Democracy Arsenal

December 31, 2006

Proliferation, UN

Assessing UN Action on Iran and North Korea
Posted by Jordan Tama

2006 was a bad year for American foreign policy, marked by our inability to stop the escalating civil war in Iraq, worsening violence in Darfur, and the continued decline of our international reputation. But we also had a couple of important diplomatic achievements that haven't got as much attention as they deserve: the passage by the UN Security Council of targeted sanctions against North Korea and Iran for their nuclear programs.

After North Korea's nuclear test in October, the Security Council voted unanimously for sanctions that ban the transfer of nuclear materials to North Korea, bar international travel by officials associated with North Korea's weapons programs, and freeze the overseas assets of those officials. The resolution also authorizes countries to inspect cargo going in and out of North Korea to detect illegal weapons. Eight days ago, the Security Council unanimously approved a less stringent sanctions package on Iran, including a ban on the import and export of nuclear materials and a freeze on the assets of some Iranian individuals and companies.

In both cases, the U.S. had pushed for tougher sanctions, while Russia and China had sought weaker ones. The results were painstakingly negotiated compromises that satisfied no one but represented significant diplomatic achievements considering the wide divergence of views among Security Council members. The sanctions won't stop North Korea and Iran from moving forward with their nuclear programs, but they will slow them down by making it harder for them to acquire needed materials and complicating the work of officials involved in nuclear efforts.

The bigger benefits might be political. In Iran, the sanctions already have contributed to growing discontent with President Ahmadinejad, as some Iranians blame him for unnecessarily isolating their country (though most Iranians support Iran's nuclear program). In East Asia, the sanctions have shown North Korea that its most important patron, China, is willing to cooperate with North Korea's enemies to punish it for recalcitrant behavior.

Continue reading "Assessing UN Action on Iran and North Korea" »

October 18, 2006


Don't Cry for Me Venezuela
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Bolton_florida_2 The protracted battle underway between Venezuela and Guatemala over one of the Latin American Regional Group's non-permanent seats on the UN Security Council is a case study in the bedeviling dynamics of the UN General Assembly.   For an account of where the fight stands after 22 rounds of inconclusive voting, read here

For Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, there would be no better global platform for provoking the US than a 2-year seat on the Council.  For Washington, having Chavez represent our regional neighbors would be an immediate slap in the face, and a significant long-term nuisance on the array of top priority issues now sitting with the Council, i.e. North Korea, Iran and the Lebanese ceasefire.

So, what can we make of the UN membership's deep divide on this one?

A majority of the UN membership does not want to see Chavez face the US down day in and day out, paralyzing the Council in the process - While they haven't won the required two-thirds majority, the Guatemalans have been ahead of Caracas in every round.  Much as recent events can make it seem like the whole world is out to get us and wants nothing more than to rally around the likes of Chavez, its just not true.   We have many dozens of allies, and like-minded countries who recognize a despot-cum-spoiler like Chavez for what he is and don't want him poisoning UN debates.  Its encouraging to know that even now, most UN members put certain values ahead of sticking it to the US.

Developing world solidarity only goes so far - The strength in numbers developing countries derive at the UN can be a formidable obstacle to Western proposals.  But, as this vote illustrates, there are objectives that trump lockstep third world unity. 

US support is a double edged sword - Some commentators have remarked that Guatemala would already have won outright were it not for the US's vigorous support of their candidacy, and the perception that voting them in would represent an undeserved victory for the Administration.  It's long been true that many US proposals at the UN are dead on arrival if stamped made-in-the-USA.  But for the world's superpower, its tough to effectively advance proposals and positions without leaving our fingerprints all over them.

China will back anything that heightens their influence - Here's what China's UN envoy said to explain why Beijing backs Venezuela: "The United States cannot expect the composition of the Security Council to be 15 members which all have the same position as the United States. . . Multilateralism means countries have different opinions. I think that is not really a bad thing. Accommodating diversity is part of democracy."  Having Chavez on the Council means one more vote on China's side of the debate on Iran, and an even more important role for Beijing as a power-broker in a Council that's bound to deadlock even more often.

John Bolton is no less tone deaf now than when he arrived at the UN - After 22 rounds of voting, here's what Bolton had to say:  "All I can say is, in the year 2000, I spent 31 days in Florida. . .  This has just begun." Oblivious to the detrimental impact of placing the US front-and-center in the anti-Chavez campaign, Bolton annoints himself the Karl Rove of Guatemala's election effort.  I served at the UN in 2000 as Florida unfolded and can remember debates adjourning so that the delegates could race back to their TVs in time to hear the results of recounts of hanging chads in Miami-Dade, and to read about John Bolton's infamous proclamation:  "I'm with the Bush-Cheney team, and I'm here to stop the count." The UN membership was in many ways as traumatized by the process and outcome as were the American people.  Evoking those unsettling days and the threat they posed to democracy is about the worst campaign tactic imaginable. 

September 28, 2006


Horse Race in Turtle Bay: The Next UN Secretary General
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Un_hq Today the NYT asked each of the declared candidates to succeed Kofi Annan to answer 2 questions:  1) the UN's biggest mistake; and 2) the area most in need of reform.  Answers are here

The replies are revealing in that they point to some of the fundamental questions that will confront the UN's new leader:  What role can the organization play in trying to modernize and stabilize the Middle East?  How should it balance the competing priorities of Member States, some of whom - like the US - want the focus to lie with peace and security, and others - from the developing world - who are clamoring for more resources and emphasis on development aid?  How should the UN deal with issues that are pressing for its members, but fall outside the world body's areas of demonstrated capacity and potential to succeed - should it focus on further building on what it does well, or shoring up its weaknesses?

By dint of its vast membership the UN is nothing if not multi-faceted, but the UN's spotty record makes clear that the organization needs to pick area to focus its attention and resources.  Here's what we can glean from the five would-be's who participated in the Times' query about where their priorities would lie.

Prince Zeid - The young and charming Jordanian not surprisingly focuses on the challenges in his own region, citing the rise of extremism in the Mideast as a challenge above all others.  That's a view shared by many in Washington, but that's not as prevalent in a world body that includes many countries for whom AIDS, trade and development issues are more central than the threat of terrorism.   This goes to a very basic divide at the UN between the US and some other Western countries that believe the organization's prime focus should be peace and security, and developing world nations that want more emphasis on economic issues.  I actually do think the UN has a potentially critical role to play in the Middle East, particularly if it can prove itself with a successful revamped UNIFIL in Lebanon.  One of the reason's for Zeid's initial appeal as a candidate was the idea that he might bridge the Islamic world with the West.

Dhanapala - The Sri Lankan singles out Darfur as the UN's greatest failing, putting blame not just on the UNSC members but also on the Secretariat.  He talks about the need for rapidly deployable humanitarian capabilities and troops, but sidesteps the fact that absent stronger political will in cases like Darfur, its not clear such arms would be mobilized even if they existed.

Ghani - The former Afghan Finance Minister talks about corruption and mismanagement at the UN.  He waxes forth on accountability and transparency, but offers no specifics on how to achieve them amid the UN's fractious membership and often hidebound decision-making processes.

Vike-Freiberga - The President of Latvia and the only woman in the race talks about the relatively newly consecrated "responsibility to protect" in international law, and about the Millennium Development Goals, a set of measures agreed to 6 years ago to address poverty and hardship in the developing world.  The direction she points is, in essence, the opposite of Zeid's.  As the only "Northerner" in the group, a message directed at the concerns of "the South" has a certain political logic.  The trick with the Millennium Goals is that they are enormously broad and ambitious and cover both areas, like children's health and vaccines, where the UN has demonstrated itself to be extremely effective, and much broader questions of socio-economic development in respect to which the world body's track record is far more mixed.

Tharoor - Debonaire longtime UN diplomat-cum-bureaucrat Shashi Tharoor addresses the problem of sustaining UN peacekeeping over the long-term.  From the standpoint of competitive advantages, this is an area where the UN plays indispensable role today and where, with augmented capabilities, it could do even more.  We've learned the hard way in Iraq the challenges posed by unilateral alternatives to UN-led statebuilding.

Results of today's straw poll among UN Security Council members are here.   South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki Moon - who declined to participate in the NYT survey - has a big lead, but it ain't over til its over. 

September 20, 2006


A Bush in the China Shop
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

So today President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela got up behind a podium at the UN's General Assembly and called President Bush the devil.  The awful thing, of course, is that while the rhetoric is outrageous, much of the world's reaction will be that they know what he means.  If you doubt that, check out what the foreign media's been saying about the US in recent days on this site. 

Chavez faulted Bush for acting like he "owned the world."  You'd think that, under the circumstances, Bush would have bent over backwards to convey the opposite, with Chinese influence at the UN on the rise given the isolation we face and its debilitating effect on our policies on, at the top of the list, Iraq and Iran.

So, what did Bush say?  Was he as tone-deaf as his detractors claim?  Or did he, as so often in the past, use language that could have come out of a liberal internationalist playbook to describe policies and attitudes that would make FDR rotate in his grave?

Let's look at a few of his turns of phrase:

"it is clear that the world is engaged in a great ideological struggle, between extremists who use terror as a weapon to create fear, and moderate people who work for peace . . . I want to speak about ... world beyond terror, where ordinary men and women are free to determine their own destiny, where the voices of moderation are empowered, and where the extremists are marginalized by the peaceful majority." - Would that this were how most of the world sees it.  Unfortunately, the Bush Administration is viewed, abroad and increasingly at home as well, as anything but moderate and peace-seeking.  This has allowed the likes of Chavez to recast the battle as one of superpower dominator against the defenseless and disenfranchised who can only stand up for their rights by, for example, building nuclear capabilities. Bush's language shows his tone-deafness, practically inviting opponents to turn his words against him.

"Every nation that travels the road to freedom moves at a different pace, and the democracies they build will reflect their own culture and traditions. But the destination is the same: A free society where people live at peace with each other and at peace with the world."  The first sentence is a good one, seeming to recognize the democracy cannot be imposed by force.  It follows an impressive-sounding list of nations in the Mideast that have seen some form of political opening in recent years.  But the proclamation that the destination is "the same" belies the point, implying that culture and tradition somehow disappear once freedom is realized.  This perception is one of the primary impediments to democratic transformation, something one would hope Bush understood by now.

Bush then went into a series of entreaties directed at various peoples around the world:  the Iraqis, the Iranians, the Lebanese, the Afghanis, the Syrians and the people of Darfur.  He compliments each for something, and then goes on to say what needs to happen next in their country or region.  On the one hand, there is an element of humanity in reaching out to ordinary citizens.   On the other side, the comments were pitched to fly over the heads of the nearly 200 heads of state filling the room, dis-intermediating them from their populations.  There is nothing wrong with appealing directly to foreign populations, particularly in undemocratic countries where there's no reason to believe that government policies and public attitudes dovetail.  But Bush's tone was preachy and condescending.  He proceeded to tell ancient cultures what they had a right to be proud of, and presumed to tell beleaguered populations what there biggest problems are.

What didn't Bush say?  Despite a withering 5 years, there was not a moment's introspection, no nod to the challenges we have faced fighting terrorism, trying to foster freedom in far-flung places, or holding things together at home.  There was no nod to any global issue apart from terrorism and the spread of democracy in the Middle East.  Nothing on AIDS, global warming, economic development, trade, or poverty.  In other words, no real message to Latin America, Africa, the former Soviet Union or much of Asia.

Devilish?  No.  Disappointing?  Yes.

September 05, 2006


Herding the UN
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Last week David Adesnik of Oxblog took issue with a post I wrote about Iran that stated that in order to be effective at marshaling support at the UN, the US needs to retain the ability and freedom to act outside the UN, and even unilaterally, when it is impossible to muster support for important American priorities.  He found the position surprising in light of my political leanings.

In the interest of fostering progressive consensus on how to approach the UN, I want to elaborate a bit.  My conclusion derives directly from experience working at the UN and trying to build consensus around controversial US foreign policy priorities.  This involved a delicate dance:  If we were too aggressive and unbending, everyone's back's went up and we had no chance of winning support. 

But its equally true that when we were too gentle, it was impossible to surmount a combination of knee-jerk anti-superpower sentiment, and opposition ginned up by whatever special interest was against what we were proposing.  It took a finely seasoned brew of bluster, rigorous fact-based argumentation, flattery, cajolery, patient listening, pressure applied in capitals, veiled threats, horse-trading, eloquent speechifying, wining and dining, diplomatic niceties, and the occasional temper tantrum to get our proposals off the ground.  The omission of any ingredient could easily spoil the stew.

Continue reading "Herding the UN" »

August 20, 2006


Lebanon and the Future of the UN
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Just as the deployment of a UN-sponsored force will be critical to the future of Lebanon, the same mission could be a cross-roads for the UN.  The UN has in recent years come under heavy criticism in the US for corruption, ineffectiveness and an unwillingness-cum-inability to reform.  On the other side, the organization's boosters point to the flagging US support for the UN as a key detriment to the world body's efficacy.  The Lebanon mission may put these competing claims to the test.

The mobilization of the mission is getting more complicated by the day.  While France had originally signaled willingness to serve as the backbone of the force, this week they revealed that they only intend to send an incremental 200 troops, a fraction of the 15,000 that will ultimately be needed.  France has a well-trained and respected military with deep ties to the region, making this a heavy blow to the nascent mission.   

On Sunday Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced that Israel will not accept participation in the mission of troops from countries that do not recognize Israel.  This would exclude Bangladesh, which is currently the leading troop contributor to UN missions worldwide, as well as Indonesia and Malaysia, both of which had already stepped forward as willing to send in men.  Meanwhile Lebanese President Emile Lahoud has said his country will reject involvement of countries that have military ties to Israel, a ban that could potentially exclude Turkey and India, two other potentially important prospects.

Meanwhile, the ceasefire is in trouble on the ground.  Partly due to the week-long delay in deploying additional international troops, skirmishes between the parties are already breaking out.

There's reason to believe the resolution of these issues may matter as much for the future of the UN as it does for Lebanon.  Why?

Continue reading "Lebanon and the Future of the UN" »

August 10, 2006


UN Debates While Lebanon Burns
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Annanun The protracted debates underway at the UN over a ceasefire in Lebanon illustrate all that's best and worse about the UN.  Leading members of the Security Council have spent weeks debating the text of a resolution aimed to end the fighting and install an international peacekeeping force in Southern Lebanon. 

A few weeks back, the night before similar calls from Kofi Annan and Tony Blair, I wrote a piece suggesting that UN intervention would be the only way to quiet the conflict.  Events since then both underscore the UN's indispensability, and highlight its limitations. 

On the downside:

- As virtually always, progress at the UN is unbearably slow.  Today's thwarted terrorist attack finally dislodged horrifying photos of the devastation in Lebanon and Israel from the front pages for the first time in weeks, but if no deal is struck, the bloodshed and destruction will continue.

- The UN is only as good as its most powerful member states.  The reason the organization hasn't acted is very simple:  the US, France, Israel, Lebanon and Hezbollah have so far failed to agree on the terms of a cessation to hostilities.  In the face of continued discord on a ceasefire's terms, the UN is paralyzed.

- The UN's deployment capabilities are limited.  One of the key sticking points on the resolution is that while France and other countries need time to amass a peacekeeping force, Israel does not want to pull back until international troops are there to keep the peace.  If the UN had better rapid deployment capabilities, that gap would be easier to bridge.  This leads right back to my last point in that its the UN's leading member states who have historically blocked the formation of any standing UN peacekeeping capabilities.

But despite all that, the negotiations underway also illustrate the UN's central importance to the resolution of the conflict:

Continue reading "UN Debates While Lebanon Burns" »

July 27, 2006


Send in the Cavalry (er, International Force)
Posted by David Shorr

There are so many UN angles to choose from -- the bombing of its Lebanon mission, is Kofi playing it right, UN v. NATO legitimacy, content of a Security Council resolution... But I want to focus on the question raised by Elaine Sciolino and Steven Erlanger in their lede of their page one story in Tuesday's New York Times:

Support is building quickly for an international military force to be placed in southern Lebanon, but there remains a small problem: where will the troops come from?

Multilateralists (I am one) have an achilles heel that we must cure. (Yes, I know Achilles' tragic flaw could not be cured, but they didn't have 21st century medicine.) When we vaguely praise "international institutions" such as the UN, we leave them exposed to unfair and unrealistic criteria for effectiveness. The Sciolino/Erlanger piece on the difficulty of obtaining forces reminds us that international organizations rely totally on member states to be able to do anything.

The United Nations and other intergovernmental bodies provide essential public goods for the international order. Their treaties and resolutions give normative structure and help define the boundaries of acceptable behavior in the global community. Their councils and committees give diplomatic structure for international cooperation and decision making. Such organizations are a crucial barricade against anarchy, but the bulwark is only as strong as the collective political will invested by governments.

Let's start a betting pool; how long till commentators start talking about the current Middle East crisis as another "failure of the UN?" I have written elsewhere that the chief political function of the UN is often to serve as a scapegoat. It's as if we're demanding: "Hey UN, why haven't you brought about world peace and "saved succeeding generations from the scourge of war" like you promised?

Ironically, the UN was a significant contributor to Lebanon's Cedar Revolution last year. After the Hariri assassination, the Security Council displayed remarkable unity in putting pressure on Syria. And that's the point, international organizations can be quite effective when governments come together and agree on a course of action.

As a colleague of mine might put it, when it comes to impact, nation states are the independent variables, and international organizations are the dependent variables. This is they key to effective international action, and it's where the debate about multilateralism needs to go.

June 08, 2006


Speaking Truth to (super)Power
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Given John Bolton's purple-faced comments about Malloch Brown's podium rumpus at the Power and Superpower conference (see Suzanne's post below) you'd almost think that Malloch Brown said something really offensive--like the organization was so worthless that it could  lose 10 stories and nobody would notice! 

Bolton's threatening response are the words of a bully. He's like those kids in junior high who would steal your lunch money--and still beat you up. At least where I went to junior high (in Farmington, New Mexico) the shocking behavior got old, the fear got tiresome and underneath the smiles and cafeteria banter, everyone loathed the bullies, suspected every motive and tried hard not to be assigned to their homework team.

Brown was just pointing out the obvious political angle (something that very few of the SPI conference speakers did, unfortunately) That our self-centeredness over the past five years has cost us lots of political capital with our friends and handed us years of damage control with our challengers.  It appears that we not only need better intelligence from our national security agencies, we need more emotional intelligence from our political appointees.  Re-cap on Emotional Intelligence: Relationships are vital for life achievement. Understanding and relating well with others is often more important than run of the mill smarts because self-awareness and the ability to build lasting meaningful relationships are fundamental keys to success.  All the public diplomacy gimmicks and flackery in the world will never overcome this basic fact. 

The administration's squandered political capital is splattered all over the place these days.

Continue reading "Speaking Truth to (super)Power" »

June 07, 2006


Bolton Goes Ballistic Over UN Official's Remarks
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

As a jaded ex-officer of the US Mission to the UN, I found (in my live blogging of the speech, made at a conference held yesterday by Democracy Arsenal's sponsor, the Security and Peace Institute, can be found here) the comments made by Deputy UN Secretary General Mark Malloch Brown to be a bit blunt, a bit one-sided, but largely reflective of the attitude that the UN and most of its membership have toward the US these days, and thus not shocking in the least.  His viewpoint, in some key respects, dovetailed with the critique that progressives make of this Administration's failure to use the UN effectively to advance American policy goals.

But to both the New York Times and, far more so, to US Amb to the UN John Bolton, the comments were far different:  unprecedented in their harshness toward a UN member state.  Here's what Bolton had to say on the matter today:                                                                  
Ambassador John R. Bolton, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations
Remarks at the Security Council Stakeout                                       
New York City                                                                  
June 7, 2006                                                                  
REPORTER: Ambassador, could I get a few comments about, especially about Mr.   
Brown's comments about my station?                                             
AMBASSADOR BOLTON: Well, on that speech, this is a very, very grave mistake by
the Deputy Secretary General. We are in the process of an enormous effort to   
achieve substantial reform at the United Nations. And it's a difficult effort,
but it's an effort that we feel very strongly about. And to have the Deputy   
Secretary General criticize the United States in such a manner, can only do   
grave harm to the United Nations. Even though the target of the speech was the
United States, the victim, I fear, will be the United Nations. And even worse 
was the condescending and patronizing tone about the American people. That    
fundamentally and very sadly, this was a criticism of the American people, not
the American government, by an international civil servant, it's just         
illegitimate. So we've thought about this a good deal and we didn't respond to
it yesterday evening when we got a copy of the speech. But what we think the   
only way at this point to mitigate the damage to the United Nations is that the
Secretary General Kofi Annan, we think has to personally and publicly repudiate
this speech at the earliest possible opportunity. Because otherwise I fear the
consequences, not just for the reform effort, but for the organization as a   
whole. I spoke to the Secretary General this morning. I said I've known you   
since 1989, and I'm telling you this is the worst mistake by a senior UN      
official that I have seen in that entire time. That's why the only hope I think
is that the Secretary General comes to the rescue of the organization and      
repudiates the speech.                                                         
REPORTER: Did you also call for Mr. Brown's resignation?                      
AMBASSADOR BOLTON: I've said what I have to say on that subject for now.      
REPORTER: What do you mean, "come to the rescue? What could the United States 
do next if he does not repudiate the speech?                                  
AMBASSADOR BOLTON: I am concerned at this point at the very wounding effect   
that this criticism of the United States will have in our efforts to achieve   
reform. And this isn't the first time the Deputy Secretary General has done   
this recently. He gave an interview a few weeks ago that criticized the United
States and the other major contributors. This is very serious. This is very   
REPORTER: What was Mr. Annan's reaction to your suggestion that he repudiate   
the speech?                                                                   
AMBASSADOR BOLTON: I'll leave him to speak. Hopefully he would address this by
the noon briefing. If it's his opinion that he supports what the Deputy       
Secretary General said, I hope it's not, but if it is then he should say so   
forthrightly. My hope is that he looks at the potential adverse effect that   
these intemperate remarks would have on the organization and repudiate it. I   
think that would be the cleanest, safest thing for the organization.          
REPORTER: What's the response been in Washington to this? Has there been any, 
Capitol Hill and in the White House?                                          
AMBASSADOR BOLTON: In the time since the speech was given I've heard a lot that
disturbs me and it's one reason that I called the Secretary General this      
morning and believe that the only way to mitigate the damage is to repudiate   
the speech.                                                                   
REPORTER: To what extent to you take some of these comments personally in terms
of what he seems to be implying by the style you bring to this, or create      
suspicion ?                                                                   
AMBASSADOR BOLTON: I don't take any of it personally.                         
REPORTER: This could be interpreted by some in this institution as a US attempt
to silence its critics. How would you address that criticism?                  
AMBASSADOR BOLTON: The organization is an organization of member governments. 
The Secretariat works for the member governments. So that when a member of the
Secretariat criticizes a member government, and as I said, criticizes the      
intelligence of the people of a member government, that's a very questionable 
activity. I think it's important to rescue the reform effort, to rescue the   
institution that Secretary General needs to make it clear that these remarks   
did not represent his opinion about the United States. Okay. Thank you very   

Annan refused Bolton's demand that he repudiate Malloch Brown's remarks.  Here's what I make of the thing:

- It's true that Malloch Brown's comments may have been close to the line for an international civil servant, though I don't think there should be a ban on UN officials speaking difficult truths to Member States.  Malloch Brown was not focused on insulting America or Americans, but on begging for more US engagement and involvement to make the UN work.

- Calling the remarks the "worst mistake by a senior UN official" since 1989 is an insult to the memory many thousands who died in Rwanda and Bosnia due to far more serious mistakes by UN officials.      

- Bolton's fit of fury will likely only call attention to the substance of Malloch Brown's remarks (excerpted here) about how isolated and mistrusted the US now is at the UN, and how ineffective the Bush Administration's policies have been.  UN-bashers will blame the messenger, but the American people are more sophisticated than that.  They  will understand readily how his message ties into the problems they are witnessing daily as a result of our unilateralist and misguided foreign policy.                                             


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