Tag Archives: United Nations Security Council

Guns and Roses: The UN Delivers Uneven Messaging on Disarmament and Development, Dr. Robert Zuber

25 May

The week just ended did not always bode well for the United Nations in its efforts to find meaningful consensus on core issues affecting the health and sustainability of our planet.

On Thursday, the co-chairs of Intergovernmental Negotiations on the Post-2015 Development Agenda – Ambassadors Kamau and Donoghue — were subject to some serious blow-back on their efforts to prepare a document on Sustainable Development Goals that would be fit for inspection by Heads of State when they come to New York for the opening of the UN General Assembly in September.  The co-chairs attempt was to lightly edit the outcome document, eliminating un-clarities and even blank spaces where data should have been inserted, such that heads of state could concentrate on endorsing obligations rather than searching for missing text.

Nevertheless, one by one, the G-77 and China, the African Group, CARICOM, the Arab Group and others urged the co-chairs to accept and pass along to the President of the General Assembly the negotiated consensus document intact, even with its obvious flaws.   For this majority of states, reopening agreed text means also reopening opportunities for the large powers to manipulate outcomes and meanings.  The related discussion within Conference Room 4 on the use of “vulnerable groups” was valid at one level – it is important in our deliberations and the actions they set in motion to avoid the stigmas of group labeling  – but this concern was interpreted by many in the room as also an issue of trust more than content.

This (largely rhetorical) lack of trust, even in a process overseen by such highly respected diplomats, was evident in other areas of UN activity.  For instance, in the UN Security Council, the current president (Lithuania) struggled to gain support for a far-reaching resolution on small arms that incorporated some important dimensions (including robust gender perspectives) to help address the scourge of illicit weapons. Lithuania made the strongest possible case for why the UN system needs to place more emphasis on addressing illicit arms flows and the massive community-level violence that follows from any collective failures in this area.

The resolution that Lithuania championed certainly made progress in sharpening our understanding of the deep dysfunction caused by so many weapons in the ‘wrong hands,’ and in its suggestions for how to strengthen arms embargoes and work more effectively with other UN agencies. But this process was also bogged down in controversy – related to the unwillingness of the US and others to allow the resolution to explicitly reference “non-state actors” in its prohibitions – that caused an extraordinary number of Council members to abstain during the vote.  There was also, at least from our viewpoint, confusion among some Council members as to whether our remedial strategies are up to the global challenges posed by illicit small arms. This confusion was evidenced in part by excessive referencing to the Arms Trade Treaty, a limited process that is not yet ready for prime time and that, at its best, will restrict the intended destinations of manufactured arms without impacting either their quantity or their lethal potential.  Other referenced response options, including marking, tracing and stockpile management commonly associated with the UN Programme of Action on Small Arms, are equally valuable and equally works in progress.

The US, which in the minds of some shed its ‘shadow’ oversight of UN weapons-related architecture this week — preferring instead to point aggressive fingers at states that it felt tried to ‘sabotage’ progress – made clear that the small arms resolution is a significant, if tentative step forward. What the US did not mention, and caused others to wonder about, is that the P-3 role in the resolution controversy might be an effort to assert a “right” to arm non-state groups serving national interests based on distinctions between terrorists and “legitimate” opposition forces.  Trust issues perhaps emanating from such an alleged “right” motivated some Council members to question (unfairly) the legitimacy of the resolution itself, but certainly motivated a critique of Council working methods that left, once again, some members shaking their heads while the P-3 questioned the flexibility and good faith of all but themselves.

Finally it was not until late in the evening of May 22 when delegates completed the task of tossing flowers on the grave of the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Amidst various accusations from Canada, the UK and other states about which delegations ‘wrecked’ the conference, it had been clear for some days that the ‘wreck’ had already occurred.   The tentative hope for a Middle East WMD Free Zone, the avalanche of energy around the allegedly ‘new’ humanitarian initiative, the unprecedented Marshall Islands lawsuit, none of this had power to overcome legacies of bad faith that have long since blocked meaningful progress towards fulfillment of the NPT’s disarmament pillar.    Even if Egypt and the US had been able to suspend their spitting fight long enough to agree to some sort of deal that both shed light on Israel’s nuclear arsenal and preserved the US’s pride of place as facilitator of the Zone process, the lack of progress on disarmament would have placated few of the diplomats and even fewer NGO participants.  The absence of both urgency and flexibility by at least a few key states cast a dark shadow over the UN system that no amount of finger-pointing by Nuclear Weapons States or their NAM counterparts could hope to lift.

The ‘step by step’ approach advocated by the P-3 could be useful inasmuch as it creates the prospect of feedback loops to help assess progress, to ensure that we don’t stubbornly adhere to a policy that has been found to undermine the very goals it seeks to achieve. But in a UN context, step-by-step is more often a formula for institutional and diplomatic inertia, a systemic failure to match urgency with initiative.   We should avoid as much as we are able recklessness in our movements, but global events compel us to move.  Global citizens beg us to move. Apparently, Paper Smart misplaced that memo.

When we as a collective body cannot figure out how to push forward on urgent matters threatening the planet, the odds are that mixed motives are in play.   They were in play as the post-2015 negotiating sessions moved forward on a final text.  They were in play as Lithuania tried to ‘herd cats’ towards an agreement on small arms that generated some suspicion but avoided direct opposition.  They were certainly in play in the NPT as states – especially the P-5 — once again asserted the primacy of their own security interests over the increasingly clear and compelling disarmament interests of the global public.

The lessons for the week are as mixed as the outcomes.   Despite the fussing, the GA president will get a set of development goals and objectives to present to heads of state.  Moreover, the process will come attached to metrics and mechanisms for assessment and funding that can help us honor commitments made to end poverty, heal the planet, unleash the talents of women and indigenous people, and much more.

On small arms, Lithuania’s resolution adds good value, specifically in its gender referencing, more effective sanctions,and unusually warm and supportive regard for the parts of the UN system already tasked with many important activities related to small arms flows.   What role the heavily-referenced Arms Trade Treaty will play remains to be seen, though delegations are urged to revisit some of its intrinsic limitations – some significant– that will require a great deal of complementary work from other disarmament stakeholders if we are indeed serious about controlling arms flows.

On nuclear weapons, despite the contention of some states and NGOs of a “humanitarian tidal wave” that will overcome the objections of stiff-necked nuclear weapons powers, we are still in need of combined and multiple strategies that not only link legal, political, moral and humanitarian advocates but that create venues for discourse that are broad and kind, and that help widen circles of concern far beyond what the nuclear disarmament field has achieved to date.  We have our doubts about these possibilities, but also trust many of the diplomats and NGOs seeking to ensure security based on the least possible levels of armament.

What is probably not in doubt, however, is that a week of sometimes head-scratching objections, half-measures and outright disrespect has not raised levels of public endearment regarding the UN system.  We wasted vast quantities of time, energy and money of diplomats and NGOs; we insulted the honor and dignity of our political friends and opponents; we failed to match the urgency of our analysis with commensurate remedial measures.

We all need a bit of rest and then return to the UN ‘armed’ with more roses and fewer weapons, ready to do better than “mixed messaging” to persons facing security threats and development deficits who need more from us than we have so far been able to provide.

Values Clarification:  Fixing Terror, Facing Ourselves. Dr. Robert Zuber

15 Feb

On February 10, under Lithuania’s leadership, the Security Council held an important discussion, “The Importance of the Rule of Law in Countering the Current Terrorist Threat,” pursuant to SC Resolution 1373. The event featured the presence of France’s Minister of Justice, HE Christiane Taubira and Deputy Secretary General Eliasson.

The event also highlighted some fundamental truths, one of which was in the form of a welcome reminder from Minister Taubira not to allow threats of terror to motivate us to ‘abandon our values’ and ‘restrict our freedoms.’

Of course, a review of our recent history suggests that this is easier said than done. It was DSG Eliasson who urged that we not accept the prospect of societies living in fear.  He surely understands the degree to which fear paralyzes thoughtful action; but also the degree to which it impedes the implementation of a sound, balanced security policy. Fear tends to remain riveted on its source – imagined or real – leaving little inclination to self-reflection. It tends to produce morality plays with good guys and evil doers, not comprehensive analyses of threats, causes and consequences.

For her part, Minister Taubira rightly reminded the audience that ‘decent institutions humiliate no one.’ However, especially in the current psychological climate, it would be a considerable, if inconvenient stretch to suggest that the institutions committed to addressing threats of terror in the world have themselves achieved this high benchmark.

While countering their values of ‘brutality,’ as the UK and others frequently ascribe to ISIS and Boko Haram, we need to do more than identify and address the ‘loneliness,’ ‘social isolation,’ and other factors that we seem to have concluded are the primary pathways to extremist ideology. Other, less comforting pathways are tethered to our own, long, collective history of inflicting humiliation and economic subjugation on one another, a history that we are thankfully doing much to address, but not yet in full measure.  We still make (and sell) too many weapons, pollute large swaths of our oceans and waterways, ignore the rights of the disabled and other marginalized persons, and persist in economic policies that, as Romania’s Amb. Miculescu, Chair of the recently concluded Commission on Social Development noted, are addicted to ‘growth models’ that compromise efforts to address poverty, climate health, inequality, discrimination and other persistent social ills.  Few of these global threats, if any, can be neatly packaged and then dropped off at the doors of the terrorists.

Nothing justifies the brutalities of Boko Haram and other groups.  Nothing.  We don’t have to change much in ourselves to fully acknowledge that reality.  We might, however, need to change a bit further in order to find a sustainable solution to the fear and carnage that such brutalities engender.

In the end, it might not be too much more complicated than adopting a somewhat sophisticated application of two the west’s most enduring value formulations—“doing unto others as we would have them do unto us,” and “to whom much is given, much is expected.” The focus here, of course, is on the doing, not on the branding.   It’s about specific commitments to build the kind of world that terror cannot easily undermine, a world in which there are more winners, less hypocrisy, less bitterness. During the Feb. 10 discussion, Malaysia suggested that terrorism, like climate change, affects us all.  We might add that much like climate change, the roots of terror are inclusive of many factors and agents, certainly more inclusive than a collection of bad guys with black hoods, sharp knives and stolen mortar canons.

On Feb. 12, the Security Council passed resolution 2199 that increases pressure needed to dry up terrorist sources of funds.  This is a welcome step, but as the Council itself recognizes, it is well short of that elusive, final resolution of the terror challenge. Indeed, DSG Eliasson reminded us that there likely is no “universal solution” to terror threats. He urged diplomats working on such threats to commit to practice both cooperation and attention to context. Indeed, Lithuania’s Amb. Murmokaité and colleagues recently embarked on what was hopefully a context-refreshing trip to Niger and Mali. Such visits can only help craft policies that effectively address both threats of terror and the vast and growing social voids left in their wake.

But part of honoring ‘context’ involves fidelity to the‘doing unto others’ values that we need to practice more than espouse, values that become harder for insurgents to ‘dismiss’ as their potency in the world becomes more apparent. Such values include refraining from activities that might well be deemed humiliating by others; upholding ‘rule of law’ standards ourselves that we insist on for the rest of the world; addressing inequalities across borders and not simply within our own; and rooting out the corruption and institutionalized self-interest that undermines trust in government, thereby needlessly blurring the lines separating legitimate authority and illegitimate insurgency.

These are large and complex matters that continue to challenge the policies and values of global governance.  It is unlikely that we can effectively ‘bomb’ our way out of our terror dilemma, nor should we deceive ourselves that the ‘problem’ of terrorist brutality is only about the behavior of evildoers in the lightly governed spaces on the margins of overly ‘shocked’ African and Middle Eastern states. It seems more likely that any short-sidedness regarding the motivations and objectives of terrorists – or of ourselves — will serve to prolong the agony of terrorized populations and reinforce the paralyzing fearfulness of media consumers.

The UN Security Council: First and Lasting Impressions

8 Aug

The following is by Shannon Rogers, a cadet at West Point who has been in residence in our office to explore the UN and its various policy organs. Shannon accompanied GAPW to what we felt was an important debate organized by Argentina on “cooperation between the UN and regional and sub-regional organizations in maintaining international peace and security.” The presence of so many Foreign Ministers in the Council testified to the urgency of creating strong, flexible and mutually respectful relations between the Council and regional arrangements.   Shannon was asked to pay attention both to the content of the meeting and also her ‘sense’ of the room as someone who does not have access to Council deliberations but whose professional life is potentially impacted by Council decisions.

The UN Security Council: First and Lasting Impressions

The United Nations holds a certain prestige especially to those unfamiliar with its campus, members and politics. Even more so, the elite and powerful Security Council is held in such high esteem it sets in motion many expectations, not all of which disappoint. My first – and most likely only – experience at the Security Council was quite enlightening regarding the realities of its power and bureaucratic limitations. The Council room was large and impressive, with a large mural on the far wall and a large circular desk allowing the 15 members, many at the level of Foreign Minister – to engage each other in high-level discussions that have varying implications for the global population.

Off the Council floor was the seating for other diplomats, the press and non-governmental organizations, rising as a theater does, to allow spectators to watch the drama unfold that in part dictates our common future. Despite the formal attire, there was a very informal feel to the room as the diplomats mingled and sought to talk to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the presiding leader of the meeting President Kirchner of Argentina, delaying the 0930 start of the meeting.

The dialogue in itself was impressive for an outsider. The topic of discussion was “Cooperation between the United Nations and regional and sub-regional organizations in maintaining international peace and security.” Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was the first to brief. It was easy to get lost in his clout as Secretary General and not notice his relative lack of enthusiasm for the topic, at least compared to his Question and Answer session with the World Youth Council the day before. The Secretary General was followed by high representatives of the regional organizations present and then opened up to statements by council members. The African Union represented by Ethiopia underlined the importance of the entire meeting by noting that “The UN needs a strong AU and the AU need a strong UN.” Each organization stressed the need for more accountability, transparency and cooperation for the resolution of challenges specific to their region. There was at least variety and some urgency during that part of the discussion. Once it was opened to the Council members however, the remarks became more monotonous.

It is often only upon reflection that disappointment sets in. In this case, it was so easy to be swept up by the grandness of the room and the titles of the people within it. This is what the United Nations relies on:  its ‘soft power’, its reputation to broker agreement in the international community. The room was full, and had I not received training in a military order characterized by lots of full birds and stars on uniforms, I would have been intimidated. I could easily see how others might be, but it is not a man in a pressed suit that I fear. These delegates socialized while other stakeholders waited for the event to begin; diplomats were on their phones during briefings; they were reviewing their own speeches while another was speaking. Inattention has a harsher consequence than simply being perceived as disrespectful. On the battlefield, a lack of situational awareness gets soldiers killed.

Government policy leaders may not always see the impacts of their conduct first hand, but the world relies on them to do their jobs to the best of their ability, including being on time, properly prepared and focused. As a future soldier, I consider myself to some extent a pawn of the decisions made by these people. These diplomats are the arbiters of my fate; they dictate where I move across the chessboard, ever so tactically, in order to fulfill the security goals that they establish. I have to be able to trust that these people with this incredible power are wise, and that they are committed to overcoming human weakness, pride and greed. And as a future military officer, I expect diplomats to behave with the same professionalism that I have to display, and that their countries would surely hope to be represented by. The frustrating lack of depth and attentiveness of the conversation fostered the disturbing realization that the UN is indeed a bureaucracy as much as it represents hope for the world.

Shannon Rogers

Sounds of Silence: Low Level Energy for a High Level Opportunity

2 Jul

On July 2, the GA president’s office and UNODA conferred a preparatory session for diplomats whose governments are expected to attend the high level summit on nuclear disarmament to be held on September 26 at UN headquarters.

The briefing included discussion of efforts to attract “regionally balanced” heads of state to headline the gathering, the need for time constraints on delegate presentations, and the possibility of having short presentations from civil society near the close of the day-long discussions.

Responses from the delegations who attended (there was limited P-5 involvement) were few and far between.  Speaking on behalf of the NAM, Indonesia made welcome reference to the possibility that the event will send a “strong political message” on the need for continued scrutiny and movement on nuclear disarmament.  The Nigerian delegation, speaking on behalf of the Africa Group, reminded delegates that the “only solution” to the threat of nuclear weapons is their elimination and complete disavowal of use.   The Nigerian delegate also mentioned the need to promote more WMD-free zones (such as in the Middle East) and to strengthen those zones that already exist.

After these statements, the room fell silent.    The briefing was adjourned in less than 25 minutes much to the surprised of onlookers – and even the security guards!

In our many presentations here at headquarters and in the field, we have learned to interrogate audience silence.  There are times when silence means satisfaction.  The audience has gotten what they need from the event and energy is now shifting to their next responsibilities. Silence might also indicate some confusion about expectations, specifically regarding the need for delegations to respond directly to specific proposals from the GA president’s office.  If indeed there was some confusion about expectations, the silence in the Trusteeship Council Chambers would then seem more appropriate.   Diplomats, after all, rarely speak out in situations where they are not prepared to adequately represent the policies of their respective missions.

Silence can also indicate disinterest, a polite but disengaged response to what is being shared or proposed.  At the UN, especially, it is highly unusual for delegations to publicly question the relevance of a briefing or other event, even if they were hoping for or expecting more.   Diplomats are skilled at endurance through multiple events – even on disarmament – that they might otherwise interpret as not of personal interest nor relevant to their missions.   The fact that this meeting was virtually bereft of inspiration contributed to our concern that the energy of the room might reflect something more troublesome than polite attentiveness to high level logistics.

Those of us who are deeply involved with First Committee diplomats and issues certainly hope that this last interpretation of ‘silence’ is not pertinent here.   Despite some understandable frustrations with the UN’s disarmament machinery, most participating diplomats understand well the stakes of September 26 for international security.   While none of us know when we will reach the breaking point on resistance to nuclear disarmament, a high level event such as this can certainly move us closer.  It must be given every opportunity to do so.

The silence in Tuesday’s briefing was deafening.   The volume needs to be turned up much louder in September.

Dr. Robert Zuber