Protestors demand an end to lawlessness in Tripoli, Libya, December 2011. (UN Photo/Iason Foounten)
The international community’s failure to respond in a timely and decisive fashion to the crisis in Syria has been widely described as a failure of the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP). It is not hard to see why: the UN Security Council has fallen well short of adopting “timely and decisive” measures as approximately 120,000 people have been killed and close to nine million displaced. Syria thus stands as a test for RtoP that most commentators believe it has failed.
One of the principal explanations for this apparent failure is the political fallout from the NATO-led intervention in Libya.
The Security Council’s failure to adopt a timely and decisive response to the situation in Syria is often attributed to the political backlash from NATO’s controversial intervention in Libya.
Voting patterns and statements offered in the Council’s Syria debates as well as the Council’s wider practice since 2011 provide little evidence of a direct link between the two cases.
The Council’s failure on Syria more likely stems from complexities and geopolitics associated with the Syrian case itself.
According to Gareth Evans, one of RtoP’s progenitors, “Consensus [about RtoP] has simply evaporated in a welter of recrimination about how the NATO-led implementation of the Council’s Libya mandate…was actually carried out. We have to frankly recognize that there has been some infection of the whole RtoP concept by the perception, accurate or otherwise, that the civilian protection mandate granted by the Council was manifestly exceeded by that military operation.”
Has the “infection” of RtoP stymied the chances of consensus on Syria? Would the Security Council’s response to Syria have been different without Libya and RtoP? Despite the ubiquity of the association between Libya and Syria in public commentary, evidence of a clear link between the two cases is surprisingly thin.
First, Russian and Chinese explanations of their own (shifting) positions on Syria have not been consistent in emphasizing the legacy of Libya. In fact, China has yet to raise Libya in its formal comments on Syria addressed to the Security Council. The place of Libya in Russian thinking on Syria has been inconsistent at best. In explaining its first veto on a draft Syria resolution, in October 2011, Russia railed against NATO’s actions in Libya but added a series of other, pragmatic arguments to support its case. Five months later, Russia vetoed a second resolution on Syria but made no reference to Libya in explaining its position. Then, as the previously endorsed Annan-plan unraveled later in 2012, Russia cast a third veto and ramped up the rhetoric on Libya to new heights.
A UN police officer (right) on a monitoring visit to a police station, Bor, Jonglei State, South Sudan. (credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret)
Stronger and more comprehensive mandates from the Security Council have helped to move human rights into a central position in peacekeeping operations, according to Richard Bennett, former chief of human rights in UN missions in South Sudan and Afghanistan. In an interview with the Global Observatory, Mr. Bennett said that while human rights work used to be the preserve of human rights officers, today “it's expected that everyone in a peacekeeping mission is doing human rights work.”
“It felt like a real battle to get human rights taken seriously at the level of senior management,” Mr. Bennett said of his first mission in Sierra Leone in 2000. With an increase in resources, expertise, and integration in UN missions, “human rights is now in our DNA,” he said.
As such, human rights officers serve as the “eyes and ears of the mission,” according to Mr. Bennett, making monitoring and reporting the bread and butter of human rights work. “Human rights officers should not be sitting behind their desks most of the time. They need to be out getting reliable information,” he said.
For example, when more than 1,000 civilians were killed in fighting in Jonglei State in South Sudan in December 2011 and January 2012, Mr. Bennett was able to put together a team to conduct an investigation on the ground and publish a report, he said.
However, for their work to be effective, “it's critical that the reports that human rights officers produce are unimpeachable,” Mr. Bennett said. Any questions or discussions about these reports should not be “about the accuracy of the report, but about what to do about its conclusions.”
Ultimately, sensitivities can arise when human rights reports could affect the peacekeeping mission’s working relationship with the host government. “Many of us advocate that most human rights reports should be made public,” he said, but that can be uncomfortable because “they raise difficult issues for the government and sometimes for nongovernment entities in the countries concerned.”
He said the new dual reporting structure for human rights components in UN missions—reporting to both the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) and the High Commissioner for Human Rights—has helped overcome this challenge. The SRSG and the High Commissioner can play different, complementary roles in this regard, according to Mr. Bennett. Since the former “live[s] in the country and deal[s] on an ongoing basis with the senior authorities of that country,” and the latter visits on more temporary bases, there is now greater leeway when it comes to reporting on human rights. “The head of human rights components has the opportunity to manage this to the benefit of all,” he said.
The interview was conducted by Warren Hoge, Senior Adviser for External Relations.
Warren Hoge: I'm in the Global Observatory today with Richard Bennett, who has served with the United Nations in senior human rights posts from 2000 until April, 2013. In particular, he has headed the human rights components of peacekeeping missions in Sierra Leone, Timor-Leste, Afghanistan, and South Sudan. I say “in particular” because I want to ask Richard about human rights functions in peacekeeping missions at a time when they have grown in number and size to the point where human rights components are now central to delivering Security Council mandates.
Richard, you bring the kind of information that I, as a former journalist, most treasure, and that is information directly from the field. How has this growth I just cited changed things on the ground for you as a human rights official from when you began this in 2000 to when you just finished up doing it in 2013?
Richard Bennett: I think in three ways. Firstly, the mandates for human rights from the Security Council are stronger and more comprehensive, and the mandates themselves, as well as the people on the ground, have helped to move human rights into the central position in peacekeeping operations and, as someone has said, human rights is now in our DNA.
Second, with those mandates have come more resources. I'm certainly not going to say there are enough resources, but there are significantly more. For example, when I started in Sierra Leone, in one of the, I would say, most serious crises that peacekeeping has experienced, in March-April 2000, I think we had about eight human rights officers. In many missions now, including in the one that I recently left in South Sudan, there can be up to 100 posts; I think in some, even more than 100. So that's a growth.
Most reporting on the nuclear agreement with Iran has tended to generalize about the types of sanctions and the impact of the deal on these various measures, so it would be easy to assume that United Nations sanctions are being eased or lifted, but this is not the case. The deal primarily eases unilateral sanctions by the United States and the European Union against Iran, leading to what is estimated to be around $7 billion in sanctions relief.
UN sanctions against Iran—found in resolutions 1737, 1747, 1803 and 1929—will only be assessed at the six-month mark, with an eventual goal (the so-called “comprehensive solution”) of lifting them within a year. In the near term, the only commitment with regard to UN sanctions is that no new nuclear-related UN Security Council sanctions be imposed.
This raises an important issue: how should UN sanctions be approached in the meantime?
Under Article 25 of the UN Charter, member states remain obligated to give effect to Security Council measures. The new deal with Iran has not altered the obligation to implement sanctions. But on this front, work remains to be done. Gaps in the implementation of UN sanctions against Iran, which have been in place since 2006, are pervasive. Dual-use items, such as goods, software, and technology that may be used for both civilian and military purposes, have been a particular problem. Interpretation of resolution language and implementation of general terms in specific contexts have also led to implementation problems. Finally, because information on sanctions busters can involve classified information, states are very careful about what they share and with whom they share it.
Peacekeeping is far less costly than war—the 2012-13 United Nations peacekeeping budget was less than half of one percent of the world military expenditure in 2010. Already with 15 peace operations around the world, UN peacekeeping continues to be in high demand. Yet, as economies struggle to fully recover from the global financial crisis, countries that pay more of the peacekeeping budget have let the UN Secretariat know that it will have to “do more with less,” meaning the number of missions and tasks for peacekeepers will increase, but without a commensurate increase in resources.
Comparatively little research has been done on key questions of peacekeeping finances, such as, how is peacekeeping funded? Which countries foot the bill, and how does that affect peacekeeping policy? And importantly, in a time of great demand for UN peacekeeping, are the peacekeepers currently being forced to “do more with less?”
How is peacekeeping funded, and how does that affect peacekeeping policy?
The UN peacekeeping budget is estimated at $7.3 billion for the 2012-13 fiscal year, which is less than half of one percent of world military expenditure in 2010. As of June 30, 2012, the most expensive missions as a percentage of the total UN peacekeeping budget are UNAMID (22.9%), MONUSCO (20.1%), MINUSTAH (10.8%) and UNMISS (9.2%).
While troop contributions to UN peacekeeping missions are purely voluntary, all member states must pay assessed contributions. UN peacekeeping is financed by a scale of assessments reviewed every three years. The peacekeeping scale of assessments is based on a complicated formula that takes into account the relative economic wealth of member states and roles in the UN Security Council, among other things. Discounts are provided to developing states, the costs of which are then absorbed by a surcharge on the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (P5). The P5 are required to pay this premium because of their “special responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.” The Security Council’s P5 are all among the top ten financial contributors.
States such as the US, Japan, and the UK are traditionally classified as “financial contributors” as they provide higher assessed contributions to the total UN peacekeeping budget (and not necessarily many troops). The assessment level for the United States, at 28.3626% in 2014, around US$2.1 billion, is the highest. States such as Nigeria, India, and Pakistan are often classified as “troop contributors,” providing larger troop and police contributions to UN peacekeeping missions, are assessed at a lower assessment rate (some major troop contributors are assessed the minimum rate of 0.0001%).
UN negotiations on peacekeeping increasingly divide along “troop contributor” and “financial contributor” lines, and the two groups have very little overlap – in 2013, not one top 15 financial contributor is also a top 15 troop-and-police contributor. This particular dynamic is said to have had a polarizing effect on peacekeeping policy negotiations, as these two groups may have different interests. China (19th largest troop-contributor country) and Brazil (20th) may be the member states with some claim to both categories, as they also pay the 6th and 26th highest assessment rates, respectively.
When women peacebuilders working in local communities wanted to bring in men to participate in gender-sensitive conflict resolution, no one listened at first, said Isabelle Geuskens, Executive Director of the Women Peacemakers Program. "We were not really listening, because we felt women's empowerment is about women!" But, she said, the women were concerned that "the men are dismissing [UN resolution] 1325 and gender as a women's issue."
"And men are still not understanding the gendered nature of violence and armed conflict," she said. "So, we started thinking about how can we get more men engaged. We started looking more deeply at the gendered nature of violence, and how masculinity plays a role in this. So, it’s really through the call from women that we started designing what could 'engaging men' mean. But also, what does a gender perspective on war and peace from a masculinities perspective look like?"
Ms. Geuskens said women peacebuilders are often able to avoid thinking in terms of win-or-lose. "They will go more easily into win-win," she said. "[They] don't see compromising as a failure," though she added that not all women bring in a new perspective.
But those who do, she said, "will not separate [peacebuilding] from everyday life issues. So, they will look at the economic factors. They will look at the political factors, of course. But also, do they have access to healthcare?"
However, Ms. Geuskens said good peacebuilding can cut across gender. "I have to say, people come with their hearts, their minds, their skills. They come with commitment. There are difficult conversations, but usually people are quite constructive, and I've seen empowerment happen on both sides... I think human beings tend to be quite alike, if we give them the chance to be."
About UN resolution 1325, which requires parties in a conflict to respect women's rights and to support their participation in peace negotiations and in post-conflict reconstruction, she said, "Implementation is very difficult, because I think we tend to look at change in a very instrumental way. We tend to want to make boxes that we can tick to add more women. But changing the cultures—I'm not just talking cultures in countries of conflict, but actually the cultures all over the world and in institutions that make decisions about war and peace. They haven't fundamentally changed."
"In the end, 1325 I feel is about more than adding women. It’s about the practice and working towards ending wars. And that is about asking critical questions about patriarchy and the way we are dealing with violent conflict."
The interview was conducted by Andrea Ó Súilleabháin, Visiting Fellow at the International Peace Institute.
Andrea Ó Súilleabháin: I'm here today with Isabelle Geuskens, Executive Director of the Women Peacemakers Program in The Hague. Since 2002, the Women Peacemakers Program has provided non-violence training to 1300 people in over 24 countries, from Afghanistan to Cambodia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, with a focus on including women and men in their work toward gender-sensitive peacebuilding.
In addition to this work with peacebuilders around the world, Isabelle is involved in monitoring developments around the Security Council's women, peace and security resolutions and their global implementation.
Isabelle, you’ve said that women are among the first to cross the lines between divided communities. From your extensive work with women peacemakers, what do women add to peace processes in communities and on the national level?
Isabelle Geuskens: First of all, women bring a different perspective. Not always, because women can be patriarchal as well, but many women peace activists don't think necessarily in "win or lose." They will go more easily into win-win. [They] don't see compromising as a failure. I'm not saying here, now, that women are natural peacemakers, born like that, but I think there is something in women's socialization process that has contributed to these capacities in women. I think that could also be something for men, because it's obviously related to socialization.
What we've seen in our programs is that women have a much broader concept of what peace and security is. They will not separate it from everyday life issues. So, they will look at the economic factors, they will look at the political factors, of course. But also, do they have access to healthcare? They might even not distinguish so much between what's happening in a so-called peaceful country... they make the link between what happens to them in a peaceful country and conflict countries— so-called [peaceful], because women do experience domestic violence in peaceful countries. Women are afraid to walk the streets at night. So, I think women bring a whole different definition of what peace and security is.
“There's no one single model of democracy, but we can all agree on the basis of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” said Alfred de Zayas, the United Nations independent expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, adding that the modalities of applying the universal declaration "can be country to country adjusted according to the cultural diversity, the traditions of those countries.”
According to Mr. de Zayas, it’s not the label of democracy that is important. “What is crucial is this correlation between the will of the people, the needs of the people, and the governmental policies that affect them.”
He said he has a particular interest in the Switzerland model of direct democracy, “But since democracy is a concept that is new and in certain countries there's no tradition of democracy, you cannot impose it top down…you have to be patient; you cannot force it.”
“I think that all the African countries are making considerable progress toward democracy. It should not come from the West. I really object to the arrogance of some who think that we can export democracy. It must be homegrown so that you own it, so that you feel ‘this is us.’”
Mr. de Zayas believes democracy can help people hold governments accountable for how their national resources are spent. "One of the problems in many countries, unfortunately, is that national resources are being squandered, are being wasted in the military. Most African countries really do not need a large military. They certainly do not need state-of-the-art planes or state-of-the-art tanks and more weapons. It is really a crime to spend tax money instead of putting it into education, putting it into healthcare, to put this money into weapons. That fuels not only wars—that's evident—but it also fuels corruption...When government squanders money, and it does not use it for what the people want and what the people need, then these authorities should be made to account, and there should be no impunity."
Mr. de Zayas believes that the direct democracy model could be applied at a global level. “I believe that a world parliamentary assembly, or if you want, a United Nations parliamentary assembly could be established,” which he said could be linked to the UN charter as a consultative party.
He questioned whether the General Assembly is able to speak for the people. “The General Assembly is made up of a 193 states' members and observer members,” he said. “But who sits in the assembly? It’s governments. It's ambassadors. And to what extent do these 193 ambassadors really represent their constituencies?”
“You know and I know that there is a huge disconnect between power and the people,” he said. He pointed out that many countries are democracies in name but are essentially lobby democracies, “and they cater to special interests, cater to corporations, cater to the oil industry, etc, and they don't really cater to citizen A or citizen B."
"You have the opportunity once every two years or every four years to put a little cross on the ballot box, but democracy is not just the ballot box,” he said.
The interview was conducted by Priscilla Nzabanita, research assistant in the Africa program at the International Peace Institute.
Priscilla Nzabanita: Today on the Global Observatory we are pleased to welcome Mr. Alfred de Zayas, who is independent expert for the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order. Thank you, Mr. de Zayas for agreeing to have this interview with us.
So, my first question for you is that your mandate calls for a broad analysis of obstacles to a democratic and equitable international order. Can you describe what this mandate specifically entails?
Alfred de Zayas: As you know, it's a new mandate. It was created last year, 2012. I am the first mandate holder, so I'm giving it shape. It is a convergence of civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights. Imagine promoting an international order that is more democratic and more equitable that entails everything. It is the most universal mandate that has ever been created. And I'm supposed to identify obstacles. I have done so in my first two reports to the Human Rights Council, and my separate, different two reports to the General Assembly.
Obstacles, of course, are multiple, and [at] the core of democracy. As I said in the discussion today, there's no one single model of democracy, but we can all agree on the basis of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And the modalities of applying the Universal Declaration of Human Rights can be country to country adjusted according to the cultural diversity, the traditions of those countries.
As far as advancing with democratic order domestically, whether it be in Asia or in Latin America or in Africa, it's not the label that is important. What is crucial is this correlation between the will of the people, the needs of the people, and the governmental policies that affect them. That's why I have particular interest in the model of direct democracy, which is the kind of government in Switzerland, for instance, where the population has the right of initiative. With a certain number of signatures, you can initiate legislation. Or you can test legislation that is, or rather a bill, that is before Parliament or even a piece of legislation has been adopted, you can have a referendum to abrogate it. You also have recall and impeachment. These are guarantees that the people are sovereign.
The UN Security Council marked its annual open debate on women, peace and security this month by unanimously adopting a resolution on women’s agency and leadership in conflict prevention and resolution.
Resolution 2122 is the Council’s sixth women, peace and security resolution in six years, yet it is the first since the adoption of resolution 1325 (2000) to substantively address women’s participation in peacemaking. (The previous five centered on the protection aspects of 1325, focusing on sexual violence in conflict.)
While this represents continued progress at UN headquarters across the women, peace and security agenda, the real test will be implementation, and whether the roadmap set by resolution 2122 is followed—particularly between now and the 2015 high-level review of progress on resolution 1325 worldwide.
The UN Security Council recognized the importance of increasing women’s participation in resolving conflict and building peace in its landmark resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, passed in October 2000. The Council urged the secretary-general to appoint more women to senior UN peace-related positions and called on all actors to involve women in decisions when it comes to making peace.
Thirteen years later, in his statement to the Security Council on October 18, 2013, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that he has sought to lead by example in appointing more women to senior positions throughout the UN. Indeed, “for the first time in history, five UN peacekeeping operations are led by women–in South Sudan, Liberia, Cyprus, Haiti, and Côte d’Ivoire.”
But women’s appointments as peace negotiators and conflict mediators have progressed at a slower pace. A study by UN Women of thirty-one major peace processes between 1992 and 2011 found that just 2.4 percent of chief mediators were women. Only slightly more women participated in peace processes as signatories (4 percent) or as part of negotiating delegations (9 percent).
Opinions differ on the pivotal role of sanctions in opening the door to constructive engagement with Iran. Some, like Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his recent speech to the United Nations General Assembly, believe Iran was able “to advance its nuclear weapons program behind a smoke screen of diplomatic engagement and very soothing rhetoric.” Other perhaps more clear-eyed observers interpret Iran’s opening gambit at the Geneva negotiations—a proposal to scale back its existing uranium-enrichment program and allow increased international monitoring—as strong evidence of the coercive—and containing—power of UN targeted sanctions, which have been in place since 2006.
Setting aside decades-long bilateral tensions that bred deep resentments, radicalism, and successive layers of US sanctions, the twin interventions of UN-sanctions and P5+1 diplomacy may serve as a model for future non-military responses to complex geopolitical predicaments. This potential success is now evident in the counterweights that have been put on Geneva’s bargaining table: against the reduction, if not elimination of sanctions, the lead-negotiator for the P5+1, Lady Catherine Ashton, demands the reduction, if not elimination, of Iran’s nuclear program.
Whether the scales will tip towards peace and stability or not will depend on how skillful incremental sanctions relief is bargained against nuclear disarmament. President Hassan Rouhani’s government must be motivated with palatable sanctions relief. At first glance, the menu of “doable” concessions is richer than anticipated. At the top of the list are any targets of UN financial sanctions that could become subject to evidentiary or procedural challenges in the EU High Court. On September 6, 2013, the court announced its decision to annul EU-sanctions against seven companies and an individual because of evidentiary and procedural concerns. The UN should take advantage of an easy opportunity to review and delist cases that might be successfully challenged in EU jurisdictions. Another area of potential sanctions relief could be the splitting off of targeted financial sanctions from the list of individuals under the UN travel ban. Allowing travel while maintaining financial restrictions carries symbolic, personal, and humanitarian benefits. More substantial relief could be granted eventually with the easing of current interpretations of financial and economic restrictions that include targeting exporters of Iranian oil.
Whichever sanctions drawdown options are implemented, the surviving sanctions must remain credible. Monitoring of compliance and the pursuit of potential violators requires equal if not more determination than has been the case so far. Maintaining a robust sanctions regime for as long as possible is important because judging from previous attempts in negotiated settlements, securing Iran’s commitment to reductions of its uranium enrichment, and number of centrifuges under international oversight is the political linchpin.
The August 21 chemical attack in Syria has put the UN Security Council back into the spotlight on this issue, after being virtually paralyzed for more than two years due to the use of the veto by Russia and China. While today’s agreement between the five veto-holding permanent members (P5) to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons gives fresh hopes for a renewed role of the Security Council, the reasons for disagreements remain numerous.
What is, and has been, at the core of the Security Council’s “embarrassing paralysis”—in the words of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon—is the possibility to impose coercive measures on the Syrian government, including the use of force, under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. Made wary partially by the precedent of resolution 1973 on Libya, which opened the door to military intervention and, eventually, regime change, Russia and China have consistently rejected any resolution referring to Chapter VII. The latest bid to agree on a resolution giving a framework to the US-Russia agreement is no different since, in Western views at least, its viability rests on the credibility of coercive measures including, but not limited to, the use of force—a requirement French President François Hollande reiterated this week.
While the Security Council has been paralyzed for months over Syria, there has been only limited public discourse thus far on the viability of the 1950 “Uniting for Peace” resolution of the UN General Assembly. This resolution, which granted the Assembly a subsidiary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security in case of failure to do so by the Security Council, provides an interesting framework to overcome the paralysis of the United Nations in the Syrian crisis.
The “Uniting for Peace” resolution fell into oblivion for decades partly because it gave too much power to the General Assembly. It entitled this organ to decide by itself when the Security Council had failed its primary responsibility to maintain international peace and security, in contradiction with the UN Charter.
To be constitutionally valid, the procedure envisaged by the “Uniting for Peace” resolution must be triggered by the Security Council, who can refer a matter to the Assembly by a procedural vote requiring 9 out of 15 positive votes without possibility of veto.
A revised “Uniting for Peace” procedure provides a way out of the Security Council’s deadlock in exceptional circumstances—when there is an illegitimate use of the veto right—while preserving the necessary checks and balances against possible abuses, by requiring a qualified majority in both the Security Council and the General Assembly.
The deadlock at the Security Council results in the broader failure of the United Nations to meet its responsibility to maintain international peace and security and address the rapidly evolving crisis in Syria. It is precisely what the “Uniting for Peace” resolution—also known as the Dean Acheson resolution—meant to overcome. It was passed by the General Assembly in 1950 to circumvent the blockage of the Security Council in the conflict in Korea, owing to an obstructionist policy by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) that systematically used its veto. However, this resolution—which resulted in the General Assembly authorizing and legitimizing the use of force in Korea through a nonbinding recommendation—has largely fallen into oblivion since then.
In a recently published legal article in the Journal of Conflict and Security Law, Andrew Carswell makes a strong argument for reviving the “Uniting for Peace” resolution as a means to overcome the Security Council’s deadlock by giving the legality and international legitimacy necessary to potential coercive measures. According to Carswell, “the short life of the resolution…can be attributed to the fact that it went too far when it purported to bestow upon the Assembly a role that usurped the primacy of the Security Council.” In other words, the legality of this resolution was in question not because it granted the Assembly a subsidiary role for the maintenance of international peace and security when the Council had failed to exercise its primary responsibility in that respect, a possibility implicitly envisaged in the UN Charter. Rather, its legality was doubtful because the Assembly arrogated to itself the power to decide whether the Security Council had failed to fulfill its responsibility. This potential for undermining the veto power of the P5 is what explains that it eventually fell out of favor.
When the current Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov was the United Nations ambassador, he “never suffered fools,” said Edie Lederer, the Associated Press chief correspondent at the United Nations. Ms. Lederer said, “you could often find him standing at the bar chatting on his cellphone and talking to people, ordinary people. But when it came to business, Sergei Lavrov was all business.”
In this interview with the Global Observatory, Ms. Lederer recalled stories of diplomats who have come through the UN and insights about the institution formed over her 15 years (and counting) on the job.
Ms. Lederer remembered France’s Jean-David Levitte as “a masterful diplomat” when France took on the fight against the United States and its allies during the run-up to the Iraq war; and Danilo Turk, who was the first ambassador to the United Nations from Slovenia after it broke away from former Yugoslavia.
Of John Bolton, the controversial US ambassador who served for 16 months in 2005-6, she said, “He was a fierce conservative, very outspoken, and, while I would say that many of his fellow diplomats were not big fans, the media loved him because he loved to talk to us and he always made news.”
Ms. Lederer has seen many changes in the UN over the years, including the growing economic power of countries such as China, and their corresponding rise in political influence. “When I first arrived, the Chinese ambassadors would almost never talk to journalists,” she said. “Now they do, and we get invited to many events they have. In this new century, they have also become much more outspoken diplomatically, and certainly behind the scenes, they have been key players in areas where they have major interests or investments, including North Korea and many parts of Africa, like Sudan.”
Of Ban Ki-moon, she said, “I think, especially since his re-election to a second five-year term, the secretary-general has been more outspoken, especially on Syria and human rights issues, and less concerned about the views of the five permanent Security Council members—the US, Russia, China, Britain and France—who could have blocked a second term.”
Ms. Lederer also discussed Security Council reform, which everyone wants but has seen little progress, and the challenges facing the UN today. “In my lifetime, the world has become increasingly globalized and interconnected, not just by communications and transport, but culturally, and in so many other ways. And the United Nations remains the only global institution that can deal with an incredibly wide range of issues, from refugees and food shortages to human rights and war and peace, though, I must say, it doesn't always succeed.
The interview was conducted by Warren Hoge, Senior Adviser for External Relations at the International Peace Institute and former United Nations correspondent for The New York Times.
Warren Hoge: I'm here in the Global Observatory with an old friend and a legend in the field of journalism, where I spent four decades. She is Edie Lederer, the longtime chief correspondent of the Associated Press at the United Nations.
Legend did I say? Edie joined the AP in 1966. She was the first woman assigned full-time to the AP staff reporting the Vietnam War, and she went on to cover wars in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Somalia, and the aftermath of the genocide in Rwanda.
From her base in London, she also tracked the larger matters of the downfall of communism and the end of the Cold War, and international security issues ranging from population growth to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Since 1998, she has been based at the UN, and I can testify personally to the depth of her knowledge of global diplomacy and the skill and authority of her reporting, because from 2004 to 2008, I was the United Nations correspondent of The New York Times, and saw her in action close up.
Edie, it gives me enormous pleasure to have you here, and I want to chat with you about the United Nations, that iconic building just out the window, just across the street from where we are sitting. First of all, what would you say are the major changes in the UN and in the UN's place in the world since you arrived here to cover it full time 15 years ago?
Edie Lederer: Warren, first I want to say thank you for that lovely introduction. I'm going to go back a little further. During the Cold War, the UN couldn't do much because of the polarization between the former Soviet Union and the United States, the two global superpowers. After the breakup of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, suddenly the United Nations became a place where East and West business could come together, and sometimes they did. This has led, for instance, to a dramatic increase in UN peacekeeping operations, where today, over one hundred thousand UN peacekeepers are deployed in sixteen missions across the globe from Haiti to Congo to the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in the 1973 Mideast war. So, since I arrived in 1998, the action at the UN has been a lot busier.
WH: A couple of weeks ago, everyone was saying the UN was excluded, and therefore irrelevant, in the biggest current international crisis. I'm speaking, of course, of Syria. And now, just weeks later, Syria is the central concern of the Security Council, and all eyes are once again on the UN. Is that a pattern you've seen over the years, the UN being counted out, sidelined, and then suddenly coming back to remind people of the importance of its role?
EL: When I arrived at the UN, it was the middle of the crisis over UN weapons inspections in Iraq. And I was also here on 9/11 when, I must say, I recognized the minute the second plane hit the World Trade Center that it was a terrorist attack, and I started calling terrorism experts for comment.
But the biggest and most intense story during my time at the UN was the run-up to the Iraq war, when the British were seeking a UN Security Council resolution to authorize military action, and the French and Russians and many others on the Council were opposed. The British were forced to withdraw their resolution because there was so much opposition.
The US, backed by Britain and a few other countries, then attacked Iraq, claiming justification in previous Council resolutions. But this actually was an example of the United Nations really being totally sidelined. In the case of Syria, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has been very outspoken in calling for an end to the fighting from the very beginning and demanding Security Council action. But the UN has been totally sidelined for the two and half years of the conflict because of deep divisions between Russia, which supports Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime and the United States and its western and Muslim allies who support the opposition.
Now, however, suddenly, following the allegations of chemical weapons use in the August 21 attack which killed hundreds of civilians, the UN investigation team and the United Nations are back in the spotlight, and Ban Ki-moon has again been demanding Security Council action—which actually may happen in the coming days. It is not authorizing any kind of military action because the Russians are vehemently opposed, but it will make the US-Russian agreement to put serious chemical weapons stockpile under international control for eventual destruction legally binding, and it will, almost certainly say something about consequences if the Syrians don't comply.
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