Can anyone stop Turtle Bay from fading into obscurity?



In early 2011, the United Nations seemed poised for a renaissance. After playing a marginal role in global conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.N. Security Council was the epicenter for rapid-fire deliberations that yielded a historic resolution calling for “all necessary measures” to protect the Libyan people from President Muammar Qaddafi’s onslaught. The decision elevated the nascent global principle of an international “responsibility to protect” innocent civilians, warming the hearts of human rights activists who had for years sought to promote this new international norm. The Security Council’s action was decisive, timely, cutting-edge and backed by a wide consensus of world powers, established and emerging.

But the momentum dissipated almost as quickly as it had built. China, Russia and South Africa complained of having been hoodwinked into backing a resolution used to justify military intervention culminating in Qaddafi’s ouster. That ire stiffened Moscow’s spine for nearly two years of unbending resistance to any Security Council action on Syria. Two successive U.N. mediators for Syria, former Secretary General Kofi Annan and Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi, have been mostly ignored by both Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Security Council. The result has been to marginalize the U.N. as a force in the Arab transformations, relegating it to the sidelines of the world’s most volatile and pivotal region.

The U.N.’s paralysis over Syria is symptomatic of a wider malaise. As with the U.S. Congress, what happens or doesn’t at the U.N. is a function not of the institution itself, but of its members. While it’s fun to blame the bureaucrats at Turtle Bay, its problems originate not in New York but in capitals around the world. Despite a flurry of activity after September 11, the U.N. membership has for 12 years been unable to even agree on a definition of terrorism, leaving this manifestly global fight mostly to unregulated national efforts. Despite a series of large-scale summit meetings, the U.N. has failed to forge agreement on how to curb climate change. Successive rounds of stiffening U.N. sanctions have not broken the will of either Iran or North Korea to gain nuclear weapons. Although the U.N. is nominally part of the “Quartet” charged with addressing the Israel-Palestinian conflict, it was Egypt and the United States that mediated the latest flare-up in Gaza. In the backseat on so many of the major issues of the day, the U.N. doesn’t trend on Twitter or make top news, at least not in the United States. Indeed, of the more than 200 journalists listed as members of the U.N. press association, only about two dozen are affiliated with U.S. media outlets. Read more…

Suzanne Nossel is a former U.S. deputy assistant secretary for international organizations.

As published in www.foreignpolicy.com on February 15, 2013



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