Daily Archives: 23 June 2005

Lind on the UN, US, and Utopian Illusions

In the fateful month of March 2003, Michael Lind published an op-ed in The Australian entitled Future world stability does not require either a US or a UN hegemony. Here’s how it concludes.

The rival conceptions of the UN as world government and the US as world governor are two versions of the same utopian illusion. The only realistic method of maintaining a minimal degree of order in international affairs is world governance neither by all nor by one but by some. When the great powers of a given era compete, the results are expensive and lethal proxy wars or direct conflicts. However, when the great powers form a concert and collaborate in managing regional crises, the chances for a nonviolent, if not necessarily just, world are maximised.

This was the perception of 20th-century realists such as Theodore Roosevelt, who envisioned a US-British-French alliance as an alternative to US president Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations after World War I, and it inspired Roosevelt’s hopes for a US-British-Soviet concert after World War II.

The relative success of NATO in the Balkans suggests an approach to world order that requires neither collective security under the UN nor collective acquiescence to the US. Most so-called global problems, including Iraq and North Korea, are actually regional problems and should be dealt with chiefly by those great powers that have the greatest interest in doing so, in addition to the greatest capability to act.

The hype about the US as the sole global superpower obscures the fact the US is best described as a multi-regional great power. Both the US and Russia, among the great powers, have a stake, for reasons of geography alone, in what goes on in Europe and North-East Asia. Russia, bordering on many Muslim nations, arguably has a greater interest in the Middle East and Central Asia than does the US, which has been the hegemon in the Persian Gulf only since the first Gulf War. BECAUSE neither the US nor Russia colonised the Middle East, Russo-American co-operation in the region might have more legitimacy than interventions by the former colonial powers of Britain and France (although US acquiescence in Israeli extremism hurts US legitimacy).

By the same realist logic, the North Korean crisis ought to be addressed not by all (the UN) nor by one (the US) but by some – the US, Japan, Russia, China and South Korea, the states with the greatest stake in the outcome. Unlike the Bush administration’s collection of bribed and opportunistic client states, these regional coalitions, to be perceived as legitimate, would have to include more great powers than one.

The alternative to the false utopias of UN world governance and US world governance, then, is not global chaos, as the rival proponents of the two schools of collective security and unilateralism claim. Rather, the alternative is a sustainable system in which different groups of great powers collaborate to resolve regional problems on an ad hoc basis.

Such an approach is not likely to inspire the visionaries who dream of world federation or world empire. But the 20th century should have taught us that there is nothing more dangerous than visionaries wielding power.

Even when Lind fails to convince me, I do admire his pragmatism (and even his cold-blooded foreign policy Realism to some extent) but I appreciate most of all his provocative failure to adhere to the standard partisan talking points.

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Filed under China, Korea

Haiti, 1993: The UN Bugout

The cook runs into the kitchen in a panic.

“They killed him, they killed him,” she screams, shaking and weeping.

I turn on the radio to find they’ve gunned down Guy Malary, Aristide’s justice minister, in the middle of town in broad daylight. I drive down there right away but it’s all over. His overturned car is riddled with bullets; his body, his driver’s, and his bodyguard’s are all lying inert among broken glass in the street in front of the church. I return home, nothing I can do. The cook says she wants to run into the hills. You can take to the hills, but there are no trees left to hide you. You can kneel in a church, or lie in a hospital bed, but there’s no sanctuary if the macoutes have orders to kill you. You might as well just put your affairs in order and wait for them at home.

The mission is imploding because of a tragedy in Mogadishu that has nothing to do with us. I receive a radio message to muster at the Hotel Christopher downtown. The parking lot is an ocean of white UN-marked Land Cruisers: it could be a Toyota convention. CNN is filming from the back of the meeting hall as the UN chief of mission announces that it is no longer safe for us to work and we are to evacuate immediately across the border to the Dominican Republic. Silence. Then as the news sinks in, an angry, confused buzz spreads across the room. Dozens of hands shoot up with a torrent of questions.

“What about our Haitian staff?”

“They’re staying?”

“What do we do with the computer files and the database of witness statements?”

“Destroy them quickly?”

“How do we protect the witnesses? The macoutes will kill them if we leave?” More silence. The staff are angry now and a young observer, shaking, voice cracking, leaps up and shouts, “Who made the evacuation decision, did you?” There’s a long, uncomfortable pause.

“UN Headquarters in New York together with UN Security here on the ground in coordination with the American Embassy.” He’s already being vague, trying to dilute the blame that will surely follow.

“Sorry, no more questions. The first plane leaves in three hours. We’re calling in all staff from around the country, and the second plane will leave tomorrow morning. And there’s a ten-pound baggage limit, so pack only essentials.”

The meeting breaks up and suddenly, from one minute to the next, life is totally changed. Observers are crying and you can feel the beginning of a roiling panic in the parking lot. Hysteria is contagious, so I get out of there quickly….

We just showed Haitians that our lives are more valuable than theirs. The logic of the mission was ours, not theirs, and so is the logic of our retreat. “Tell us the truth and we will seek justice” was our idea. “It’s too dangerous and we must evacuate” is our privilege. Neither applies to the Haitians. A ship with soldiers arrives at the dock and exits the dock. Haitians have no exit.

The most basic principle they teach you at medical school, years before you even get to touch your first patient, is “First, do no harm.” But harm is exactly what we’ve done, identifying the next victims for the assassins running Haiti. It was a vicious setup from the beginning.

SOURCE: Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures: A True Story from Hell on Earth, by Kenneth Cain, Heidi Postlewait, and Andrew Thomson (Miramax Books, 2004), pp. 172-174

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Filed under Caribbean, NGOs, war

Somalia, 1993: Questions for the White House

The president’s spokesperson, Dee Dee Myers, is on CNN. If I have to listen to Dee Dee Myers explain the military scenario in Mogadishu one more time, I’m going to projectile vomit on the screen. She sounds like the PR chick from a record label, describing why this year’s album sales are, um, not down, but they’re just not what we hoped for. The other one, Jamie Rubin, the spokesman for Madeleine Albright, is worse. He’s the junior vice president for sales at the same record label, two years out of business school. We’ve got a really great new foreign policy idea, it’s going to be a super-great way to defeat evil in the nineties, really. It’s great. And it’s new. And it’s an idea. Really.

It’s now an official ceasefire; we no longer intend to capture Aidid. Dee Dee calls it a “shift in focus,” not a change, and adds her insight that, as a matter of fact, Aidid is a “clan leader with a substantial constituency in Somalia,” and therefore we have to negotiate with him, not fight. Last week he was a war criminal the pursuit of whom was worthy of American lives; this week he’s a corrupt but popular alderman from the south side of Chicago.

Dee Dee’s taking questions from reporters now. I have a question, Dee Dee. Aidid was to be arrested for killing twenty-four Pakistanis in June, and then was pardoned for the crime and resurrected as a credible negotiating partner after killing eighteen Americans in October. What’s the message if the policy of accountability for the crime of attacking peacekeepers is abandoned after a successful repetition of the same crime? How can the policy our soldiers died for reverse the next day, because of their death?

Dee Dee’s not taking questions from Mogadishu today.

SOURCE: Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures: A True Story from Hell on Earth, by Kenneth Cain, Heidi Postlewait, and Andrew Thomson (Miramax Books, 2004), p. 178

But see Mickey Kaus’s review of Black Hawk Down for a list of pointed questions about the failures of the U.S. and UN commanders on the ground in Mogadishu.

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Filed under Africa, U.N., U.S., war