Is the United Nations on the verge of a disastrous summer? The organization is always vulnerable to political shocks as it juggles its peacekeeping duties, humanitarian aid and crisis diplomacy. It now faces an especially perilous period as it tries to navigate the wreckage of peacemaking in Syria while launching a potentially flawed peace operation in Mali. U.N. troops are also preparing to mount risky offensives against militias in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). If the U.N.
The Obama administration signaled that it intends to set the diplomatic pace over Syria as the U.S. and Russia announced joint plans for a peace conference. This was not only an accommodating gesture to the Russians, who have made immense political capital out of the conflict, but also a setback for Britain and France, which have agitated for a more hawkish Western line, including arming the Syrian rebels.
In late-April, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon tapped Nicholas Kay, a former British ambassador and Africa director at the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office, as the secretary-general’s new special representative in Somalia. When Kay takes up his duties as the head of UNSOM on June 3, he will be presented with both risks and opportunities at a crucial time of renewed hope and momentum for Somalia.
If you take any interest in the Syrian war and international diplomacy, you may well experience a disturbing sense of deja vu this week. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is heading to Moscow. His visit is part of a renewed American campaign to make Russia rethink its strategy of support for the regime in Damascus, which could culminate in talks between Presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin at the June G-8 summit in Northern Ireland.
The Obama administration not only confirmed that it is “very likely” that the Syrian military has “used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria” but also added that “the United States and international community have a number of potential responses available, and no option is off the table.”
As Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his advisers look for the resources for a new generation of missions, they will face pressure to cut costs and downsize existing missions -- even if that means leaving some fragile states’ problems unresolved.
India has lost more personnel on blue helmet missions than any other country’s military. Although Indian officials argue that their country has been dedicated to the U.N. since the days of Nehru, their current attitude to the organization is characterized by a mixture of ambition and ambivalence.
Policy discussions about peacekeeping frequently get bogged down in technical details, such as the wording of United Nations resolutions, rather than tackling big strategic questions. This has been true of most commentary on the U.N. Security Council’s decision in late-March to mandate an “intervention brigade” to “neutralize and disarm” armed groups in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
U.N. officials are already starting to size up early candidates to replace Ban Ki-moon as secretary-general in 2017. The battle to succeed Ban could turn nasty, pitting Western-backed candidates against alternatives favored by Russia. If that sounds like a return to the Cold War, it’s because the U.N. has never fully shrugged off the old East-West divide.