Category Archives: United Nations

België moet vol inzetten op multilaterale samenwerking

Eerst verschenen in Mo* Magazine (online).

België moet vol inzetten op multilaterale samenwerking

Drie miljard euro investeren in hernieuwbare, lokale energiebronnen in België geeft mogelijk een betere return-on-security dan nieuwe gevechtsvliegtuigen.

Veiligheid gaat natuurlijk al lang niet meer over het bewaken van de landsgrenzen.

We identificeren bedreigingen verder van huis; kleine brandjes blussen voorkomt groter onheil. Van interne tot regionale of zelfs internationale conflicten. Vroeger ingrijpen is beter, bij voorkeur voor er gevochten wordt.

Conflicten maken noodzakelijk deel uit van de menselijke conditie. Mensen, groepen van mensen, landen, bedrijven hebben verschillende belangen. Dat maakt verandering en vooruitgang mogelijk. Kleine landen hebben er belang bij om zichzelf in een groter kader in te schakelen zodat hun belangen niet geschaad worden. Tijdens de Koude Oorlog besloot België dat NAVO-lidmaatschap de beste garanties bood voor haar territoriale en politieke soevereiniteit.

Meer dan twintig jaar na de Val van de Muur probeert de NAVO andere rollen uit. In Afghanistan moest de organisatie een peperduur Amerikaanse avontuur van ruggensteun en legitimiteit voorzien. Onderbemand en op louter militaire leest geschoeid kwam er van de vooropgestelde doelen – democratisering, ontwikkeling, vrouwenrechten – weinig in huis.

De uitbreiding van de organisatie zelf, naar bijvoorbeeld Oekraïne, blijkt meer en meer een factor van instabiliteit. Heeft België voldoende gewicht binnen het bondgenootschap om die zwalpende, gevaarlijke koers bij te stellen? En indien niet, durven we dan onze (dure) conclusies te trekken?

Realpolitiek

media_xl_752128België is meestal geen directe partij in conflicten, maar ervaart wel de impact van conflicten tussen derden: vluchtelingenstromen, verloren investeringen van Belgische bedrijven, enzovoort. In deze onrustige tijden is het oké om Realpolitiek te voeren, maar dan liefst binnen het kader van de VN. Het buitenspel zetten van die organisatie en het eigengereide optreden van onder andere een aantal NAVO-partners heeft bijgedragen aan de huidige chaos in het Midden-Oosten.

Het machtsvacuüm in Irak, het helpen verwijderen van Khadaffi in Libië zonder follow-up plan, het bewapenen van deze of gene partij in de Syrische burgeroorlog… kunnen vergeeflijk “westerse” zonden genoemd worden. Een alternatief daarvoor is geen onrealistische dromerij, maar pure noodzaak. Alleen zo kan de metastase van dat conflict naar Europa gestopt worden.

Veiligheid wil ook zeggen minder afhankelijk worden van invoer uit onstabiele gebieden of uit landen die die afhankelijkheid als politieke pasmunt gebruiken.

België moet vol inzetten op multilateraal. Een actieve rol in een geherwaardeerde VN. Veiligheid wil ook zeggen minder afhankelijk worden van invoer uit onstabiele gebieden of uit landen die die afhankelijkheid als politieke pasmunt gebruiken. Drie miljard euro investeren in hernieuwbare, lokale energiebronnen in België geeft mogelijk een betere return-on-security dan nieuwe gevechtsvliegtuigen.

Inzetten op eerlijke handel, duurzame ontwikkeling, partnerschappen aangaan met de allerzwakste landen betekent niet alleen het indammen van (economische) vluchtelingenstromen nu, maar ook nauwe banden met de dankbare tijgers van morgen. In datzelfde licht moet een verdere verstrenging van de regels voor de Belgische wapenexport gezien worden, helaas nog steeds geen vanzelfsprekendheid.

Europese samenwerking

Bij meer Europese militaire samenwerking de volgende bedenking: zal een hypothetische krachtige EU-defensiepoot een minder kortzichtige economische invulling geven aan veiligheid en roekeloos eigenbelang dan de op zijn laatste benen lopende Amerikaanse unipolaire wereld? Het valt te betwijfelen of concurrerende militaire blokken vrede bevorderen.

De markt werkt niet als het op veiligheid aankomt. Dat kan je zien op microschaal in de VS, waar iedereen zichzelf min of meer naar believen bewapent en verdedigt. Op macroschaal hebben we ettelijke millennia aan menselijke geschiedenis om uit te putten.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Brussels, Europe, Globalisering, International Affairs, United Nations, Verenigde Naties

Afghanistan – A moment of reflection.

Afghanistan – A moment of reflection.

walkom3As the United States deposits tens of thousands more boots on Afghan soil, in addition to the roughly 65.000 soldiers already there, launching an Iraq-like ‘surge’ in a bid to recapture what’s been euphemistically dubbed ‘momentum’, a brief instant of reflection might be in order. On reflection, dictionary.com offers, among other things, the following definition: Something, such as light, radiant heat, sound, or an image, that is reflected. Reflection thusly interpreted purports to mean the image, light, or lack thereof returned to the brain of he or she whose ray-like mental beams have chosen to dwell on any given topic of interest. Applied to Afghanistan, and the conflict currently raging there between Western troops and the local peasantry, a keen observer’s laser-guided focus mostly yields but a dim glow in return, scarcely enough on a nightly errand of sanitary import to avoid tripping over one’s nonchalantly disposed off slippers. If applying copious lengths of unsightly fluorescent tape is the way forward, so be it. Safety first!

Safety first.

Which is, coincidentally, exactly why we, the amalgamated, amorphous and often nebulously circumscribed West, providing the bulk of NATO’s personnel soldiering under the banner of ideals featured prominently in Western constitutions, bankrolled by Western tax payers, are in Afghanistan to begin with. Safety. Our safety.

Jokes aside, obviously it isn’t good to leave any turf, in this case about 650.000 square kilometers of the stuff, devoid of law, order, and full of bearded extremists. That’s like leaving Ferris Bueller in charge of Jay Leno’s rare car collection. No good can come of it. Afghans need, and deserve stability, good government, like those of the 42 nations currently embroiled in providing them with just that such as Luxembourg, Denmark, and Azerbaijan. History amply demonstrates the heterogeneous, mercurial, and often fierce mountain folk’s inability to abide the kind of rule-based society Westerners enjoy, or even show a modicum of effort or talent in maintaining its territorial integrity against foreign armies, like that of Alexander the Great (330 BC), the Arab conquest (642–1187), Genghis Khan (1220), Timur Lank (1383), the British (First Anglo-Afghan War, 1838–1842), the British (Second Anglo-Afghan War, 1878–1880), the Soviets (1979-1989), and finally, the American-led international coalition forces (2001-?), the first wholly altruistic invasion in the fractious nation’s history.

The glass is a quarter-full, but used to be empty.

Human rights defenders are rightly aglow listing the many achievements wrought since 2001. Especially in the sphere of education and healthcare, statistics such as a 350% increase in school enrollment rates, a 21% drop in infant mortality, or 700 new health clinics built by USAID alone since the Taliban ouster, are staggering. And yet, after almost a decade of enlightened rule, seven million children still do not attend school and, according to UNICEF, 30% of primary school age kids are working, often as the sole source of income for their family. According to the CIA fact book, in 2009 Afghanistan still had the third-highest infant mortality in the world, with 151.59 deaths of infants under one year old per 1,000 live births in the same year actually worse than in 2003 (142.48). For comparison, in Sweden that number is 2.75. The figures are nonetheless a spectacular success story for the West’s now 9-year commitment in the desolate Silk Road nation. If you think any less so, allied sources are quick to point out baddies causing insecurity, a resurging Taliban rendering the kind of state-building and nation-building Afghans need, nigh impossible. Safety first. School-burning, women-hating zealots are to blame for setbacks, not chronic under-funding of civilian reconstruction, health care, and education. After all, spending roughly 2000 USD per day per NATO soldier on the ground, not a whole lot remains for social engineering.

Bringing Afghanistan into the modern world.

imagesThe West reaches a helping hand. Obscurantist, medieval Taliban warriors are holding back the sands of time. They must be helped to respect life, and embrace the future. Depending on the source, insurgent terrorists have been responsible in the past 9 years for 3419 to 4969 civilian deaths. Coalition forces meanwhile have over the same period been able to avert between 5317 and 8109 civilians from dying atrociously at the hands of terrorists. Their demise was merely tragic, accidental, very unfortunate, or more often merely Taliban propaganda badmouthing NATO’s forces of peace and love, who will always launch a full-scale investigation into reports that have yet to be independently verified. Welcome to the information-driven 21st century.

But seriously.

The Taliban regime that held sway between 1997 and 2001 ushered in a backward brand of Islam, oppression for women, blowing up ancient Buddha statues and, after decades of civil war and Mad Max-style apocalyptic breakdown, about enough stability for Unocal, of El Segundo, California, to negotiate building a gas pipe-line from Turkmenistan to Pakistan. In 1998, Dick Cheney, then chief executive of Halliburton, then the world’s biggest oil services company, remarked: “I cannot think of a time when we have had a region emerge as suddenly to become as strategically significant as the Caspian.”

On 12 February of the same year John Maresca, vice president for international relations of the Unocal Corporation, in front of the U.S. Interests In The Central Asian Republics hearing before the Sub Committee on Asia and the Pacific of the Committee on International Relations House of Representatives stated:

The Caspian region contains tremendous untapped hydrocarbon reserves. Just to give an idea of the scale, proven natural gas reserves equal more than 236 trillion cubic feet. The region’s total oil reserves may well reach more than 60 billion barrels of oil. Some estimates are as high as 200 billion barrels. In 1995, the region was producing only 870,000 barrels per day. By 2010, western companies could increase production to about 4.5 million barrels a day, an increase of more than 500 percent in only 15 years. If this occurs, the region would represent about 5 percent of the world’s total oil production.”

Make my day.

While in Hamburg a tight-knit group of Saudis whiled away the days downloading porn from the internet and learning to fly commercial airliners, Taliban negotiators held competing negotiations with Bridas, an Argentinian company and subsequently failed to strike a deal with Unocal. With the luxury of hindsight, the Afghans might have reflected differently.

Soon, no amount of fluorescent tape could keep them from grasping the modern way of going about things. But you know, I really shouldn’t have written all that. We really are spending all those precious billions for all the right reasons. Afghans really love their schools and hospitals, even if the latter are built to make us feel better, and the former to keep us dumb.

Leave a comment

Filed under Afghanistan, International Affairs, United Nations, United States

The ICC indictment of Sudan’s leadership merits a balanced appraisal.

The ICC indictment of Sudan’s leadership merits a balanced appraisal.

Omar-al-Bashir-220_978259fIn July 2008 the International Criminal Court submitted, upon request of the United Nations Security Council, charges of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in Darfur, Sudan against the president of that country Omar Al-Bashir, having already done so for Sudanese Humanitarian Affairs minister Harun and a local militia leader. None have so far been brought into custody, nor will this likely happen in the near or even remote future.

Politically motivated,” cried the Sudanese government. “Double standards, and neo-colonial bullying,” charged African, Arab and many European commentators. America’s tacit welcoming of the ruling, itself not a signatory and fierce opponent of the Court, surprised few, given Sudan’s oil-laden geology. This in turn explains the eerily quiet wind blowing from China, which meets close to seven percent of its oil imports from the regime in Khartoum. (Credible) conspiracy theories aside, many analysts fear a Sudanese backlash, a hardening of positions, undermining a tenuous peace process, turning out more harmful in the end to the very people the court ruling is supposed to rush to the aid of.

All of the above is true. The ICC, brought to life in 2002, has picked out small fries, a sitting leader of an Arab state at that, the adverse connotations of which have not gone unnoticed in the region. In many ways the ICC merely ups the ante, shielding behind the cloak of internationalism, self-interested policies and the chess of jostling powers that weaker states have historically been victim, at best spectator to.

And yet. We cannot dismiss the notion that the voices raised against the ruling, and hence in defense of a government that at best utterly fails to act in defense of its own citizens, with horrible consequences, are all but devoid of ulterior motives. The court’s ruling is indeed a heavily politicized one, but so would a now hypothetical decision to the contrary.

In the extreme, currying favor with the regime in Sudan inculpates one to the charge of wishing to secure access to the nation’s natural resources, while proponents of the ruling are accused of wishing a regime change for the sake of gaining a toehold to those same resources. Concurrently, some advocates of the court’s decision aspire to draw away attention from their own misdeeds in the human rights arena, while detractors fear the legal dire straits such a precedent might put them in. Worse infringements occur in other places. Why intervene here? Indeed, arguments and ammunition are easily found in support of either position.

To those with no material stake in the imbroglio the question then boils down to one of inclination, optimistic or pessimistic, as to the ability of the mechanisms hitherto employed to alleviate and ultimately solve a question of extreme human suffering. Do the actions of the ICC represent something new, or should such the instrument be seen as merely the sum of its constituent parts, a continuation of old policies, lorded by self-interested nation-states? Can the ICC transcend the balance of powers or the lack and turbulent search thereof? Is the ICC, in plain English, capable of saving lives? The wider question should, but perhaps given the inchoate state of the institution, cannot easily be disentangled from the concrete case of Darfur before it.

International bodies are only as effective as their participating countries allow them to become. A prime example is arguably the United Nations, once paralyzed by the cold-war stalemate, somewhat invigorated since, but of yet hamstrung by its veto-wielders’ reluctance to reform and adapt to changing international relations. Perhaps the ICC, an organization that is legally speaking not part of the UN, can play a reinforcing, complementary role, hand-in-glove with the trend of expanding international laws. Whether the challenge of justice-over-the-weak vs. justice-for-all can be overcome only time will tell.

The shifting of the balance, toward universal success vs. a quick demise of the ICC will take place in the penumbra of smaller nations, between ardent supporters and stern detractors. Those countries seeking an advantage in opposing the court now, might one day find themselves in need of more robust international policing. The inverse, one should add, will arise just as easily.

The clear choice for governments here and now is between short-term self-interest and its long-term variant. The difference is significant. Today, two very passionate foes of expanded international jurisprudence, Israel and the United States, already find themselves applauding the court’s ruling on Darfur. A verdict according to double standards will only serve to accentuate those double standards and increase the pressure to address other, more complex, even more intractable conflicts. Alas, small fry first.

Last month’s ruling so far appears not to have unleashed the feared deterioration on the ground despite one senior Sudanese official reacting furiously, threatening to turn Darfur into a graveyard. On the contrary, the initial response of the Sudanese government has been one of increased responsiveness, at least in tone, to international pressure. With, perhaps a cynical stretch of the imagination, soon, white faces too will pop up in the dock at The Hague. If we include the ad hoc tribunal for Yugoslavia this has already happened. Of course, all gains, especially as modest as these, can be reversed. However, one must also recognize those gains, even as modest as these, for what they are; Timid beginnings, but beginnings nonetheless.

Leave a comment

Filed under Human Rights, International Affairs, Mensenrechten, United Nations, Verenigde Naties