May 07, 2005

Ogata's UNHCR

Of all the U.N. agencies, it is the UNHCR that I've had the greatest respect for over the years. This is, in no small part, due to Sadako Ogata's capable stewardship of the agency as High Commissioner during the 90s. Brian Urquhart reviews her recently published book "The Turbulent Decade: Confronting the Refugee Crisis of the 1990s" here. Don't miss this part:

Ogata argues that while large humanitarian operations cannot solve political or military problems, they can sometimes serve as a pretext for the Security Council and its member nations to avoid the more forceful intervention that the situation calls for. David Rieff describes the paradox:

For the Bosnians, UNHCR's success in carrying out the role the great powers had assigned it represented both a triumph and a tragedy. Fundamentally, the better the job UNHCR and the NGOs that worked with it did in Bosnia —and, given the appalling, impossible circumstances, the job they did was magnificent—the more cover they provided for the great powers to avoid doing anything to stop the slaughter.

There is now much talk about reforming, or rehabilitating, or even saving the United Nations. Of the many proposals being made, some will no doubt be adopted. Little or nothing, however, is being said about the basic political problems that are often responsible for an inadequate Security Council response. On the whole, the US and the rest of the world's powerful nations avoid discussing the periodic inability of the Security Council to agree on much-needed action, and the reasons for it. The members of the Security Council, and especially the permanent members, sometimes lack the sense of urgent international responsibility that, in situations when action is desperately needed, could, at least for a short time, override their disagreements or intransigent national policies. Nor do they want to consider the need for a standing UN rapid deployment force, although one is often urgently needed to tackle a problem before it grows into a nightmare. The disaster in the Great Lakes region, which continues despite the belated presence of a UN peacekeeping force, is a somber reminder of what happens when there is no forceful intervention at a critical moment.

I agree that amidst all the breathless talk of U.N. reform (truly critical and imperative, yes); we often forget that all the problems of the U.N. don't just stem from fils Kojo Annan. Indeed, this is why I have often been a U.N. skeptic. There was no real action or unanamity of resolve with regard to massive humanitarian tragedies like Rwanda, Bosnia or Kosovo through the 90s in the halls of the United Nations. Which is what so often put the lie to the hyper-legalistic reasoning of those who opposed the war in Iraq because it didn't get a second UNSC resolution (witness, in the UK, the faux-debate of whether the Iraq war was "legal" or not). If the war in Iraq was illegal, well, so were the NATO interventions in Bosnia and in Kosovo. But that didn't make those actions morally dubious and worthy of round castigation as Iraq was greeted in so many quarters. There are many reasons for this, of which more another day. But Saddam Hussein was every bit as monstrous a leader (if not worse) than Slobodan Milosevic or Radovan Karadzic or Ratko Mladic. We shouldn't forget this.

Posted by Gregory at May 7, 2005 04:56 AM | TrackBack (18)
Comments

I have been reading Madame Secretary - the Madeline Albright autobiog. In reading it, it surprised me that I had forgotten how much the US worked to sink Boutros Boutros Ghali and replace him with the rising star, the best of the best, the most capable Kofi Annan. It was supposed to usher in a whole new era of possibility for the UN...

Posted by: Dundare at May 7, 2005 05:21 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

dundare: yes, yes...i think i remember. the excitement was palpable!

Posted by: anon at May 7, 2005 05:37 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

There are many reasons for this, of which more another day. But Saddam Hussein was every bit as monstrous a leader (if not worse) than Slobodan Milosevic or Radovan Karadzic or Ratko Mladic. We shouldn't forget this.

nor should we forget that Saddam's worst excesses were the result of either US encouragement (vis a vis the Iran-Iraq war) or resulted from US attempts to undermine/overthrow his regime at a time when his hold on power was tenuous --- the mass killings that accompanied the Kurdish uprisings and the Shia uprisings in the south in the wake of the first US-Iraq war. And we shouldn't forget that although far from admirable, Iraq's human rights record was improving in the years prior to our invasion--- the number of people killed for "political" reasons in Iraq was quantified with the word "scores" in the year prior to our most recent invasion --- and although "scores" is certainly unacceptable in principle, it pales in comparison to the tens upon tens of thousands of Iraq's that have died in the last two years thanks to Bush's imperialism.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at May 7, 2005 08:41 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

p. lukasiak will no doubt next expound on how the US mind-controlled Hitler into performing the final solution.

For some people, every evil in the world comes down to America's fault. Go back to your copy of "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man" and leave the adults alone.

Posted by: Matthew Cromer at May 7, 2005 02:19 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

A regime dedicated to murdering all its internal enemies doesn't get credit for improving its human rights record the year after it finishes the job.

With a little imagination, you know, it is possible to find many reasons to fault George Bush without making excuses for the very worst elements of humanity. What a pity that for some American liberals "with a little imagination" is such an important qualifier.

Posted by: JEB at May 7, 2005 03:18 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

A regime dedicated to murdering all its internal enemies doesn't get credit for improving its human rights record the year after it finishes the job.

Iraq is full of people who were opposed to the Saddam regime, and survived. I suggest that you look at the Iraqi parliament --- the vast majority of its members lived in Iraq the entire time.

Governments become more repressive the more threatened they are from the outside. Saddam was no worse than most of Bush's middle eastern "allies" in the war on terror before the US encouraged both the Kurds and the Shia to rise up against him, and encouraged numerous plots to overthrow or assasinate him.

Wingnut have this extraordinary ability to demonize only those who are opposed to the US, and finding the same actions done by US "allies" to be perfectly acceptable--- indeed, Bushco is deliberately sending "detainees" to other nations to be subjected to the worst kinds of torture imaginable. And as a result, the US's standing in the world community has never been lower, thanks to Bush and his hypocrisy.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at May 7, 2005 05:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

To summarize:

Saddam not quite so bad.

Saddam, threatened by evil America [or, lest we forgot, working with America], bad!!!!!

"For some people, every evil in the world comes down to America's fault."

Correct, same notes to every song. Rwanda, Somalia, Iraq, West Bank, Sudan, they'll find what they're looking for.

Posted by: Cutler at May 7, 2005 07:11 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Correct, same notes to every song. Rwanda, Somalia, Iraq, West Bank, Sudan, they'll find what they're looking for

I''ve yet to see anyone claim that the horrors that are occuring/have occurred in places like Rwanda, Somalia, and Sudan are related to US policy in the same fashion as Saddam's atrocities. And although the West Bank situation is far more complicated, US culpability for anti-Israeli violence is far less direct than with Iraq.

Like most right-wingers, rather than acknowledge that something a leftist says is correct, you immediately assume that they engage in the same flawed logic that you do. Its a nasty habit that you should try to break.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at May 7, 2005 10:46 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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