Monday, 23 April 2007

Darfur - What does the UN actually do?

The Wall Street Journal is probably the world's best paper. It focuses on accuracy, reality and takes no prisoners on the issues du jour. Read its recent article, Diplomacy and Darfur, and tell me whether you can work out what the heck the UN is actually doing to fulfil its charter.
If hand-wringing alone could make the world a better place, Darfur today would be as prosperous as Switzerland and as safe as Singapore. But good intentions do not stop genocide. In the hands of the U.N. and the rest of the "international community," they often facilitate it.

We're reminded of this once again this week as yet more evidence emerges that the Sudanese government in Khartoum is violating U.N. sanctions by arming the Janjaweed militias directly responsible for most of the mass killing, mass rape and mass evictions in Darfur. Khartoum's support for the militias isn't exactly news. But its dishonest denials of the fact -- credulously believed by some and disingenuously accepted by others -- have helped stave off international action against it.

Now those denials ring completely hollow as a U.N. investigation produced photographic evidence of Sudanese cargo planes -- painted white to resemble U.N. aircraft -- off-loading howitzers and other military equipment at Darfur air bases. The investigation has also documented more than 100 cases of "aerial bombardment" by Sudanese planes between October and January. Just yesterday, Reuters reported that a Sudanese air strike destroyed the Darfuri village of Jemmeiza.

You might have thought all this would finally have prompted the U.N. Security Council to go beyond the mostly inconsequential steps it has taken so far. The first, a 2005 arms embargo, was imposed on both sides, thereby helping to render the principal victims of the conflict defenseless. The second, a 2006 resolution, imposed an asset freeze and travel ban on just a handful of people.

Instead, the Chinese, who speak openly about their "profound friendship" with Khartoum and buy 60% of its oil while supplying it with weapons, have indicated they will not go along with any further U.N. sanctions. (The Chinese also objected to the public release of the U.N. investigation.) Ditto for the Russians, while our sources at the U.N. describe the French attitude as "wishy-washy" and the British one as scarcely better.

Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, in his debut as a diplomatic soloist, has been earnestly negotiating with Sudan's dictator, Omar Bashir. Mr. Bashir has reportedly agreed to allow several thousand (mainly African) U.N. peacekeepers into Darfur. Mr. Ban considers this a signal breakthrough, though the agreement is a retread of a similar one negotiated last year by former Secretary-General Kofi Annan, not to mention previous agreements Mr. Bashir has agreed to and ignored. Even if implemented -- and even if the U.N. force is extravagantly well-supplied -- the blue helmets could do little to police, much less stop, the killing taking place across an area the size of France.

That leaves the endlessly maligned Bush Administration, which is the only government that has shown any spine on Darfur. On Wednesday, President Bush announced that the U.S. would take unilateral steps against Sudan, including sanctions against 29 government-controlled Sudanese companies and the blocking of any dollar-based transactions conducted by Khartoum, if Khartoum didn't meet its commitments to the U.N. Similar kinds of sanctions were shown to be effective against North Korea, at least before the State Department negotiated them away.

Speaking of the State Department, our sources also tell us that it has been lobbying the White House on Mr. Ban's behalf, working to postpone any unilateral U.S. action until the U.N. plan has been given a chance to work. How long is that supposed to take? A year?

For similar reasons, we hear that State has resisted a White House proposal to impose a no-fly zone on Sudan. We agree that a no-fly zone would be a difficult and expensive undertaking to enforce. Far better would be to destroy Khartoum's air force on the ground at a single go the next time evidence emerges that Mr. Bashir is using it against Darfur.

In the 1990s, millions of diplomatic man hours were fecklessly squandered trying to reach a deal with Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic over the status of Bosnia. Billions of dollars were also wasted on U.N. peacekeeping efforts that did more to hinder than promote an end of the conflict. This isn't exactly ancient history. So why are its lessons never learned?
Why is the United States the only country proposing that strong action be taken? As I pointed out in my 10 Institutions that Ruin the World series, the UN Charter's preamble states:

  • to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and
  • to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and
  • to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and
  • to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,
  • to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours, and
  • to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and
  • to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and
  • to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples,
What is the point of the United Nations? Why does it spend so much more time criticising Israel than working on solutions to genocide in Darfur or, previously, Kosovo? It seems to me that the UN is at about the lowest point in its history. The League Of Nations was a dismal failure. The UN is a dismal failure. It's about time the thing was closed down and with no successor organisation planned. Global diplomacy worked just fine before the League Of Nations and will work just fine without the UN.


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