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UN Week – 2/27/12

March 5, 2012

This blog entry is written by members of our blogging community and expresses those experts’ views alone.

by John and Douglas Carey 

Contents of this issueCrime in West Africa; Responsibility to protect.

Crime in West Africa.

On February 21st, US Ambassador Susan E. Rice spoke in these terms to the Security Council: “Transnational organized crime is a scourge every-where, but West Africa and the Sahel are plagued by a particularly insidious version. Criminal networks corrupt societies that face pressing development-al challenges in a region emerging from years of conflict. The Security Council must address the situation using a holistic approach, in tandem with the African Union, sub-regional organizations and other actors.

“Governments in West Africa and the Sahel have made significant efforts to fight organized crime, through the Economic Community of West African States, the West Africa Coastal Initiative, and numerous other bilateral and sub-regional partnerships. However, the dangers continue to grow. West Africa and the Sahel face increasingly complex and sophisticated criminal activities, including terrorism, embezzlement of public funds, and the illicit trafficking of drugs, arms, oil, people and counterfeit goods, which threaten regional stability by inflaming conflicts and undermining development. 

“Drug trafficking remains a principal threat. As we have heard, according to UNODC, the UN Office for West Africa, and reports provided to the Security Council, drug trafficking is increasingly intertwined with other forms of trafficking in the region. The United States continues to support the West Africa Coastal Initiative through UNODC  in order to address border and corruption issues in an area of the world where an estimated $1 billion in cocaine is trafficked annually – a number more than twice the GDP of many West African nations.

“Criminals that conduct kidnap-for-ransom operations have substantially supported terrorist networks in the Sahel. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has demonstrated its ability to carry out criminal activities and attacks against soft targets across significant distances.

“Illicit arms trafficking is another serious aspect of transnational crime in West Africa and the Sahel.  Poorly secured stockpiles of conventional weapons and ordnance are a potential source for arms smugglers in the region. In October 2011, the United States completed a project in Guinea-Bissau that destroyed over 80 metric tons of obsolete military ordnance at the request of the host nation. 

“We encourage states to assist, where possible, governments in North and West Africa to destroy surplus, obsolete or poorly secured weapons and ammunition stockpiles. The Libyan crisis has introduced a new set of cross-border challenges. We remain concerned about the risk of weapons, includ-ing man portable air defense systems or MANPADS, moving across borders. As Secretary of State Clinton announced in Tripoli last October, the United States is providing $40 million to assist Libya in securing and recovering its weapons stockpiles. So far, we have scoured over 1,500 bunkers and helped to identify, recover, and secure approximately 5,000 MANPADS and components.

“We appreciate the financial and technical assistance provided, including by the UK, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, France, and Italy. We support the work of the United Nations Sanctions Committee Panel of Experts assessment on MANPADS and other proliferation threats, and we encourage states that have exported MANPADS to Libya in the past to share information with the Libyan authorities to assist them in accounting for unsecured missiles.

“Finally, we note with appreciation the decision by this Presidency to hold a separate session on piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, since piracy and armed robbery at sea also increasingly threaten the peace, security and sta-bility of West Africa and the Sahel. And we look forward to that discussion about this topic on February 27.” Today is the 27th; we will see what comes.

Responsibility to protect

Also on February 21st, the following statement was made by Elizabeth Cousens, Principal Policy Advisor at the US Mission to the UN, on “our common commitment to the Responsibility to Protect (R2P).

“Seven years ago, all member states of the United Nations came together to endorse and accept a shared responsibility to protect populations from genocide, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. While aspects of this principle would need to be elaborated further, we embraced a principle of protection anchored in the essential responsibility of States to protect their own citizens, our shared responsibility to take appropriate steps to assist States in exercising that solemn duty, and our preparedness to take timely and decisive action where national authorities manifestly failed to do so. The consensus agreement in 2005 reflected a recognition of our common humanity and a new clarity in our collective conscience that certain actions could not be allowed to stand.

“The United States was then and is now a strong supporter of the concept of Responsibility to Protect. R2P raises complex issues both in the abstract, as we are speaking today, and in specific situations, particularly when violence is escalating, good choices are narrowing, and tough judgments about collective action need to be made. Brazil’s contribution to this debate can help us refine and advance our shared commitment to R2P.

“There is much in the spirit of Brazil’s paper with which we agree. We agree that ‘violence against civilian populations must be repudiated wherever it takes place;’ that ‘prevention is always the best policy’ and preventive diplomacy needs to be strengthened; and that it is always preferable when States live up to their sovereign responsibilities to protect their own populations. We believe that force should only be resorted to when peaceful means are inadequate, and that the use of force has costs and risks that must be weighed judiciously, including against the costs and risks of inaction or different actions. And, we appreciate the paper’s acknowledgment that all three pillars of R2P are integral to the concept.

“There are also important elements with which we disagree, two of which we would highlight here. We believe it is a grave error to equate ‘manifest failure’ with strict chronological sequence. Appropriate decision-making in this area requires not just ‘temporal’ considerations but a comprehensive assessment of risks and costs and the balance of consequences, as the paper calls for elsewhere. We further regret any implication that in those circumstances where collective action is necessary, diplomacy should be considered ‘exhausted.’ We should not eliminate the possible role of diplomacy, even – perhaps especially – in situations where forceful action is required.

“The United States is committed to working with international part-ners to advance the concept of R2P. We are also looking at how to improve our own capacity to address situations at risk. Last August, President Obama affirmed that ‘preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States.’ He directed a government-wide review of U.S. ability to prevent and respond to mass atrocities and mandated creation of a new Atrocity Prevention Board to coordinate our internal efforts, with priority on prevention. This initiative emphasizes the need to mobilize a full and diverse range of tools. It also puts a premium on enhanced cooperation with international partners, including the United Nations.

“Situations where the risk of mass atrocity is high can be volatile, un-predictable, and fast-moving. In the early 1990s, the civil war in Rwanda had so few casualties that it wasn’t even counted by the annual reports that track armed conflicts. Yet in just four months in 1994, nearly a million people were slaughtered, according to deliberate plans for their extermination. At any point in a swiftly moving catastrophe, we will need to ask ourselves when events are approaching a threshold of enormity that warrants collective action and assess the balance of cost and consequence between action and inaction. We all have to carry in our conscience the stain of collective failure in the spring of 1994. We will also always have to make judgments in the absence of certain answers.

“There are no easy solutions when we confront the gravest of threats to innocents. But we cannot bind ourselves to inaction based on an unreal-istic prerequisite of assured success. We welcome the opportunity for on-going dialogue and continued work together with Brazil and other international partners to fulfill the Responsibility to Protect that we embraced in 2005.”

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