US Has Good Cause to Seek Reductions in Contributions to UN

First Phase Digital

March 20, 2017 – At a time when the United Nations is seeking funds to address massive humanitarian crises in Yemen, South Sudan and Somalia, reports that the Trump administration is seeking to cut its funding to the world body by up to half are particularly unwelcome.

The United States is by far the biggest contributor to the UN system, contributing 22 percent to the regular budget and also 28 percent to the peacekeeping budget. That it is a permanent member of the Security Council and that the UN headquarters is hosted in New York City go some way towards the US getting its money’s worth (the economic benefit to New York City from the UN is some $3.3 billion per year).

In truth, the UN is divided into two classes: the veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council, and all others, and it is the P5 who rule the roost at UN headquarters. The top jobs are divvied up among the five and they have the power to influence hiring and firing (witness last week’s ‘resignation’ of the secretary-general of ESCWA after angering Washington with a report that said Israeli treatment of Palestinians amounted to apartheid).

As researcher Cedric de Coning recently pointed out in a Twitter post, a fairer system of assessing dues would be for the permanent members of the Council to pay 10 percent each towards the regular budget, which would amount to about $1 billion each – a savings to the US of about $2 billion. Combined, the other four permanent members, Britain, France, China and Russia, pay less than 17%, with the UK and France paying some 6 percent, China, 3 percent and Russia less than two percent.

The UN could also make make life easier for itself and those it serves by imposing mandatory assessments to fund its aid programs, just as it does for the regular budget and the peacekeeping budget. Its dependence on voluntary contributions is not working and when crises emerge, as they constantly do, the UN is hamstrung by lack of money. But the UN also has to improve how it delivers aid and addresses crises. It can do this by continuing to focus on resilience and helping fragile countries increase local capacity.

The UN is vital but it is also a poorly managed bureaucratic labyrinth with some 30 funds, programs and agencies all vying for money and influence and oftentimes operating with overlapping mandates and duplicate efforts, wasting precious resources.

If the UN wants the new US administration to take it seriously then it must get serious about becoming more transparent on how its money is spent and shutting programs that are simply redundant or not working.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

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EU Countries Combined Provide the Same Number of UN Peacekeepers as Nepal

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Aug 24, 2015 – Latest figures from the UN Dept. of Peacekeeping Operations show that 24 of 28 EU member states provide police and troops to peacekeeping missions for a total current contribution of 5,204 peacekeepers.

That’s less than five percent of the current 104,000 troops deployed in 16 missions worldwide and less than the 5,332 peacekeepers that Nepal alone provides.

A majority of EU states provide only tens of peacekeepers while others are in the low hundreds.

The top five EU troop contributing countries to UN peace operations are:

Italy – 1,111
France – 906
Netherlands – 681
Spain – 616
Ireland – 371

Bulgaria, Latvia, Luxembourg and Malta are the four EU countries that are currently not providing any troops to UN missions.

Among those providing the least peacekeepers are Cyprus, 2, Portugal, 3, Belgium, 5, Czech Republic, 13, and Croatia, 15.

Permanent UN Security Council member the UK provides 287 peacekeepers, which is less than fellow permanent member France but significantly more than Russia, 76, and the US, 78. China leads the way among permanent members providing 3,078 troops. The US is the biggest financial contributor to UN peacekeeping.

While Sweden is a strong supporter of the UN, it does not make the top five for contributing personnel to peacekeeping with a total current contribution of 279 police and troops combined. Fellow Nordic countries Finland and Denmark are providing 338 and 49 peacekeepers respectively. Non EU-member Norway is providing 97 peacekeepers.

Germany, which has aspirations of a permanent Security Council seat, provides 175 peacekeepers to current UN missions while neighbors Austria are contributing 191 personnel.

The tiny Baltic countries Estonia and Lithuania are providing four and 43 peacekeepers respectively.

The burden of peacekeeping is shared among South Asian and African nations with Bangladesh currently the top contributor, providing 9,398 peacekeepers, followed by Ethiopia, 8,309, India, 7,960, Pakistan, 7,665, and Rwanda, 5,600.

A summit on providing troops to peacekeeping operations will be held during the 70th General Assembly which opens in September.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

NPT Conference Sparks Calls for New Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons

No_nukes_tidyman
May 22, 2015 – The merits of a new treaty banning nuclear weapons have been debated over the past month in UN conference rooms during the five-year review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which ends today in New York.

Among the reasons cited by advocates of a ban are the reluctance of nuclear armed states to meet their disarmament commitments and that nuclear weapons are the only weapons of mass destruction not banned by treaty, with chemical and biological weapons covered under separate conventions.

But the biggest reason cited is new information on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons. “We’re learning more every day as new documents become declassified and made available,” said Thomas Nash, director of the advocacy group Article 36. In some cases he said the research shows that “sheer luck has prevented the detonation of nuclear warheads.”

The growing information about the catastrophic consequences of nuclear weapons prompted an international conference in Oslo in 2013 on that very issue and concluded:

It is unlikely that any state or international body could address the immediate humanitarian emergency caused by a nuclear weapon detonation in an adequate manner and provide sufficient assistance to those affected… While political circumstances have changed, the destructive potential of nuclear weapons remains.

A follow-up conference in Vienna lead to what has become known as the Humanitarian Pledge, which calls for “effective measures to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons and we pledge to cooperate with all stakeholders to achieve this goal.”

“What’s happening now is that because of this deeper frustration at the lack of progress and the intransigence of countries with nuclear weapons, I think states are saying we’re not going to wait for you, we’re going to move forward on negotiations for a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons even without the nuclear armed states,” Article 36′s Nash said.

So far, 99 countries* have signed on to the pledge, which, as Nash acknowledges, does not outright call for an international treaty banning nuclear weapons but for “effective measures to fill the legal gap” prohibiting these weapons. He said the greatest pushback against the calls for a treaty for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons have come from the UK who have said that it would be “like a referendum on the NPT and that it would basically undermine the NPT.”

“It only undermines the NPT if you see the NPT as something that legitimizes your position on nuclear weapons and the problem is that that is precisely what countries inside the NPT with nuclear weapons see the NPT as,” Nash said. While the NPT prohibits non-nuclear weapons states from acquiring such weapons it also calls for the recognized nuclear powers to disarm – which is not happening.

“They think it’s a great treaty that allows them to keep their nuclear weapons. It gives them special status,” he said, adding that France, the US and the UK are engaged in revisionism arguing that the NPT is not about disarmament, it’s about non-proliferation – even though disarmament is one of the three pillars of the NPT along with non-proliferation and the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

While it’s not clear if all of the 99 countries* that have so far signed the Austrian Pledge are in favor of a treaty to ban nuclear weapons or some other steps to fill the “legal gap,” what is clear is that the countries absent from the pledge are the nuclear armed states as well as NATO members and other countries that are in a security alliance with nuclear states.

Alyn Ware, a longtime disarmament campaigner and member of the World Future Council, said the calls for a treaty among like-minded countries for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons are understandable as the nuclear weapons states are not yet prepared to abolish nuclear weapons. Under this scenario, non-nuclear countries would negotiate a treaty without waiting for the nuclear armed states and those countries in nuclear-weapons alliances to join.

“Such a treaty could be concluded quite quickly” he said. “However, a problem is that it would only apply to those countries that join. It would not impact on the policies of the nuclear-armed states and their allies. Another problem with the proposal is that there does not appear to be even a majority of the non-nuclear countries in support. When the proposal was discussed in the United Nations Open Ended Working Group on Taking Forward Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament Negotiations, a number of non-aligned countries indicated that they would not support a treaty like this that placed new obligations on them, but no additional obligations on the nuclear armed states.”

“Another type of ban treaty, one that might have more impact, would be one banning the use of nuclear weapons as a measure leading towards nuclear disarmament. You could probably capture more of the allied countries, maybe even some of the nuclear weapons states, in such a treaty” he said. “India has already put forward a proposal to the United Nations General Assembly on negotiating a convention to prohibit the use of nuclear weapons. It is a much shorter, and more realizable, step from this position to a ban on use, than it is to jump immediately to a ban on possession.”

Ware pointed out that the global ban on chemical weapons started first with a ban on use, followed by negotiations to achieve the Chemical Weapons Convention banning possession.

But campaigners for an outright ban say it is the only credible option, particularly as the draft final document of the NPT review conference, which has yet to be agreed on, reflects the views of the nuclear weapons states and their allies.

While an earlier draft noted the the growing interest in the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, the final draft now refers to a growing interest “among non-nuclear weapons states” in those consequences and raises doubts on other humanitarian concerns.

“It suggests that only non-nuclear-armed states and civil society learned anything about the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons over the last three years and argues that it is only the perception of some states that there could be no adequate response to a nuclear weapon detonation,” Ray Acheson of Reaching Critical Will wrote on Friday about the final draft. “States truly committed to disarmament must say ‘enough is enough’ to the nuclear-armed states. As of writing, 99 states* have endorsed the Humanitarian Pledge to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons. The pledge should be the basis for negotiations of a nuclear weapon ban treaty.”

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

*The Pledge has now been signed by 107 countries

US, France, UK Tops for UN Secretariat Staff

First Phase Digital
Feb. 10, 2015 – Ban Ki-moon’s imminent announcement of a replacement for Valerie Amos as head of OCHA has put UN hiring in the spotlight with the United Nations chief under pressure to make the appointment based on merit.

In reality, the UN Secretariat is a political battleground where, as described in Thant Myint-U and Amy Scott’s definitive The UN Secretariat: A Brief History (1945-2006), “the UN’s member states compete for power and influence and attempt to diminish the power and influence of others.”

The most recent Composition of the Secretariat report illustrates how political power and financial contributions impact hiring with just three of the 193 UN member states – the United States (2,611), France (1,484) and the UK (931) – accounting for almost 15 percent of the 41,426 Secretariat staff .

The Secretariat, which the UN Charter says “shall be comprised of a Secretary-General and such staff as the organization may require” essentially implements the resolutions of the General Assembly and Security Council, including managing peacekeeping operations, and also includes OCHA and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. It does not include specialized agencies such as UNICEF, UNDP and WHO.

Although US nationals contribute the most Secretariat staff, the Composition of the Secretariat report, which covers July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014, says that it is under-represented in staff numbers but France and the UK are over-represented.

The US is the largest contributor to the UN’s regular budget, accounting for 22 percent, or $655 million annually, whereas France provides 5.5 percent, $151 million, making it the fourth biggest contributor, while the UK, at 5.1 percent, or $140 million, is fifth.

Japan is the second biggest financial contributor to the regular budget, assessed at 10 percent, or $293 million, yet only 255 Secretariat staff are Japanese. Germany is the third biggest contributor, assessed at 7 percent, $193 million. There are 516 German nationals working for the Secretariat.

China and Russia account for 5 percent and 2.4 percent of the regular budget, contributing $139 million and $66 million respectively, and there are 450 Chinese nationals and 562 Russians working for the Secretariat.

Amos is the first female head of OCHA and Ban is under pressure from civil-society groups to improve the UN’s poor record on appointing women to senior posts. According to the Composition of the Secretariat report, only 19 of the 75 undersecretaries-general and just 16 of the 64 assistant secretaries-general are women.

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- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image/UN Photo

Scottish Independence Could Trigger Security Council Reform


Sept. 7, 2013 – A Yes vote in the Sept. 18th Scottish independence referendum could lead to the UK losing its permanent Security Council seat and trigger wider reform of the 15-nation body.

There is precedent in favor of such a scenario not happening. Following the breakup of the USSR in 1991, Russia notified the UN that it would assume the USSR permanent seat in the Council and the 11 former Soviet republics also wrote in favor of Russia taking the USSR seat. That was before calls for Security Council reform began in earnest, in the mid-1990s.

And since the end of the Cold War, clamor for reform has grown - most recently because of the failure of the 15-nation body to act on the situation in Syria.

Privately, non-permanent members of the Council have complained they are locked out of decision making by the P5, and in the wider UN membership there is a push for more transparency and accountability from the Council.

By what current logic should Europe possess two of the five permanent veto-wielding seats on the Security Council is also increasingly asked while Africa and Latin America have none.

An independent Scotland and EU member states may support a downsized UK – which would presumably have a new name – holding on to the old UK seat, but countries that aspire to a permanent seat – such as Argentina, Brazil, India, Mexico, Nigeria, Turkey and South Africa – could see a Scottish Yes vote as an opportunity to change the status quo in an outdated UN.

This year’s high-level segment of the General Assembly opens on Sept. 22nd, four days after the Scottish poll, and if speeches from recent years are an indication there will be more calls for reform of the Security Council, and the result of the Sept. 18 referendum may give those calls more legs.

Moreover, the UN charter is in dire need of reform. It still refers to Germany, Japan and Italy as enemy states and despite the succession of Russia to the USSR seat the charter still refers to the USSR, as well as the Republic of China, as holders of two of the permanent five seats.

But any change to the charter requires the consent of the P5 and they are united in upholding the status quo to hold on to their veto power and not open up the can of worms that could lead to the much needed reform the UN requires to reflect the world as it is today.

An independent Scotland would have to apply for membership of the UN, which should be an uncomplicated process.

 - Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Pillay Pitches Stronger Security Council Role for Successor

Special Session Human Rights Council
Aug. 21, 2014, Outgoing UN human rights commissioner, Navi Pillay, on Thursday suggested her successor provide informal monthly briefings to the Security Council to avert future crises.

Pillay’s pitch came after she scolded the 15-nation body over its inaction on crises during her tenure such as Syria, Gaza, Sri Lanka and Iraq. “I firmly believe that greater responsiveness by this Council would have saved hundreds of thousands of lives,” she said in her final address to the Council.

The South African jurist was appointed in 2008 for a four-year term but fell foul of the US over her criticism of Israel and was only given a two-year second term.

The Council tends to act when a humanitarian situation arises out of conflict but Pillay stressed that human rights abuses are evident for years, even decades, before a major crisis erupts and the Council must must do more to prevent, rather than react to, conflicts.

Pillay also said Ban Ki-moon can do more in providing early warning to the Council on emerging crises. Ban launched the Rights Up Front plan last year in response to the UN’s “systematic failure” in responding to the final months of the 2009 war in Sri Lanka.  The plan’s aim is to prevent human rights abuses by acting on early warnings of human rights abuses.

“Within Rights Up Front, the Secretary-General can be even more proactive in alerting to potential crises, including situations that are not formally on the Council’s agenda,” she said.

Article 99 of the UN Charter empowers the secretary-general to “bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.”

The human rights chief, who will be succeeded by Jordan’s outgoing UN envoy, Prince Zeid, also suggested the Council build on the new Arms Trade Treaty, “which requires arms exporters and importers to confirm that weapons will not be used to commit violations.”

“Where there are concerns about human rights in States that purchase arms, one condition of sale would be that they accept a small human rights monitoring team, with deployment funded by the Treaty’s Trust Fund,” she said.

The five permanent members of the Security Council are among the six biggest arms sellers in the world.

Prince Zeid assumes the role of high commissioner for human rights on Sept. 1. He has been succeeded as UN envoy by Dina Kavar, who becomes the sixth female ambassador to currently serve on the Council.

- Denis Fitzgerald 
On Twitter @denisfitz

 

Image/UN Photo

New Books on the ICC, Agenda Setting, and Irish Peacekeepers

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Aug. 18, 2014 – Three new books look at the power politics at play in the UN with respect to the International Criminal Court, the global advocacy movement, and UN peacekeeping.

In David Bosco’s rigorous account of the first ten years of the ICC, Rough Justice, the evolution of the Court is examined alongside the evolving role played by major powers, primarily the United States, but also including China, India and Russia – who were, and who mostly still are, distrustful of the Court, along with other powers who are mostly supporters of the Court – Brazil, Britain, France, Germany and South Africa.

Bosco notes that the US actively petitioned other countries to not ratify the Rome Statute but later abstained in a 2005 UN Security Council vote referring the situation in Sudan to the ICC (He also writes that later all permanent members of the Council were against the ICC indicting Sudanese Pres. Bashir). In 2011, the US voted for Resolution 1970 referring the situation in Libya to the Court, but the Council have not, as Bosco reminds us, included an enforcement mechanism or allocated funds for the investigations in both these cases.

While the Council has referred situations to the ICC, when the authors of the Goldstone Report on Israel’s invasion of Gaza in 2008 concluded that the violations “fall within the subject-matter jurisdictions of the International Criminal Court,” Bosco writes that then US envoy to the UN Susan Rice “privately emphasized to Israeli President Shimon Peres the US ‘commitment not to allow the issue to move from the Security Council to the International Criminal Court.’”

He adds that there is mounting evidence that the Court prefers to avoid situations involving big powers, citing Afghanistan as another example.

Among his conclusions on the first ten years of the ICC, Bosco writes that “the court has, for the most part, become a toolkit of major powers responding to instability and violence in weaker states” but so far there is little evidence that is has altered “political power realities.”

However, “the failure of the US-led marginalization campaign and other efforts to delay or defer court processes on political grounds signal that even major powers are limited in their ability to challenge frontally justice processes that have begun… however, that inability may have opened space for less obvious mechanisms for control.”

Charil Carpenter’s Lost Causes is concerned with what issues get promoted by “global advocacy elites.” As just one instance, she notes that “internal wars are an important concern for conflict prevention analysts but gangs and urban violence are on the margins of the global security agenda” (yet most armed violence occurs in countries not in armed conflict).

Carpenter’s book is sub-titled ‘Agenda Vetting in Global Issue Networks and the Shaping of Human Security’ and her theory, which she expounds on with several examples, is that advocacy elites choose issues not based “on their merits, or mandate, or the wider political context, but partly on calculations about the structure of their institutional relationships – to other actors, to other issues.”

The material is at times dense but the book is well organized and the topics the author chooses to illuminate her theory are well chosen, and it provides good insight into how the UN, particularly the Security Council and the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs, adopt positions. Carpenter writes that one advocate campaigning for compensation to families of civilians killed in conflict was advised not to contact the human rights officers at UN missions, who are mostly delegated to the UN’s third, or human rights, committee at the General Assembly, but instead to contact the person responsible for protection of civilians as these individuals are engaged with the Security Council which holds regular thematic debates on protection of civilians.

Michael Kennedy and Art Magennis’s Ireland, the United Nations and the Congo is a thoroughly researched account of the UN’s early peacekeeping forays using the experience of Ireland’s 6,200 troops contribution to the 1960 peacekeeping deployment to the Congo, ONUC.

Some of the insights are familiar to those who follow UN peacekeeping. That the government deploying the troops was more concerned about elevating its position and rank in the UN system than the welfare of the troops or the potential for success of the mission.

The book also examines the role of then secretary-general Dag Hammarskjold, the iconic Swede who later lost his life in a plane crash over Zambia which is still being investigated. “He had maintained strict overall command of ONUC and emerges from UN records on Congo and from his personal papers not as the neutral international servant with a ‘halo’ which is visible for a considerable distance,’ but as a calculating pro-Western and at times Machiavellian operator.”

The book is meticulously researched and while it examines events fifty years ago, there are many parallels to current debates on peacekeeping such as peace-enforcement, cover-ups of atrocities committed by blue helmets and the political calculations of troop contributing countries.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz