Category Archives: United Nations

Goal of the Mumbai attacks: Sparking India-Pakistan war?

The perpetrators of the recent wave of anti-civilian (i.e. terror) attacks in Mumbai were evidently well organized and well prepared for their mission. It was almost certainly planned as a series of suicide attacks. These indicators point to (but do not prove) the responsibility of Lashkar-i-Taiba, “Army of the pure”, a group that originated in Indian-occupied Kashmir but has also operated elsewhere throughout the subcontinent and in Afghanistan. The nature of their attacks evidently had a strong anti-western and anti-Jewish/Israeli cast to it, along with an even stronger readiness/willingness to kill Indian civilians. Those in the west who have centered on the deaths of westerners– who included two devoutly spiritual followers of a Hindu swami who live near my home-town Charlottesville, one of them a 13-year-old girl– should remember that westerners have made up fewer than ten percent of the deaths confirmed so far, with the rest being Indian citizens.
Given the amount of planning, coordination, dedication to martyrdom, and resources that went into this mission, it must have had a political purpose broader than “simply” killing people (for revenge, or for “expressive” purposes, or whatever.) One possible purpose may have been precisely to try to spur a strong Indian military “counter-attack” against Pakistan that would also– because of the western casualties involved– receive the backing of the US and other western nations.
India may oblige. In fact, its military, security, and political chiefs are meeting right now to decide how to respond to the attacks. On Friday, Indian Foreign Minister already accused unidentified “elements in Pakistan” of being behind the attacks.
Islamabad seems to be bracing for the possibility of some harsh Indian response. Earlier, the Pakistani government had said it would send the head of the powerful (but Hydra-like) ISI intelligence, Lieut-Gen, Ahmed Shuja Pasha to New Delhi to help in the investigation. But now, as the cabinet holds an emergency session in Islamabad, it has also announced it will downgrade the level of that cooperation mission.
I’m sure the Indian government feels itself under a lot of pressure to “do something” forceful and rapid to re-assert an appearance of control over the national situation, to reassure its citizens and its foreign partners, and to “avenge” those who died.
Launching a military attack against Pakistan at this time would be the height of counter-productive folly. It would not solve, but rather would seriously exacerbate, the many problems India already has with its neighbor to the north. The governance system in Pakistan is already extremely shaky and stretched to near collapse. Does the Indian government want to push Pakistan– and with it much of the rest of the subcontinent– over the brink?
Where is the Security Council? It was precisely to deal with and defuse these kinds of crisis that the UN was established. But apart from issuing a pablum-y type of statement yesterday, the SC has taken no action on the crisis. Nor has Sec-Gen Ban Ki-moon.

Iraq’s international ‘Contact group’ becoming stronger?

The Security Cooperation and Coordination Committee of Iraq’s neighboring countries held its third meeting in Damascus Sunday. This ‘Contact Group’ brings together representatives of the UN, the US, Iraq’s neighbors (including Iran), and other relevant international actors. It has been quietly working behind the scenes since April 2007 to help stabilize Iraq and expedite an orderly transition to the country’s full independence. The two earlier meetings of the SCCC were also held in Damascus, in April and August 2007.
Who, consuming only the western MSM, would have known about Sunday’s landmark meeting?
The MSM pumps out a constant flow of reporting– and commentary that’s often very belligerent– on the matters of political difference between Washington and Damascus. But it seems to ignore the areas in which the two countries cooperate, altogether. Why?
Yes, certainly, there are some substantial differences. There are the (very poorly substantiated) US allegations that Syria has been doing illegal things in the nuclear field, and the US allegations that Syria was not doing enough to prevent anti-US militants from crossing its border into Iraq. Syria also has its own considerable grievances against the US, but these don’t get nearly as much of an airing in the western MSM.
Then, as recently as October 26, the White House authorized a U.S. Special Forces in Iraq to undertake a heavily armed incursion into Syria that killed eight Syrian citizens, reportedly civilians.
But on November 23 there was Maura Connelly, the Deputy Chief of Mission and therefore (in the absence of an ambassador) the highest-ranking US diplomat in Syria, taking part in the SCCC gathering hosted by the Syrian government.
That’s great news.
Also attending were representatives of Iraq, Jordan, Turkey, Iran, Kuwait, Egypt, Bahrain, Japan, the UN secretary-general, the four non-US Permanent Members of the UN , the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and the Arab League. Saudi Arabia had been invited but did not attend due to its continuing bilateral disagreements with Syria.
Reuters tells us (HT: Josh Landis) about one of the more dramatic things that happened in the meeting:

    The United States stood alone at a conference on Sunday in accusing host Syria of sheltering militants attacking Iraq, while other countries adopted a more conciliatory tone, delegates said.
    No other state present at the conference on security for Iraq joined Washington in its open criticism, weeks after a U.S. raid on Syria that targeted suspected militants linked to al Qaeda, they told Reuters.
    U.S. Charge d’Affaires Maura Connelly… told a closed session that Syria must stop allowing what she called terrorist networks using its territory as a base for attacks in Iraq.
    Washington’s leading Western ally, Britain, has recently praised Syria for preventing foreign fighters from infiltrating into Iraq, and its foreign secretary, David Miliband, was in Damascus this week pursuing detente with Syria.
    “The American diplomat’s speech was blunt and short. The United States was the only country at the conference to criticise Syria openly,” one of the delegates said.

The fact that Syria agreed to host the conference even after last month’s military attack by the US was significant. Reuters’ Khaled Oweis wrote that Syria “decided to go ahead [with the meeting] after the Iraqi government condemned the strike.”
The participation of both Iran and the US in this gathering was also very significant. (But that development, too, was completely ignored by the western MSM. See my points on the MSM and Syria, above…)
So was the fact that the US was able to win support for the belligerent attitude it has adopted toward Syria from not a single one of the other delegates— not even the Iraqi government that it itself helped set up back in 2005-06.
Yes, the balance of power/influence between Washington and Baghdad regarding matters Iraqi has certainly shifted in Baghdad’s favor. All that’s left now is to work for the continuing retraction of US power from the region that is as orderly as possible. (Hence the great importance of this coordinating body, the SCCC.)
Oweis gave these additional details of what happened in the Damascus meeting:

    Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Ahmad Arnous said Syria was a “victim of terrorism” and that it would not allow any attack on any individual living in its territory…
    “Arnous chose not to respond directly to the U.S. charge, but emphasised that Iraq’s stability was in the interest of Syria,” another delegate said.
    Delegates said representatives of China and Russia had condemned the United States for using Iraq as a “base for aggression”. A joint statement issued by Iraq and its neighbours after the meeting said they opposed any offensive action launched from Iraq against its neighbours or vice versa.

… I have stressed for many years now that any substantial drawdown of US troops from Iraq (and especially the complete withdrawal that I favor) requires the active involvement in helping to facilitate and coordinate that of all of Iraq’s neighbors, including those with which the US has bad relations, as well as of the UN. The SCCC seems to be providing exactly this kind of coordination.
It’s been 15 months since the last SCCC meeting. Let’s hope it is not nearly as long until the next one, and that the non-US members of this body work hard to give it more real clout and political weight once the UN’s ‘mandate’ to the US in Iraq expires on December 31.

Why Kosovo’s independence bid is (Not) unique

CS Monitor today includes an interesting story about pending recognition of Kosovo’s independence. The article is built around the theme that Kosovo’s bid is somehow unique, that Kosovo has emerged without the imprimatur of the United Nations Security Council.
News flash to the Monitor: the UN Security Council is hardly the sole arbiter of international legitimacy in the world today. International “law” is not equivalent to Security Council “votes.”
Kosovo’s appearance as a new state owes to a long struggle for recognition from as much of the world as it could obtain. Yet Kosovo lies at a fault-line of great power tensions. Russia, not surprisingly, vehemently opposes the further partition of the former Yugoslavia, along with other (but not all) Slavic populated states. With Russia holding a veto at the UN Security Council, it’s of course not surprising that the Security Council could not bestow its institutional approbation on Kosovo.
To legalists who narrowly view the UNSC as the sole “guarantor of legality among nations,” Kosovo’s emergence will be “illegal.” Russia condemnation of Kosovo’s “independence” as “illegal” is something other than “candid,” when it alone is the reason for the technical basis of that claim.
To be sure, the UN Security Council, when it can agree, remains an important indicator of international norms and rules. But when consensus fails, the battle for international legitimacy goes on at other levels.
Kosovo’s case for international recognition outside the UNSC was won in the broader battles for international opinion, what Thomas Jefferson, when reflecting in 1825 upon America’s own revolutionary struggle, referred to as “the tribunal of the world.” Serbia’s claims to retain “sovereignty” over Kosovo were weakened by its own flagrant lack of a “decent respect to the opinions of mankind.” It now reaps the fruits of that disregard for the opinions of a “candid world.” Huffing about “international law” won’t change that.

The US, the UN, and the world: The De Soto report

The London Guardian yesterday published the 52-page “End of Mission Report” written by the UN’s recently retired envoy to the Middle East peace talks, Alvaro De Soto.
De Soto reportedly confirmed the authenticity of the text, but said it had been intended only for inside-the-UN consumption. It contains his scathing criticism of the way that, in regard to Israeli-Arab diplomacy, the UN has subordinated its unique global legitimacy and position to the diktats of the US and Israel.
In para 132, he writes:

    Unfortunately, the international community [i.e., in this context, the UN bureaucracy], through a policy hastily laid down, has gone along with Israeli rejectionism, making it very difficult to climb down even if Israel decided to do so.

I haven’t yet had time to read the whole report. Guardian journos who have done so have produced three accounts of its highlights (1, 2, and 3), and the paper’s editors have also penned this editorial on De Soto’s charges and the whole tragic mess into which Israel and the US’s actions have helped to drive the current situation in the OPTs.
Attentive JWN readers are doubtless aware that my own strongly stated position is that, despite its many flaws, the UN must take– and must be allowed and empowered to take– the leading role in conducting the global-scale diplomacy that is now so sorely needed in both the Israeli-Arab sphere and the US-Iraqi sphere. (I laid out these argument most recently in, respectively, this May 10 CSM column, and this column in today’s CSM.)
Of course, there is a major problem in both these projects: that is, that in all matters Middle Eastern the UN bureaucracy– which is answerable in the first instance to the Security Council, and only at a broader level to the annual “General Assembly” of all the world’s nations– has indeed, increasingly throughout the past 15 or 20 years, subordinated itself to the whims and diktats of one nuclear-armed superpower, the US, and that power’s Middle Eastern sidekick, Israel.
For the sake of global stability, and if humanity is to have any chance whatever of building a humane, egalitarian world-political system in which disputes are addressed using means other than brute force, this has to change. In the May column, I argued– re the Israeli-Palestinian arena– that, “Global stability can no longer be held hostage to the claims of the Israeli settlers.”
In today’s column (which was written and edited before the publication of De Soto’s indirectly related text) I wrote,

    Any orderly US withdrawal from Iraq requires a leading role from the United Nations. It also requires a more capable and empowered UN than the one we see today, and this requires that the whole US political system undertake a serious recommitment both to the world body and to the egalitarian global values it embodies.
    These tasks form the main challenge for America in the months ahead. The longer the American public and US leaders postpone dealing with them, the higher will mount the casualty toll in Iraq – among both Iraqis and US troops – along with the risks the Iraqi caldron poses to regional and world stability.

Now, the publication of De Soto’s detailed and very well expressed insider’s account of exactly how the US and Israel have, in their relationship with the UN, subverted the norms and ideals on which the world body has been based since its creation in 1945, allows us to see more clearly than ever before many key dimensions of the challenge we all– both US citizens and citizens of other nations– face as we try to bring the relationship between the US and the rest of the world back into a better and more productive balance.
At this stage in the history of our fragile planet here, I don’t think that this challenge can be avoided very much longer.

Final CSM column: on the US and the UN, in Iraq

So Thursday’s CSM will be publishing the final column in the series I have published with them since 1990. It is here. (Also here.)
In it, I write:

    Can Washington disentangle itself from the lethal imbroglio of Iraq without radically revising the prickly, dismissive attitude it has maintained toward the United Nations for the past five years? I doubt it.
    For if America’s very vulnerable troop presence in Iraq is to be drawn down, either partially or – as I believe is necessary – wholly, and in anything like an orderly way, then that withdrawal must be negotiated. And no body but the UN can successfully convene these negotiations.

At the end of the column, I put in this short note to readers:

    Because the Monitor is ending its regular columns, today’s essay is my last as a Monitor columnist – a post I’ve held for 17 years.
    I have been proud to write for a paper guided by high standards, strong values, and a desire to understand all the nations of the world. And I have been grateful for the opportunity to contribute my expertise here.
    Mine was one of the few voices in mainstream media that seriously questioned the grounds on which the Bush administration took the US into the war in Iraq and that warned strongly and consistently that this war would be disastrous.
    While my work may well appear in the Monitor in the future, I invite you to keep up with my writing at www.justworldnews.org.

I had put a little more about this rather abrupt change of editorial policy at the Monitor, and how I felt about it, into this JWN post last week. It’s true, I am “looking at a number of options”, as I wrote there. One is a really engaging new book idea that I discussed with Jennifer Knerr, the Editor for Political Science and Communications at Paradigm Publishers, when I was able to spend some great time with her, Paradigm President Dean Birkenkamp, and some of their other colleagues, at their HQ in Boulder last week.
More on this later, I hope!
Another regular column slot elsewhere is also an option, of course… Also, doing some more pieces for the CSM under their new regimen…
Anyway, the Kissinger position, as referred briefly to in the latest column, is really quite interesting. Especially given the role he played, according to Bob Woodward, back in 2001-02, in supporting Cheney’s relentless push to get the US into invading Iraq…

Making Persian Gulf Security Durable (Ramazani)

FYI, here’s a recently published short essay by R.K. Ramazani, as I mentioned in discussions here several days ago.
Seeking to go beyond the immediate details of the recent UK-Iran dispute, Ramazani has three main objectives:
1. Provide historical context for understanding why bilateral conflict resolution in the Persian Gulf rests on fleeting sand. Bilateralism, unilateralism, and power balancing as approaches to maintaining Persian Gulf security have all broken down – and will inherently falter again:

“As long as Britain and America approach Gulf disputes by such means as playing regional powers against each other, by bullying tactics, by calls for regime change and by the threats of military strikes against Iran, there is little hope that Persian Gulf conflicts will ever be prevented in the future or that durable solutions can be found for the present ones, including the British-Iranian dispute today. As a result, the secure export of Gulf oil supplies to world markets will be threatened and the price of oil will soar beyond the capacity of the world economy to tolerate.

2. “Collective Security” is the only sustainable alternative.

“The real question, therefore, is whether Britain and the United States will be able to shake off their addiction to using force and embrace a comprehensive collective security system that would include the Persian Gulf states and major outside powers with high stakes in the region, including Britain and the United States, under the auspices of the United Nations.”
Short of that, Iran, as the major Persian Gulf state, will continue to resist British and American pressures. Its resistance to foreign bullying and pressures is rooted in a millennial and proud sense of glory and power in ancient times, in a deep-rooted sense of national identity and in a resentment of discrimination against the Shia, who are, today and in history, a minority in the larger Muslim world, by the Sunni majority.”

3. Security for the Persian Gulf also requires a “holistic” recognition that “the problems of the Persian Gulf are intertwined with the major conflicts of the broader Middle East and beyond.” Put differently, resolving conflicts in the Persian Gulf are incomplete without attending to conflict causes in the Eastern Mediterranean. That holds true both ways.

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Article on East Timor in TomPaine.com

I have a piece on TomPaine.com today, about East Timor.
It was a good experience working with them. Their turnround time on the piece was about one hour. So it was almost the same instant gratification I get from blogging, plus I got paid (a modest amount.) Does life get any better than this?
I don’t think they have comments there. You can go to the JWN comments blog and discuss Timor there.

UNU symposium, war, peace, etc.

(Apologies to readers that the first version of this post was badly edited… It’s hard to do all this on my modestly-sized laptop…. Now, it should be better. ~HC)
So the United Nations has its own university… Who knew? I gather from some comments made here on JWN earlier that some (or perhaps even many) among my readers did not…
Actually, that’s not totally surprising, since UNU actually does most of its work in very technical fields, as you can see if you scroll down on this web-page to the list of UNU’s research and training centers and programs. These centers and programs do some much-needed work in helping to build the capacity of (especially) low-income and medium-income nations in the various technical fields covered. But if you’re interest is a more general one in global issues and global relations, you may well not have noticed their work.
So the symposium I was at yesterday was held to celebrate the opening of a new building for UNU’s International Leadership Institute here in Amman, Jordan. It’s a little hard to explain what the ILI does, especially since their website appears to be down right now… But I’m reading from a brochure here, that says, “Over the last five years, the Institute has hosted over 300 mid-career professionals from 93 different countries in local, reginal, and global leadership education and practical leadership programs… ”
I should also confess I find the concept of “leadership”, simpliciter, to be either fairly mystifying or fairly scary. (Fuehrerheit, anyone?) It is also, quite frequently, defined in a strongly male-gendered or otherwise elitist and exclusionary way. The best form of leadership, surely, should be leadership to do something— that is, to reach a goal that is mutually agreed by all participants in the venture, that is clearly defined, and (obviously) constructive. It should also be a form of leadership that has transparency and accountability mechanisms built in… Anyway, there’s my two cents’ worth on the topic. (For now.)
So, the symposium yesterday was interesting. Hamid Zakri, the head of the Yokohama-based UNU Institute for Advanced Studies (in eco-restructuring, as it turns out) gave a talk on biodiplomacy. I learned more about the topic than I had ever known before, or indeed, than I had ever known existed… The Rector of the UNU, Hans van Ginkel, gave a talk about its history. The former Jordanian Prime Minister Abdel-Salam al-Majali– who’d been a big force behind the establishment of the institute in Jordan– gave a talk about his vision of leadership education. The UN “chief of Mission” in Amman, Christine McNab, gave a helpful talk about her view of leadership, likening it to being the conductor of an orchestra who encourages the individual players to do their own best interpretations of a symphonic piece while creating something even larger out of the sum of the parts of their efforts…
But the two presentatins I found most interesting were those by UNU Vice-Rector Ramesh Thakur, someone whose work I’ve long admired, and by Amin Seikal, of the Australian National University.
Amin, who grew up in Afghanistan, talked about democratization in Muslim Middle Eastern countries. His lecture came immediately before mine, so I didn’t ake notes. But basically, he was pessimistic about seeing any rapid leaps toward democracy in the region; he noted the anomaly of the US pushing for democratic elections and then rejecting the results; and he concluded by saying that most Muslim ME countries still needed a lot of work in the development of civil society before we could expect much pgoress in democratization.
Ramesh’s talk was about UN reform and its role in boosting peace and development. He said he would send me a written version of it sometime (which I’ll post here). In the meantime, here are some of the main points from the notes I took:

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