“The whole world would fail”

After Jean-Marie Guéhenno’s comments last week on the perils of Darfur, here’s more plain speaking from a senior peacekeeper – in this case the Darfur mission’s commander, responding to a report criticizing his force…

General Martin Luther Agwai greeted the report’s recognition that the force was short of critical resources, saying that people had had unrealistic expectations. “If really you have an organisation that lacks critical resources and you expect that force to do magic then I think you are not being fair to the force,” he told the BBC.

He said many people had overlooked logistical constraints including delays at Sudan’s single sea port, and the large distance from the port to the area of operation in Darfur across land routes that are unusable during the rainy season. “People thought that things would work faster and better but the reality from the ground does not translate that way.”

But he also rejected concerns that the mission was doomed to fail, saying that it had the backing of the UN and the AU. “I’m not sure the United Nations and the African Union would want to fail because if they do, the whole world would fail. So based on that, I am optimistic.”

I find that optimism genuinely inspiring – analysts like me punch out our prophesies of doom while veteran peacekeepers get on with the actual job.  But I fear that the whole world may be keen to avoid a perception of failure in Darfur, while having no idea of how to achieve (or even define) “success”.  It’s Agwai’s task to provide as much security as he can with the resources he has.  But for how long?

Like watching a train wreck in… slow… motion…

Just when you thought it couldn’t look much bleaker for peacekeeping, a reminder that it can:

Sudan has again warned it cannot guarantee the safety of UN and African Union peacekeepers in Darfur if its president is indicted for war crimes. A presidential adviser said that if the International Criminal Court indicted Omar al-Bashir, Sudan could not be held responsible for the troops’ well-being.

Earlier this month, the ICC prosecutor asked judges in The Hague to issue an arrest warrant for President Bashir. The judges are expected to announce their decision in a few weeks’ time.

The adviser, Bona Malual, told the BBC the government was not expelling the joint UN/AU force, or even threatening the troops.

It was, he said, simply saying how Sudan would view the situation.

Peacekeeping in crisis: exactly how bad is it?

The fact that I think UN (and quite a lot of non-UN) peacekeeping is in crisis will not come as news to regular readers.  Indeed, a rapid search of my contributions to this blog over the last seven or eight months reveals that I’m not just the Boy who Cried Wolf about the future of UN ops, but the Boy who cried “Wolf!  W-w-wolf!! Really Big Wolf!!  Actually, it might be a Bear…”.  And so on ad nauseam

Earlier this year, I tried to step back and define what this time of troubles consists of, beyond the flow of bad news from Chad, Congo, Darfur, Kosovo, etc., etc.  The results of my musings were published today in that multi-million-selling glossy International Peacekeeping, under the subtle title “Peacekeeping in Crisis: 2006-08”.   For those who don’t want to spend their summer beach-time ploughing through 7,000 words of this stuff, here’s my argument in three parts:

  • Yes, this is a real crisis.  There is a school that argues that the UN is just being whiny.  It has managed to field 100,000 peacekeepers worldwide, far beyond its own predictions – and half its problems result from its own bureaucratic inflexibility, not real threats on the ground.  This is wrong.  The UN does have many internal flaws, but it is being asked to go to too many places at once, including places where peacekeeping stands no chance…
  • …like Darfur.  I argue, contrary to some optimists (including myself in an earlier, happier incarnation), that Darfur presents the UN with a systemic crisis.  Sudan’s success in blocking the deployment of a serious UN force for two years (and counting) has shown that its pretty easy to bring the UN to a halt, if you have sufficient political will and few morals.  I pick up on David and Alex’s concept of “intentional systems disruption”, which involves bringing down a complex system by exploiting its most vulnerable points – in the case of Darfur, those vulnerabilities have been (i) the UN’s political reliance on winning  consent for its operations, which Sudan has denied and (ii) its shortage of specialized assets like helicopters.  My hunch (shared by a lot of UN officials) is that Darfur is a textbook for how to block a UN operation that will be used elsewhere, weakening the whole system’s credibility…
  • …and yep, we see the UN’s vulnerabilities being exploited from the Congo to Afghanistan.  Getting all theoretical, I talk about a paradigmatic crisis for the UN: the idea of large-scale, multi-dimensional UN missions overseeing countries stumbling out of conflict may have run out of road.  That’s not only because nasty governments know how disrupt UN ops, but because the UN model for building liberal, democratic and Western-oriented regimes doesn’t make so much sense in a world defined by a fit of Western self-doubt.

Does that mean it’s all over for the UN?  No.  But, as the article concludes in a slightly bathetic fashion, we have to adjust to an environment in which UN operations can only deliver limited goods: some stability, perhaps, and a limited amount of time to do political deals and maybe get to work on early economic recovery (for guidance on that part, check out the excellent new study by my colleagues at CIC).  But not shiny and sustainable social democratic states.

Karadzic Goes Down!!!!!

As Richard’s reported, former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, accused of being responsible for the massacre of more than 100.000 Bosnian Muslims during the Bosnian War in the late 1990s, has finally been captured by Serb forces after 13 years on the run. 

This is nothing short of a momentous day for international justice and therefore deserves a double blog-entry. ICTY Prosecutor Serge Brammertz, who will prosecute Dr. K – as he was known – summed it up:

This is a very important day for the victims who have waited for this arrest for over a decade. It is also an important day for international justice because it clearly demonstrates that nobody is beyond the reach of the law and that sooner or later all fugitives will be brought to justice.

The date of Radovan Karadžić’s transfer into the Tribunal’s custody will be determined in due course, but the capture comes at a key moment, with ICTY’s sister court, the International Criminal Court, coming under fire for having indicted the Sudanese President Umar al-Bashir for war crimes in Darfur.

As readers of the blog will know, only a few weeks ago I voiced concerns about ICTY, pointing out that two key fugitives – Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic – were on the loose. Now I feel a lot better.

For the Serbian goverment too, this is crucial moment allowing President Boris Tadic to begin his country’s road towards European integration that was cruelly stopped when Prime Minister Zoran Dindic was killed.

“African ownership” strikes back

It’s ten days since seven UN troops were killed in Darfur – today, one more has been killed.  In between, there have been a series of events that raise big questions about the UN’s future in Africa.  First, there was the defeat of the US-UK effort to slap arms sanctions on Zimbabwe in the Security Council – notable less for China and Russia’s vetoes than the African Council members’ (pace Burkina Faso) rejection of the resolution.  Then there was the ICC decision to charge Sudan’s President Bashir with genocide in Darfur – again, the most striking part of the international response has been the level of African opposition, with the AU’s “Panel of the Wise” announcing the charges could “lead to a lot of danger”.

The convergence of these events may mark a turning-point in how Africa fits into the international system.  African leaders are setting limits on global governance. 

For most of the last decade, the continent has been a laboratory for international institutions: it has hosted the bulk of UN peacekeepers; been the testing-ground of the Millennium Development Goals (and so the G8’s efforts to hang with Bono); and was the ICC’s focus even before the Bashir indictment.  The AU has emerged as everyone’s favorite new regional institution, not least for taking on Darfur.

For quite a few commentators, myself included, it has been almost axiomatic over the last few years that better international institutions mean a better Africa.  But we mostly missed the politics of institution-building: the interests and ideologies of African governments, and the limits on their desire to be subsumed into supranational organizations (hey there, EU specialists, does this ring a bell with you?).  There’s been lots of talk of “African ownership” over all this institution-building, but it’s all too often hollow.  In May, I was at a seminar in Berlin at which the African participants gave the phrase a kicking (check out the event report).

It was never going to be possible to keep on piling international institution on international institution in Africa.  I wrote a short piece in October 2006 arguing that the UN might find itself “Out of Africa” sooner than expected –  that looked silly as the Security Council went on to mandate blue helmets for Darfur, and mused about sending them to Somalia.  But I may not have been so wrong.  It’s too early to know whether July 2008 is a turning-point or a blip in international engagement (or interference, depending on your perspective) in Africa.  But it should be the moment we start thinking what “African ownership” really means.

Chadian lessons in peacekeeping, part 3: humanitarians are irritating but wars are worse

The sense of chaos surrounding the EU Force in Chad grows by the day. After rebel groups praised an Irish contingent’s refusal to get involved in fighting and the government condemned their passivity, Javier Solana intervened yesterday to say that the peacekeepers are doing a “fantastic job” and can’t be blamed for anything. Right on cue, the spokesperson for the UN Refugees agency (UNHCR) in Chad blamed the EU Force (Eufor) for failing to protect its staff – which coincides with the government version of events. Here’s the UNHCR account of what happened:

Irish troops were fired at on Saturday while observing clashes between the Chadian army and 800 heavily-armed rebels just outside the eastern Chad town of Goz Beida, about three miles from where 430 Irish troops are based. The Irish fired warning shots. They then took up a defensive position around the refugee camps and internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps they are responsible for protecting.

The rebels advanced into Goz Beida and looted a UNHCR compound and house. Items were stolen including satellite telephones and fuel. Some of the staff were threatened at gunpoint and shots were discharged, destroying computers. UNHCR spokesperson Annette Rehrl said the UNHCR staff were left traumatised.

“The Irish troops in Goz Beida were not able to protect [UN staff] or prevent the looting because they simply were not there. They are here to protect us but they didn’t protect anything. There was shooting going on and they did not appear. Their mandate is to protect refugees, displaced persons and humanitarian staff, including the UN.” The UNHCR has now suspended its activities in eastern Chad due to the deteriorating security situation.

Well, that was yesterday. But here’s news just in from Irish broadcaster RTE:

Speaking on RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland, Irish Defence Minister Willie O’Dea said the Defence Forces had acted when they were informed of the incident and moved more than 200 humanitarian staff to their base, Camp Ciara. He said he had received thanks from UN staff on the ground and, this morning, also received an apology for the criticism that had been levelled at the Defence Forces from the UNHCR spokeswoman.

So that’s all good, although Mr. O’Dea has had to cancel a tour of the refugee camps due to the security situation. Whatever the truth of this episode, it demonstrates the gaps that still exist between peacekeepers and humanitarians in crisis-spots – gaps that the UN has tried to address through its “integrated missions” concept, but are bound to be exacerbated when you add other organizations like the EU to the mix. But as trenchant Africa expert Alex de Waal points out to the BBC, this isn’t a situation that can be resolved through better doctrine. With Chad accusing Sudan of assisting the rebels, he’s calling this an “international war”:

“The European Union force in Chad has been caught in a bit of a trap – most of the troop contributing countries do not want to get involved in a shooting war; they don’t want to be partisan. Trying to keep the peace when there’s no peace to keep is actually an impossible mandate, so the European Union troops have essentially decided to keep their heads down and stay out of the war as it begins to unfold.”

The troops may be keeping their heads down, but many European politicians – caught up with the “crisis” of the Lisbon Treaty – will want to bury their heads in the sand on this one. The EU is in a war and it doesn’t even know it yet.