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Today's sob-story

Posted by Helen Thursday, July 24, 2008 , , , ,

A little while ago I was asked by a very charming and intelligent Italian economist whether I was becoming disenchanted with the European Union. She had detected this in the way I referred to that organization. I pointed out that disenchanted was not really the right adjective since that would imply that I had ever been enchanted.

Similarly, I find it rather frustrating to read about there being a "backlash" against the UN because so many things have gone wrong, through no fault of that organization's. Presumably, this blog would be considered to be part of that backlash but, honestly, when did either of us thought the UN or its peacekeepers to be the answer to anybody’s problems? (Yes, I know, the Korean War, which happened under UN auspices only because the Soviet Union was temporarily absent. The first Iraqi War was America's. If the UN had not agreed to support it, we would have had a coalition of the willing. Incidentally, neither of those wars was fought by the men in the blue berets or blue helmets.)

The latest of these sob-stories about the poor UN and how it cannot cope with all the responsibilities was an article in yesterday's International Herald Tribune by Thorsten Benner, Stephan Mergenthaler and Philipp Rottman, all researchers at the Global Public Policy Institute in Berlin. The are also co-authors of the forthcoming paper "Learning to Build Peace? UN Peace Operations and Organisational Learning." Thinking it over I decided not to bother to order it. One article, which, I presume, encompasses the argument, is quite sufficient.

Incidentally, the GPPI's website talks of the organization’s research focusing on "effective and accountable governance". Yet the article by the three esteemed researchers does not mention the fact that the UN, whom they obviously hold in high esteem, is not accountable to anybody and that may be one important reason why it is so ineffective except to provide those who work for it with an extremely cushy life-style, whether legitimately or otherwise.

The argument, as outlined by the three worthy researchers is that the UN peacekeeping operation has become a little overstretched and, thus enmired in all sorts of problems.

The UN apparatus is severely overstretched, exhibiting increasingly serious pathologies ranging from sluggish deployments to shocking sexual abuse scandals.
Dear me, the things that happen and all of them pathologies, untouched by human hand or brain. The article proposes several solutions. Before we turn to them, let us look at what is causing the problems:
UN peacekeeping is the victim of its own success: Never before in their 60-year history have blue helmets been in such high demand. About 110,000 personnel are deployed in 20 peace operations around the world, more than a six-fold increase from 10 years ago.
That is a definition of success? We now send far more peacekeepers out, thus spending a great deal more money, not forgetting to make some of it disappear, than before, with no peace in sight anywhere, so we are successful? Let us suppose there is a patient on a saline drip, also needing blood transfusion. Do doctors and nurses say: gosh, he is doing really well, we have doubled the amount of blood we are pumping into him today and will probably double it again tomorrow. We shall also increase the amount of saline solution needed. Wow, what a success! I think not.

Then again, that is the only way most of the public sector and especially the transnational aspect of it measures success. How can we tell aid-giving is a success? By the amounts becoming ever larger. How do we know whether it is governments, NGOs or private organizations that are achieving more? By measuring which sector gives more. The idea that success would consist of countries no longer requiring aid or regions no longer requiring peace-keepers is simply outside the discussion. Well, it is time we started framing the debate in those terms.

So you are an organization dedicated to keeping peace? Right, how much peace have you kept, let alone created?

Mind you, some of the three researchers' suggestions are not stupid even if they seem to be unable to list all that "good work UN peacekeepers have done in exceptionally difficult circumstances over the past decade".

Darfur, they agree, is not one of those examples but, as they rightly point out, there really is no peace to keep there and the UN peacekeepers should not be sent into such places and situations. Fair enough but who should be sent in? One could argue that nobody should go in and we should simply stop sending aid to such entities as the Sudanese government. In fact, that is what we have argued on this blog.

On the other hand, if we believe that the world is one entity and we need to deal with crisis situations if for no other reason that these tend to spill over and create difficulties for us, then we have to decide who actually does go in. The UN, if it is not capable of sorting any really messy crises out should stop pretending it can do so and, above all, should screaming blue murder (if I may use that expression) when someone else tries to do something. Yes, I am referring to their routine anti-Americanism.

Messrs Benner, Mergenthaler and Rotman do not follow their own argument through in the way I did above because they are determined to find some way of making the UN workable, acceptable and popular. Not for nothing is the article called "Rescuing the blue helmets".

We are all guilty of making the blue helmets unsuccessful and unpopular except that, of course, they have been very successful and they would be more popular if only people recognized their success and gave them more money to steal use for the benefit of mankind.
Therefore, under present circumstances the UN should not deploy peacekeepers to Somalia or Chad, where the absence of political will among rival parties renders peacekeepers as little more than turquoise targets.

Key member states must also lower expectations on what peacekeepers can realistically achieve in Darfur. They must make it crystal clear to the public that the absence of peace in Darfur is not the fault of UN peacekeepers but a result of the international community's inability to force the conflict parties into a lasting political settlement.
I cannot quite see what it is the UN complaining about. After all, it explains to all and sundry that it is the international community and those nasty Yanks go against said international community when they do not accept the UN's guidance.
“In addition, UN members urgently need to invest in the infrastructure for peace operations worldwide. Resources need to match the grandiose rhetoric and ambitious goals set out in Security Council mandates. This includes seriously enlarging the UN's standby blue helmet capacity - with a clear manpower commitment on the part of the United States, Canada and Europe, not just Asian and African states who currently supply the vast majority of peacekeepers.

It also means expanding the team of rapidly deployable police officers and complementing it with a team of judicial and legal experts who can play a critical role in struggling peace operations worldwide.

UN members should also approve a permanent cadre of civilian post-conflict reconstruction professionals. Last but not least, UN members need to boost the Secretariat's ability to gather and analyze intelligence, develop doctrine, draw lessons and provide training. All governments should have an interest in ensuring that their own soldiers, police and civilian experts on loan with the UN have access to the best information, guidance and training.
I suggest the three authors do a little research into American constitutional history and public opinion, including military opinion, which regards it unconstitutional to have American servicemen and women wearing the uniform of another state and obey another command structure. Their Commander-in-Chief is accountable to the people of the United States, being the President of the country. Even if Senator Obama is elected (and anything is possible in a democracy) he will find it hard to change that attitude or even the constitutional decisions behind it. He will also have to find out how long a presidential term is but that is another story, not much reported by the British media.

Furthermore, the three researchers seem not to have grasped an important point. UN peacekeeping is a form of subsidy to the poorer countries of Africa and Asia. By putting blue helmets on their soldiers and sending them to do what they will in various trouble spots, such as DR Congo (not mentioned in this article) the countries in question acquire money to pay them and shiny new equipment to give them. Does the Global Public Policy Institute want to bring this system to and end?

Apart from that there is little here except a call on the developed countries who are financing the whole shebang to hand over yet more money to a corrupt and unaccountable organization. Then everything will be hunky-dory.

There is only one more thing to add to this sorry tale. The new SecrGen for Peacekeeping Operations is one Alan Le Roy, who has laboured hard in the French public sector.
After serving in the private sector as a petroleum engineer, he joined the public service as Sous-préfet, then as Counsellor at the Cour des comptes (French Audit Office). He is currently Conseiller Maître à la Cour des comptes and has served since September last year as Ambassador in charge of the Union for the Mediterranean Initiative – a proposed community of European Union member States and countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea which is set to be established next month.

He has previously served the world body as Deputy to the UN Special Coordinator for Sarajevo and Director of Operations for the restoration of essential public services. He also went on missions for the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in Mauritania and was appointed UN Regional Administrator in Kosovo (West Region).

After having been National Coordinator for the Stability Pact for South-east Europe in the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he was appointed EU Special Representative in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. He was subsequently appointed Assistant Secretary for Economic and Financial Affairs in the French Ministry for Foreign Affairs, before serving as the French Ambassador to Madagascar.
Somehow, I don't quite see him sorting the mess out.