to “silencing,” African states have sought to move mountains, and in fact have moved a few.  But as Namibia’s Ambassador reminded the Council, “if we want to continue moving mountains” on armed violence in Africa, we must begin by “lifting stones,” by engaging any number of smaller actions that set aside the “stupidity” of too many policy words and set about to build societies that can fulfill more conflict-related promises, end more social inequities, promote more trustworthy governance, and allow the displaced a safe and dignified return home.

As we sit here in March 2019, Africans are unlikely to meet their 2020 “silencing” goals at face value, but they have surely embarked on a path (albeit uneven at times) that offers hope both to their own peoples and to others watching across continental borders.  As this new peace and security architecture for Africa continues its evolution, we must all pledge to stay engaged.  This is simply not the time for the rest of us to withhold our own practical contributions or silence our own supportive voices.

Relentless:  The UN Doubles Down on a now-Familiar Foe, Dr. Robert Zuber

10 Feb

Desert

The melody of your ears must not be the cries of the powerless.  Shahla Khan

Morality, after all, had fallen with society. He was his own ethic. Richard Matheson

Many also bear their cross of imagined deprivation, while their fellow human beings remain paralyzed by real poverty.  Anthon St. Maarten

Yet we must choose each step we take with utmost caution, for the footprints we leave behind are as important as the path we will follow. Lori Lopez

In the desert, the only god is a well.  Vera Nazarian

One of the things that our interns notice quickly about life inside the UN is the extent to which issues are often raised but not routinely resolved.   From development financing and ocean health to efforts to restrict the production of small arms and the recruitment tactics of terrorist groups and criminal elements, most key issues on the UN’s agenda are certain to “come around again” before too much time elapses.  This tends to frustrate onlookers, especially the young, who yearn to see greater levels of intentional movement towards more reliable resolutions to today’s multiple threats, some of the “footprints” which we older folks would do better not to leave behind.

However, given the degree of difficult associated with many global problems, this doubling-down is mostly appropriate.  As any good therapist (or parent) knows, naming a problem accurately is only the first stage in a successful outcome, not to be confused with the solution itself.   Many problems we confront in policy, much like problems within ourselves and our families took a long time to evolve into their current forms.  Like a ball of yarn, we wind ourselves and our societies into tight, if destructive habits that cannot untangle overnight, if at all.  If they are indeed to untangle, such will require us to engage over and over in a complex “dance” that includes elements of sometimes-painful honesty, careful assessments, legal accountability, and a continual renewal of our intent to see these processes through to a healthy conclusion.

And yet we in this UN space habitually seem to over-simplify what it takes to sustainably resolve global challenges.  We pass resolutions, year after year, without attaching assessments of why so many of these resolutions have so little impact.   We continue to raise the right issues in diverse conference rooms without also raising the stakes on success – integrating honest and careful analysis of what we’ve learned since the last time such issues came up for consideration and what we now must resolve to do differently.   In essence, we “double down” on our consideration of global challenges without also doubling down on both our reflection and our resolve, as though the solution to our current stable of grave threats requires little beyond ratcheting up a bit of additional political will to do more of what we’ve already committed to doing.

One of these “come around again” threats was examined on Friday during a Security Council “Arria Formula” on how accountability for crimes can serve as a contribution to prevention.  The specific context for this Arria is the often-horrific violence perpetrated mostly against women and girls in situations of armed conflict.  Led by Germany with the endorsement of most current Security Council members, the event was a reflection of a problem to which much energy has properly been devoted, but where progress has been elusive (or even non-existent) as was reinforced by prosecutors of the Special Court established to deal with such abuses in the Central African Republic.  Women especially remain the “currency of conflict” as claimed by Ireland’s Ambassador noting that we must refuse to separate the physical security of women and men abused in conflict zones with what she referred to as “other forms of security” including of the social and economic variety.  In a similar vein, the director of the Global Justice Center reminded delegations that the genesis of much abuse can be laid at the feet of our persistent and toxic inequalities, including of gender, reinforcing our own view that we must do more to “level the playing field” before it can properly be groomed.

This broader security must also integrate accountability for abuses already committed, as several states and the always-thoughtful Tonderai Chikuhwa of the UN Office on Sexual Violence in Conflict duly maintained, underscoring the importance of ensuring that, however painful it might be for some, such crimes must never be stricken from the “historical record” of states.

But if we must, as Chikuhwa and others insisted, double down on accountability for these humiliating crimes, Council members and others insisted that our lens must also focus on related matters, specifically the call by Germany and other speakers for more victim services to help minimize prospects for “re-traumatizing.” Indeed, states including Côte d’Ivoire and Chile, insisted on the priority need for “healing” — in part a function of services and reparations but in part a function of ensuring that there is a “cost” for such abuse, a “cost” that can be made consistent across states and that can be employed to help citizens remain mindful of the deep trauma suffered by far too many.

In listening to this good discussion with one of our interns, two things came to my mind.  First was the “relentlessness” of the dehumanizing abuse which casts a fog over human life that never quite seems to lift.   In the relative triviality of my first-world bubble, I have encountered only episodic stalking – by a few people who wanted things from me I was unwilling to give them or through exposure to online hackers demanding ransom in exchange for keeping silent about alleged behavior which, thankfully, never took place.

And yet even within these limited and mostly modest bouts with our sometimes frayed and predatory social system, one now defined by a largely “fallen” and self-authorizing morality,  I could revisit some lessons about the unrelenting nature of more grave abuse, specifically the degree to which external violations leave “footprints” within us that continue to hijack our best selves long after the physical or psychological violence stops: those remaining in hyper-vigilant mode for signs that stalkers might be close at hand; those refusing to communicate unless completely sure who is on the other end; those dreading turning on the computer because of yet another virus ready to inflict mayhem in ways much like the “virus” of conflict-related abuse — doing its dirty work now from inside the systems on which we must rely and changing how we engage the world in ways that we are more likely to defend than to carefully examine.

And the second, related insight comes courtesy of the 2030 Development Agenda which is filled with positive implications for those who might otherwise risk humiliation in conflict zones, but which insists to all who participate that we must not only “leave no one behind,” but that we must reach “those in greatest need first.”  It is difficult and at times counter-productive to create priority lists for human need, and yet there must be some special dispensation, some special accountability in situations where grave crimes have been committed against women and girls, men and boys in too many conflict zones, crimes more akin to slavery than to the “first world” dramatics that we far too routinely indulge.

I confess that my own patience for “first world problems” is now even lower than before, not because growth and change in own my life are no longer needed (they are), but precisely because I acknowledge more deeply an unearned privilege allowing me to trust (albeit with gratitude) that my own fog is destined to lift, my “well” is largely close at hand, my erstwhile “deprivation” is almost entirely imaginary.  The “cries” of the powerless don’t always penetrate my thick skull as they should, but neither have they become the “melody” that transforms sexual violence as a tactic of war and other traumatic circumstances from something preventable and accountable to something that we simply accept as part of the price tag for getting on with the “world’s business.”

The “paralysis” of many trapped in poverty or in cycles of dehumanizing despair must never become acceptable to those of us ensconced in the policy world, including “accepting” that the drama of our own lives constitutes some rough equivalent.  We at Global Action were deeply appreciative of the reminder provided to us on Friday by Germany and other Security Council members, a reminder that while many windows of opportunity seem always to be open to us, such windows are still largely and even serially impaired for persons humiliated or otherwise traumatized at the point of a gun.