After two weeks of slaughter in South Sudan, UNMISS, the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the country, faces three possible scenarios: fragile success, prolonged agony and decisive failure. In the first and best scenario, the mission will manage to hold together militarily long enough for more-or-less sincere political talks to end the violence. In the second, it might muddle through in the face of half-hearted negotiations and spasmodic but serious violence, trying to save as many lives as possible.
The European Union, most often preoccupied with its economic problems over the past few years, grappled with two strategic challenges last week. The first involved a tug-of-war with Russia over Ukraine. The second centered on Geneva, where the union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, chaired talks on Iran’s nuclear program.
Lists of African success stories do not tend to include Chad. More than half of the country’s citizens live below the poverty line. Yet this year, Western powers and the U.N. have turned to Chad to help manage new crises in Mali and the Central African Republic (CAR).
Over the past week, German politicians and the media have grappled with claims that the U.S. National Security Agency listened to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone calls. Is there a strategic case for the United States to sustain or expand its efforts to eavesdrop on German intelligence targets?
In diplomacy, it is easier to pull off a stunt than sustain a long-term strategy. Last week Saudi Arabia managed some multilateral acrobatics at the United Nations by winning a seat on the Security Council unopposed and then almost immediately renouncing it.
Can Barack Obama ever trust the United Nations Security Council again? And will the Security Council, and the U.N. more broadly, trust the U.S. president? Last week, Obama vented his frustration with diplomacy over Syria at a press conference during the G-20 summit in Russia. Asked why he had called for military action in response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s resort to the use of chemical weapons, Obama claimed the alternatives “would be some resolutions that were being proffered in the United Nations and the usual hocus-pocus.”
There will be many eulogies for Sergio Vieira de Mello in the weeks ahead. Next Monday, Aug. 19, marks the 10th anniversary of the death of the charismatic Brazilian United Nations official in Baghdad. The veteran of humanitarian and peacekeeping missions from Sudan to Timor-Leste had reluctantly taken the post of U.N. special representative to Iraq after the U.S. and its allies toppled Saddam Hussein. When a suicide-bomber killed him and 21 of his colleagues in an attack on their lightly guarded headquarters, U.N. officials were traumatized.
Do articles about the United Nations really have to be relentlessly depressing? Over the past six months, this column has dwelt on such bleak topics as the Security Council’s failure to halt the Syrian crisis and the mounting dangers of peacekeeping in trouble-spots like Mali and Lebanon. Yet despite all the bad news, it is arguable that the U.N. has had rather a good year on many other fronts, and focusing solely on its problems is unfair.