Who remembers Aleppo? A year ago, the Syrian city appeared tragically central to international diplomacy. Yet, Syria has slid into the category of persistent conflicts that worry U.N. diplomats but seem irresolvable.
Russia is flexing its diplomatic muscles at the United Nations again. Moscow appears intent on using the U.N. to complicate American efforts to put pressure on North Korea and sow confusion over its own intentions toward Ukraine. Western diplomats should be alert, because Russia is a fine player of the U.N. game.
A refugee crisis is what happens when large numbers of people fleeing poor, violent countries seek asylum in rich, peaceful countries, raising agonizing moral and political questions. This of course is what occurred in 2015, when a million refugees from Syria and elsewhere poured across Europe’s borders, provoking a backlash that brought nationalist parties to the verge of power and threatened the Continent’s liberal order. The refugees were the cause, rather than the victims, of the crisis in question.
Donald Trump likes attacking soft targets, and the United Nations is about as soft as they come. Over the past two months, U.N. officials have been bracing for an entirely inevitable clash with the next U.S. administration. Their only question has been exactly what would set off the showdown. Would it be climate change? Torture?
Displaced people are occupying an increasingly central role on the world stage. Conflict and persecution have led to the highest number of refugees, internally displaced persons, and asylum seekers ever recorded. Moreover, approximately two-thirds of refugees are trapped in protracted exile, lasting five years or longer.
The first time I heard the German word “zwangsoptimist” was in a meeting to discuss ways to improve how the international system functions. Meaning “someone who feels compelled to be an optimist,” the word not only succinctly sums up my work for and alongside the U.N. over the past 27 years, but could also be a one-word job description for the organization’s next secretary-general.
Last week had no shortage of shocking images to illustrate our collective paralysis in the face of the Mediterranean refugee crisis. A three year old boy dead on a beach, waves lapping around his shoes. Thousands of forcibly displaced people marching through the heart of Europe watched by silent onlookers. Borders going back up in Schengen under the guise of traffic control and migrant searches.