Libya is commonly counted as a success story among the ongoing Arab uprisings. NATO bombing, the story goes, saved thousands of lives and allowed Libyans to overthrow the absurd and murderous Muammar Qaddafi. The intervention proves that the West has aligned its interests in the Arab world with its values — and may even be a measure of redemption for the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the deeper colonial past.
Not much of this comforting tale rings true.
The UN Security Council has been a key arbiter of international action regarding the upheavals in the Arab world in 2011. In late February, the Council issued Resolution 1970 calling for an “immediate end to the violence” in Libya, imposing sanctions and an arms embargo, and asking the International Criminal Court to investigate the regime of Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi. Less than a month later, on March 17, the Council passed Resolution 1973 authorizing NATO “to take all necessary measures” to protect Libyan civilians, leading to Qaddafi’s eventual fall from power. In late September, the Security Council will also take up the request of Palestinian leader Mahmoud ‘Abbas for full UN membership for a state of Palestine.
When President Barack Obama addressed the UN General Assembly in September 2010, he sounded hopeful that by the following year there would be “an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations — an independent, sovereign state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel.” Sure enough, in September 2011, the Palestinians asked the UN Security Council to recognize a state of Palestine — but Obama ordered the US delegate to veto the request. What gives?
The countdown to September 23 has begun. On that day, if he does not renege on his September 16 speech, Mahmoud ‘Abbas will present a formal request for full UN membership for a state of Palestine. The UN Security Council, which must approve such requests, will not do so, because the United States will act upon its repeated vows to exercise its veto. And then?
Reasonable, principled people can disagree about whether, in an ideal world, Western military intervention in Libya’s internal war would be a moral imperative. With Saddam Hussein dead and gone, there is arguably no more capricious and overbearing dictator in the Arab world than Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi. The uprising of the Libyan people against him, beginning on February 17, was courageous beyond measure. It seems certain that, absent outside help, the subsequent armed insurrection would have been doomed to sputter amidst the colonel’s bloody reprisals.
As Israeli-Palestinian negotiations lurch from crisis to crisis, Palestinian Authority (PA) leaders have been suggesting they may go to the United Nations to seek resolutions confirming the illegality of Israel’s settlements in the Occupied Territories and recognizing a reality of Palestinian statehood.
Mark Mazower, No Enchanted Palace: The End Of Empire and the Ideological Origins of the United Nations (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010)
Stephen Schlesinger, Act of Creation: The Founding of the United Nations (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2003)
Morocco serves as the backdrop for such Hollywood blockbusters as Gladiator, Black Hawk Down and Body of Lies. The country’s breathtaking landscapes and gritty urban neighbourhoods are the perfect setting for Hollywood’s imagination.
Unbeknown to most filmgoers, however, is that Morocco is embroiled in one of Africa’s oldest conflicts—the dispute over Western Sahara. This month the UN Security Council is expected to take up the dispute once more, providing US President Barack Obama with an opportunity to assert genuine leadership in resolving this conflict. But there’s no sign that the new administration is paying adequate attention.
The UN-authorized investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri, now well into a second phase of heightened brinkmanship between Damascus and Washington, also has Lebanon holding its collective breath.
“The worst humanitarian crisis in the world today”—so relief agencies and news reports refer to the catastrophe still unfolding in the westernmost Sudanese province of Darfur. With the United Nations estimating that 50,000 people have been killed and 1 million displaced, the description is apt.
But the dead and uprooted Darfuris are not victims of a natural disaster or even a localized civil conflict. Rather, the Darfur tragedy is symptomatic of a larger syndrome afflicting several regions of Sudan.
What is most remarkable about the International Court of Justice decision on Israel’s “security barrier” in the West Bank is the strength of the consensus behind it. By a vote of 14-1, the 15 distinguished jurists who make up the highest judicial body on the planet found that the barrier is illegal under international law and that Israel must dismantle it, as well as compensate Palestinians for damage to their property resulting from the barrier’s construction.
The International Court of Justice has very rarely reached this degree of unanimity in big cases. The July 9 decision was even supported by the generally conservative British judge Rosalyn Higgins, whose intellectual force is widely admired in the United States.
On July 31, 2003, the UN Security Council voted to "support strongly" former Secretary of State James Baker's proposals for resolving the Western Sahara dispute, the last Africa file remaining open at the UN Decolonization Committee. Baker has been the personal envoy of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan since 1997, charged with making progress in the 1991 Settlement Plan for the Western Sahara even after Annan had damned it as a "zero-sum game," while also pursuing alternatives.