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Debate

1. In a world dominated by one superpower, what should the role of a collective security organization like the UN be?

Ian Johnstone,
Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy

The UN is a collective security organization, but with two important qualifications: no state is deprived of the right of self-defence and enforcement action can only be taken with the concurrence of the five permanent members of the Security Council. As such, it embodies both the spirit of multilateralism and hard-headed pragmatism about the role and interests of the great powers. The balance of global power may have changed with the end of the Cold War, but the balance between the ideal of collective security and the reality of power has not. Thus the UN can still play roles it always played: a place where states go to coordinate policy and seek agreement on new threats like terrorism, an instrument for managing peacekeeping and humanitarian missions, an honest broker between parties to a conflict. The UN has also played an important normative role in the past, which may be even more important in a world dominated by one superpower. The Charter itself embodies a set of shared values, and new norms relating to the use of force, human rights and democracy have been elaborated and spread through the work of the UN. Scholars have noted the "collective legitimation" function of international organizations: actions viewed with suspicion if undertaken unilaterally become more acceptable when endorsed collectively. One need not equate legitimacy with multilateralism to appreciate this "laundering" function. The simple truth is that power exercised on the basis of shared norms is typically more effective than power alone.



James S. Robbin's Rebuttal:

It is true that the UN Charter enshrines certain values, but whether they are shared or expressed by all its members is another matter entirely. With respect to the spread of human rights and democracy, the UN continues to have a good record of intentions, but a mixed record of results. However, the UN now faces a moment of historical opportunity, to work in partnership with a superpower that is one of the exemplars of the value-set the organization represents, as well as a principal author of the Charter and other key documents related to human rights. The United States has shown a willingness to seek collective legitimation while retaining the right to unilateral self-defense when necessary. The results, while sometimes contentious, have so far been positive. James S. Robbins,
NATIONAL REVIEW Contributing Editor

In many respects, the preponderance of United States power and influence globally makes things easier for the UN by decreasing the potential for the types of security threats the UN was formed to defeat. Twentieth-century style global interstate conflict is unlikely today and will be for as long as the United States maintains its current status as the sole superpower. Given the conditions of globalization under the umbrella of US power, and the shifting forms of international security threats, notions of collective security and the role of the UN must evolve in order to remain relevant. The UN was founded to ensure the security of states from threats by other states, but current challenges come from non-state actors such as global terrorist networks, and transnational phenomena such as international organized crime, the narcotics trade, smuggling, piracy, and weapons proliferation, particularly weapons of mass destruction. The UN should be better equipped to assist states in combating these problems, and particularly in working with the United States to pursue the necessary international legal and political reforms required to facilitate comprehensive international action by law enforcement agencies and combined military forces.



Ian Johnstone's Rebuttal:

I fully agree that the UN needs to be better equipped to assist in combating new security threats, and I hope the US takes that to heart. But security threats like terrorism are not so new for many countries and, meanwhile, none of the old threats have disappeared. The UN can and has adapted, but its focus on new challenges should not be at the expense of "old-fashioned" problems like internal conflicts, massive human rights abuses, abject poverty and environmental degradation.


2. The UN's record of monitoring Iraq's weapons arsenal has been mixed. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Security Council resolution governing this latest round of UN weapons inspections in Iraq and how could they affect the outcome of the inspectors' work there?

James S. Robbins,
NATIONAL REVIEW Contributing Editor

On paper, Resolution 1441 establishes a comprehensive and robust inspection regime, and withdraws many of the concessions given Saddam Hussein's regime over the past ten years. The provisions in Section 7, particularly those providing for "immediate, unimpeded, unconditional, and unrestricted access" to any sites in the country, and the unilateral ability to "remove, destroy, or render harmless" prohibited materials and weapons, have the potential of making the inspections fruitful, if these provisions are enforced rigorously. Furthermore, the threat of "serious consequences" in the case of Iraqi noncompliance in Section 13 gives teeth to the process; again, assuming these provisions are enforced. The strengths of the resolution are thus obvious on its face. The weaknesses would reside not in the resolution itself but in its implementation. Thus far the UNMOVIC inspectors have only engaged in preliminary inspections, and the resolve of the UN has yet to be tested by Iraqi noncompliance. What this represents for the UN is an opportunity to prove its continued relevance to the disarmament process by responding instantly and vigorously to any recalcitrance on the part of Saddam Hussein's regime. Whether the UN is up to the task remains to be seen.



Ian Johnstone's Rebuttal:

So far UNMOVIC and the IAEA have done their jobs well and the Security Council is holding the line pending review of Iraq's 12,000 page declaration. When we talk about the relevance of the UN and whether it is up to the task, it is important to remember that the UN is not separate from its member states. The effectiveness of the inspectors and the collective resolve of the Security Council depend in large measure on the role of the major powers working with and within these bodies.



Ian Johnstone,
The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy

Resolution 1441 was adopted by a vote of 15-0, signifying an important moment of consensus in the Security Council. However fragile that consensus may be, it is a long way from the divisions of 1998 and 1999. There are some elements of the new resolution that could strengthen the hand of the inspectors: unconditional access to all sites and the possibility of interviewing scientists outside Iraq, for example. But ultimately it is Saddam Hussein's perception of Council resolve that will determine whether the inspections work. He will only cooperate if he feels he has no choice, which means he must believe two things: that the threat of military action is real and genuine compliance will forestall that action. Resolution 1441 is ambiguous about the use of force. The US and UK believe it commits them to a new round of Council deliberations if Iraq fails to cooperate, but not to waiting for a new authorization before acting militarily. Other members insist that a new resolution is necessary. This deliberate ambiguity is a potentially lethal source of division, but for now the Council has sent a surprisingly strong signal that, one way or another, the obligation to disarm will be enforced. Despite Iraqi obstructionism, the inspections did achieve a lot between 1991 and 1998. They can work again, if the threat of force is credible and seen as commanding broad international support, and the inspections are not seen as a set-up for military action no matter what.



James S. Robbins's Rebuttal:

I agree. The credibility of Resolution 1441 lies in the implicit threat of force behind it. The lack of such a threat was why disarmament efforts from 1998 to 2002 were frustrated, and the renewed emphasis on military consequences is responsible for the relative success of recent inspection and verification efforts.


3. Observers have noted UN peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan have been driven by the need to stave off international terrorism, rather than by the need for humanitarian intervention alone. How do you see the need to preempt terrorism shaping the focus of UN peacekeeping operations elsewhere in the world?

Ian Johnstone,
The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy

There are three separate operations currently underway in Afghanistan: the US-led military campaign against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban; the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF); and a UN civilian mission (UNAMA). Only ISAF and UNAMA are "peace operations", the first authorized by the Security Council and the second established by the UN. Their primary function is to assist in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, not to fight terrorism. If successful, they will help to deny a safe haven for terrorist organizations, but it is important to remember that the UN's role in Afghanistan (though not peacekeeping) precedes September 11. Conceivably new peace operations will be established in other so-called 'failed states' that may be terrorist havens, but it is hard to imagine UN peacekeeping ever becoming a principal tool against terrorism. It was not designed for that and would not be effective in performing the sorts of tasks counter-terrorism requires. That being said, terrorists do sometimes operate in places where peacekeepers are deployed. The drama of 9/11 has sensitized the UN to that fact, and it is now well-understood that peace operations can play a role in making those environments less hospitable to terrorists. Any peace-building effort that promotes good governance, law and order, respect for human rights and economic rehabilitation makes it harder for terrorists to operate. But peacekeeping should not and will not be conceived primarily as a counter-terrorist activity.



James S. Robbins's Rebuttal:

Agreed, peacekeeping is not primarily a counter-terrorism activity, or concerned with ending conflict through force. Yet, as the dividing line between peace operations, humanitarian assistance and humanitarian intervention blurs, so must peacekeepers, NGOs, and military forces find new ways to work in an integrated fashion. To the extent the UN can facilitate this integrated approach, it would be beneficial for all concerned.



James S. Robbins,
NATIONAL REVIEW Contributing Editor

The dividing line between humanitarian intervention and the use of force has never been clear, and in many cases is a false dichotomy. Humanitarian operations have traditionally been hampered by a variety of actors, state and non-state, which seek to divert foreign assistance to their own ends. This may be in the form of corrupt bureaucrats looting medical supplies, warlords hijacking food shipments, or terrorists committing violence against aid workers simply to make a point. Furthermore, some forms of humanitarian intervention necessitate the use of force, such as in 1999, when NATO intervened in Yugoslavia to end violence and oppression against Albanians in Kosovo. The concept of peacekeeping implies that there is a peace to keep, but as the UN gets involved in increasingly complex and nuanced conflicts (more so than simple state versus state conventional disputes), the nature of peacekeeping must also evolve. Peace-making and peace enforcement missions require different types of forces, different rules of engagement, and occasionally the use of force to establish conditions under which humanitarian operations can be conducted. Deterring, pre-empting or responding to terrorist attacks will necessarily play a role in such operations in the future, particularly when it is the terrorists or their sponsors who have created the conditions to which the UN is responding.



Ian Johnstone's Rebuttal:

I agree that force must sometimes be used for humanitarian purposes. I also agree that the conflict-suppression and humanitarian purposes of peacekeeping and peace enforcement can contribute to the fight against terrorism. But if UN peace operations come to be seen primarily as counter-terrorist activities, those humanitarian and other purposes may be neglected. If, for example, the U.S. were to suddenly withdraw support for UN and ISAF peacekeeping in Afghanistan because it felt the war against Al-Qaeda had run its course, the long-term humanitarian and peace-building efforts there would be jeopardized. The international community must stay the course; at least for now, the U.S. seems to agree.


4. Kofi Annan has named making globalization "a positive force for all the world's people" as the most pressing challenge for the 21st century. How would you evaluate the success of the UN in meeting this goal? James S. Robbins,
NATIONAL REVIEW Contributing Editor

The UN has sought to implement this initiative principally by setting goals and benchmarks for development aid from wealthy donor countries, in an effort to reduce global poverty and help manage change and promote stability. These are worthy efforts, but the UN could be much more active in promoting globalization per se. Globalization is not measured only by improving infant mortality rates, diminishing population growth, declining poverty rates and so forth - these are effects of the phenomenon, but they do not capture its essence or explain its causes. Globalization is chiefly a product of the spread of freedom around the world, whether economic, political, social or informational. Those most resistant to globalization are understandably those with the most to lose, whether Islamic radicals who see it as a threat to theocratic dominance, authoritarian rulers who fear the rise of democratic opposition forces, or others who see change as more of a threat than an opportunity. The UN should focus more on promoting the less tangible, less quantifiable but nonetheless critical drivers of change by opening markets, promoting democratic political reforms, and reducing restrictions on the spread of information.



Ian Johnstone's Rebuttal:

The focus on infant mortality, population and absolute poverty is precisely because these considerations tend to be ignored by those who assume globalization will automatically benefit all. An important function of the UN and its Secretary-General is to give voice to concerns - and people - that would otherwise not be heard. An even more important function is to empower those people so they can voice their own concerns and influence decisions that affect their lives. That is why the UN's good governance agenda is now central to its development work.

Ian Johnstone,
The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy

Kofi Annan was referring primarily to economic globalization - faster economic interaction, leading to more densely woven interdependence. Implicit in the statement is his view that globalization is a positive force, that integration into the global economy is the best route to growth and development. Also implicit is the notion that not everyone has been or will be automatically swept up in globalization's beneficial tide. What does the UN bring to this challenge? Ideas, expertise, and the ability to mobilize action. For years UN entities have been emphasizing the social costs of structural adjustment policies, while advocating a more people-centered approach to development, embodied in the notion of human development. Their ideas caught on and the resulting convergence in views enabled the UN, Bretton Woods institutions and OECD to come up with common targets and indicators to meet the goals set at the Millennium Assembly two years ago. The challenge now is to put the combined expertise and experience of those organizations to work in a common cause. Not all the millennium development goals will be met, and certainly not in all regions of the world. Recent US and EU pledges of $12 billion more per year in aid fall short of the $50 billion required (according to UN estimates), but they are a step forward. For now, what can be said is that UN and its SG have succeeded in mobilizing a wide range of organizations, governments and non-governmental actors behind the effort.



James S. Robbins's Rebuttal:

I fully agree that globalization is a beneficial force and the UN should do what it can to broaden and strengthen its effects. This includes not only economic development plans, but also political action to break down the barriers to globalization erected by states attempting to resist the social and political freedoms that attend this important historical development.


5. How will the US campaign to secure individual country agreements that exempt American soldiers and government officials from prosecution before the International Criminal Court affect the functioning of the world's first permanent international war crimes tribunal?

Ian Johnstone,
The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy

The problem with the agreements is that they represent an aggressive strategy by the Bush Administration to ensure no US national ever appears before the ICC that is out of all proportion to the perceived risk. Pressure to sign these agreements forces every country in the world to choose between either granting immunity to the citizens of one country (possibly in violation of their own obligations under the ICC Statute), or harming their relations with the US. This confrontational posture is hardly conducive to rallying support for the struggle against terrorism or a possible war against Iraq. And for what? To avert the minute risk that a politically-motivated claim will make it past all the safeguards built into the system - including the fundamental safeguard that the ICC will only proceed with an investigation and prosecution if the US does not - and a US national will be subject to proceedings before a Court that has the confidence and support of virtually every other democratic country in the world.

James S. Robbins's Rebuttal:

The ICC debate has little to do with the war on terror or the war on Iraq, and it is doubtful that any country would tie their support for these efforts to the U.S. stand on the Court. With respect to the safeguards, the fundamental safeguard identified above is absolutely no barrier to the types of lawsuit the United States would most frequently face; namely, harassment suits which the U.S. would naturally choose not to investigate or prosecute (hence moving them into the ICC). It is unfortunate if the American stance causes difficulties for other countries with respect to their relations with the United States, but neither should their quandaries prevent the U.S. from pursuing its national interests.

James S. Robbins,
NATIONAL REVIEW Contributing Editor

The effects of exempting the US from the ICC will be beneficial overall. The ICC should not be allowed to become a focus for anti-American activism or frivolous lawsuits filed by regimes or non-state actors who will attempt to use the court to pursue political agendas they could not pursue through normal diplomatic or political means. The United States is the wealthiest, most powerful and most internationally active country in the world, and would naturally be a target for all manner of suits, particularly from the very regimes most in need of ICC review. Exempting the United States will not have the effect of giving the US license to misbehave globally - the US is still restricted by numerous bilateral and multilateral treaty obligations. It will, however, allow the ICC to focus on the regimes and the types of behavior that it is its mandate to pursue.



Ian Johnstone's Rebuttal:

There is no reason to believe the ICC will treat frivolous lawsuits as anything other than frivolous, and dismiss them. On the other hand, the ICC's ability to focus on "the regimes and types of behavior" it is mandated to pursue could well be compromised if it is seen as a court that metes out justice for some, not all.


6. Five years ago, Kofi Annan announced a program of UN administrative restructuring and budget reform that he called a "quiet revolution." How would you rate the effectiveness of this program in equipping the UN to respond rapidly and efficiently to the new challenges of the post-9/11 world?

James S. Robbins,
NATIONAL REVIEW Contributing Editor

The UN faces the same structural and management challenges faced by all large-scale bureaucratic organizations seeking to move into the Information Age. However, unlike private corporations that must adapt or go bankrupt, the UN survives by contributions from member states; thus, it is under no particular pressure to undertake the sweeping changes necessary to be able to cope with the emerging international environment. While private sector organizations are leading change by cutting personnel, increasing efficiency, reducing redundancy and finding innovative ways to employ cutting edge technologies to overcome challenges both old and new, the UN is moving in the opposite direction. This is not the fault of Kofi Annan's vision, which clearly acknowledges the problem and seeks, in broad terms, to point a way forward. However, it is the nature of organizations that do not face bottom-line pressures to resist change. This is why it is important for the United States to continue to link its continued financial support of the United Nations to concrete, measurable and effective reform of the UN bureaucracy and the manner and efficiency with which the UN performs its missions. Maintaining monetary pressure for change is one of the most important roles the United States can play as a member state.



Ian Johnstone's Rebuttal:

The UN under Kofi Annan has cut staff, streamlined its operations and enhanced its use of information and communications technology. The Department of Peacekeeping Operations has grown over the last year, but by 150 posts less than what an external management consultant team said was necessary. Progress has been made. But the UN will never work exactly like a private corporation (nor does any government) and should not be expected to. Withholding dues to promote reform is not only illegal, its main impact has been to reduce the US share of the regular budget from 25 percent to 22 percent and the peacekeeping budget from about 31 percent to 26.5 percent. U.S. diplomats did an impressive job getting other members states to agree to make up the difference, but that had nothing to do with reforming the bureaucracy or making UN missions more efficient.

Ian Johnstone,
The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy

The Secretary-General's reform program is designed to make the UN a more responsive and effective organization. He created the post of Deputy Secretary-General to oversee cross-cutting issues and divided UN entities into four committees to ensure more streamlined and cohesive decision-making. He proposed a shift to results-based budgeting, meaning less micro-management by governments and more accountability among program managers. The "quiet revolution" also recognizes that the UN is not the solution to all the world's problems. It does have a role to play in the post-9/11 response to terrorism, but there are well-recognized limits. The Security Council has been at the center of the response, adopting a far-reaching resolution that obliges all states to take specific action to deny any form of assistance to terrorists. The UN, under Lakhdar Brahimi, negotiated an agreement to set up a new government in Afghanistan and is now helping to rebuild the country. The Secretary-General's policy working group of senior officials identified other functions the UN could serve, such as norm-setting, human rights protection, public information, technical assistance, advice on the potential use of weapons of mass destruction by terrorists, and collating best practices on counter-terrorism. But by its silence on policing, suppression, pre-emption and intelligence-gathering, the group made it clear that the UN should not have a major operational role in the fight against terrorism. Part of an effective reform strategy is a sense of realism about the comparative advantages of an organization. By that measure, the 'quiet revolution' is a success.

James S. Robbins's Rebuttal:

It is true that the UN has undertaken the beginnings of reform, including discussions about reorganization, reprioritizing, and redefining roles to better match the limits of the organization. However, in terms of tangible results, the "quiet revolution" is still extremely quiet indeed.




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