The UN's mission in Lebanon (UNIFIL) marked its thirty-fifth anniversary last week (ironically, the first "I" in UNIFIL stands for Interim). With the Syria civil war raging next door, it's been a traumatic time for UN peacekeeping efforts in the region, which include UNIFIL and the even older UNDOF mission (tasked with monitoring the disputed Golan Heights). Earlier this month, Syrian rebels seized 21 UNDOF personnel, holding them for four days. Meanwhile, there have been frequent reports of incursions along the thinly monitored Lebanon-Syria border. A few days ago, residents of southern Lebanon reportedly stripped some UNIFIL soldiers of their equipment. Richard Gowan looks at the increasingly troubled environment in which one of the UN's longest-serving peacekeeping missions operates:
In recent years, UNIFIL has played a useful role in facilitating communications between the Lebanese and Israeli armies. If tensions increase, the U.N. can at least try to continue to play this small role. To have a greater impact on the security situation, however, it might be necessary to reinforce the mission, adding some of the European units that have drifted away since 2006 and readying an over-the-horizon reserve to assist them in an all-out crisis. Turkey, which already has a contingent in the mission, could also play a useful part in this process. But any indication that UNIFIL was moving toward a more assertive footing could infuriate Hezbollah, shake the Lebanese government and panic some troop contributors.
For now, UNIFIL can act as a brake on any potential escalation in southern Lebanon, but its limits are clear. If any one of a number of players -- Hezbollah, Israel, anti-Assad forces in Syria or opponents of Hezbollah inside Lebanon -- decides to escalate, the U.N. can do relatively little to stop them. UNIFIL has weathered major storms in the past 35 years, and even if the situation in Lebanon deteriorates, the mission may still be there to pick up the pieces afterward. But the year ahead may test UNIFIL to its limits.
Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified the seized peacekeepers as UNIMIL and, more broadly, conflated the UNIMIL and UNDOF missions. My thanks to a reader for catching the error.
The BRICS countries are summitting next week in South Africa, and the festivities will focus on the optimistic themes of "partnership, integration and industrialization." The BRICS may be a rising force in international economics but, at least according to the World Bank, they're still pretty bad at helping small businesses get off the ground.
Via the annual Doing Business report, the Bank and the International Finance Corporation track the regulatory and other obstacles small businesses face and rank countries accordingly. In the latest version of the report, only new BRICS member South Africa scored decently, coming in at 39 out of 185. China ranked 91st, Russia was 112, Brazil tagged behind at 130, and India pulled up the rear at 132.
The poor BRICS showing—and what their representatives claim are methodological problems—has led several members to question whether the Bank should give the report its imprimatur. A few years ago, Brazil's World Bank representative was particularly critical. Now, India appears to be leading the charge. Speaking in Washington, an Indian finance ministery official recently reiterated Delhi's concerns:
Arvind Mayaram, Secretary at the Department of Economic Affairs in the Indian government’s Finance Ministry, said during a speech here that the methodology adopted by the World Bank’s “Doing Business” report, in which India was ranked 132 out of 185, was “not proper” and that the Indian government had formally written a letter of complaint to the Bank to this effect. Speaking at the Indian embassy here, Mr. Mayaram said: “I think that the methodology used by institutions like the World Bank have to be much more robust... There is an issue”.
U.S. Embassy Delhi
Senior NATO officials have been sending somewhat confused signals about where the alliance stands on Syria. At yesterday's U.S. Senate hearing, NATO commander James Stavridis acknowledged that states in the alliance are considering military options in Syria:
Stavridis, who is retiring soon, said a number of NATO nations are looking at a variety of military operations to end the deadlock and assist the opposition forces, including using aircraft to impose a no-fly zone, providing military assistance to the rebels and imposing arms embargoes...
“We are prepared if called upon to be engaged as we were in Libya,” he said.
[W]ithin individual member countries, the admiral said, “there’s a great deal of discussion” about lethal support to Syria, no-fly zones, arms embargoes and more. “It is moving individually within the nations, but it has not yet come into NATO as an overall NATO-type approach,” he said.
In response to a question from Senator John McCain, the alliance's top military officer offered support to those who have advocated arming Syria's rebels: Stavridis told McCain that military aid to rebel forces could help break the current deadlock. That has been an important point of contention in recent weeks. Certain NATO members, including Germany, have argued that weapons for the rebels would only intensify the violence and encourage the regime's supporters -- and Russia, in particular -- to increase their military support.
Stavridis did include important caveats about any alliance role in Syria. Most significantly, he said that U.N. Security Council approval would be a prerequisite for involvement. In fact, Stavridis appeared to pose a daunting triple multilateral test: Council approval, regional agreement, and NATO unanimity. At the moment, of course, it's highly unlikely the Council would endorse any Western intervention.
Caveats notwithstanding, Stavridis' comments are still in tension with recent remarks by NATO's political chief, Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Only a few weeks ago, Rasmussen told EUObserver that intervention would likely make things worse:
"It is my firm belief that any foreign military intervention would have unpredictable repercussions because Syrian society is very complicated, politically, ethnically, religiously and the regional context is very, very complex," Rasmussen noted.
"Foreign military intervention might not lead to a solution to the conflict, [it] might even make things worse," he added.
And while Stavridis argued that arming rebel forces could break the bloody stalemate, Rasmussen this week pointedly declined to enter into the debate on arming opposition forces. It's not surprising that senior alliance officials are having a difficult time coordinating their remarks. They face the devilish task of representing the diverse views of the alliance's 28 members, some of which are evolving almost daily. But there does appear to be a gap between the views of the alliance's top military officer and its political chief.
World Bank chief economist Kaushik Basu spoke this morning at the Center for Global Development and fielded several questions about plans for a BRICS-led development bank. That issue will be on the agenda as the BRICS meet for their annual summit next week in Durban, South Africa. The host country appears to be particularly keen on the project.
As a former senior advisor to the Indian finance ministry turned World Bank higher-up, Basu has a unique perspective on the idea. He argued that the notion of an emerging-market led development bank responds to pent-up demand for capital to fund large infrastructure projects in major emerging economies. Neither the private sector nor the World Bank, he acknowledged, is responding adequately to that need. "There's scope for more multilateral organizations to do lending," he said. "You have space." On a recent trip to South Africa, Basu reportedly said much the same.
But Basu also expressed the hope that the Washington-based lender could up its game on infrastructure lending and meet some of the need driving the BRICS project. "We should be so effective and good that the space for [a BRICS bank] is limited." The economist suggested that the momentum could well dissipate, leaving the countries to find a face-saving exit from a project some have touted as an alternative to the World Bank.
Today brought the startling news that Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda has presented himself to the U.S. embassy in Kigali and asked to be transferred to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Ntaganda has been a leader of the M23 rebel movement in eastern Congo, which has reportedly enjoyed support from the Rwandan government (although Rwanda has vehemently denied this). The ICC issued a sealed arrest warrant for him in January 2006. Two years later, the court made the arrest warrant public.
To this point, Ntaganda has mostly lived openly in eastern Congo, where the Congolese government lacked the wherewithal and inclination to challenge him directly. His fortunes began to change recently, however, as the M23 militia movement clashed directly with government forces -- and then apparently splintered from within. The Rwandan government first reported the news that Ntaganda had made his way to Kigali and presented himself to the U.S. embassy.
Neither Rwanda nor the United States is an ICC member and neither has a legal obligation to effect the warlord's transfer. U.S. law limits official cooperation with the court and prohibits the provision of funds to the court. The law -- the American Service-members' Protection Act -- also prohibits the U.S. government from transferring any Americans to the court, but there is no explicit prohibition on U.S. involvement in transferring non-U.S. citizens.
That legislation notwithstanding, the U.S. approach to the court has been gradually evolving from the outright hostility on display during the Bush administration's first term. In 2005, the United States allowed a Security Council referral of Darfur to the ICC. Shortly after it took office, the Obama administration began attending annual meetings of ICC members. In 2011, it voted affirmatively to refer the Libya case to the court.
To this point, however, the United States has not been directly involved (at least publicly) in the transfer of indictees to the ICC. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland reported today that the United States "strongly supports" the ICC investigation in Congo and is seeking to facilitate Ntaganda's transfer to the Hague. Whether the United States will seek to involve another government as an intermediary and whether the Rwandan authorities will cooperate with the transfer remains to be seen.
Guest post by Joseph O'Mahoney, a visiting lecturer in political science at Brown University.
In a recent post, David Bosco asked about the value of additional U.N. Security Council sanctions against North Korea. Sanctions are always presented as being about changing the target state's behavior. But if that's the test, sanctions don’t work especially well. Even the recently popular micro-targeted "smart sanctions" have generally not gotten results.
That doesn't mean sanctions aren't worthwhile. As David Baldwin has pointed out, foreign policy decisionmakers can use sanctions in multiple ways that have little to do with changing rogue state behavior. In fact, sanctions like those recently imposed on North Korea are unlikely to be aimed at their nominal target. North Korea is not really hurting any more than it was before. Instead, as Bosco pointed out, the real target of weak sanctions is often the international community.
When rules are broken and no costly enforcement action results, members of the international community may wonder whether the rules are changing. In the rough and tumble of international politics, it's often hard to know which rules really matter and which ones don't. As Michael Chwe has shown, public rituals like mostly symbolic sanctions can help coordinate collective expectations.
In effect, these sanctions can reassure the members of the community that they all still value the rule, even though they have not taken costly action to enforce it. For example, symbolic sanctions were instrumental in promoting the incipient laws of war when their status was under threat in the interwar period. Laboratory experiments have also confirmed that cooperation significantly increases if participants jointly agree to mild, non-deterrent sanctions.
The new U.N. sanctions might not alter Pyongyang's course, but they're quite good at generating reassurance that the international community is on the same page.
Several weeks ago, Prashanth Parameswaran described here the attention that the government of Shinzo Abe has been lavishing on members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Earlier this week, another apparent step in that process took place in Tokyo when Japan's vice defence minister, Akinori Eto, met with ASEAN representatives to discuss regional security isues. Agence France Presse has the story:
The meeting is the first high-ranking defence dialogue of its kind since hawkish Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office late December following a landslide victory in general elections.
"Our country changed governments late last year," Eto said. "Under the new regime, we want to reinforce cooperation in security and defence with ASEAN countries and contribute to peace in the region," he added.
Ahead of the meeting, the ASEAN participants met Abe late Tuesday and voiced their high expectations from Japan "in dealing with various security issues of the Asia-Pacific region," the defence ministry said in a statement.
Japan, along with several members of ASEAN have locked horns with China over separate territorial disputes.
Fareed Zakaria believes that China has begun to shift its North Korea policy. Obama administration officials tell Zakaria that Beijing is increasingly exasperated with the North's behavior. One key piece of evidence that he cites is less than convincing however: China's recent Security Council vote for new sanctions. Here's how Zakaria describes it:
The most important new development, however, is China’s attitude change. In a remarkable shift, China — which sustains its neighbor North Korea economically — helped draft and then voted last week for U.N. sanctions against Pyongyang.
Zakaria and the administration officials he's talking to could be right, but China's vote for UN sanctions certainly doesn't make the case. In October 2006, Beijing backed Resolution 1718 imposing sanctions on the regime. At that meeting, China's UN ambassador chastised North Korea for acting "flagrantly" and "supported the Security Council for making [a] firm and appropriate response." Then, in June 2009, China voted for Resolution 1874, which expanded existing sanctions. At the time, China's representative chastised the North for its "disregard of the common objection of the international community." If China's support of the latest round of sanctions is "the most important new development" in the relationship between Beijing and Pyongyang, then that relationship may not be changing much at all.
David Bosco reports on the new world order for The Multilateralist.