Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Darfur - What the UN can and can't do (Nick Kristof)

Nick Kristof, who has been making steady and admirable efforts to bring the Darfur atrocity to public attention, offers a useful dose of reality in the column below. Some highlights:
--------------------
For those of us who admire the United Nations, there is an uncomfortable reality to grapple with:
The U.N. has put barely a speed bump in the path to genocide in Darfur. The U.N. has been just as ineffective there for the last three years as it was during the slaughter in Rwanda, Bosnia and Cambodia. Once again, it rolled over. It's no wonder that anti-genocide campaigners have barely bothered protesting at the U.N. and have instead focused their pressure on the White House.
The sad fact is that the U.N. is a wimp. It publishes fine reports and is terrific at handing out food and organizing vaccination campaigns, but the General Assembly and the Security Council routinely doze through crimes against humanity. [....]
My guess is that the recent peace deal in Darfur will fall apart. [....] All that said, this peace agreement is the best hope we have to end the genocide, and the U.N. needs to back it up by dispatching an international force to Darfur. If the U.N. fails that test in the coming weeks, it will have disgraced itself again.
Frankly, the U.N. has regularly failed abysmally in situations like the one in Darfur, when military intervention is needed but a major power (in this case China) uses the threat of a veto to block action.

[....] U.N. agencies do a fine job in humanitarian operations. The World Food Program and Unicef are first-rate; they jointly run the U.N. operation I most admire, the school-feeding program. [....] And without the World Food Program organizing food shipments to Sudan and Chad, hundreds of thousands more people would have died. Those U.N. field workers are heroic — just this month, a 37-year-old Spanish woman working for Unicef was shot and critically injured in Chad. People like her redeem the honor of the U.N.
There's also an ounce of hope that the U.N.'s senior officials will learn how to use one tool they have neglected: their bully pulpit.
The best example of this approach is the work by Jan Egeland, the U.N.'s under secretary for humanitarian affairs — one of the real (and rare) heroes of Darfur. Mr. Egeland is Norwegian, but I wish he could quickly become an Asian and thus have a chance to be the next secretary general.
Mr. Egeland has led the way on disasters by being undiplomatic about horrors like the slaughter in Darfur and the catastrophe in Congo. Perhaps it helps that Mr. Egeland is so evenhanded that he offends everybody. After the tsunami, he correctly called many rich countries "stingy" with their foreign aid, thus touching off a useful debate in the U.S. about our aid levels.
If other U.N. officials followed Mr. Egeland's undiplomatic example and spent more time being offensive, devoting less energy to diplomatic receptions and more to dragging journalists through the world's hellholes, the globe would be a better place — and the U.N. would be more relevant. [....]

[Having] the U.N. is far better than the alternative of having no such institution. But take it from this disillusioned fan of the U.N. system: let's also be realistic and drop any fantasy that the U.N. is going to save the day as a genocide unfolds. In that mission, the U.N. is failing about as badly as the League of Nations did.
--------------------
=> Of course, the UN as an institution acts in accord with the will of its member governments, especially those with seats on the Security Council. And governments are unlikely to take serious action on an issue like Darfur unless they are pressed by public opinion.

In this respect, one of the most scandalous and devastating failures of the so-called "international community" has been the almost complete failure of European public opinion, with the partial exception of Britain, to become at all aroused about the ongoing atrocity in Darfur. As far back as August 2004, Howard Dean argued that Europe must act on Darfur:
Europeans cannot criticize the United States for waging war in Iraq if they are unwilling to exhibit the moral fiber to stop genocide by acting collectively and with decisiveness. [....] Every day that goes by without meaningful sanctions and even military intervention in Sudan by African, European and if necessary U.N. forces is a day where hundreds of innocent civilians die and thousands are displaced from their land. Every day that goes by without action to stop the Sudan genocide is a day that the anti-Iraq war position so widely held in the rest of the world appears to be based less on principle and more on politics. And every day that goes by is a day in which George Bush's contempt for the international community, which I have denounced every day for two years, becomes more difficult to criticize.
That was correct then, and it remains correct now.

And in the current issue of the New Republic, much of which is devoted to Darfur, Samantha Power (author of A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide) ends her piece, "The Void," which includes some sharp criticisms of US government policies, by putting the inadequate US response in an even more depressing wider perspective.
But, at this juncture, U.S. pressure is not sufficient to do the job, and other countries must be brought around. And, for that to happen, the burgeoning endangered people's movement must spread beyond U.S. shores.
Walking away from the [Save Darfur] rally in Washington, a British friend of mine shook his head and said, "You'll never hear me say this again, but today made me want my kids to grow up American." When I asked why, he said, "What happened today could never, ever happen in Europe." Europeans fond of denouncing both the Rwandan genocide and American imperialism had better prove him wrong.
--Jeff Weintraub
===============
New York Times
May 16, 2006

Dithering Through Death
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

For those of us who admire the United Nations, there is an uncomfortable reality to grapple with:

The U.N. has put barely a speed bump in the path to genocide in Darfur. The U.N. has been just as ineffective there for the last three years as it was during the slaughter in Rwanda, Bosnia and Cambodia. Once again, it rolled over. It's no wonder that anti-genocide campaigners have barely bothered protesting at the U.N. and have instead focused their pressure on the White House.

The sad fact is that the U.N. is a wimp. It publishes fine reports and is terrific at handing out food and organizing vaccination campaigns, but the General Assembly and the Security Council routinely doze through crimes against humanity.

Sure enough, to the extent that there is now a ray of hope in Darfur, what has changed is not that the U.N. has awakened, but that President Bush has shown greater initiative.

My guess is that the recent peace deal in Darfur will fall apart. It is fragile on the rebel side, and Sudan is probably lying once again when it promises to disarm the janjaweed militia. All that said, this peace agreement is the best hope we have to end the genocide, and the U.N. needs to back it up by dispatching an international force to Darfur. If the U.N. fails that test in the coming weeks, it will have disgraced itself again.

Frankly, the U.N. has regularly failed abysmally in situations like the one in Darfur, when military intervention is needed but a major power (in this case China) uses the threat of a veto to block action.

The U.N. has done better in organizing security for elections. The U.N. effort to help Mozambique out of its civil war in the early 1990's was a huge success, and the U.N. also helped greatly in the run-up to the birth of East Timor in 2002.

But by and large, victims of war and genocide are served about as well by the U.N. as earlier generations were by the Kellogg-Briand pact to outlaw war. Granted, when the U.N. fails, that simply means that its member states fail — but the upshot is still that when genocide alarm bells tinkle, the places to call are Washington, London and Paris, not New York.

Does this mean I buy into the right wing's denunciations of the U.N.?

No, partly because the U.N. agencies do a fine job in humanitarian operations. The World Food Program and Unicef are first-rate; they jointly run the U.N. operation I most admire, the school-feeding program. For 19 cents a day per child, they provide meals in impoverished schools, and those meals hugely increase school attendance (see www.wfp.org).

And without the World Food Program organizing food shipments to Sudan and Chad, hundreds of thousands more people would have died. Those U.N. field workers are heroic — just this month, a 37-year-old Spanish woman working for Unicef was shot and critically injured in Chad. People like her redeem the honor of the U.N.

There's also an ounce of hope that the U.N.'s senior officials will learn how to use one tool they have neglected: their bully pulpit.

The best example of this approach is the work by Jan Egeland, the U.N.'s under secretary for humanitarian affairs — one of the real (and rare) heroes of Darfur. Mr. Egeland is Norwegian, but I wish he could quickly become an Asian and thus have a chance to be the next secretary general.

Mr. Egeland has led the way on disasters by being undiplomatic about horrors like the slaughter in Darfur and the catastrophe in Congo. Perhaps it helps that Mr. Egeland is so evenhanded that he offends everybody. After the tsunami, he correctly called many rich countries "stingy" with their foreign aid, thus touching off a useful debate in the U.S. about our aid levels.

If other U.N. officials followed Mr. Egeland's undiplomatic example and spent more time being offensive, devoting less energy to diplomatic receptions and more to dragging journalists through the world's hellholes, the globe would be a better place — and the U.N. would be more relevant.

John Bolton, now the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., once suggested it wouldn't matter if the U.N.'s top 10 floors were lopped off. But let's not do that — the U.N. is far better than the alternative of having no such institution. But take it from this disillusioned fan of the U.N. system: let's also be realistic and drop any fantasy that the U.N. is going to save the day as a genocide unfolds. In that mission, the U.N. is failing about as badly as the League of Nations did.

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home