Tag Archives: security

Green Acres: Diverse and Rural Voices for Sustainable Security, Dr. Robert Zuber

18 Mar


Distrust and caution are the parents of security. Benjamin Franklin

You cannot achieve environmental security and human development without addressing the basic issues of health and nutrition. Gro Harlem Brundtland

We spend our time searching for security and hate it when we get it. John Steinbeck

Only in growth, reform, and change, paradoxically enough, is true security to be found. Anne Morrow Lindbergh

The UN building has been almost completely given over these days due to the thousands of women who have come to the annual Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).  Given our substandard March weather this year, the main UN buildings have seen especially long lines for food and other essentials as well as overflow crowds for most of the side events held inside (and in some cases outside) UN buildings.

The focus for this CSW has been “rural women,” an important topic for us and some of our core partners, but also a bit of a conundrum given the largely urban origins of most stakeholders at UN Headquarters.   With some exceptions, we don’t come to this policy community from the farms, or the hilltops, or the swamps.  We tend not to deal with rural matters much unless there are tragedies to be addressed, humanitarian aid to be delivered or protection to be organized.  The rhythms of rural life are largely not our business, nor our interest.   We rarely see rural communities as opportunities for learning, places that can help us recover a more personal and place-based antidote to the anxieties, distractions and disconnects of urban living.

The problems noted by this CSW are real enough as people in too many parts of the world face violence and discrimination, abuse and displacement, drought and inattentive governance.   In other (non-CSW) discussions this week,  we were privy to Security Council struggles to enact a sustainable cease fire across Syria,  General Assembly efforts to negotiate a “global compact” on safe, orderly migration, and commitments by the Economic and Social Council to navigate the extraordinary financial obligations that our commitments to the Sustainable Development goals have incurred.  And the Peacebuilding Commission laid out a plan for long-terms security – health, economic, physical and developmental – as the peacekeeping mission in Liberia (UNMIL) prepares to draw down at month’s end.

All of these discussions have implications for at least some of the rural women who were ostensibly the focus of this CSW but who were largely confined to “their own” events without getting a broader sense of the capacity of the UN or, indeed, the amount of time and energy that is already invested here on issues of importance to women, including and beyond the women who occupy this policy space.  This CSW was not a “prophetic moment” for those of us who spend our long days in the UN, though it might have been otherwise if there was more attention paid to the full scope of rural women’s aspirations and experiences beyond the heartache, beyond the very-real victimization, even beyond the narratives of those fortunate enough to be in New York to “represent” rural interests.

Rural life itself is not a problem; it has its unique vulnerabilities and challenges, it sometimes suffers patterns of discrimination that are off the radar of media and their elite constituents, but neither does it seek to conform to many of the political and cognitive biases of our urban centers.  Nor is it without plenty to teach the rest us about the changes we need to make and the risks we need to take in our own contexts.

As frustrated as my all-female, non-white cohort has sometimes been with what they see as the redundancies and risk-averse solidarities of this CSW, there were some notable exceptions among the copious side events devoted to trafficking, #metoo and the general problematizing of rural contexts.  Among these was an excellent event focused on the role of women in building a sustainable peace for Libya, a country that has barely and only fitfully recovered from the 2011 security fiasco that removed Gaddafi but left a middle-income country in virtual ruin.  That a higher profile on Libya peacebuilding should be accorded the women who presented at this event (and their peers back home) would not be challenged by any who were in their immediate audience.

Another hopeful, security-related event was held a bit off-campus, but was not at all off-point.   Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins, a longtime friend of our office, has founded a new organization, Women of Color Advancing Peace and Security (WCAPS) dedicated to expanding both the dimensions of national security and the people who have impact on security definitions and priorities.  The CSW event that WCAPS hosted, “Redefining National Security,” brought together a diverse group of women of color with a range of experiences and views on how notions of national security are evolving (or not) to embrace a range of new and largely cross-border concerns, many of which (as is well-known to CSW delegates) impact women’s lives disproportionately.

This was a room of skilled women of who were determined, passionate and thoughtful; determined to have a say in the security-related definitions and policies that impact all our lives, passionate about “changing the global community landscape,” and thoughtful about their “takes” on security and the need to constantly listen, constantly invest our ideas with the people for whom security is not primarily equated with our bloated military apparatus, but rather spans a range of worries related to climate change and pandemics, cyber-crime and food security.  Despite the lofty positions held by some of the speakers and their obvious respect for one another, there was a refreshing absence of “like mindedness” in the room.  The levels of participation they seek for themselves and others regarding the most pressing security issues of the day require more than gender solidarity; they require a commitment to personal growth and risk as well.

We don’t know where all of these growth-oriented conversations are to be found, but we know that they exist and are deserving of our thoughtful support. There appears to be as yet no #metoo to encourage such growth, nor are there sufficiently reliable pathways yet proposed to locate and sustain the fully inclusive policy platforms that have eluded so many rural women, so many women of color, for so very long.   But they are coming.

As several minister-level panelists noted during a CSW side event on rural women in the Arab region, their region’s rapid urban growth is causing many problems for rural women seeking to maintain attention on their needs and aspirations, including increasing the “distance” between themselves and the (mostly urban) centers of policy influence.  Where can we find rural women, Arab and otherwise, in the midst of regional and international discussions on women’s rights and women, peace and security issues? Indeed, where are the openings for rural voices, male and female alike, to provide guidance on what “security” really means, in all its dimensions, through all of its challenges?  How can women who, in the words of panelists, are often neither recognized nor appreciated for all their burdens and responsibilities enter into spaces where their legitimate grievances are merely the opening gambit for a larger discussion about the minority who apparently “belong” in the club and the many millions (male and female) who are still forced to wait beyond the ropes?

If women of color can help us all to embrace and grow a larger and more inclusive security framework, and if rural women of all backgrounds and their communities can have greater impact on the personal and social dimensions of that framework, we will be well on our way towards the sustainable peace and security that we and (soon) our children long for.


Land of Promise:  The UN Takes Stock of an Underestimated Continent, Dr. Robert Zuber

22 Oct


Where a woman rules, streams run uphill.  Ethiopian proverb

Do not let what you cannot do tear from your hands what you can.  Ashanti proverb

I dream of an Africa which is in peace with itself.  Nelson Mandela

There is always something new out of Africa. Pliny the Elder

This was “Africa Week” at the UN, a time for this entire community to stake stock of our debts to African peoples but also to celebrate the many ways in which Africans are truly developing and then implementing home-grown solutions to their own problems.

Despite the many responsibilities associated with the six General Assembly Committees that meet all this month, most all UN hands were “on deck” for all or part of this week long assessment of the roads that African states have tread and what they might still become.  This included as well the UN Security Council, which bears the brunt of responsibility for resolving conflicts from South Sudan (on which it met this past week) and Mali to Nigeria and now Cameroon. The Council is currently in the Sahel region (today in Mali) on mission to assess the status of the P-5 Sahel Force which it authorized and which is intended to bring stability to a region threatened by a “cocktail” whose ingredients include insurgency, climate stresses and food insecurity.

The stated goals for Africa week, “an integrated, prosperous, people-centered and peaceful Africa” draws heavily on the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda as well as Africa’s own Agenda 2063.  These goals were articulated in a thoughtful manner throughout the week, avoiding clichés and “quick wins” in favor of clear sighted examinations of what African states and their peoples need and what stands in the way of their progress.    Part of that discussion is related to finance, not only to the preservation of essential remittances, but to the ways in which states can better protect their own natural resources from exploitation and increase sources of domestic revenue, including through reducing “tax avoidance and profit shifting.”

Beyond finance, the week highlighted a variety of challenges, including forced migration patterns exacerbated by climate-related drought and multiple iterations of armed violence.   There were also important discussions on creating more opportunities for affordable credit and “decent work” — in many instances highlighting the degree to which the African labor force is now both robust and youthful  — as well as on the challenges in harnessing Africa’s unprecedented “demographic dividend.”

The implications of this “dividend” go well beyond employment. Over the years at Global Action, I have been blessed to visit and work in most every region on the continent, including Egypt in the north, South Africa in the south, Senegal in the west, Kenya in the east, Cameroon in the center.   And while all of these countries have much cultural and ecological diversity to commend, one of the things they seem to have in common is young people who are anxiously and even impatiently prepared to assume mantles of economic and political leadership.   There is a “leadership dividend” across Africa as well, people who hope to soon turn their aspirations into higher offices, people who refuse to choose between integration and sovereignty, between economic development and environmental protection, between reliable governance and local participation. These are people with the fresh ideas about how Africa might be and are prepared to make the changes needed to ensure that the goals enumerated in the UN’s Africa Week are more than just another set of multilateral promises.

The Concept Note for this Africa Week highlighted two particular challenges for this new generation of African leader.  The first of these is “integration” of a continent divided by deserts and jungles, but also by culture and language, even at times by levels of openness to continent-wide initiatives focused on security, trade and other matters essential to sustainable development.  Despite positive efforts by the African Union on security and sub-regional entities such as the Southern African Development Community on African trade, optimal levels of integration remain impeded by a series of issues that have long resisted resolution, including providing dependable access by land-locked countries to seaports in neighboring states and creating a more reliable transportation network linking those states.   In this regard, the ambitious (and costly) proposal floated this week for an Integrated High Speed Train Network is welcome, especially by persons who have long struggled to move themselves (and their agricultural products and other commodities) around Africa’s vast spaces.

And then there is the security (threatened by both insugencies and excessive state responses) on which all intra-and inter-state development depends.  On numerous occasions, reference was made this week to the African Union initiative Silencing the Guns by 2020, with outcomes considered by many (rightly in our view) as essential to a sustainable future.  Many African states are now awash in weapons both licit and illicit.  And as the AU’s “Silencing” report notes, “the continent has hosted, and continues to be home to, a number of deadly conflicts that jeopardize human, national and international security and defy efforts to resolve them.”  Such conflicts involve state and non-state actors, and often draw on sources of weapons located far from the scenes of the violence.   The “fuel” for these conflicts often takes the form of governance that is unfair or even unjust; food, water and health insecurities that force families into heartbreaking choices; exploitative employment in sectors such as extraction that provide little economic relief and poison local ecosystems;  and rights violations that keep so many women, youth and indigenous persons locked into senseless, disempowering social roles.

The “leadership dividend” which we have seen first-hand in many African regions seems capable of both drying up access to weapons and healing many of the social and economic causes that cause people to reach for weapons in the first instance.  This “dividend” must remain at the center of any UN discussions on African issues and capacities going forward.

The World Economic Forum noted this week the strong possibility that by the year 2100 one third of all people on earth will reside in Africa.   Assuming that we don’t bomb or melt ourselves into extinction before then, this is a staggering statistic, one that will impact every aspect of African governance, security, economy and ecology.   The “strongly intertwined challenges” that currently characterize areas such as the Lake Chad Basin, the Horn of Africa, and the Central African states will evolve in unforeseen ways across the continent, calling for gender and culture-balanced leadership that can inspire hands and hearts that “know what they can do” and commit to doing it.

For the rest of us — during Africa Week and every other week – we must do what we can and all that we can to ensure that Africa has every opportunity to be at peace and, as Mandela noted, to be at peace with itself.



Justice Matters:  The UN Explores Multiple Pathways to Human Dignity, Dr. Robert Zuber

17 Jul


On July 14, Judge Silvia Fernandez de Gurmendi, president of the International Criminal Court (ICC), spoke to a packed conference room at UN Headquarters.  The event was chaired by Italy’s Ambassador Cardi and was intended as part of the UN’s acknowledgment of the International Day of Criminal Justice which falls each year on July 17.

The president hit many important notes during her address, including reminding the audience that the ICC is a court of “last resort” for the “crimes against humanity” under its jurisdiction, including the use of child soldiers, sexual violence as a tactic of war, the wanton destruction of cultural property, and soon the crime of aggression.  It is up to member states, she rightly noted, to help the ICC establish a “consistent pattern of accountability” for international crimes, in part by taking greater national responsibility for the investigation and prosecution of such crimes and in part through efforts to deter and punish those who seek to undermine the administration of justice through the ICC, including the interference with/harassment of witnesses.

The president did not take up several questions that some of us might otherwise have expected.  The ICC’s relationship to the Security Council, for instance, has been a contentious one that has included untimely referrals, massive security restrictions on investigations, significant budgetary limitations, and the Council’s refusal to sanction states that fail in their responsibilities to arrest indicted criminals.  Moreover, the president chose not to ‘call out’ states parties which have hosted – rather than captured – those very same criminals.

But what she did suggest was important: that credible international justice is essential to the restoration of rule of law, to human development, indeed to the dignity of victims.   She recognized that a “global system of justice” has many facets that are tied to the activities of courts, certainly to the vigorous promotion of internationally recognized human rights but also to a development and conflict prevention system that can uphold dignity and help ensure that the worst of crimes can be addressed in their potential before they unfold in grotesque practice.

As the president also recognized, other UN events during this past week touched on key elements of a global system of justice.   In the General Assembly, PGA Lykketoft convened a high level event to assess the human rights performance of the UN as it concludes its 70th year.   Fittingly, states used the occasion to promote the need to, as New Zealand and others noted, examine the implications of human rights across the three UN “pillars.” States from Panama and Chile to France and Estonia noted the many rights dimensions that affect people in overt conflict situations, but also highlighted those suffering from torture, discrimination, incarceration-related abuses and many other violations.   And while Liechtenstein rightly lamented that disregard of the ‘rules of war’ seems now to be reaching epidemic proportions, there was broad agreement with the Netherlands and others that we can do more  — and must do more — to ensure that people can finally live in a world “free from armed conflict.”

Last Wednesday in another small conference room, an “A” list of UN officials was brought together by Uruguay and Portugal to discuss the economic and social rights implications of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  ASG Šimonović set a collaborative tone, urging all of us “to bring human rights to the core of our development work.”  ASG Gass went ever farther, noting that the SDGs represent a “new social contract,” while lamenting a “shortage of tools” with which we can hold states (and others) accountable to their SDG promises.   Happily, Gass rightly suggested that the integration of human rights into the SDGs would help make accessible the more fully developed capacities within the human rights community which are already doing much to hold states accountable to rights-based obligations.  As it turns out, tools for SDG accountability need not be created.  They can be borrowed.

As for the convening states, there was enthusiasm for SDG-rights linkages but also cautious tones.  Uruguay’s Ambassador responded to those who see economic and social rights as “vague,” noting that genuinely sustainable development requires ‘dignity work’ in the form of ending gross social and economic inequalities.  Portugal’s Ambassador urged member states to show more leadership on core Charter values while simultaneously urging NGOs to help ensure that values espoused are values enacted.  But he also painfully referenced the many millions of persons in our world for whom rights and dignity remain only “a mirage.”

During his report on Friday in the UN Security Council, Special Representative Jan Kubiš made reference to the upcoming efforts by Iraq and its military partners to liberate the city of Mosul from ISIL control.   While clearly supportive of reducing all manner of ISIL’s influence, Kubiš also predicted that such liberation would likely trigger a humanitarian crisis that could dwarf the already horrific stories of deprivation and rights abuses (including by Iraqi forces) now emanating from Fallujah.  In many instances, it seems, “liberation” bears the potential to create and magnify trauma and deprivation in the name of eliminating them.  The Council, the government of Iraq and the entire UN community must leverage additional capacity to address the psychological and physical dimensions of victim’s assistance in all their aspects.

And of course to do more to ensure that the “pipelines” of trauma are effectively sealed, that relief is more than a fleeting mirage.

As the week’s events underscored, the struggle for sustainable human dignity is a long road, easier to claim than to protect.  As the ICC president noted, we live in a world in which “many perpetrators continue to be untouched.”  Sadly, there are millions more victims in our conflict zones who also remain “untouched.”   Our commitment – on sustainable development and international justice, on poverty reduction and trauma response – is to find the means and the will to touch them all.

Tension Headache:  Attending the demands and aspirations of those who still “don’t matter,” Dr. Robert Zuber

10 Jul

This morning on Twitter, we were alerted by Brian Stelter of CNN (a network I rarely watch) about the contents of the front page of this Sunday’s New York Times (a paper I rarely read).  What was remarkable about that front page is that all of the significant pieces of journalism were focused, in one way or another, on the “above the fold” headline:   America Grieves, Tense and Wary.

We rarely in this space venture into “domestic affairs,” though the nonsense emanating from this presidential election season is sometimes so very tempting.   But today is different – the confluence of anger, confusion, discrimination, weapons access, media bias and more has created a situation that some find predictable but many more find intolerable.  The murders of the Dallas police officers have largely stolen the national headlines, and one doesn’t have to accept the recently-offered narrative of “domestic terrorism” to acknowledge the massive pain inflicted on both families and the reputation of a police department that seems at least to be trying.   But in many news services (not the Times per se) Dallas has become both a watershed moment and a bit of a diversion from a season’s worth of mass demonstrations and senseless shootings by and of police, some of which had their own moment in the media, others merely taking their place on a still-lengthening roster of incidences involving people who are more than weary from the many implications of lives “on the margins.”

This aptly designated “tense and wary” scenario is directly related to activities taking place across the street from where I’m sitting, preparations for tomorrow’s important opening of the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) of the UN’s Economic and Social Council.

The agenda and assessment activities for this HLPF are clearly focused on one objective:  “leaving no one behind. “  A noble and hopeful objective, to be sure, though one requiring much and strewn with obstacles both identifiable and unforeseen.

As we have written previously, the UN community is doing due-diligence in getting out in front of the massive responsibilities incurred through the goals and targets of the 2030 development agenda: reducing poverty, ending inequalities of economic, educational and political access; saving ourselves from our own relentless assaults on our forests, oceans and climate; and promoting forms of governance and security that offer inclusive participation and rights-based protection.

Despite these welcome UN efforts, we are currently far from these goals, in some cases farther than we dare acknowledge.  Even if we have articulated and assembled the right goals to pursue; even if we are sincere in our financial pledges and fidelity to agreed indicators of success; this 2030 agenda is a daunting business.  It will require sustained commitments by national governments, vigilance by the HLPF and diverse UN agencies and then some; for it will also require more of each of us.  Slogans such as “leave no one behind” can galvanize some measure of our collective responsibility, but their overuse can deaden us to tasks that will, if we are to overcome our current epochal violence and planetary disregard, require greater self-scrutiny and more reliable attentiveness to others than we have so far in our collective history demonstrated.

The discouraging events of this past week are hardly unique but certainly offer yet another reminder of how many people in our world are still left behind, still on the margins, still don’t matter.  From Baton Rouge to Juba, from suburban St. Paul to Gaza, people struggle mightily for respect and relief, for justice and stability.  Tension and suspicion are partially understandable responses to what we see and read about so many human struggles at home and abroad; but these are the reactions that prompt us to seek out stronger locks for our doors but also for our souls.  These are the reactions concerned less about reaching those left behind and more about not getting “dragged” by them ostensibly towards some uncertain and indeterminate bottom.

We can identify the collective mood as the Times and others have done; we cannot give in to it.   The challenges of inclusion characteristic of these times imply that our routine forays into petty self-distraction are not so petty after all.   From the physicist Stephen Hawking to the man in the local Bodega who sells me beer and dish soap, many and diverse voices are wondering if we collectively have what it takes to extricate ourselves from this “tense and wary” swamp of our own making.

The hope of the 2030 development goals is that we do indeed have what it takes but only as a grand and collective endeavor that invites and integrates far beyond those currently on the world’s VIP lists.  In this, it will be especially important to keep at bay all those “locksmiths” seeking access to our personal, cultural and community contexts.

The young (mostly black) men who work alongside our church folks in the food pantry each Saturday morning in Harlem are not at all immune from the tension that now routinely flares into discrimination and violence.   These men work hard early on Saturdays when most of their peers are sound asleep, carrying and stocking huge quantities of provisions, providing service to people who don’t always treat them with the greatest of respect.

But they also know that they need to watch their back.  The news splashed all over this week’s media was not news to them; neither the killings, nor the arrests, nor the tension and suspicion that are so-often and inappropriately hurled in their direction.

These young men have much to contribute perhaps currently more in potential mode; but potential is also inspired by invitations to participate and opportunities to practice — and a commitment from the rest of us not to leave them behind.

We’re going to see what we’re made of over these next 15 years as our 2030 development promises take shape.  Transforming rampant tension and suspicion might well be our species’ next major test.

Assessing the 2030 Development-Security Linkage in Latin American Contexts, Dr. Robert Zuber

1 Nov

The following represent slight revisions (improvements) of remarks given in Mexico City on October 29.

I want to pay tribute to Dr. Simone Lucatello and his colleagues at Instituto Mora for holding this launch event and for their excellent guidance on this publication.

This is one of several books that we worked on thoughtfully over the past year or so.  We have very little funding and the UN in New York is a very large institution to cover and analyze.  Why do we invest our time and resources in this way?

  1. First, it helps to build credibility for our project as we seek to weigh in on a range of complementary initiatives that make up the UN system.  If we have a demonstrable “expertise” at all, it is this sense of how issues fit or should fit — the complementarity of concerns and interests that serves as a sound intellectual and political basis for effective policy.
  2. Second, it represents a contribution to leveling the policy playing field that can help dismantle some of the hegemonies of scholarship and policy that persist in our current world. There are so many voices across Latin America, including perhaps within this institution, which have yet to find their proper level.   Given all the security and development challenges we have to face today in the international community, there is seemingly little rational about keeping other talent on the sidelines. As I have said often to others, I have had my turn.  In our office, we have our turn every day.  It’s someone else’s turn and we want to do what we can to make space for that policy balancing.
  3. We have a special regard for young people who have much to learn but also to teach. They are inheriting this world and its challenges as we gather here.   My generation has made some real messes and they will be responsible for the clean-up.  The least we can do is give them the broadest and most hopeful access to multi-lateral institutions, channels to respected publications (like this one), and experiences in making sound policy that we are capable of providing for them.

As you in this institute know, many strategies are now being suggested for the 2030 goals implementation, but three seem to be rising most quickly to the surface:  robust, flexible data; reliable funding sources, and a stable social fabric.  We must stay connected to all three areas of concern, but the last one is of special interest.

Keeping the social fabric safe without engendering feelings of intimidation or fear remains an area of considerable challenge.  As we were writing and organizing this book, it became clear that some states are still quite reluctant to establish a strong security-development linkage and there are several reasons for this. From my standpoint, this reluctance his has something to do with what I would prefer to call a security-culture linkage.   Many indigenous and rural persons, many politically active and outspoken persons, many marginalized persons such as live around me in Harlem, New York — they often fear the “culture” of the security sector, and often for sound empirical reasons. At the same time, it is very difficult to hold that same security sector itself accountable for abuses, or even to acknowledge that they are CAPABLE of abuses.  In the US, it is a struggle to hold police accountable for their mis-behavior.  It is a struggle to hold military officials responsible for bombing civilian targets in the name of fighting terror; indeed many persons in the security sector take refuge in a system and its culture that only rarely acknowledges failure of any kind.

To promote a viable security-development linkage in the 2030 goals is to actively engage this possibility of cultural failure, a predisposition in more than scattered instances to discriminatory and excessive and even unprovoked use of force that can and must be reformed to serve the cause of social development rather than impede it.  Few still have the stomach to engage the security sector on its conduct – reminding the sector that it has the skill to enhance 2030 implementation in many ways, including addressing various forms of trafficking that overwhelm many Latin American communities, but that it also possesses more than sufficient power to frighten, intimidate and discriminate.

Similar levels of scrutiny are needed regarding agreements to regulate or prohibit weapons. The Arms Trade Treaty is one of the agreements that found some criticism in the book.  Some people will evaluate this Treaty and decide that something is better than nothing. The question we should be asking is if the remedy is sufficient to the cure that we have already held out as a promise to global constituencies? It is not enough to give a child suffering from pneumonia some hot tea and a Vitamin pill.  Such acts may be helpful at some level, but they certainly don’t rise to a level of effectiveness that is even in “radar range” of the cure from armaments that we so badly need.

If the global arms trade (its volume not only its shipping) is as serious a problem as many of us maintained it was – and still is – we continue to need a more robust set of instruments than we now have. Since its negotiation and adoption, the ATT has been politicized; it has attracted more than its share of mercenary NGOs more comfortable with branding than discernment; it has been permitted a secretariat function that is almost completely emasculated; it has invited the diversion of much time and energy from the UN Programme of Action, which engages the practical, multi-lateral work of stockpile management, marking and tracing of weapons, trafficking in weapons, and better security at borders and ports. And of course the ATT, through no intrinsic failure of its own, has no actionable outcome with regard to weapons that have long since left the factory, the weapons that do so much damage every day in Libya, Mali, Yemen, Nigeria and elsewhere.

When we step back from this type and level of scrutiny and aim higher, we recognize that security and development represent more than bookend obligations by states; they point to inter-related existential threats to a planet that has quite enough to cope with at present.  A failed 2030 development project –data that is politicized, funding that is unreliable and applied in a discriminatory fashion, policy that reaches in the direction of the most vulnerable but never quite makes physical contact – these and related limitations are as likely to exacerbate excessive militarism than address its defects.   And conversely, a security policy that inhibits the education of children, the political participation of women, the promotion of a free press and the fair administration of justice will not develop people so much as keep them in subordinate social and political contexts.  Trust in the state and in each other is an under-analyzed dimension in community development, and heavy handed security has a much smaller role in trust’s promotion than security advocates would want us to believe.

So now we have our 2030 development goals and we have what will hopefully become reformed security arrangements.  Moving forward, we must understand their mutual influences and minimize the more toxic aspects of their respective practices.  As though we needed reminding, human beings are imperfect creatures.  The 2030 promises we have broadcast to a world full of anxious, long-suffering constituents will require us, as the Pope reminded the UN earlier this fall, to become less imperfect still.   These are “development” promises of course, but their implications are virtually existential. If we fail to make our “best faith” effort to meet these promises, including on security, it will do more than bring discredit to the UN; it will signal that we have likely crossed a threshold of trust, health and peace from which our species might never find its way back.

An Island Nation Prepares for its Next Invasion: Dr. Robert Zuber

12 Jan

The sudden and dramatic announcement by the Obama Administration of a ‘thaw’ in the lengthy chill in relations between the US and one of its nearest neighbors was welcomed by many in the policy community, especially its ‘left-leaning’ wing.

Certainly there is cause for relief if not for outright celebration.   The decades-long embargo with its origins in Cold War security concerns, an embargo not supported by most of the rest of the international community, has long-since ceased to create political or economic value for either of the two countries most directly involved.

But just as melting ice caps endanger island states, this ‘thaw’ also raises caution flags.   While the Obama decision seemed to catch many off guard, there is plenty of reason to believe that US corporate titans have had contingency plans in place for some time, ready for the opportunity to expand operations on an island deemed ‘ripe’ for consumption beyond the state-sanctioned, limited economic interactions with tourists already appearing from Europe and other ‘friendly’ states.

As one of our visiting fellows, Dr. Megan Daigle, noted informally, there is a real danger that the promise of increased quality of life and political will for “ordinary” Cubans will be swept away in the “invasion” which this change in policy likely forecasts.  As of this writing, there has been no indication that the US travel embargo will be completely lifted, so there will be at least some delay in the expected mad dash of US tourists.  And as our fellow also indicated, there is already foreign investment in Cuba from European companies though, thus far, the Cuban government has maintained 51% ownership of all joint ventures.  If the state maintains some vague semblance of that policy, it might have a chance of holding on and directing the growth themselves. But prospects for expanded growth will likely energize a political opposition that has been numerically small and geographically scattered, but could soon gain many sympathizers, especially if the government is seen as actively suppressing newly-‘thawed’ economic aspirations.

We rarely use this blog space to comment on the evolution of bilateral arrangements.  But this ‘thaw’ has economic, social and even security implications beyond Cuba and the US.   The fact that the US is now ‘ready’ to move on normalized relations does not mean that the Cubans themselves are sufficiently prepared for what is to come.  Cuba will surely need some space — and assistance as well — to determine the levels of cultural and economic interventions it is able (or willing) to reasonably assimilate.

There are diverse and even hopeful opportunities here to be sure, but managing them sustainably will require a mix of vigilance, restraint and bold thinking.   Hopefully part of this ‘thaw’ will involve a return for many Cubans who had taken their talents elsewhere, though there is certainly a danger of a new social schism as ex-pats seek to reclaim property long since ‘redistributed’ to locals by the government.

The processes emanating from this ‘thaw’ are ones that should sustain our collective policy interest. Let’s see if the ‘thaw’ reveals instincts to reconciliation and not simply to profit.  Let’s see if a generation of government leaders committed primarily to protection of its citizens from the demons of “US imperialism” can make the transition to a more nuanced, participation-based control.  Let’s see which aspects of government management of national assets can survive new waves of aggressive investors.  Let’s see if many locals currently with more resourcefulness than tangible assets can avoid becoming victimized by a new potential iteration of the economically marginalized.   Let’s see how levels of political participation, especially for younger Cubans, are permitted to change across the country.  Let’s see if environmental protection can survive a construction boom.  Let’s see how many mistakes made by western economies the Cubans can find ways to avoid.

And let’s see if the UN is willing and able to offer and sustain full-spectrum services to keep the “thaw” from setting off a tsunami of bitterness, greed and broken promises. This is a test of the UN system’s ability to help manage state transitions across a spectrum of interests and concerns.  And Cuba is clearly now ‘officially’ a state in transition.   Whether that transition results in more fairness or more predation is partially in the UN’s hands, whether the UN wants it there or not.

The Cubans have a long legacy of competent, hard-nosed diplomats in New York.  Getting some of the most appropriate UN agencies more deeply involved in managing the social and economic impacts of the ‘thaw’ might require a ‘softer’ competence.   In any event, we wish all parties attentiveness and sensitivity in finding the right policy balances so that this long-overdue promise of ‘thaw’ can result in positive, tangible, sustainable consequences for Cuba’s people.

Women’s Security amidst Resource Scarcity

19 Sep

This past summer, Global Action to Prevent War and Armed Conflict (GAPW) introduced a program initiative to explore and address gendered security questions integral to the UN thematic nexus of Food, Water, Energy and Climate.

Our approach will look most directly at the multiple challenges of water access and quality, and their impact on rural women. Our policy involvement at the UN has stressed the evolving relationship of resource scarcity as a major contributing factor to armed violence.  As is so often the case, scarcity of supplies, restrictions on access, and the violence that increasingly erupts from such conditions disproportionately impact women’s lives in a multitude of ways. This program will speak to the growing concerns regarding the effective and inclusive governance of water while identifying the potential for conflict caused by water stresses – specifically related to access, quality and a lack of participation in water-related policy.

In the first half of 2015 UN member states will have set an agenda which will then determine local and national policy interventions and activities on climate and development. Climate change negotiations related to the Conference of the Parties  (COP) 20 will transition to COP 21, and the Millennium Development Goals will formally transition to the Sustainable Development goals, most likely finalized at the 70th United Nations General Assembly in September 2015. All of global civil society will be on hand and will be ready to encourage and support governments as they adopt and implement their development and climate commitments.

On a local level NGOs will define, underscore and help promote the security measures needed to ensure SDG accountability. As Bhumika Mucchala has suggested, a universal model of accountable security must accompany the effective realization of SDGs. During the first half of 2015 GAPW will share security-related perspectives with diplomatic and global civil society actors to ensure the effective realization of SDG goals. GAPW is also committed to ensuring that agreed targets of water and food security are assessed by gendered data indicators necessary for ensuring participation and preserving peace. In all of this work, we will remain gender-aware, context- sensitive, and rights-based.

In partnership with other NGOs we seek ways to minimize risk while safeguarding conditions of sustainable development access. For example, the often-perilous journey women face in water collection and overcoming water inaccessibility heightens levels of vulnerability to exploitation and abuse by unscrupulous traffickers, smugglers and employers. We seek to ensure that new implementation models for Goal 2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture and Goal 6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all, will fully examine the security needs that can help ensure access and prevent water-related armed conflict and violence against women.

As we approach the Climate Change Summit (CCS) of 2015, where member states will seek to “advance climate change action and ambition,” UNSG Ban Ki-Moon has invited member states to “bring bold announcements and actions to the summit that will reduce emissions, strengthen climate resilience, and mobilize political will.” As a means to build global governance and climate diplomacy, the CCS 2015 will be a great opportunity for member states to pledge their support in a detailed, optimistic, and implementable manner. Deliberations of a “new climate economy” can raise the level of discourse, but can also change the narrative of geopolitics in ways that are welcome. While thinking about resources and conflict prevention with respect to climate change I pose three questions to member states attending CCS 2015: (1) What kind of development-related climate models are most likely to create fiscal dependencies in states? (2) Which models of sustainability are best able to ensure social stability and prevent conflict? (3) In which ways has women’s participation in water and other resource policies been enhanced to help ensure access and prevent conflict?

As CCS approaches, GAPW respectfully encourages member states to look closely at the impacts of water stresses on their societies. Indeed, the alarming rate of water stresses worldwide – related to sanitation, dam construction, sludge and other pollutants, and more — has resulted in and been exacerbated by local and state conflicts. Agribusinesses and other industries demand large quantities of existing freshwater, reducing water tables and increasing access challenges. Water, like any other resource essential to human life, represents not just a fundamental human need, but also a pivotal matter in the preservation of state and international security. In an Inter-Press Service article about water’s use as a weapon in war, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon comments, “Preventing people’s access to safe water is a denial of a fundamental human right [and the] deliberate targeting of civilians and depriving them of essential supplies is a clear breach of international humanitarian and human rights law.”

Water stresses clearly create heightened vulnerability and liability for less developed countries. One major issue faced by many small island, least developed and post-conflict states is the question of how these states can be asked to respond effectively to the SDGs when the resources used to tackle any particular issue are constrained by financial, water and other deficiencies. Many have argued that the lack of equitable assistance, whether financial, infrastructure related or strategic will invariably cause new sets of constraints. At the Climate Change Summit governments will have the opportunity to cite their own specific impediments to the fulfillment of SDG obligations and also share suggestions for remediation.

Climate health and its many implications is a direct by-product of our policy and consumer choices. Our climate “footprint” is large and growing, and showcases our successes and failures. As global leaders and a large numbers of global citizens gather in New York to discuss our climate future, the time has come to stop thinking only about risk mitigation and shift to a concern for risk elimination.  We are simply running out of time to save what’s left and make that accessible to all in a fair and participatory manner.

Sulekha Prasad, WPS Fellow