Posts tagged ‘unga’

April 11, 2012

Keep Your Enemies Close: Syria and the UN General Assembly

Last night, I came across an op-ed piece in the Washington Times, provocatively titled “Time to Suspend Syria from the UN”. My glee at finding a new source of mockery turned to dismay as I noted that the article was written by my friend Ryan Kaminski, especially as I know Ryan is a true believer in the United Nations. I talked to Ryan afterwards, and he stood by the content. And so, with that in mind, I find myself forced to take him to task over his concept:

Specifically, the United States as well as like-minded delegations in the West and Middle East should consider calling for Syria’s suspension from the U.N.’s most democratic and representative organ, the U.N. General Assembly (UNGA), where all 193 U.N. member states can vote. Such an act would entail zero material costs, avoid veto authority and would be a critical step toward alleviating the humanitarian nightmare unfolding in Syria.

In particular, Syria’s suspension would act to further isolate its leadership, increase the probability of high-level Syrian defections both at the U.N. and elsewhere, and would likely bolster the confidence of the country’s beleaguered internal opposition forces. Most importantly, Syria’s suspension would unambiguously symbolize the international community’s collective disgust with the actions of Syria’s ruling government, while providing a new form of leverage to compel Syria’s government to change course.

Before we address the broader issues, there are quite a few technical problems with his proposal. As Kaminski notes later in the article, the Credentials Committee reviews the credentials of the various Member States’ delegations as presented to the Secretary-General. For the 66th Session of the GA, the nine members of this committee are: China, Costa Rica, Egypt, Italy, Maldives, Panama, Russian Federation, Senegal and the United States. As he noted, 7 of them voted in favor of the condemnation of the Syrian Arab Republic for their human rights abuses. But he then assumes that those would likewise vote to suspend the credentials of the Syrian delegation, as though it would not be a protracted battle, with enormous implications, which we will come back to shortly.

He cites the precedent of South Africa as clearing a path for such an action. However, the South African suspension was taken after decades of oppression under apartheid. It could be argued that with the active killing taking place in Syria that this situation trumps that of South Africa, but the swift removal of a state from taking part in any of the discussions under the purview of the General Assembly should be reserved for cases of systemic oppression as taken by apartheid Pretoria.

Kaminski also states that the General Assembly is within its right to suspend Syria from its works, due as well to the South Africa precedent, including a way to get around the veto of the Security Council of any proposal for a formal suspension, as laid out in the UN Charter. He fails to recall that in the South African case, the veto was cast by France, the United Kingdom and United States on such a motion, a fact which will be brought up as evidence of hypocrisy on the part of the West. The President of the General Assembly at the time then offered a ruling that South Africa should be banned from taking part in the Assembly, which was upheld by a vote of 91 votes to 22, with 19 abstentions. The legality of such a move would quickly come under question, and likely lead to increased speculation on the nature of the ruling, as the Presidency of the General Assembly is currently held by a Qatari. It would place the Secretariat in an awkward position if the Syrian delegation challenges such a ruling and attempts to maintain their seat on the GA floor.

Also, there exists a problem of timing. The Credentials Committee reviews the credentials of delegations, according the General Assembly’s Rules of Procedure, no later than a week prior to the convening of a session. The difficulty with Kaminski’s proposal here lies in the fact that the current session has already convened. In the past, General Assembly delegates didn’t reside in New York year round, and so the convening of meetings after the September General Assembly was a rarity, and highlighted the unusual nature of the Security Council’s readiness to meet at a moment’s notice. Now, the 66th Session won’t be gaveled out of until the next session is set to begin, leaving the delegation from Syria seated right where they are.

Now, an Emergency Session could be convened under the Uniting for Peace resolution, which would allow for a new Credentialing Committee to be selected, and the Syrian credentials to be placed under review. However, I have listed previously the difficulties I see in calling such a session, and my analysis stands in my opinion. And let us think for a moment what would happen should an Emergency Meeting of the Credentialing Committee be called forward to consider the Syrian’s credentials post-haste. If you think the UN has an image problem now, imagine the laughter on conservative radio and television. “The UN convenes emergency session to determine whether Syria allowed to speak at meetings” practically reads like a headline of The Onion.

Even if such a session were to be called to order, the rules of the General Assembly only state that the Credentialing Committee is to determine whether to accept the legitimacy of the credentials as presented to the Secretary-General by a Head of State or Foreign Minister of the given country. For the credentials to be rejected, the Committee would have to rule that the international community no longer recognizes the rule of Bashar Al-Assad in a de jure sense. While many states have called for Assad to step down, none have ruled that his regime no longer controls Syria. To do so would require a replacement governing body, a role few believe the Syrian National Council or any of the other competing opposition groups are ready to play.

Playing off the points against the likelihood for utilizing the Uniting for Peace resolution, I also believe Kaminski is rather cavalier with his belief that the forces the United States would be marshalling would then be easily constrained into maintaining the status quo with all other states, preventing a rush of politically-based removal campaigns. The reason the United States drifted away from utilizing the General Assembly as a tool of policy-shaping in the first place is that it came to find the newer states of Africa and Asia too uncontrollable for their tastes, instead taking refuge in the Security Council for matters of peace and security, content with its veto there. While the US may be able to achieve victory here, and was able to beat back calls for Israel’s suspension in the 1980s, I don’t believe that’s a risk that the Obama Administration should take, as the victory may well end up a Pyrrhic one.

Aside from the more technical points, I think that Kaminski also overestimates the effect a suspension from the General Assembly would have. A great deal would come down to how the vote is split. I can’t see Russia and China, two states whose sway in the Security Council have prevent harsher measures from being taken, looking favorably upon such a push in the General Assembly, and may well come out more firmly resolved against pressing for Assad’s departure. Likewise, states that have been fine with condemning the human rights abuses of Syria may be slightly more hesitant to remove a fellow member from the Assembly.

Likewise, will the removal of Bashar Ja’afari from the General Assembly Hall truly convince him to leave the regime? As Colum Lynch pointed out, the diplomatic corps has been far more loyal to Assad than Gaddafi’s during Libya, likely due to lessons learned from that uprising such as having diplomats send their families home to Syria, within the regime’s reach. And a suspension from the General Assembly’s work would mean that a Mission to the UN would still be maintained, and the right to speak still accorded within the Security Council, as well as interaction with the Secretariat. Hardly the clarion call for defectors.

He finally makes the claim that there exists greater flexibility on the issue of seating, as evidenced by Libya’s diplomatic corps’ about face:

Additionally, in February 2011, Libya’s deputy U.N. ambassador in New York, Ibrahim Dabbashi, was somehow able to request an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council – a right reserved for U.N. member state delegations – on the same day he announced that he would represent the Libyan people rather than Moammar Gadhafi. Both cases suggest that under exceptional circumstances, there may be more maneuverability in this area than usually acknowledged.

Unfortunately, the analogy doesn’t quite hold up. While Dabbashi had forsworn the orders sent from Tripoli, he was still sworn in as the recognized Permanent Representative of Libya. Once Dabbashi’s disconnect from Qaddafi was clear, the Libyan government quickly withdrew Dabbashi and appointed a new Permanent Representative. Likewise, soon thereafter, the international community at the time was prepared to recognize a new government, in the form of the National Transitional Council, which was seated as the new Libyan government at the start of the current General Assembly session.

All told, I empathize with Kaminski’s desire to find new tools to leverage against Syria. I myself have called for removing of Syria from international bodies, such as its seat on a human rights committee within UNESCO. However, as you may recall, even that small step failed to gain traction. In the face of continuing Syrian repression against its citizens, a feeling of helplessness is understandable. However, removal of Syria from the General Assembly isn’t the path forward to ending the bloodshed. For now, it’s better to keep your enemies close; leaving Syria sitting in Turtle Bay outweighs the satisfaction that would come with booting them out.

February 8, 2012

What’s next for the United Nations and Syria?

The majority of the coverage following Russia and China’s twin veto of the UN Security Council’s resolution on Syria has been devoted to parsing the motives of the two in casting down the draft. I disagree with those who say that a veto was inevitable following the outcome of resolution 1973 on Libya. I most certainly agree that NATO overstepped its bounds in its air-campaign, doubly so when it comes to the arming of the Libyan rebels. However, Russia and China knew what they were getting into when they abstained on what was, as Joshua Foust pointed out in April, “in essence, a declaration of war by the international community against Gadhafi”.

In any case, the reasons for the veto matter less than determining what to do next for this scenario. And for UN observers such as myself, that includes making a determination on whether there’s a role for the United Nations moving forward with this crisis. Despite the frozen nature of the Security Council at this junction, there are a few options on the table for the UN, some less likely than others to succeed. So what can the UN do? I have listed out below a few policy options for the US to consider and/or pursue at the United Nations moving forward.

Removal of Syria from UN bodies:

The United Nations is already working on this, as is evidenced in UNESCO. Syria was quietly nominated to and accepted by acclimation as one of two Arab representatives seated on UNESCO’s Committee on Conventions and Recommendations, which has a human rights component to its work. The members of the Executive Board, including Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Djibouti, the US, United Kingdom, and France, are pushing to have Syria removed from the seat. The Executive Board next meets on March 10th, and are expected to take action then. Unfortunately, or fortunately, Syria lacks the weight it has in the past at the United Nations, leaving it with few seats to be removed from. The Syrian Arab Republic is currently serving no terms on the ECOSOC, Human Rights Council, or UN Development Programme or UNICEF’s Executive Boards. The only other major human rights body of the United Nations, the Third Committee of the General Assembly, can’t suspend Syria without the GA suspending its full membership. And considering states like the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea manage to stay within the UN’s good graces, it’s doubtful that Syria will be suspended anytime soon.

Prognosis: The UNESCO push is likely to succeed, further isolating Damascus, but a lack of other Syrian memberships limits further options.

Uniting for Peace?

After the veto last week, the buzz started up once again that in looking for a ‘Plan B’ on Syria, Uniting for Peace was back on the table. When asked about this option during a press conference yesterday, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin stated that he hadn’t heard about such action being considered, and that if it were it would be “complicated”. He’s right on this one. The problems that I had with the idea last month still are very much the case, particularly in regards to legality. At best, a new General Assembly resolution will be able to encourage states to pass new sanctions against Syria, but these sanctions would be unenforceable in open waters.  I’ve also heard discussion about using a resolution to call for an informal arms embargo as provided in the earliest version of the Morocco draft. The problem remains there that while the states who don’t like Syria will happily block arms sales, the main arms suppliers to Assad are Russia, who won’t allow its vessels to be boarded, and Iran, who would find new and exciting ways to ship arms to Syria. Any sort of blockade that comes without UN Security Council approval will be, and should be, seen as an Act of War. That said, using the General Assembly to endorse the Arab League’s plan, rather than calling for further measures of its own, has a slightly better chance of succeeding. Again, without enforcement measures, though, it’s hard to see the international community’s opinion weighing heavily on the heart of Assad.

Prognosis: Slightly better odds than I originally predicted, provided the UNGA limits itself to endorsement of the League of Arab States’ plan.

United Nations Fact-Finding/Mediation Mission:

Rather than waiting to see if the League of Arab States’ mission resumes, the United Nations could seek to launch a fact-finding mission of its own as to the levels of violence within Syria. Such a provision could be included as part of a General Assembly resolution, however, we again run into enforcement issues. In its resolution last year to launch an investigation into Syria, the Human Rights Council demanded that Damascus cooperate in full with its commission of investigators. It most certainly did not, leading the commissioners to rely on the testimony of defectors and others outside of Syria to gather evidence for their final report. There is no reason to believe that Assad’s government would welcome a new mission into its borders readily, or grant more access to UN observers than they did the Arab League’s team.

Such a proposal would, therefore, require support from the Security Council. In the earliest days of the Security Council, rather than tasking the Secretary-General to undertake peace missions, the Council itself dove right in, utilizing member-states rather than UN diplomats. For example, in the first India-Pakistan conflict in 1948, rather than task the Secretariat to launch an investigation, the UNSC passed Resolution 39. The Resolution set up a commission composed of three member-states, soon upped to five in Resolution 47, to travel to Kashmir and report to the Council on the conditions on the ground before launching mediations. Unfortunately, the military situation in Kashmir prevented the commission from completing its mission, but a similar move could be made with regards to Syria. Unfortunately, it’s unclear whether such a move would work, for several reasons.

First, the opposition has made clear its distrust of the Assad government, and continues to make the President’s resignation a precondition for any negotiations with the government. The Assad regime, and Russia to a lesser extent, finds this unpalatable. Further, it’s unlikely that Russia would support a diplomatic initiative directly undertaken by the Security Council for several reasons. The insertion of a UN team into Syria amid rising violence risks the injury of death of one of the observers, a tragedy in itself, but could lead for a push to provide protection for these observers. The slippery-slope on this would be clear for Moscow. Further, Russia is enjoying its sole leverage over Syria, as evidenced in Foreign Minister Lavrov’s trip to Damascus yesterday to present a plan so secret that no details could be revealed.

Prognosis: The General Assembly may choose to send a team, but lacking authority, the UNSC would be forced to take up, and fail, the issue.

Secretary-General Envoy for Syria:

Rather than pushing for an observation mission, the Secretariat could unilaterally insert itself into the Syrian crisis. The Secretary-General under the Charter has rather wide leeway when it comes to diplomatic initiatives, as greats such as Dag Hammarskjold and Kofi Annan have realized. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon could himself launch the sort of shuttle diplomacy that might produce an end to the Syrian crisis. In utilizing the Good Offices of the Secretary-General, Mr. Ban could choose to appoint and send an Envoy for Syria to Damascus, or could undertake the initial trip himself. The idea, while not a guarantee to succeed, has some potential. The United Nations as a body, opposed to a collection of Western plotters, might command Assad’s respect at least slightly more, insofar as accepting an envoy for discussions. Further, the opposition knows quite clearly where the Sec-Gen stands on violence in Syria in light of his condemnation of the Russian and Chinese vetoes. Further, as a second-termer, Mr. Ban has less to fear from the Permanent Five than he did in his first; there’s no reelection to win.

Prognosis: While not guaranteed to end the violence, has potential to help facilitate a political end to the crisis.

Humanitarian Resolution in the UN Security Council:

In light of the ongoing humanitarian disaster that is Syria, one of the most pressing calls has been to set up “safe zones” and “humanitarian corridors” in Syria. While these are non-starters with Russia and China, there is always the option of passing through a resolution that, rather than focusing on the political aspects of the crisis, focuses in on the need to protect refugees and provide aid to those in Syria who need it. Or at least that’s what it would any logical person would assume was a possibility. In actuality, it would be extremely difficult to pass, and then enforce, such a resolution, as we can see from the Somalia situation. In that instance, we saw what began as a mission solely to deliver aid to those suffering famine in the form of Operation: Restore Hope, and endorsed by the UN in Resolution 794. The endeavor quickly experienced mission creep, leading the Council to pass more and more resolutions on the issue before the whole effort ultimately collapsed. Any attempt to only handle one aspect of Syria will be done at risk of inflaming the ignored portions of the crisis.

Prognosis: Unlikely; there is no such thing as an apolitical resolution.

Wait:

The least appealing of options is to simply wait. The situation as it currently stands is sure to escalate, whether the international community intervenes or not. The Syrian government isn’t likely to have a sudden change of heart on the killing of its civilians, nor is the opposition like to turn the other cheek for much longer. The Free Syrian Army’s recruitment efforts have surely raised following the failure of the Morocco draft in the Security Council, and many are clamoring that now is the time for states who support democracy or the protestors or both to send arms to support the FSA. I’m rather sure that Turkey’s implicit hosting of the FSA won’t be tolerated for much longer by Assad, nor will the FSA wait for the Syrian National Council to get its act together before escalating attacks. An increase in arms, lacking accountability measures, will further wreak havoc on the region, particularly should the FSA be unable to control copycat organizations.

At present, the refugee situation, while certainly bad, is not a tidal wave; there are currently over 6,000 refugees registered in Lebanon and 7,500 in Turkey. An increase in attacks and the onset of civil war will certainly change that. As we saw in the midst of the Kosovo situation in the late 1990s, neighboring states’ destabilization from refugee inflow and harboring of resistance fighters, in that case Albania and Croatia, in this Turkey and Lebanon, will prove the impetus for more concerted action on Syria. This matter won’t be fully disappearing from the agenda of the UN Security Council anytime soon.

Prognosis: The most likely of options. We’ll be hearing about Syria in the UNSC more in coming months.

In summation, at least some options exist for next steps for the United Nations on Syria’s crisis. Many of them have components that are necessary to their success that I don’t believe exist at present. But the options still exist, and I wouldn’t fault Member States or the Secretariat for pushing forward with any of these. It’s easy to stand back, as I do, and critique; much harder to actually press for a deal. I still believe that no matter the course of action that is taken, the last of the options is what will wind up coming to fruition. Turkish and American calls for a Coalition of states, including non-permanent Security Council members, the Arab League’s members, and others, to deal with Syria outside the auspices of the United Nations are gaining traction. In the event the crisis worsens, however, the UN should be ready to step back in.

January 18, 2012

Uniting for Syria? Not in the General Assembly

The tenth anniversary of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine has prompted several reflections, including the The Stanley Foundation’s R2P: The Next Decade Conference in New York City this week, examining the future of the concept. In doing so, it’s impossible to not have all eyes turn towards Syria, wondering what, if anything, is to be done to protect the civilian population from the Bashar al-Assad government’s rampage.

An idea that I saw tossed around on Twitter as I followed the debate was one that I hadn’t considered in-depth: using the Uniting for Peace concept, based

Uniting for Peace for Syria in the UNGA?

on UN General Assembly resolution 337 (A), to circumvent the deadlocked Security Council. I can see why the idea would have appeal; Russia introduced the third version of its draft resolution on Syria to the Council this week, a version that has rejected all of the suggestions by the Western powers as having “emasculated” the text.

Dodging the veto of Russia and China on a strong resolution on Syria in the General Assembly would be a dream come true for activists impassioned about Syria. And the General Assembly has previously come out against the regime, passing a resolution condemning Syria’s human rights abuses and compelling it to adhere to the Arab League’s provisions by a substantial margin. So why not bring up a new resolution, under the auspices of R2P and Uniting for Peace, to push for tough measures on Damascus?

Well, there are several reasons. The first of which is that there’s precisely no chance that the P-3 of note in the above tweet, the United States, United Kingdom, and France, would support such a move. All three have come out against the Assad government’s violence and all three have said that he needs to step down from ruling Syria. However, all three value their power in the United Nations Security Council far more. The circumvention of the veto-power is a touchy subject for these three states.

This is the very reason why you don’t see the Uniting for Peace option used as much as it was when first introduced. During the early 1950s, the vast majority of  the General Assembly was composed of states from Latin America and Europe, states that were close allies of the United States. This was only fitting as the UN started out as a war-time alliance. As decolonization swept the globe, however, and more new states from Africa and Asia joined the Assembly, the US lost its strong majority, and with it its ability to easily pass any action it wanted through without a struggle.

Further, the concept is on shaky legal ground to begin with. The UN Charter does provide some small stake in the maintenance of international peace and security to the General Assembly, but the organ charged primarily with that function is the Security Council. The Assembly’s powers under Chapter IV are also phrased in such a way that compliance by member-states is not mandatory. Put another way, General Assembly resolutions are non-binding recommendations, unlike Council resolutions which carry the full weight of international law. To claim that any action taken under Uniting for Peace would be binding to states, including Syria, is counter to facts.

What’s more, any resolution tabled dealing with Syria as a breach of the Responsibility to Protect would necessarily be one dealing with international peace and security. Under Article 18 of the Charter, such matters are deemed an “Important Question” and require a two-thirds vote to pass. Depending on the severity of the provisions tabled, it is unlikely that two-thirds of the GA will be willing to vote for measures that would actually affect the situation on the ground in Syria. The two-thirds threshold would be particularly difficult to meet as the P-3 will surely be quietly working behind the scenes to keep a vote from coming to the floor to begin with.

Even if the Important Question provision is overcome, the fact remains that the resolution would still be entirely based on recommendations. As such, there would be no legally credible enforcement mechanism in place to compel those states that voted against the measures to enact them. In the event that even such moderate measures as an exact duplication of the embargoes placed on Damascus by the League of Arab States, there would be nothing stopping trade with Syria by states who want to. And as an arms embargo, of the type that would actually affect the Syrian governments ability to kill civilians, would be unenforceable, Russia can continue selling its wares unabated. No country’s navy is going to want to board a Russian ship in what may be an illegal embargo.

The idea was also breached that rather than shooting for strong measures, at the very least an Emergency Session of the General Assembly can be called under Uniting for Peace, to get the crisis in Syria under more urgent discussion. This would be a strong show of will by the international community, it could be argued, to show that Syria’s misdeeds are not going on unnoticed. The only problem is that without firm action to accompany such a session, it would be an empty victory. It would in fact be counter to the goals of the callers, as it would first show that the international community has no real plan of action towards Syria, which could prompt a surge in violence. An Emergency Session would, instead of showing resolve, cast the United Nations as weak and inept, surely the last thing the organization needs.

In situations like the one in Syria, it’s easy to ask “What can be done? Why is nothing being done?”, especially in the context of R2P. The United Nations in particular is being targeted as not moving swiftly enough to contain the crisis, but it’s easy to forget that the UN is, and always has been, a collection of member states. The General Assembly has acted strongly to condemn Syria, but it will not be the forum that will provide the end to violence there.

September 29, 2011

Venezuela is basically the Lady Gaga of the United Nations

Hear me out on the title. The day before yesterday ended the General Debate of the General Assembly this year. I wish I’d had more time to watch all of the speeches and critique them properly, but I can’t complain. At least I got to catch some. I know a few days ago, I half-jokingly lamented the lack of dictators this year to provide more…colorful moments. BUT WAIT.

Thankfully I had time to actually catch the Venezuela’s speech to the GA, always a crowd pleaser. Mr. Red Beret himself, President Hugo Chavez, was absent this year, due to his undergoing cancer treatment which, despite my opposition to almost all of his polices, I hope goes well. President Chavez’s illness didn’t mean that his speechwriters were unable find time to pen a marvel of a work for the Minister of People’s Power for Foreign Affairs Nicolás Maduro Moros. It was a doozy. Which leads me to make the analogy in the title, that Venezuela is basically the Lady Gaga of the United Nations.  I’ll explain after a bit, but first I want to cover just some of the things that Mr. Moros went over in his speech.

Once I realized I needed to write about this, the first words I put to paper were “Oh man, this is ridiculous”. So that I hope sets the tone for the rest of this. In one of his more sensible phrases, Mr. Moros insisted that the capitalist forces of the West are “marching towards ecocide”. From there he suggested that the West still follows the ideology of the conquistadors, incredulous that despite the energy crisis, the financial crisis, and food crisis, that capitalism continues to reign.

Mr. Moros then, like a high school senior giving a valedictorian speech, pulled out a quote from US scientist Linus Pauling:

“I believe that there is a greater power in the world than the evil power of military force, or nuclear bombs–there is the power of good, of morality, or humanitarianism. I believe in the power of the human spirit.”

Nothing wrong with that quote, per se. It just seemed like an odd choice. Or maybe not, because he continued on, saying it is “imperative to unleash a great counter political offense to prevent global war”. Venezuela called for the establishment of a broad peace-based alliance against war, saying that warmongers and especially the military-financial leadership must be vanquished. In a particularly fun point, he managed to call NATO “the military arm of the American empire”.

And here’s where it gets fun, and proves that someone at the Venezuelan mission has not done their homework. The Foreign Minister railed against NATO ‘violating’ the no-fly zone imposed in SC/Res/1973:

“What has become of the no-fly zone of 1973? How could NATO undertake more than 20,000 missions if there was a no-fly zone? Is this not a complete denial?”

So. I actually have read SC/Res/1973. And it clearly says that the no-fly zone does not apply to those Member States that are acting to enforce the no-fly zone. This being a Chapter VII resolution and all, acting under Article 42, this effectively means that so long as countries give the Sec-Gen a heads-up, they can fly as many sorties as they want to enforce the no-fly over Libya. The resolution also authorizes Member States to “to take all necessary measures … to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya”. As anyone who actually pays attention to the UN knows, “all necessary measures” means military force. So while the argument could be made that NATO should technically be bombing the NTC forces attacking Sirte right now, Mr. Moros doesn’t quite manage to make a valid point.

Another buzz on the truth-meter is Mr. Moros’ claim that NATO introduced heavy weapons to Libya’s rebels. I have found absolutely no reporting of this anywhere except the hilariously anti-NATO Centre for Research on Globalization which I’m not even going to bother linking to. All of NATO’s actions, according to Venezuela, were “meant to prevent the Libyan government from protecting its sovereignty”. …Against its own people. I haven’t signed onto R2P in blood or anything, but I do believe that once you have to protect your sovereignty against your own citizens, something has gone horribly awry, especially when that protection involves lethal force and promise to hunt everyone down like rats.

The real crux of his argument about Libya is that the reason for the intervention was to recolonize Libya and take over its wealth. This stands out as insanely stupid on our part if that really was the plan. First of all, say we actually had invaded Iraq for its oil back in 2003. We have seen that it ends pretty poorly for everyone involved, so why would we attempt it a second time in Libya? Second, up until Gaddafi’s forces started marching their way east, Libya was back in the fold of the international community and especially well-loved by its neighbors to the south for its generosity. The West was getting Libyan oil just fine, until we sanctioned it. Logic doesn’t seem to apply during the speechwriting process in Caracas. All of this added up to the obvious conclusion that Syria is next on the West’s Regime Change Tour 2011. Luckily for Al-Bashar though, he has the full weight of Venezuela behind him.

The next part of his speech turn to Horn of Africa, which is, you know, a legitimate concern, being the most widespread famine in decades in the region. Unfortunately, this too turned into a case of West-bashing. Citing the ever reliable source Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) saying at the start of the Libyan intervention that the excursion would cost the US $500M in its first week Mr. Moros insisted that the amount spent in the first three weeks to massacre the Libyan people could have been used to prevent the deaths of dozens of hundreds of thousands in Horn of Africa. Again, I’m almost willing to give him a pass on what seems like a legitimate concern. He then called it part of a Malthusian policy to lower the world population as a conspiracy to raise revenue for capitalists. And we’re back on track with crazy.

The rest of his speech was devoted to railing against the United Nations system as a whole, including, but not limited to, the Secretary-General, the P-5 members of the Security Council, the Security Council itself, the Charter, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, and I’m pretty sure he spoke out against the cafeteria at one point. Okay, not really on the last one, but I wouldn’t have been surprised by this point.

So after all of that, where does the Gaga analogy come in? Look at it this way. The UN General Assembly is a huge event, where the world comes together to talk about the issues it faces and celebrate its achievements and challenges ahead for the next year. And every year, there are certain countries that people look forward to hearing from, knowing that it may well top the spectacle of the previous year, and that’s really what they pay attention for. So too it is with the MTV Video Music Awards and basically every awards show in the industry.  It certainly was not for the tension of the “Best New Artist” that 12.4 million people tuned into the VMAs this year. No, the VMAs have become a showcase for the outrageous, and nobody represents that better than Lady Gaga. She’s the main event and has been for the last few years. Everyone wonders just what she’ll do and say on stage at her next appearance. It’s a pretty easy line to draw between her and Venezuela at this point, especially now that Qaddafi is out of power.

So I’ll rank this year’s performance as a “Bubble Dress” on the Gaga Crazy scale, far below the Meat Dress, but still more out there than what many others are doing at the same time. This year was no “The Devil Has Been Here”, but really, what is? And they say showmanship is dead.

September 27, 2011

The Puzzle of Pakistan, or Why I Just Can’t Wish FM Khar Success

I clearly haven’t been paying as much attention as I should to Pakistan. Clearly. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been surprised when I saw a woman take the rostrum at the General Assembly this afternoon. I immediately set about Googling her, to see just what I missed in the months since Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar was appointed the youngest person and first female to hold the seat of Foreign Minister of Pakistan. What I discovered is that she’s 34 years old, only ten years older than I am, and has already managed to restart peace talks with India. Unfortunately, most of the rest of what came up was commentary on her wardrobe choices.

Those publications would do well to take her more seriously; she one of only two women to hold a seat in the Pakistani National Assembly that isn’t set aside specifically for women. Moreover, she has a tough job in front of her with US-Pakistani relations at a serious low and India as pervasive a threat in the Pakistani mindset as ever, but one that she seems willing to face head-on. In her speech to the General Assembly, she began by highlighting the fact that Pakistan will be seeking a seat on the UN Security Council next year, in the election that takes place during this session of the Assembly, filling the seat that Lebanon will be leaving vacant. Unspoken was the fact that India currently holds a seat on the SC, and so the two of them would be sharing the Horseshoe Table until 2013 when India’s term expires. The two countries have served on the Council three times since the founding of the UN, most recently in 1984.

Perhaps seeking to alleviate any concerns about this arrangement that fellow members of the Asian Group might have, Khar stressed that India and Pakistan are in the process of holding substantive dialogue, and expressed her hope that the talks will be “uninterrupted and uninterruptible”. That last phrase was more directed at India than any other state, an unspoken acknowledgement of the last interruption in talks, the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Whether she has the power to follow through and actually keep the Lakshar-e-Toiba in check is yet to be seen.

FM Khar then devoted a substantial chunk of her speech to the situation to Pakistan’s west, in Afghanistan, emphasizing that Pakistan is devoted to supporting peace and backs Afghan President Hamid Karzai and attempts at reconciliation with the Taliban. At the same time, Pakistan condemned the attack on the US Embassy in Kabul by the Haqqani Network. Here’s the thing about that, though. Just recently, outgoing US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen accused Pakistan of supporting the attack. The pushback by Pakistan has been forceful, but relations have turned almost glacial since then. FM Khar worked to defuse the situation saying that “perhaps understandable that there is a high level of anxiety and emotions”, stressing the need for the US, Pakistan and Afghanistan to “work closely and as responsible partners” and “not rush to judgement or question each other’s intentions”.

It’s not at all certain that the Foreign Minister has the power in the government to truly lead to a breakthrough in relations with the US. She did manage to cite some impressive figures in Pakistan’s commitment to fighting terrorism, saying that over 30,000 Pakistanis have died because of terrorism, fifteen times the number of Americans that died on September 11th. That might not be enough this time. Suspicion towards Pakistan is high and rising in the United States, the case certainly not helped by today’s New York Times article which ties the Pakistani Army with a 2007 border ambush on American and Afghan troops. This leaves, among other things, the prospect of the US supporting a Pakistani seat on the Security Council as shaky at best.

Pakistan is a puzzling case for US policy, in that we’ve clearly seen a situation where you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. After aid was cut off to Pakistan following the successful test of its nuclear weapons in the 1990s, we saw no alteration of its policy towards proliferation, towards combating terrorism, or supporting the Taliban. After aid was restored and boosted in 2002, we still have been on less than solid ground with both the military regime of Musharraf and the civilian governments that have followed. Pakistan’s policy in the last decade, as it was in the 1980s, is one where you never, ever find yourself holding a losing hand, and doing everything in your power to make sure that at the end of the game if you haven’t won, you at least haven’t lost. This is the case in Afghanistan, hedging against the US losing against the Taliban, and in dealing with India, making sure that despite talks its oldest foe does not think that it can trample Pakistan.

This sort of runaround makes sense in the short-term but is an abject disaster as a long-term strategy, which seems to be the case here. Rather than cutting ties with groups like the L-e-T and the Haqqani Network once and for all, the Pakistani government is still hedging its bets. While I like the new Foreign Minister, and wish Ms. Rabbani Khar well, the underlying fact is that until she and the rest of Prime Minister Gilani’s Cabinet prove that Pakistan has not only chosen a side but it’s one that does not act against the US’ interests, I can’t really bring myself to wish her success.

September 26, 2011

Syria Business: Syria’s FM Blames Everyone but Al-Assad for Syria’s Problems

As I was writing the last post, I realized I have a free couple of minutes to tune into the livestream of the UN General Debate. And who should be speaking, but the Foreign Minister of Syria, Mr. Walid Al-Moualem. This being too good an opportunity to miss, I decided to listen in.

Rather than dodging the issue, FM Al-Moualem decided to tackle his country’s current issues head-on.

“There is no doubt that the positions of states are governed by geopolitical realities and constraints and demands stemming there from,” he began, speaking of Syria’s role in the balance of politics, being in the very heart of the Middle East. This was all well and good, until he began to speak of Syria’s historic support of resistance movements. I suppose that those movements only count outside of Syria’s borders.

He went on to talk about Syria’s having extended the hand of friendship to all states and how it builds relations on mutual respect and interest. Mr. Al-Moualem then pivoted to speak on the occupation of Iraq, which “dragged us into another battle”, where they faced the choice of “siege and isolation or submitting to dictates”. They clearly chose the former.

Having properly framed the strength and bravery of the Al-Assad government, Mr. Moualem spoke of the internal issues as having two sides. On the one, the country needs the people driven political, economic and social reforms that the citizens of Syria have been calling for, and that President Assad has apparently championed. However, “political circumstances” forced internal demands to take a backseat to other priorities. It would seem that the “overriding priority” was “facing external pressures” that were “at time tantamount to blatant conspiracies”. This was followed up with another declaration that armed groups are currently sabotaging the Syrian protests and sowing seeds of insecurity as a pretext for foreign intervention. In what may have been my favorite part of the speech, Mr. Al-Moualem declared that Syria takes very seriously its responsibility to protect its citizens, and has acted to guarantee their safety and security from international intervention.

Syria’s FM went on to say that after President Al-Assad declared his reform measures in June, he introduced all sorts of Acts, allowing political pluralism, laying the groundwork for free and open media, and the potential for a new Constitution. He went on to claim that opposition figures have come together with the government to examine this reform package. This confuses me, as I’m pretty sure the Syrian opposition was barely able to agree on naming themselves the Syrian National Council, let alone enough of a plan of action to be able to meet with the government and negotiate reforms.

He then started talking more about the “other side of the coin”, calling out countries that spoke out about Syria in the General Debate for promoting defiance and incitement. In a wonderful leap of logic, Syria “deeply regret[s] the surge in the activities of armed groups…, which have not waned and instead continued to spiral”, which were declared to be “in tandem with multiple economic sanctions”. So the Syrian government kills more people the more it’s sanctioned, serving almost as a cryptic warning to the West. As a side note, nobody is saying that there has been absolutely no violence incited by the opposition; it’s just that violence in Syria is being carried out by on a scale several magnitudes by the Syrian government and army against the people compared to the reverse. In any case, by targeting the Syrian economy with sanctions, Mr. Al-Moualem stated, the United States and European Union jeopardize the basic subsistence needs of the Syrian people, which cannot be reconciled with concerns for the rights of the Syrian people. Concerns for the rights of the Syrian people being of the utmost priority, of course.

Towards the end is where it got really interesting, as the claim was put forward that the Al-Assad government has opted for a secular route as located Syria is located in an area of many religions. While I agree that it is in the cradle of the major religions, and that the Syrian people as whole seem to steer away from secular conflict, I have to say that the fact that Syria helps fund Hezbollah really undercuts the statement as a whole. Mr. Al-Moualem followed up by railing against the “financing and arming of religious extremism”. Seriously? There is not a pot/kettle analogy strong enough to be used here. This religious extremism is meant to spread Western hegemony and Israel’s expansionist needs. And the train has gone off the rails. He concluded by saying that the Syrian people will reject any intervention, and “will not let you implement your plans and will foil your schemes”, and thanked those countries that have “stood by [his] people”. Here’s looking at you, Brazil. Well played.

During his speech, Mr. Al-Moualem tried to hide behind the UN Charter, specifically Chapter I, Article 2, Section 7:

 Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter

This is a pretty common line of attack in the protection of national sovereignty against the responsibility to protect. However, everyone seems to forget the second part of Article 2(7):

 but this principle shall not prejudice the application of enforcement measures under Chapter VII.

The ball is quite clearly in the Security Council’s court as the arbiters of Chapter VII; it’s then imperative for the survival of the Syrian government that it continues its push to have the Libyan intervention viewed in a negative light by the current members of the Security Council. So long as the BRICS countries refuse to take action on Syria, the likelihood of Syria’s protests taking on a much more violent approach rises. I can only hope that in its example and in diplomatic pushes, that Turkey can convince some of its fellow middle/rising powers to take a much firmer stance on Syria.

September 26, 2011

The UN General Assembly…Abridged!: Or, Palestine, Palestine, Crazy, Hope, Palestine

So I may have overestimated the amount of time that my real-person job would cut into my blogging. It being the General Debate at the UN General Assembly, though, my loyal reader, singular, would not forgive me for not having at least something up. That, plus I realized that most bloggers DO have actual jobs and so excuses are for chumps, to use the common parlance.

General Debate in years past has often been better translated as “dictators give lengthy diatribes”. This year, though, has been different, though no less boring. The General Debate has, of course, been dominated by the Israeli-Palestinian debate, which despite the best efforts of the United States, has made its way to the horrendously carpeted floor of the General Assembly.

President Abbas received a hero’s welcome in Palestine after making what many called an historic speech. President Abbas theatrically waved about a copy of the official request for full membership that he earlier presented to Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. Theatricality aside, the members inside the General Assembly ate it up, offering President Abbas several standing ovations. This made for the rather awkward optics of seeing Ambassador Susan Rice and the rest of the United States delegation sitting sullenly while spontaneous cheers went up all around. I understand the United States’ position, even if I don’t agree with it fully, but from a purely international political point of view, stonewalling Abbas’ speech doesn’t particularly play well.

A few speakers later, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu took the rostrum of the GA, and put on a show of his own. As President Abbas was speaking to the people at home, so too was PM Netanyahu. His speech was well-delivered and full of what were intended to be laugh lines and clearly impromptu drop-ins; never let it be said that Bibi doesn’t give an impressive speech in perfect English. But it clearly wasn’t one for the delegates in the room. Rather, it was written and delivered to his right-wing at home in Israel and to Congressional Republicans in the United States. And he gave them everything that they wanted and more. Which is to say he gave a full-throated push for security matters to come above all else when dealing with a solution to the Palestinian statehood issue and wanting to prevent the West Bank from becoming another Gaza, the sort of red-meat that has Republicans giving their own standing ovations.

Bibi challenged President Abbas to meet with him immediately, with no preconditions, on the sidelines of the UN, but this was an offer that was never meant to be taken; Palestine refuses to return to the negotiating table until Israel ceases constructing settlements in the West Bank. The point became moot when the Quartet, made up of the US, European Union, Russia, and the United Nations issued a statement on restarting peace talks. The statement went over like a lead balloon, however, with Egypt speaking in their first post-Mubarak appearance at the UN and utterly eviscerating the proposal’s lack of timelines and conditions to restart talks.

So your guess is as good as mine where this goes from here. The United Nations Security Council has Lebanon as its President this month, and upon receiving the Palestinian application on Friday, the Council was set to have initial discussion of it this afternoon. There was talk that the Quartet’s statement would put this discussion on hold, but with nobody seeming to be fans of it, it would seem that Lebanon has gone ahead and added “Admission of New Members” to the Council’s agenda for today. So I’m sure we’ll hear more about this later.

The Israeli-Palestinian issue wasn’t all that was discussed, however, and there were a few shining moments that cut through. The first was the first speech to the General Assembly by the newest addition to the United Nations, South Sudan, the 193rd member. President Salva Kiir, wearing his fetching black cowboy hat as ever, spoke of his gratitude to the international community, the need for stable security, and the need to diversify the oil-based economy of South Sudan. If President Kiir manages to pull this off, South Sudan could serve as a model to oil-rich countries across the globe. And to link back to earlier in this post, this year marked the first in over forty years where Mommar Qaddafi has not been the voice of Libya. Instead, Mahmoud Jibril, Chairman of the National Transitional Council, spoke to the body. Not only was this a victory for the beleaguered translators on the second floor, but a success for there being one less dictator in the halls of the UN.

I would be remiss if I didn’t at least touch on President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad’s annual craziness at the GA, followed by the annual walk of any member-states who had stuck around thus far. Conspiracy theories abound as ever, including a fun little attack on the reality of September 11th. Mark Kornblau, USUN spokesman, put it as succinctly as possible in what may be the best press release ever:

Mr. Ahmadinejad had a chance to address his own people’s aspirations for freedom and dignity, but instead he again turned to abhorrent anti-Semitic slurs and despicable conspiracy theories.

Those were just the most entertaining parts that have gone on so far; many serious speeches and proposals for policies to uphold and fulfil the Millennium Development Goals and tap the potential of women were given among others. While more most certainly went on, I’ll leave some of the more choice tidbits for other posts, including one that I have queued up for right after this one goes live.

EDIT: Like I said, there’s an update to the UNSC Palestinian question. According to Dennis Fitz: “The UNSC met today & decided to meet again on Wed to decide whether to refer Palestine membership bid to admissions committee.” So there you go. There’s no veto on the Admissions Committee, but all 15 states have a representative on it. More information on Wednesday, but this means that tonight and tomorrow will be an all-out push by the Palestinians to get at least nine votes on the Council to be pledged to vote yes and by the US to get them to hold back. Either way, the move will fail even/especially if it moves out of the Admissions Committee, but it being via a failure to garner nine votes and a US veto are very different things indeed.

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