INDEPENDENT NEWS AND COMMENT ON WORLD AFFAIRS
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31 March 2017: The first substantive session of the United Nations conference to negotiate a legally binding instrument to ban and eliminate nuclear weapons ended today with the hope that a treaty could be agreed by 7 July. (watch video of concluding session). Meeting under the Presidency of Ambassador Elayne Whyte Gómez (Costa Rica), the Conference drew participants from over 100 States but not the major nuclear-weapon States (watch video of their reasons why).
In addition to Member States, more than 220 representatives from civil society organizations and academia were also registered participants. Speaking for an even larger constituency was Pope Francis who addressed the opening session by video-link from the Vatican. The President of the Conference also received a petition in support of this Conference from a group of 3,000 leading scientists, including more than two-dozen Nobel Laureates.
The first substantive session was devoted to a general exchange of views on all matters pertaining to the legally binding instrument. Specific topics addressed included: principles and objectives and preambular elements; core prohibitions: effective legal measures, legal provisions and norms; and institutional arrangements.
The Conference also held two informal meeting featuring panels by experts from the International Committee of the Red Cross, academic institutions and non-governmental organizations. According to the note issued at the end of the first session, the panel discussions "fostered a productive and in-depth interactive dialogue." The note said that the "constructive atmosphere and ... collaborative spirit" at the session, and the "common sense of purpose that prevailed ... a number of common elements and aspirations for the legally binding instrument began to emerge."
The Conference will reconvene on 15 June 2017 in New York, when it will take up its main substantive item, the negotiations called for in paragraph 8 of General Assembly resolution 71/258 of 23 December 2016, on a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.
17 September 2016: The outcome of the 19 September high-level General Assembly meeting on “large movements of refugees and migrants” is to be a rather incongruous document that commits governments to cooperate on problems caused by their massive failure to cooperate.
The “New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants” consists of an Introduction, four sections on “commitments” and two Annexes. The commitments are directed jointly and separately at refugees and migrants, and there are arrangements to follow-up and assess implementation.
Annex I promises a “Comprehensive refugee reception framework,” and Annex II has the title “Towards a global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration.”
High-minded principles govern the goals and language of the commitments. At a time when the tide is running in the opposite direction almost everywhere, the text is firmly against xenophobia, racism and racial discrimination. Refugees and migrants are promised full observance of their human rights, non-discriminatory treatment, gender equity and “inclusion.”
Pledges of preventive action to deal with “root causes” of large flows of refugees is accompanied by a blithe promise that they will be better treated. It is somewhat like a wife-beater promising to be good while laying in supplies of bandages and liniment.
18 March 2017: In a letter to the Secretary-General, the Mission of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has annexed the statement by the government spokesman in Pyongyang on 8 March 2017 that "the joint military drills" by the United States and its "vassal forces" in the region "are potentially dangerous, as they will wreck peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and screw up regional tensions." The statement was in answer to a question from the Korean Central News Agency about the US-South Korean response to the "ballistic rocket launch drill staged by the Korean People’s Army"
"The ballistic rocket launch drill," says the note, was "conducted by the Hwasong artillery units of the Strategic Force of the Korean People’s Army (KPA)" as a "routine one to resolutely frustrate the ever-more undisguised nuclear war racket of the U.S. and other hostile forces and honourably defend the security of the country and nation."
It adds: "The U.S. and south Korean puppet forces kicked off joint military maneuvers aimed at a pre-emptive nuclear strike against DPRK, only to push the situation to the brink of a nuclear war. It is a just the self-defensive right of a sovereign State to keep a high alert, as required by the grim situation in which an actual war may break out at any time, and to consolidate a powerful deterrence in every way to mercilessly wipe out the aggressors.
"Nevertheless, the U.S. and other hostile forces are openly conducting the drills for a real war aimed at a preemptive nuclear strike against DPRK by mobilizing lots of strategic assets and armed forces. They let the Security Council release a press statement, labelling KPA’s routine drill as “threat”. It is a brigandish act, like a thief crying, “Stop, thief!”
"DPRK categorically rejects the press statement of the Security Council, as it wantonly violates a sovereign State’s right to self-defense. It is the unanimous view of the fair-minded international community that the largest-ever nuclear war drills launched by the US in league with the south Korean puppet forces, are the root cause of pushing DPRK to take the toughest action.
"DPRK has already clarified several times that the joint military drills are potentially dangerous, as they will wreck peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and screw up regional tensions. So, it filed a complaint with the Security Council against the war games this time, too. How to deal with the complaint and the ill-intended maneuvers of the U.S. and its vassal forces will be a marked occasion for the Security Council to show the international community whether it regards its mission to preserve global peace and security as fulfilling its responsibility or not.
"As already clarified, KPA will reduce the bases of aggression and provocation to ashes with its invincible Hwasong rockets tipped with nuclear warheads and reliably defend the security of the country and its people’s happiness in case the U.S. and the south Korean puppet forces fire even a single bullet at the territory of DPRK."
The note ends with the macabre observation that the "DPRK will certainly preserve its peace and security with its own efforts and positively contribute to protecting global peace and security."
May 2016: A richly detailed and lively two-day discussion of United Nations peace operations and architecture (10-11 May), left untouched the basic reason for the Organization’s 70-year failure to achieve its primary Charter aim. Although the debate was shot through with facts and themes pointing to a malign and actively hostile international environment, no one tried to define it or say how the UN should respond. A few speakers from developing countries murmured about the negative role of “external actors” and one from a comfortably peaceful and affluent country cautioned against doing even that. In contrast, there was much talk of the internal factors – from weak governance and lack of democracy to insufficiently inclusive elites – that have contributed to the current grim and deteriorating world situation.
The Secretary-General’s report last September on the “Future of United Nations Peace Operations” described the current world situation as follows: “Since 2008 the number of major violent conflicts has almost tripled. Long-simmering disputes have escalated or relapsed into wars, while new conflicts have emerged in countries and regions once considered stable. Labels assigned to conflict, such as “internal”, “inter-State”, “regional”, “ethnic” or “sectarian”, have become increasingly irrelevant as transnational forces of violent extremism and organized crime build on and abet local rivalries. Environmental degradation and resource deprivation are not contained by borders. Exclusion at home is driving tension abroad. The number of people displaced by war is approaching 60 million, and global humanitarian needs for 2015 amount to close to $20 billion.”
Remarkably, neither the Secretary-General’s report nor the two from expert panels in 2015 inquired into the reasons for the negative trend and the growing disorder. That lack of curiosity has been endemic in the UN system as a whole, despite repeated complaints about the predatory international environment from developing countries dating back to the conceptual birth of the Nonaligned Movement at the 1955 Bandung Conference in Indonesia. It is not a lack of firm evidence that prevents the UN from focusing on ugly realities. In 2011, the World Bank’s annual flagship World Development Report noted (page 54): “Countries rich in oil and other minerals that can be illegally trafficked are much more likely to have a civil war, and a longer one, with rebels financing their activity through the sale of lootable resources, such as diamonds in Sierra Leone and coltan (the mineral columbite-tantalite) in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Illegal trafficking has been a source of finance for armed groups in Afghanistan, Mindanao, and Northern Ireland.”
The report did not examine what foreign factors contributed to that phenomenon but proceeded to consider cases of weak internal governance and domestic political support of violence “linked through underlying institutional weaknesses.” Yemen faced “four separate conflicts: the Houthi rebellion in the North, the presence of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, grievances in the south, and the popular protests for change that have swept through the Arab world. There is little direct evidence of links between these conflicts, other than through the weakness of national institutions to address them. Similarly, in Nepal, following a decade-long insurrection (1996–2006) a Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed between the Maoist rebels and the government. But violence between political rivals, quasi-political extortion, and criminal gang activity have increased markedly since the civil war.”
The lack of comment on international linkages was not from shortage of data. A little later in the same chapter (page 55 ff), the report offered the following observations: “Trafficking of drugs, people, and commodities has been an international concern for decades. Criminal networks take advantage of communications, transport, and financial services—and overwhelm enforcement mechanisms that are either rooted in national jurisdictions or hampered by low cooperation and weak capacity.”
“Drugs connect some of the wealthiest and poorest areas of the world in mutual violence, showing that many solutions to violence require a global perspective. The annual value of the global trade in cocaine and heroin today is estimated at $153 billion (heroin $65 billion and cocaine $88 billion). Europe and North America consume 53 percent of the heroin and 67 percent of the cocaine; however, the high retail prices in these markets mean that economic share of consumption in Europe and North America is even higher: cocaine consumption in the two regions accounted for an estimated $72 billion of the $88 billion in global trade. Drugs provide the money that enables organized criminals to corrupt and manipulate even the most powerful societies — to the ultimate detriment of the urban poor, who provide most of the criminals’ foot-soldiers and who find themselves trapped in environments traumatized by criminal violence.
“Drug trafficking organizations thus have resources that can dwarf those of the governments attempting to combat them. The value-added of cocaine traveling the length of Central America is equivalent to 5 percent of the region’s GDP — and more than 100 times the $65 million the United States allocates under the Mérida Initiative to assist interdiction efforts by Mexico and Central American nations. Conservative estimates suggest there are 70,000 gang members in Central America, outnumbering military personnel there. In many countries, drug cartels exert a heavy influence over provincial governance and, occasionally, national governance.
“Organized crime networks engage in a wide variety of illicit activities, including trafficking drugs, people, and small arms and light weapons; financial crimes; and money laundering. These illicit activities require the absence of rule of law and, therefore, often thrive in countries affected by other forms of violence. According to various studies, organized crime generates annual revenues ranging from $120 billion to as high as $330 billion, with drug trafficking the most profitable. Other estimates suggest that the world’s shadow economy, including organized crime, could be as high as 10 percent of GDP globally. [Approximately $7 trillion.]
“Countries affected by political violence that have weak institutions are also susceptible to trafficking. Since 2003, drug trafficking organizations have taken advantage of institutional weaknesses in West Africa to establish their operations there, resulting in a fourfold increase in cocaine seizures heading to Europe since 2003. … Armed groups in Central Africa secure their funding from mining and smuggling precious minerals such as gold. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, an estimated 40 tons of gold, worth $1.24 billion, are smuggled out every year. The link between criminal trafficking and violence is not unique to Africa. For example, Myanmar is still a major source of opium, accounting for 10 percent of global production, and continues to be a major trade hub to East and Southeast Asia. Illegal logging remains a major challenge in Myanmar; although trade in timber from Myanmar fell by 70 percent from 2005 to 2008, illegal trade into countries in the region continues. Myanmar also serves as a major conduit of wildlife trade coming from Africa and South Asia.”
The high-level section of the “thematic debate” at the UN took no notice of that picture of monumental criminality. Indeed, except for an Argentine speaker who mentioned it all in one hurried tumble of a sentence, the whole issue of organized crime and the looting of resource-rich developing countries was not part of the discussion.
The debate got under way with an invited speaker from the World Economic Forum who noted “seven drivers” of peace and security problems, ranging from “demographic” and resource “management” to “geopolitics” (defined as the competition for international influence), governance, “reduction in trust” and the impact of technology. The President of Indonesia, keynoting the debate, called for “decisive” UN action in Syria and said that combating violent extremism required not the reckless use of force but an altogether new approach. In Asia, the hot spot threat to peace was the South China Sea where three of the five Permanent Members of the Security Council were involved. UN involvement in regional architecture was important, as was implementation of the 2030 Agenda.
Only one speaker in the ensuing debate took up the theme of strategic threats to peace, saying it was necessary to impose a binding bar on nuclear weapons and initiate a decisive move away from the use of force; the 100th anniversary of the UN in 2045 should see a peaceful world. Other speakers noted that the challenges to peace were “borderless” and demanded global responses. It was necessary for the Security Council to make its peacekeeping mandates flexible to allow a continuum of activities as conditions change. The United Nations itself had to be “dynamic” and not just a conference center.
While a number of speakers noted that peacebuilding is a political process and references to existing crises were numerous, they were uniformly ahistoric, in the sense that there was no attempt at narrative or to draw lessons from sequential experience. Perhaps the one exception was the speaker who put the current effort at an overall evaluation of the Organization’s role in peace and security in the context of a similar attempt following the “three tragedies” associated with UN peace operations – Rwanda, Somalia and Srebrenica. That re-examination resulted in the 2000 report by an expert panel chaired by Lakhdar Brahimi. A poignant anecdote related by an African speaker to illustrate that her mother’s generation had been socialized to expect a peaceful world but not her own, could have been the springboard for a revealing narrative; but that was probably too much to expect in the very short time available.
Speakers calling for attention to the “root causes” of conflict” and urging “comprehensive approaches” to building peace did not mention what they were; some, however, noted that extremist ideologies could not be defeated solely by military force. Those emphasizing the greater involvement of women in UN peace operations, “clear goals” and “coherent strategy” also did not go into specifics.
Among the specific proposals for improving UN peace operations was closer partnership with the African Union, reform of the Security Council to make it more representative of the world and imposing restraints on the use of the veto. One speaker drew attention to the anomaly that as the United Nations was increasing the pay of its peacekeepers the regional force in Somalia had to reduce allowances 20 per cent because of cuts in funding from the European Union; he noted that the African Union force in Somalia had steadily reduced the territory and influence of al Shahbaab.
Greater emphasis on and better funding for preventive diplomacy was a popular prescription for improving UN peace operations. The need to improve the toolkit available for prevention was also urged by a number of speakers. Several stressed the importance of countering extremist violence and defeating ISIS; one speaker said the traditional “peacekeeping principles” of impartiality and limited use of force were clearly not relevant in that context.
There were a variety of recommendations directed at priorities for the next Secretary-General but none touched on what is perhaps the most invisible of the urgent imperatives: to rescue the UN from its 19th Century diplomatic Glocca Morra. The debate exemplified that nostalgic rainbow's end quality in that it drew much attention within the closed circle of the UN but created not the slightest blip on social media; indeed, not even in regular media