Archive for August, 2011

August 30, 2011

This September, DiSec is…not the committee to watch

A press release from the US State Department just caught my eye. The entire statement in full reads:

Following up on their commitment made during the July Paris Conference, the P-5 met in Geneva on August 30 to take stock of developments regarding the Conference on Disarmament (CD). They discussed how to achieve at the earliest possible date in the CD their shared goal of a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons purposes. They expressed their determination to this end. In that context, they look forward to meeting again, with other relevant parties, during the United Nations General Assembly First Committee.

What’s so interesting about this? Well, first is that the P-5 even bother to lend credence to the Conference on Disarmament. As some may recall, much to the dismay of right-wing commentators in the US the DPRK took hold of the Presidency of the Conference on Disarmament this year. The uproar was rather furious. As Mark Goldberg of UN Dispatch lets us know, this whole matter in and of itself really isn’t a big deal. The seat that North Korea now holds rotates alphabetically, so they were bound to get it eventually. Moreover, the Conference itself just isn’t all that important a body. It’s work is taken up by many other committees including the UN First Committee, the Security Council, and the similarly named UN Disarmament Commission. States show up annually in Geneva, but not much tends to actually get done at the meeting.

The treaty goal of banning fissile material mentioned in the statement is what really took me by surprise though. I hadn’t heard anything about this which might speak to its feasibility and progress. A bit more research led me to check out the Conference’s program and learned some more about the proposed Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty. The  idea has been around since the early 1990s, but so far nothing has been put down on paper, let alone voted on.

In 2009 in what was either a hopeful move designed to boost the CD’s credibility or cynical way to kill any chance of the Treaty moving forward, the CD set up a negotiating committee after the US reversed its position on the treaty. Since then, the work of the committee has stalled out thanks to the efforts of Pakistan, working against every other member of the committee. Yes, every other member. That means that even North Korea is for completing the treaty and getting it signed.

Which makes me wonder just how effective the meetings on the sidelines of the First Committee, Disarmament and International Security, or DiSec, are going to be. That the P-5 is working in tandem on this one is great and I really do hope that a treaty gets ratified sooner rather than later. I get a nerdy thrill of excitement every September as UN Week approaches, but I’m somehow doubting that GA First is where the logjam is going to break in regards to the FMCT.

August 30, 2011

The More Things Change: China and Russia in the UNSC

The UN Security Council bears marked similarities to the US Senate at times. The veto and the filibuster are both tools its respective insitution is known for, and which its users are loathe to give up. Both also have evolved over time, to where they are actually used very little. Instead, the threat of using one is enough to give pause before moving forward with draft resolutions or legislation.

When it comes to veto threats, the Russian Federation and China have made an art of the practice. Every draft resolution that comes before the UNSC faces a veto threat should it go too far, too fast for the Russians and Chinese. This isn’t to say that the United States, United Kingdom and France don’t make threats of their own, indeed the US holds the record for most vetoes since 1991, but they also put forward the majority of progressive drafts, often anathema to the BRICS countries.

It’s surprising to note, then, that Russia and China have in fact been authors of draft resolutions before the Council as of late. Last week, the Russian Mission to the UN introduced its own draft resolution on the situation in Syria. In June, China and the United States worked together on halting the conflict in the Abeyi region of Sudan to produce what would become SC/1990. Could these moves be seen as a shift towards a more proactive strategy at the UN Security Council?

While intriguing, the Syria resolution doesn’t seem to offer up a substantial shift in Russian strategy at the UN. The text itself is balanced to the point of absurdity, seeming to lay the violence at the feet of both the protesters and the al-Bashar government. This sort of ‘sovereignty first’ approach to matters is what is to be expected when Russia actually decided to attempt to head off interventions in what it sees as internal matters.

By presenting this draft, the Russian government can then point back to its attempts at peacebuilding when faced with a much stronger Western-backed resolution like the one offered by the UK and France in June. The draft also has the undertone that Russia is still seeking to be a player in the Middle East beyond its role in the Quartet, as its attempts to mediate in Libya showed.

Don’t forget that Chapter VIII, dealing with regional arrangements, was written by the Soviet Union to allow for action outside the scope of the United Nations. The Commonwealth of Independent states and, at least in part, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization , were developed for this very goal, providing the ability to act in the backyard interests that Russia holds so dear. Even after the embarrassing denial of SCO backing during the 2008 Georgian conflict, these organizations allow for action in the form of multilateral efforts and thus supporting Russia’s position pushing a rule of law-based multipolar world. Any future drafts proposed by the Russian Federation will seek to blame neither party for the issues under discussion or lean firmly on whichever side supports Russia.

China, on the other hand, presents a much more challenging analysis. Russia and China are often on the same side of the many issues that are presented before the UNSC, not because of any lasting ties or fear of Western oppression, but because they truly believe that many internal matters should remain so. Since the fall of the Soviet Union two vetoes issued by China have been tandem with Russia, in 2007 against a draft resolution on Myanmar and in 2008 against a draft on the situation in Zimbabwe. The only two other vetoes, both solo efforts, were against a six-month renewal of the United Nations Preventive Deployment Force (UNPREDEP) in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in 1999 and in 1997 against a draft on Central American stability. Neither were particularly world-shattering votes, taken not out of a pressing national interest by Beijing but rather to prove a point about non-intervention.

In the Abeyi resolution, however, we see a departure from the Russian modus operandi, in not only calling for a cessation of violence, but calling for an interim peacekeeping for to enforce it. Rather than preserving neutrality by allowing Sudan and South Sudan to negotiate among themselves, China support and helped draft language calling on the international community to help. While not a drastic shift in policy, it does go further than many would have expected of the PRC.

The Chinese instance of taking part in the drafting of the Abeyi resolution in and of itself is not the harbinger of a more progressive stance and strategy in the UNSC. If the Chinese government wants to be a true player on the world stage, though, it could serve as a starting point. Rather than relying on the status quo or to act as a shield or veneer against encroachment, China could use the Security Council much in the same way that the West does, as an instrument in which to push an agenda. This isn’t to say that such an agenda would be interventionist in nature or change China’s policy towards sovereignty. Rather, what we could see in the future is a China that works to build coalitions to pass resolutions rather than prevent them.

Such a day isn’t anytime near at hand, however. For the near future, China will continue to use the United Nations as a way to keep the status quo in place long enough to ensure it has the room necessary for its peaceful rise while doing its most important diplomatic maneuvering bilaterally and in smaller regional bodies, while Russia does much the same in hopes of recovering and holding onto its Great Power status. For the near future, Russia and China will be erstwhile allies in the Security Council, keeping those around the horseshoe table from enacting too much change too quickly. I can certainly say this: the day that China decides to shift to being the instigator is going to be an interesting day on Turtle Bay indeed.

August 29, 2011

And so it begins

I think I have Aaron Sorkin to thank for this blog finally starting. Or at least The Social Network. As I was working late last night, I had The Social Network on in the background and it got me to thinking. I’ve always had a sizable opinion of myself, but not over much to show for it. A bachelors diploma from Michigan State University hangs on my wall, which I’m immensely proud of, but there don’t seem to be many in the greater Washington region who agree.

It got me thinking about what I want in my life, and whether I have the drive and ambition necessary to get there. I’ve known for awhile what I want. But the path to get there hasn’t been clear at all.

Since I was in high school, the way the world interacts with itself has fascinated me. I got my degree from MSU in international relations, and I want nothing more than to be able to really affect the policies that I see going on around me. I want to be as well known a name as Marc Lynch, Anne-Marie Slaughter and Andrew Exum, thought of as an expert. Not for the nerdy fame that comes along with it, but because I really would like to be able to have an impact on this world. I like to think of myself as a constructivist, and the thought that one person can make a difference, one leader, one thinker, one idea, that appeals to me. It doesn’t hurt that too much of realism and liberalism make sense for me to choose between the two.

How to actually prove that I’m able to tackle those ideas though? The way I see is by having other people say that you know what you’re talking about and that comes in one of two ways. With a piece of paper hanging on your wall or with your thoughts out there being passed around by other people who know what they’re talking about. The former I’m actually seriously looking into for the first time. The latter stands before you. So that’s what this blog is about: proving to myself first that I can actually walk the walk and can put together the sort of strings of thought that not only make sense to me but other people as well. Over the next however long, I’d like to focus on international politics primarily with a secondary look at domestic politics. The two are so intertwined, and my interest in both so great, that I can’t see writing about just one or the other.

And so begins a project, one that I don’t know will take off, or even go in the direction that I want it to, but I’ve been talking about and thinking about doing this forever. It will make my father happy, that’s for sure. He’s been on my case about writing more since I could hold a pencil, so this one goes out to him.