September 14, 2005

U.N. Reform Bid Exposes Its Woes: The near collapse and dilution of Annan’s bold plan point up the world body’s flaws. The chief calls the outcome a solid start for change. (Maggie Farley, September 14, 2005, LA Times)

The U.N. World Summit on poverty and reform that opens today was supposed to be a watershed moment that breathed new life into the troubled world body and shored up its beleaguered leader, Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

But as diplomats approved the summit’s centerpiece document Tuesday after weeks of bitter negotiations that eviscerated many of Annan’s boldest reform proposals, many delegates expressed dismay that the meeting was highlighting the U.N.’s core problems rather than solving them.

Though U.N. officials tried to put the best face on the watered-down package of goals and structural changes concerning issues including human rights and terrorism, even Annan called the deletion of a section on nuclear disarmament “a disgrace” and an example of how the United Nations had failed.

How Annan’s ambitious plan nearly collapsed and why says much about the way the U.N. works, and doesn’t.

There was a funny bit on NPR yesterday with the press gaggle confronting John Bolton — as if the failure to get meaningful reform would cow him — which gave him the opportunity to point out that the UN is so dysfunctional that this is the kind of garbage it produces instead of real reform.


September 12, 2005

Putting the warlords out of business (Jean-Marie Guéhenno, SEPTEMBER 11, 2005, International Herald Tribune)

Around the world, about 25 places – depending how you count them – are now at war, down from a peak of more than 50 in the early 1990s. In terms of the number of people killed in battle, the world is at a hundred-year low. New conflicts sometimes start up, like Nepal’s, but for every new conflict, two old ones are going out of business.

There is less war than there used to be.

This month’s news from Burundi is the latest example of the trend. Some 200,000 people died in a 10-year civil war that created hundreds of thousands of refugees and destroyed the country’s infrastructure. In the past year, however, with help from the United Nations and the international community, a Constitution has been approved, an election has been held, a democratically elected president has been sworn in and power is being transferred.

The UN secretary general has asked the Security Council to keep peacekeeping troops in Burundi to help consolidate peace during disarmament and demobilization. Burundians finally have reason to be optimistic, but the rest of the world must continue to help so that Burundi has a chance for lasting peace.

Half a world away, the Irish Republican Army has declared an end to its armed struggle. Liberia is also at peace now, and more than 100,000 fighters have been demobilized in the past year. In East Timor and Sierra Leone, peacekeepers are packing up and going home, their work finished. Some are heading to Sudan, to help with a peace agreement to end a two-decade war that left two million people dead. The agreement there was generally seen as shaky, but seems to have held despite the death of John Garang, the leader of southern Sudan’s long struggle.

Any of these conflicts could again fall back into war, as peace usually takes a decade to take root. And there are still plenty of other places – from Afghanistan to Congo to Haiti – teetering between war and peace. But the numbers are going down, and even in those places, there is real hope.

In Afghanistan, UN workers are helping to prepare for the first parliamentary elections since the overthrow of the Taliban. Congo is preparing for national elections and militia groups in the east are on the run after robust military action by UN peacekeepers. Haiti is moving toward re-establishing a democratic government while UN peacekeepers help the authorities stabilize a dangerous and fragile situation.

What has led to this wider trend away from war?

One of the most important elements, unmentioned here, of course, is unilateral intervention by the U.S. and Britain and the threat of said, Africa’s peace seekers (Abraham McLaughlin, 9/12/05, The Christian Science Monitor)

[E]ver since Sept. 11, 2001, Sudan’s government was desperate to please the US. Back in the 1990s it had hosted Osama bin Laden and other terrorists. It now feared its “terrorist haven” label and economic pariah status would continue. Or worse, that the US might invade.

Ending the notion that sovereignty is inviolable has required nations to reckon with democratic and humanitarian standards even where conflicts seem purely internal.