Saturday, October 15, 2011

Keeping the United Nations Relevant in the 21st Century

For thoughts on this topic based on her book "Collective Security Within Reach", please go to the following link of an NPR interview of Sovaida Ma'ani Ewing broadcast live with call-in questions on October 14, 2011:

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Emperor Has No Clothes: Where is An International Standing Force When you Need One?

Events in Libya continue to worsen after Colonel Gaddafi ordered a brutal crackdown on peaceful protestors by police, the army and irregular units resulting in mass killings, arbitrary arrests and the detention and torture of prisoners; he has even threatened to make Libya a hell and yet the international community is paralyzed.

Our leaders are right when they say that the situation is "unacceptable" and "intolerable" but under such dire conditions with the threat of massive human sacrifice hanging over Libya's head words are not enough.

It is time for our leaders to stop dithering. It is time not only to speak with one voice but to act as one in a spirit of unity: with a strong common purpose and intention, world leaders must agree to immediately intervene militarily to protect the people of Libya from a leader who is clearly willing to sacrifice his people in order to save his pride and hold on power. To talk at such a time about imposing economic sanctions, a possible arms embargo, travel bans and asset freezes and to give warnings about retributions under international criminal law for possible crimes against humanity is ineffectual at best. Analogies are useful for putting things in perspective: If we were to see a man climbing through the window of a family's home armed and announcing his intention to rape the female inhabitants and then murder the family, what would we do? Would we be satisfied to tell him that the police were watching him and issue warnings about the arrest and trial that are bound to follow his intended crimes? The very thought is preposterous. And yet, we have managed to get ourselves into similarly untenable situations as a community of nations. It is time to correct course and acknowledge that in situations such as the one we see in Libya, the international community must intervene swiftly and effectively to prevent the the crimes against humanity from occurring.

Unfortunately, given the system we have in place, it is not easy to intervene at all let alone swiftly when it comes to the international community. We face and have for a long time faced two problems that we need to solve if were are to get out of this cycle of standing by while atrocities are committed with impunity, be they in Rwanda, Darfur or Libya. The first problem is that of coming to firm and decisive agreement on clear and firm rules to be applied by our international institutions, in particular the Security Council when threats to the peace and human rights atrocities occur. It is time to agree that when governments begin to commit crimes against humanity, the international community has the responsibility to step in and act immediately, using force if necessary. The use of force, is unfortunately, often the only language that these brutal dictators understand. Under such circumstances, threats of economic sanctions, arms embargoes, travel bans and asset freezes and of international criminal trials are ineffectual.

The second problem is that the Security Council currently lacks an international force at its disposal and under its command capable of enforcing its resolutions under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter. We need to remedy this and start working on establishing such a force now in the hopes that by the time the next intolerable and unacceptable crisis hits, we will be equipped to actually do something effective about it in a timely fashion. Had we started working on creating such a force a decade ago, today we would have been in a position to intervene effectively and stop the massacre in Libya.

It is better to start late than never, for one thing is certain: given the world we live in, there are bound to be future crises and more opportunities for such a force to act either as a deterrent or as a means to minimize bloodshed and the risks of a destabilizing breach of the peace.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The International Community Cannot Continue to Abdicate Its Responsibility

As events in North Africa and the Middle East unfold in quick succession, it is becoming increasingly apparent that it is time for the international community to step up to the plate and assume responsibilities that it has abdicated for too long.

When the UN Security Council was created in the aftermath of the Second World War, it was accorded the distinction of being the principal organ of the new United Nations and was given the responsibility for maintaining and restoring peace in the world: its mandate was to act to ensure peace if it found that one of three events had occurred: that there had been a threat to the peace, a breach of the peace or an act of aggression. In any of these circumstances, the Security Council was empowered to act using a variety of tools including economic sanctions and even the use of force.

As we witness the outbreaks of government-endorsed violence in countries such as Libya, and hear the outcry of peoples around the world railing at such injustice, is it not time for the international institutions to which we have entrusted the very responsibility for maintaining peace to step in and act? Do not the circumstances that we are witnessing amount at the very least to a 'threat to the peace' or a 'breach of the peace?' If not under these circumstances, then when should we act? Words alone, will not suffice. Action is required.

And if we find that what is standing in the way of timely, decisive and effective Security Council action to restore the peace is the absence of a standing international force that is truly representative of the community of nations and that acts in accordance with clearly delineated rules agreed to in advance by all nations, then is it not time to set about finally creating such a force? Surely in a world that is advanced in so many ways, we can succeed if we bend our minds to crafting an international system of collective security that is effective.

The time has come to put away our excuses for inaction and get on with the job of re-vamping our global institutions to ensure that they adequately meet the needs of our time.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Power of Unity -- A Formidable Tool for Peace and Security

Today, February 11, 2011, Egyptian protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square, in Alexandria and in Suez got their wish: President Hosni Mubarak stepped down as president of Egypt after thirty years in power.

In following the media coverage of the historic events that have unfolded in Egypt over the past eighteen days, the most striking phenomenon has been the demonstration of unity amongst people of disparate backgrounds: the rich and the poor, the educated and the uneducated, secularists and Islamists, the young and the old and people of various political persuasions. This unity has manifested itself in three ways: unity of purpose, the ability to speak with one voice and unity of action. When coupled with a disciplined determination to keep the protests peaceful and avoid violence, the power of such unity has been phenomenal: it has begun to change the course of history both within Egypt and inevitably within the region.

The power that results from unity of purpose, action and voice is one that the international community would do well to ponder and to mindfully cultivate as it seeks effective tools to maintain and restore much-needed peace and security in the world.

It makes no difference whether the problem is caused by a bully in the form of an autocratic leader with whom the citizens of a country are contending, or whether it is caused by a bully in the shape of the government of an individual nation which threatens the peaceful equilibrium of all member nations of the world community; in order for the solutions to all such problems to be effective, they must be pursued in reliance on a spirit of absolute unity. Whether it is a president who has seized power in defiance of the constitutional requirements of his country, as in the case of Mr. Gbagbo of the Ivory Coast, a president whose autocratic rule has outlived its welcome as in the case of Mr. Mubarak, or a country that poses a threat to other countries through its illicit pursuit of weapons of mass destruction such as Iran or North Korea, any effective solution must have as its linchpin the principle of unity.

In the case of the Ivory Coast, the African Union and the the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) must continue to speak with one voice (with the continued backing of the EU, the UN and the rest of the international community) and act as one -- with collective force if necessary -- in order to be effective and set a good precedent for the rest of Africa. In the case of Iran and North Korea, it is high time for the international community to rise to its responsibility and clearly decide what it will do when a nation has been clearly shown to be flouting the international rules that prohibit the proliferation of nuclear weapons and is consequently threatening the peace of the world with its behavior. The consequences of such behavior must be clearly specified and agreed to by all nations, along with the circumstances in which they will be applied. Moreover, punishment must be meted out even-handedly to all who break the rules. Last, but not least, it is time to establish an international standing force that represents the international community and has the mandate to enforce its collective decisions.

It is not until the international community can both speak with one voice and back its voice up with unified action that peace will become a reality. As for Egypt, it is still not out of the woods: what remains to be seen is whether the people of Egypt can maintain their unity of purpose, voice and action as they go about collectively crafting the future of their country.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

It's High Time to Make Adherence to the NPT Mandatory

On January 31, 2011, the New York Times published an article saying that thanks to the steady increase in its nuclear arsenal, Pakistan was on its way to becoming the world's fifth largest nuclear power, thereby overtaking Britain. The ramifications for international peace and security of such a build-up of both nuclear material and weapons are enormous and are exacerbated by the fact that Pakistan has never signed on to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty ("NPT"). As a consequence, its nuclear facilities are not subject to monitoring and inspection by the international inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency ("IAEA"). Moreover, the long-standing animosity and rivalry between Pakistan and India (which, by the way, has also not signed the NPT), are exacerbated each time one of these two countries makes significant strides in enhancing its nuclear capabilities. It is inevitable that the spiral of mutual suspicion should continue to rise with each escalation. Nothing good can come of this build-up of nuclear capacity on both sides. Then there is the added danger that the nuclear technology that to which scientists in both nations have access, will get into the hands of states whose behavior and motives evoke suspicion within the international community. This has already happened with disastrous consequences thanks to Dr. A.Q. Khan, know as the father of Pakistan's atomic program. He is alleged to have sold nuclear weapons designs to North Korea, Libya and Iran and possibly to Syria. Finally, the dangers of nuclear material and nuclear technology getting into the hands of terrorists increases as the amounts of such material increase, weapons design technology becomes more widespread and as the stability of a country possessing nuclear material becomes shaky.

For a while now, the international community has claimed that one of the most serious dangers facing the peace and security of our planet is nuclear proliferation. The danger lies not simply in the fact that if nations continue to amass nuclear weapons, then the chances are greater that they will resort to them in times of extreme crisis. Rather, the greater danger is that as nuclear materials proliferate, it is more likely that unscrupulous individuals or groups, namely terrorists, will get their hands on enough of that material and with the aid of technological know-how, which is easy to transfer in this global age of communications, they will be able to use it to wreak havoc and sow terror.

There has been no shortage of conferences and meetings and experts' opinions (including the extensive five-yearly NPT review conferences, the last of which was held in the spring of 2010). And yet, not much has come of these. If we are really so concerned about the risks of nuclear terrorism and are serious about reducing and eventually eliminating the dangers of nuclear proliferation, isn't it time to make the radical changes in thinking and behavior that are necessary? So, for example, it seems rather futile to enter into elaborate bilateral treaties such as the second Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START 2) that was initially agreed to by the US and Russia in April 2010 and is to enter into force this month, to eliminate stockpiles of nuclear weapons on one hand, while at the same time ignoring the fact that the back door has long been open to allow the stockpiling of new nuclear weapons and material by other countries who have never signed the NPT.

For starters, wouldn't it make more sense to make adherence to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty obligatory for all nations, without exception? Who are we kidding, when we turn a blind eye to a system in which nations can choose to sign an international agreement as crucial to the peace of the planet as the NPT? Is it not time to recognize that some systems are so fundamental to the continued peace and stability of our world as to require all nations to fully participate in them, without the right of withdrawal?

If we are truly a community of nations, then we need a set of international laws that apply equally to all the subjects of that community, namely to all nations bar none. Why should the principles upon which we build our international community differ from those governing our local or national communities? We would never conceive of having a system of local or national laws relating to our peace and security to which we, as the subjects of those nations, could choose to adhere or disregard at will. So, for example, it is hard to imagine living in a nation in which the law against murder would apply only to those individuals that chose to sign on to it. The consequent break down in law and order would be as unacceptable as it was inevitable. Why then should we allow such an untenable state of affairs to persist at the international level when it abundantly clear that the world is completely interconnected and no nation, however powerful can survive on its own?

Returning then to the news about Pakistan's recent build-up of nuclear weapons, it would seem sensible to require Pakistan, India and all other nations who have not yet done so, to sign on to the NPT without reservation and without the right to withdraw as an indispensable step towards creating an effective and efficacious international system to prevent nuclear proliferation. Although a critical step toward creating a viable system of collective security, I do not suggest that this step is, in itself sufficient. Other steps will also be required including a serious revamping of the NPT. Such revamping must involve considerable tightening of the monitoring and verification procedures and requirements in order to catch would-be flouters of the international rules early as well as international agreement on a set of punishments to be meted out to nations who break the rules. It is also time to finally create a viable enforcement mechanism that will act both as a deterrent to those who are tempted to break the rules as well as an effective enforcer of the rules. Last, but not least, is the necessity of creating an international fuel bank to which all nations must be required to turn for nuclear fuel to satisfy their domestic energy needs.

There is much to do, let us not waste precious time in taking the first step!