Tag Archives: Norway

Suhrke on Human Security

In the article “Human Security 15 Years after Lysøen: The Case against Drone Killings”, Astri Suhrke (CMI) discusses two approaches to the concept of human security. The author examines the comprehensive vision of security and development and the concretization of the human security concept tied to protection of civilians in armed conflict.

Starting with the Lysøen Declaration of 1998 and Canada’s subsequent introduction of the concept of human security in the Security Council, the article argues that a concretization is necessary today. One way to do this is to link human security to campaigns for protection of civilians against the U.S. use of drones in targeted killings outside recognized war zones. This strategy would revitalize human security as a relevant policy concept, and also create greater security for people living in exposed communities.”

The entire special issue article, published in the Asian Journal of Peacebuilding, is available here.

Reforming the Security Council: the question that won’t go away

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Last week Saudi Arabia took the unprecedented step of turning down the offer of a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, accusing the body of having failed in its “duties and … responsibilities in keeping world peace.” Saudi Arabia may have had the deadlock over Syria in mind, but it had the “work mechanisms and double standards” of the Security Council (UNSC) very firmly in its sights.

Saudi Arabia seems like a paradoxical place to be calling for reform of the Security Council. It has been the clarion call more recently of global justice campaigners and poorer, politically disenfranchised nations. But Turkey and France have also now added their voice to the controversy, France in particular expressing “frustration” over the Security Council’s non-response to the Syrian imbroglio.

Between them these countries have opened up a wider debate – wider than perhaps they realize, since the pertinence of the Syria issue is not simply about the inability of the UNSC to take action (to send in the peacekeepers). It is about the barrier that the Security Council has long presented to democratic international decision-making tout court.

Calls for reform of the UNSC and the much-maligned veto powers held by its five permanent members, the so-called P-5 countries of Russia, China, the United States, Britain and France, have a long history. Such calls were there at the Security Council’s inception, in fact, when Australia led a last ditch effort to limit the veto powers that Stalin had most strongly advocated. The UN General Assembly has its own open-ended Working Group looking at Security Council reform today – although the fact that this was first set up back in 1993 gives fair indication of the amount of headway it has achieved.

But for all that reform of the UNSC is an uphill struggle, the question keeps on being raised, primarily because what is done there goes right to the heart of the world’s major powers claim to the status of being ‘benign hegemons’ – or the purveyors of “partnership and cooperation” as Blair would have put it. Such claims have never stacked up well against the historical record. Which is why a little historical perspective is actually useful here, beginning with the rather unusual angle – literally – that Norway offers onto the workings of the Council.

Party to every decision taken behind the notoriously closed doors of the Security Council are the figures looking down on them from the mural that hangs over the Security Council Chamber. The mural depicts a phoenix arising from the ashes and was painted by the Norwegian artist Per Krogh. “The world we see in the foreground is collapsing, while the new world based on clarity and harmony can be built up,” Krogh said of his work in 1950.

In some senses he was at least five years too late with this vision that he had so carefully painted for the world, since the terms of the real new world order had largely been set in 1944: at Dumbarton Oaks and at Bretton Woods. In others he was at least half a century too early, since both clarity and harmony are still notable at the Security Council primarily by their absence. 

But Krogh’s mural has always been the perfect emblem for how we tend to think about the United Nations and the Security Council in particular – as the institutional backbone of a new world of civility as it arose from the ashes of the old in 1945. On this score at least the UN, no less than its member nations, has a founding mythology. And the claim that this particular body was the only conceivable institutional settlement for the post-1945 world order, the product of such greater common sense as had finally been beaten out of the world’s primary powers at the bloody end of the age of empire, flows naturally from it.

The reality of the founding of the UN, however which was at least as much about preserving the remnants of the imperial balance of powers, or at least the global pecking order that it bequeathed us, has always been rather different. And at the heart of that ‘actually existing’ UN is the way that the Security Council itself has gone about its task of promoting “peace and security” these past seven decades.

Inevitably, given the make up of the permanent members (Russia, China, United States, Britain, France) the veto was used frequently during the Cold War. But even in the post-Cold War era the veto has been a key weapon in the arsenal of the strong. Actual use of the veto by the US has helped prevent international sanctions against Israel’s settlements policy, while threat of veto has led to non-action or delayed action in Kosovo in 1999 and Darfur in 2005. Last year both Russia and China vetoed resolutions calling for sanctions against Syria. And Russia, not surprisingly, has been the most outspoken against Saudi Arabia latest stand last week.

Saudi Arabia is most concerned the impact of the Security Council and the power wielded by the veto power locally in relation to the regional concert of the Middle East. But calls for reform have been issued many times in recent years: be it by South Africa’s Jacob Zuma, the UN’s own Kofi Annan, or the United by Consensus group of countries agitating for expansion of the number of Council members.

But excluding the most immediately determining factor of national self-interest, what are the actual arguments for Security Council reform?

Very briefly summarized, they are the following. First, the fact that the current system is unrepresentative of the world’s peoples (though the Security Council is hardly the only part of the UN hit by this critique). All too often, the problems that come up for discussion in the Security Council tend to be problems in which the P5 have a direct interest.

Second, the Security Council is undemocratic in the way that it functions: the Council’s decisions are taken behind closed doors, the figures in Per Krogh’s painting notwithstanding, and as to process, the five permanent members are, on their own, able to stop a substantive Security Council resolution even when that is supported by all other members. The veto power can also be used to secure non-reciprocated privileges (the US has used it to obtain immunity from the ICC, for example). And the P5 retain a further veto right over any proposals for change.

A more basic criticism, however, is that it has effectively set in concrete a ‘great power’ and ‘grand alliance’ system of rule that was developed in the pre-WWII era even. The result is a rather serious anachronism at the heart of world politics. We are confronted by post-Cold War realities yet the single most powerful global body retains the preference for political horse-trading beloved of the diplomats and statesmen of 1815 and 1918.

Arguments for retaining the Security Council appeal to largely the same values: and herein lies a part of the problem in reforming it. They merely put those values to different tasks. To wit, the permanent members argue that to scrap the veto would be, in effect, to open up the most powerful part of the UN to mob rule (which is a pejorative way of saying it would be to democratize it). They argue, as George Bush did in 2002 that it’s purpose is not to be democratic but to put ‘words into action’: democracy runs counter to efficiency being the argument here.

International conservatives also point out that there are institutional safeguards already built into the system: the P5 are to use their powers only in accordance with wider objectives of “peace and security,” for example. This again is a largely rhetorical claim and conveniently ignores the fact that a good deal of reform could be carried out short of actually abolishing it. A more sophisticated defense is that it is better to include the post-WWII Great Powers in such a system. This is the ‘lesson’ of the League of Nations we are reminded over and again – or, when more imaginatively phrased, we are told that it is at least a good to bind their feet to the same fire every now and then, rather than leaving them free to pursue their interests on their own account outside any system. But if that is your argument then bring in Iran as a permanent member too. Bring in India and Pakistan. Bring in Israel and Palestine.

So what, then, are the chances of reform? Optimists will say that reform has happened before, as in 1963, when the number of non-permanent seats was increased from six to ten. But this was more concession, more tweak in fact, than actual reform. Pessimists point to the fact that any change requires the agreement of all five permanent members, who having recently banded together to affirm their belief in their own fitness to rule on behalf of others are unlikely in the extreme to permit any serious change at all.

But events like that taking place in Syria and responses like that of Saudi Arabia’s can shift the status quo in ways that are impossible to predict – precisely by putting words into action, albeit in ways that Bush Jr. never imagined. Should that prove to be the case – and to be sure the current opening of debate merely hints at the possibility – then one hopes it will be in ways that are beneficial albeit hard to imagine at present (which is just the shot in the arm the international system needs), rather than in ways that are unpleasant yet all too easy to imagine.

PoC: How the Security Council in 1999 came to consider protection of civilians in armed conflict

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It is now fourteen years since the UN Security Council formally decided to include protection of civilians in armed conflict as a separate item on its agenda. The event was marked by an open discussion on protection in the Security Council – the first of its kind – which took place in February 1999.  It was followed by a request to the UN Secretary-General for a comprehensive report on the subject. The report was duly submitted in September (S/1999/957), which highlighted problems (“challenges “in UN language) and ways of addressing them. The Security Council endorsed the report’s recommendations in a formal resolution.

That was the beginning of a biannual, and later annual, routine in the Security Council  of dedicated discussions, reports and resolutions  that highlighted protection of civilians in armed conflict. Dedicated websites now follow the process. The practice has become so well institutionalized and widely accepted that we readily overlook the significance of these first, path-breaking steps in 1999.

Before then, the Security Council had focused on “hard” security issues of war and peace. Occasional reports had been requested and resolutions passed that dealt with refugees – not surprising given the existence of a large, and in the 1990s increasingly powerful, UN agency with a mandate to protect refugees (UNHCR). Questions of protection of civilians in armed conflict had also surfaced in the context of particular crises – notably the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, when the UN peacekeeping force, UNAMIR, was told to stick its head in the sand rather than respond to the unfolding signs of a genocide, and also when UN peacekeepers the following year were passive bystanders to the massacre in Srebrenica. But it took another five years before the Security Council was energized to consider protection of civilians in armed conflict as a subject worthy attention on its own, and in its own right. Protecting civilians was in effect elevated to the sphere of ‘high politics’.

How  did that happen?   And why then?

The context was favourable. The 1990s was “the humanitarian decade”. Humanitarian action was the language of the time, the veil of politics, and in part also a driving force. Analyst spoke of an international order with “embedded humanitarianism”.

An agent was needed as well. The crucial initiatives came from the Canadian government, above all its innovative and energetic foreign minister, Lloyd Axworthy. The government (then liberal with a small as well as large L), was seeking a seat on the Security Council and campaigned on three issues. “Human security” was one of them. Having rescued the term from near-oblivion (it first came to general attention in the 1994 UNDP Human Development Report), the Canadians had been promoting  “human security” as a central concept in foreign policy and international relations.  The new orientation had already contributed to a very significant result – the treaty banning landmines was signed in Ottawa in 1997. With their eyes on the Security Council seat, the Canadians were now seeking broader support for the “human security” concept and its possible concretizations.

The Norwegians soon signed on. “Human security” fitted nicely with the country’s general foreign policy traditions as well as the particular orientation of the new coalition government lead by the Christian Democrats (Bondevik I). Not so coincidentally, Norway was also angling for a future seat on the Security Council and needed relevant issues and allies. In 1998, the foreign ministers of the two countries met at a small island in western Norway where they declared their support for human security (the Lysøen Declaration).

Canada did win a seat in the Security Council (1999-2000), and so, a bit later, did Norway (2001-2001). The Canadians immediately tabled the issue of protection of civilians in armed conflict. The rest, as they say, is history. The issue never left the Security Council again. Outside the Security Council, the Canadians promoted “the responsibility to protect’ (R2P) as a matter of principle on the national and international level, receiving a measure of endorsement by the UN World Summit conference in 2005.

The above analysis of how the Security Council routinely came to pay attention to protection of civilians in armed conflict is cast in a neo-realist mould.  In this perspective, noble ideas need to be propelled forwards by more robust national interests of power and ambition, such as getting a seat on the Security Council. That is, we need to recognize the instrumental value of ideas to account for their political saliency. We also need to step outside a narrow neo-realistic framework to consider the conceptual clarity and normative power of the idea itself. At the time,  “human security” was a powerful idea; concretizing it in terms of protection of civilians gave it a focus and policy relevance necessary to capture the agenda of the Security Council.

What this all matters on the ground, outside the chambers of policy debates in the United Nations, is of course another question. But high-level recognition of a problem surely is a necessary (though not sufficient) prerequisite for effective active.

What, then, of the future? Will “human security” again provide inspiration or legitimacy for new initiatives in the humanitarian sector? The original carriers – Norway and Canada – will this spring mark the 15th anniversary of the original Lysøen Declaration. It will be a low-key and totally unofficial affair. The present Canadian government, no longer liberal with a small l, has practically banned the term (and taken down the website). The Norwegian government has not gone quite as far, but seems focused elsewhere.  Yet there is no lack of urgent issues. On top of my list is the development of an international regime to regulate ‘targeted killings’, particularly through drone strikes.  To get this squarely on the table of the Security Council and beyond, however, probably requires a massive lift – more than even an inspired Oslo-Ottawa axis could carry.

The Unspoken in Kabul: What does the future hold for humanitarian actors?

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On the day that the UN announced the number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan has fallen for the first time in six years, NCHS hosted a lively and interesting panel debate on the contemporary and future state of humanitarianism in the country (19th February). Based on a recently published report from the Feinstein Center, Afghanistan: Humanitarianism in Uncertain Times, the event took stock of the current humanitarian challenges in Afghanistan as well as how humanitarian actors can prepare for the forthcoming 2014 withdrawal of ISAF forces.  Panelists included Antonio Donini from the Feinstein Center and co-author of the report, academics from SOAS and CMI, and senior representatives from the Norwegian MFA, the Norwegian Red Cross and the Norwegian Refugee Council.

In a packed room at PRIO composed of Afghans, practitioners and policy-makers, Antonio Donini outlined the legacy of decades of international involvement in Afghanistan. Remarking on the similarities with the Soviet withdrawal from the country in 1989, Donini asked, what has been achieved? He noted that the human development indicators make somber reading after a decade of international engagement since the fall of the Taliban and millions of dollars of aid.  He observed that a unique feature of the Afghan situation is that all major donors are also belligerents, including Norway.

Having been invited to discuss possible scenarios for Afghanistan come 2014 and the need to engage in serious contingency planning, there was general agreement among panelists concerning a set of key issues: the re-categorization of the Afghan situation from “post-conflict” to “humanitarian crisis” around 2008 was very belated and had important implications for humanitarian strategies and policy.  The (marginalized) role of UN agencies and accessibility to various parts of the country remains a challenge. The withdrawal of ISAF forces is seen for some humanitarian actors as a positive development but perceived by panelists with varying degrees of apprehension. There was widespread agreement that there is also an acute need to address Afghanistan’s youth bulge.

Despite some agreement across the six panelists, there were strikingly different perspectives on what has and hasn’t been achieved in Afghanistan and what will come next for both ordinary Afghans and humanitarian organizations.  Some panelists suggested that it was not all doom and gloom, while others were more cautious.

Donini reflected on the fact that humanitarian response had not been overly successful in Afghanistan. The Norwegian Refugee Council described humanitarians as having achieved “remarkably little progress”. However, pointing to the successful work of local organizations in the more stable regions of the country, CMI argued that there were distinctly positive aspects to build on for the country’s future.

The lack of open discussions about contingency planning at the UN level was described by one participant as “the unspoken in Kabul, the elephant in the room”. There is a continuing bunkerization mentality within Kabul and agencies were reluctant to admit that their access is limited. On the positive side, 2014 will offer opportunities for looking more carefully at what negotiated access will mean and broader acceptance of the Taliban as a partner around the table. There is also the possibility that the ISAF withdrawal will undermine the Taliban’s main message of fighting a foreign force. Increasingly, the group will have to ask themselves what they now offer the population beyond attacking foreign troops. Humanitarians will also have to ask themselves difficult questions. As pointed out by a member of the audience, there cannot be an assumption that humanitarian actors (especially international) are actually welcome across the country. For many Afghans, they have already overstayed their welcome and humanitarians need to think carefully about what their future contribution to Afghan society can be.

As other countries scale down their funding, the Norwegian MFA repeated its commitment to maintain its funding for humanitarian aid to Afghanistan.  The MFA emphasized that it saw humanitarian aid as distinct from the Norwegian participation in ISAF. The focus of the Norwegian efforts would be on generating resilience through local capacity building.

In a comment, the SOAS participant, who is also an Afghan national, questioned why pour funding into capacity building now?   He also wondered why none of the other speakers had mentioned the role of the Afghan state which strongly asserts – at least rhetorically – its sovereignty and desire to actively participate in relieving poverty and suffering across the country.  He also described the humanitarian debate about a lack of access as slightly naïve: Afghani politics is about deal making and leveraging resources; humanitarian, drug related or otherwise.

He expressed concern at the militarization of rural Afghanistan as villages and communities are being armed as part of the ISAF withdrawal strategy.  Yet, he suggested that doom and gloom humanitarians also need to question their own contribution to the military Armageddon narrative: “As soon as we pull out, everything will go to hell. But while we were there, things held together”.

Somewhat surprisingly, there was no generally shared apprehension about insecurity.  The Norwegian Red Cross expressed concern about a decreased capacity to deliver as security deteriorates and international contributions to Afghanistan are reduced.  According to CMI, local Afghan NGOs will probably continue to work quite effectively with local populations. It was suggested that only certain kinds of humanitarians – those with foreign funding, dual citizenship or who financially benefit from disseminating a ‘worst-case scenario’ narrative – engaged in doomsday scenarios.  Local staff, particularly in the northern part of the country, focused on getting their job done with quality and politeness as keywords. While there had been a radical under-investment in peaceful areas with the bulk of funding going to Afghanistan’s conflict zones, there was eagerness in Afghan society to move forward.

A final point of discussion brought up by panelists and by young Afghans in the audience was the potential role of the emergent generation of young Afghans.  Afghani society has irrevocably changed and social media has become an integrated part of everyday life. What kind of space for leveraging social changed can be carved out between the traditional political elite, the warlords and the “NGOized” groups of privileged civil society actors?

A Norwegian Centre for Humanitarian Studies?

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This is our first blog posting at the Norwegian Centre for Humanitarian Studies. The Centre is the brainchild of a multidisciplinary group of researchers from CMI, NUPI and PRIO, while the blog will host a mixture of reports from the field; thoughts on new issues such as emerging donors, urban violence and humanitarian technology; discussions on (in the first place Norwegian) humanitarian policy and critical reflections on the emergent field of humanitarian studies. We welcome your comments and inputs.

Change is upon international humanitarianism.

Whether caused by violent conflicts or natural disasters, humanitarian interventions (armed and unarmed) raise fundamental questions about ethics, sovereignty, and political power. The global humanitarian system has gone through significant, and often poorly understood, changes over the last two decades. What are the implications for the protection of civilians? Humanitarian work has expanded to cover more long-term development activities at the same time as emergencies have become more frequent. Meanwhile the division between man-made and “natural” disasters is getting increasingly blurred. Humanitarian reform initiatives, with their focus on accountability, transparency and financing, have become institutionalized. But they are raising further questions in their wake.

New actors are rapidly transforming the humanitarian landscape: heavyweights like China, Brazil and Turkey engage in cross-border humanitarian action in ways that differ from the “classic” humanitarianism of Northern donors.  Global philanthropy and the rise of “for profit” NGOs reshape the political economy of humanitarian aid. Social media and so-called “humanitarian technologies” continue to transform understandings of what disasters are, and how civilians can be aided and protected.

In the midst of this, most humanitarian assistance remains a local affair: Human rights groups, social movements and a multiplicity of faith-based organizations bring their specific rationalities to the table in their efforts to address the needs of community members and displaced individuals fleeing from crisis. And of course, for all that humanitarianism is constantly in the news, most of the time the international community is not present, or it arrives too late.

The Norwegian government and Norwegian NGOs have long been (and remain) important actors on the humanitarian stage.

Humanitarian principles are central to overall Norwegian foreign policy, and humanitarian donorship is central to the Norwegian national identity.  In 2011, funding for humanitarian issues totaled 3, 3 billion Norwegian Kroner. This constituted 12% of the Norwegian aid budget, and according to OECD/DAC, the Norwegian contribution represented around 3 % of all humanitarian aid given.  Norway is home to myriad organizations that self-define as “humanitarian”, ranging from mom-and-pop shops to the big internationally known organizations like the Norwegian Red Cross, the Norwegian Refugee Council, CARE International, Save the Children Norway, the Norwegian Peoples Aid and the Norwegian Church Aid.

These organizations work in conflict zones across the globe. While Norway’s roles in peace negotiations and in development aid have been contentious issues for some time, the channeling of these funds to the world’s emergency zones has so far been relatively uncontroversial at home.  For all Norway’s imprint around the globe there is surprisingly little public debate about humanitarian issues in Norway itself.

Based on our work in a range of conflict zones such as Afghanistan, Colombia, the Horn of Africa and the two Sudans; in post-conflict settings like Liberia and Uganda; and in the air-conditioned meeting rooms of the “humanitarian international” in New York and Geneva, our aim is to change that.