Brahimi addresses Strategic Studies Institute: Fighting Battles on wrong grounds

04/25/2001
Addressing a select group of British key decision-makers at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Lakhdar Brahimi focused on placing UN peacekeeping proposals within the current perspective. Sprinkling his prelude with a self-deprecating sense of humour greatly admired by his specific audience, the former Algerian Foreign Minister, who had also served in London, highlighted the main points of his famous report and the main obstacles to its implementation. He did not shy away from mentioning the concerns of the weak nor the shortcomings of the strong. He faced both fairly and squarely, particularly when mentioning the grim figures.

Since the end of the Cold War, up to 5 million people have been killed in conflicts; the number of refugees stands at perhaps 15 million, and that of internally displaced is around 35 million. As the UN is naturally called upon effectively to respond to these conflicts, it is not in shape equal to the required tasks. An effective response to multi-dimensional conflict requires a long-term political commitment from a truly unified international community, the right legal framework and adequate military, as well as economic, instruments. Nonetheless, the UN is called upon to lead such efforts, and when it does act in such circumstances, its processes of response show a huge gap between three key elements: Who needs the UN? Who decides if, where and when the UN goes? Who provides the resources to do the job?

First of all, who needs the UN? Primarily the people living in zones of conflict, above all Africans, of course. The area centered in and around the Democratic Republic of the Congo might serve as a typical illustration; transnational wars linking several States in the region with dozens of other. ill-defined actors; killings and rape, sometimes by shadowy assailants; masses of refugees and displaced persons; and a poisonous brew of interests with gangs linked to a globalized underworld of arms, drugs and gem traders recycling their gains through poorly regulated banking systems. Comparable processes already at work or simmering under the surface may be observed elsewhere, mostly in Africa and Asia.

Governments and political and intellectual elites, as well as the public at large in Africa, are unanimous in feeling that the UN and the global system in general do not devote proportionate attention and resources to the Continent and its problems.

Secondly, who decides if, where and when the UN goes? The Security Council, obviously, although people often point a finger at the Secretary-General. In the Security Council it is the Permanent Five, and among them the most powerful. Other Members of the Council and developed countries in general may be more subtle, but they will play it very close to their self-defined interests.

And thus the answer to the question: "with what resources would the job be accomplished" is self-evident. The countries with the best trained and equipped forces are not ready to contribute to UN-led operations, particularly in Africa. And when they do, they will prefer to stay outside the UN command structure. Hence, the vast majority of troops in the most dangerous UN-led operations are drawn from developing countries alone. To add insult to injury, the very nations which refuse to commit their own, well-prepared units will be the first to criticize the weaknesses of the troops who actually risk their lives.

In that connection, the talk of relying on mainly regional arrangements can similarly provide convenient grounds for hypocrisy. "African solutions to African problems" may sound like an advertisement for self-determination and self-reliance, but it is more likely a faintly veiled way of saying "Let them stew in their own juice".

Brahimi stressed that the Secretary-General cannot reshape the priorities of Member States. He may, however, point the way, and he often does so in key reports and statements. The Millennium Report he submitted to the Summit in September 2000 under the title "We the People" stands out as a pressing invitation to the international community to take on some of the challenging tasks of our time. In particular, he made a plea that all men and women should be able to enjoy freedom from want and freedom from fear. The report of the Panel on OUN Peace Operations was part of that package. In it, the Panel tried to draw on the experience of the bruising 1990s, first to acknowledge the UN's own failings as frankly as the Secretary-General himself had done in his reports on Srebrenica and Rwanda, and second, to tell Member States as well as the UN bureaucracy the minimum that would be required from all to enable the Organization to accomplish the tasks that are set for it by its members.

The debate which is taking place at the UN on the report, and more generally on the role of the UN in the field of peace and security, should not be ignored, Brahimi concluded, because it concerns "the msot important function of the Organization and, to a very significant degree, the yardstick by which it is judged by the people it exists to serve". After pointing out that the ongoing debate also illustrates the much broader issue of how nations and groups of nations interact with one another in their somewhat unstructured and rather disappointing efforts to build the much talked about New International "Order, Brahimi said, "Fighting a battle on the wrong ground will hinder rather than further any cause, no matter how noble and worthy. Resisting legitimate grievances and concerns will not protect an unfair status quo forever. Only genuine cooperation will ensure a better future for all."