Decolonization’s Dilemma in Questions of National Identity

In a strange reversal of what was thought to be a process leading to new national self-determination and stability, Israel faces a modern dilemma: to be democratic or Jewish.

The modern era endowed countries with two rights, supposedly unassailable, that turned out to exist in tension. The right of national self-determination envisioned states as unified collectives; one nation for one people. And the right of democracy prescribed equal participation for all, including in defining the nation’s character.

Idealistic world leaders who set out those rights a century ago imagined countries that would be internally homogeneous and static. But reality has proved messier. Borders do not perfectly align with populations. People move. Identities shift or evolve. What then?

Can the UN Help Track Planes?

When international coordination works–we tend to ignore the results.  But when things go badly, groups like the ICAO enter into the mix.  This body, dating back to a November 1944 agreement among 55 states,  is trying to find ways to keep track of airplanes as a result of the missing Malaysian jet. But sometimes even just coordinating details can be tricky:

“It’s complicated work to get 191 states to agree on anything,” said Anthony Philbin, a spokesman for the United Nations agency, known as ICAO.

Another expert with long experience in multinational aviation negotiations, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that “ICAO doesn’t feel very good about the aftermath of Air France 447, and then, lo and behold, we get Malaysia.”

“ICAO doesn’t have a very good story to tell,” he said. “Nobody does.”

via U.N. to Consider Ways to Track Planes Over Seas – NYTimes.com.

Lessons from Vieira de Mello

A Brazilian diplomat makes that case that in the passing of Viera de Mello we lost not only a peacemaker but also a philosopher of multilateralism. Can the UN really heal the wounds of conflict?  Are there “fingertip practical precepts” to be learned from his life?

In 2000, Vieira de Mello taught us that the UN was a contemporary manifestation of what the Pre-Socratics considered to be the very purpose of philosophy, i.e., to grant order to chaos. The UN’s order, said the diplomat, may be turbulent, filled with sudden, unforeseen, brutal, and traumatic disturbances, marred with sicknesses that are difficult to extirpate, replete with materializations of pure evil in all its forms: it is, nevertheless, order. Although its ultimate capacity to expel the irrational from history is uncertain, Vieira de Mello believed the UN was already in the process of humanizing history. With humility, he said, “we may reach such rebirth, which shall place us, reconciled, in the beginning of a new, post-Hegelian stage of our history, when the equation between the rational and the real will assume a new dimension, less egotistically terrestrial and more cosmic”

via Fausto Ribeiro in 3QuarksDaily

His track record was notable as he had already faced down some of the most difficult people in the most challenging places:

He had a seemingly miraculous knack for sitting down with mortal enemies and reconciling their seemingly irreconcilable positions. As one European diplomat put it after his murder, ”Sergio was a man who could go into the foulest situation and come out smelling like a rose.”

via David Rieff, “Colateral Damage” NYT

And now, in the ambassadorship to the UN the author, scholar, and activist Samantha Powers has the chance to try and apply these notions.

A UN HQ That You Never Knew

Visit the UN General Assembly’s headquarters…in Queens?  Yep, and now you can go and see the newly remodeled building:

Given that mix today, it makes symbolic sense, at least, that for four years, from 1946 to 1950, the United Nations General Assembly had its first headquarters in Queens, in a low, pale slab of a building designed to be New York City’s Pavilion for the 1939 World’s Fair. Set on an edge of what is now called Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, with the Grand Central Parkway streaming by, it proved itself a versatile premises, suited equally to athletics and aesthetics. For many years, half the building was a skating rink. The other half, beginning in 1972, was home to the Queens Museum of Art.

Several months ago, the museum closed fully to complete a two-year, $69 million renovation that mostly took place while the museum remained open.

via The Expanded Queens Museum Reopens – NYTimes.com.

The Internet in Uproar over ITU

Calm down, everyone.  What is really going on at the WCIT Dubai conference this year and who is the ITUGoogle and Facebook have gotten involved and the scrum is hitting the media machine. (Check out #FreeandOpen or look here.)  It may be a moment in world history to savor when the WSJ, civil libertarians, and the European Parliament are speaking in concert.  This approach has been taken at other times by feminists, family traditionalists, MNCs, NGOs, and a host of others.  Globalized democracy at its latest, though perhaps not finest.

The WSJ makes a fair point about letting an international organization run the web, when non-governmental have to date been the key players:

Having the Internet rewired by bureaucrats would be like handing a Stradivarius to a gorilla. The Internet is made up of 40,000 networks that interconnect among 425,000 global routes, cheaply and efficiently delivering messages and other digital content among more than two billion people around the world, with some 500,000 new users a day.Many of the engineers and developers who built and operate these networks belong to virtual committees and task forces coordinated by an international nonprofit called the Internet Society. The society is home to the Internet Engineering Task Force the main provider of global technical standards and other volunteer groups such as the Internet Architecture Board and the Internet Research Task Force. Another key nongovernmental group is Icann, which assigns Internet addresses and domain names.

via Crovitz: The U.N.s Internet Sneak Attack – WSJ.com.

Its not that the principle of global coordination is the core issue as your Facebook friends might have you believe . Treaties and international bodies coordinate (and dare we say ‘regulate’) intellectual property, air travel, weather and other global commons issues with modest to great success.

The real question is the same one that dogs the HRC.  What will Russia, China and Iran do at the helm?  With a lack of agreed-upon standards across nations how can an international org that is setup to do their bidding be anything but a tool for whoever chairs the panel or writes the guidelines?

The WCIT conference will consider revisions to a 1988 treaty known as the International Telecommunications Regulations.  At the meeting, 193 member nations consider dozens of proposed amendments, including several that would bring the Internet under ITU jurisdiction and substantially change the architecture and governance of the Internet.  Other proposals would, if adopted, give countries including Russia, China, and Iran UN sanctioned-authority to monitor and censor incoming and outgoing Internet traffic under the guise of improving “security.”

via forbes.com | UN Agency’s Leaked Playbook: Panic, Chaos over Anti-Internet Treaty

Iran Fights Drug Smuggling at Borders – NYTimes.com

Stranger than fiction, foreign policy edition, a lesson in how states have common interests no matter how much you think they disagree:

Squeezed between a tall plainclothes officer and General Moayedi’s personal bodyguard, Antonino de Leo, the Italian representative for the United Nations drug office in Tehran, showered the Iranians with praise — “because they really deserve it,” he said.

Mr. De Leo, in mountaineering shoes and backpack but remaining true to his stylish Italian background with a white flannel scarf around his neck, is very different from his uniformed Iranian counterparts. But, he said, “I need these people and they need me.”

At the same time that the Iranians were netting eight times more opium and three times more heroin than all the other countries in the world combined, Mr. De Leo said, his office was the smallest in the region and he had to cut back some programs, like drug sniffer dog training, because Western nations had cut back on financing.

“These men are fighting their version of the Colombian war on drugs, but they are not funded with billions of U.S. dollars and are battling against drugs coming from another country,” Mr. De Leo said.

via Iran Fights Drug Smuggling at Borders – NYTimes.com.

Obama’s Strong Multilateralism, with Ambassador Rice at Point

A diplomat prodigy, cabinet member and  blunt political infighter named Susan Rice represents the US administration’s engagement with the United Nations.

DURING THE 2008 presidential campaign, Obama sometimes said, “I want to stand in front of the U.N. and say, ‘America is back!'” He meant not only that under a President Obama the United States would take the United Nations seriously again, but that the United Nations would be the right place from which to proclaim a new policy of “engagement” with institutions, with adversaries, and even with allies after eight years of what Obama saw as George W. Bush’s unilateral high-handedness, not least his failure to secure Security Council approval for the Iraq war. Obama argued that transnational problems — climate change, nuclear proliferation, epidemic disease — could only be solved in multilateral bodies. He also thought that healing the breach at the U.N. and elsewhere had become a national security imperative. “The image of the U.S. was always our most important export,” he told me in the summer of 2007, “and underwrote a lot of our security.” Obama made, in effect, a hard-nosed case for what might otherwise be seen as a dangerously soft-nosed policy.

And here, a summary of what makes a diplomat effective:

Washington is full of people who are very self-confident and very impatient, people who seem to be clad in sandpaper. Almost all, however, are white men; Rice is one of the few black women who belong to this particular club, and her membership can be seen as a sign that, at least in the elite world she has always occupied, neither race nor gender need be defining. Rice’s father, the son of a South Carolina preacher, got a Ph.D. in economics from the University of California/Berkeley, taught at Cornell University, and moved to Washington before becoming a governor of the Federal Reserve. Rice’s mother graduated from Radcliffe College and worked as an education researcher. Rice’s father played tennis on Sundays with Joseph Albright, the husband of future Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and then the families would have lunch together. The young Susan went to National Cathedral School, where she was valedictorian, school president, and, at 5’3″, point guard on the basketball team. Then she went to Stanford University and Oxford. Her story somehow mingles the self-confidence of the insider with the relentless drive, the sharp edge, even the distrustfulness, of the outsider. People born into privilege often have the gift of putting people at ease; Rice does not.

You might think that such an abrupt person would be ill-suited to diplomacy, but U.S. diplomats are expected to be blunt, and the position of power they occupy allows them to be. In fact, most of the diplomats with whom I spoke profess to like Rice. Hardeep Singh Puri, the U.N. ambassador from India, says, “Susan is easy to work with; there’s no ambiguity. Most work around here gets done in informal conversation, and her style is well suited to that.” What diplomats want most from a U.S. ambassador is the power to deliver what he or she promises. Here Rice is in a special category of her own, in no small part because of her close relationship to Obama. “When he sees her” outside the Oval Office, says a senior administration official, “he lights up.” Several people suggested to me that she and the president share the experience of being black people who rose to the top of virtually all-white institutions, but Rice herself pooh-poohed the idea. What binds them, she told me, is age and a shared worldview. They also both love basketball and have children of about the same ages. (Rice’s are 15 and 9.) Whatever the case, Obama clearly takes Rice’s advice seriously. She was one of the few cabinet officers to be asked for input on his June 2009 speech in Cairo, and she is expected to weigh in on subjects far outside her ambit, like Afghanistan. Obama allows Rice a longer leash than most U.N. ambassadors — a latitude that Rice has used to much effect.

via The Point Guard – By James Traub | Foreign Policy.