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Ban Ki Moon

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Duterte and the UN

Rodrigo Duterte, the new president of the Philippines, gives good copy. Here’s a quote from his final election rally: “Forget the laws on human rights. If I make it to the presidential palace, I will do just what I did as mayor. You drug pushers, hold-up men and do-nothings, you better go out. Because I’d kill you. I’ll dump all of you into Manila Bay, and fatten all the fish there.”

And here’s another, from last Sunday, after United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime condemned Mr Duterte’s “apparent endorsement of extrajudicial killings.”

“I do not want to insult you,” Duterte said. (He only called them “stupid”.) “But maybe we’ll just have to decide to separate from the United Nations. If you are that rude, we might just as well leave. So take us out of your organisation. You have done nothing. Never. Except to criticise.”

What upset Ban Ki-moon and the UNDOC is the fact that Duterte is having people murdered. Since he took office three months ago, some 900 “suspected drug-dealers” have been shot dead by police and civilian vigilantes acting in his name. None was found guilty by a court, and some, of course, were completely innocent.

Duterte is not denying it or apologising. Before he leaves office, he says, he’ll just give himself an amnesty: “Pardon given to Rodrigo Duterte for the crime of multiple murder, signed Rodrigo Duterte.”

“The Punisher”, as he was known when he was mayor of Davao, is very serious about his “war on drugs”: he recently said he would kill his own children if they took drugs. But crime is not the Philippines’ biggest problem, and it’s not clear what else he is serious about.

He talks vaguely about making the Philippines a federal country, but no details of his policies and plans have emerged. In fact, he has spent most of the time since his election down south in his Davao stronghold, not in Manila.

But he does have a plan of sorts for what to do after he walks out of the United Nations. He says he may ask China and African countries to walk out too and form a rival organisation. He doesn’t know much about China or Africa, so maybe he thinks they would like to get together and defy the parts of the world where governments believe that killing people is wrong.

“Duterte Harry” (another nickname) is very popular in the Philippines, but he is not really a threat to global order. The hundred million Filpinos will have to live with him for the next six years, but the United Nations is not doomed. In fact, it is doing better than most people give it credit for.

One proof of this is the fact that the Secretary General now has the right to criticise a member government merely for killing its own citizens. That’s not what it was designed for. When it was created in 1945, as the catastrophe of the Second World War was ending, its main goal was to prevent any more wars like that.

The founders tried to give it the appearance of a broader moral force by signing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, but that was mainly window-dressing. The UN was created by the great powers to prevent any government from launching another war of international aggression, not to make governments treat their own citizens better.

In fact, each major power was effectively guaranteed the right to do whatever it wanted to its own citizens, so long as it did not attack the neighbours. In this, the new UN was just recognising reality, for every great power was determined to preserve its own “sovereignty”. Even for smaller powers, the great powers could rarely agree on what kind of intervention was desirable, and who should do it.

The UN has done well in its original task: it shares the credit with nuclear weapons for the fact that no great power has fought any other for the past 71 years. It has gradually moved into other areas like peace-keeping and promoting the rule of law in the world, but it never interferes inside the territory of the great powers. Even in smaller countries it almost never intervenes without the invitation of the local government.

So when Duterte called the UN useless because “if you are really true to your mandate, you could have stopped all these wars and killings,” he was talking through his hat. Besides, he would never accept UN intervention in his own country to deal with an alleged crime wave. He’s just talking tough because he hates being criticised.

It’s very unlikely that he will carry out his threat. The UN is the keystone in the structure of international law that, among many other things, deters China from settling its territorial dispute with the Philippines by force. Rodrigo Duterte is just a problem for the Philippines, not for the UN or the world.
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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 7 and 12. (“He talks…Manila”; and “In fact…it”)

The Coming War in Mali

1 December 2012

The Coming War in Mali

By Gwynne Dyer

You probably haven’t given much thought to the problems in Mali, but United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has, and his advice on military intervention in that West African country could be summed up in two words: forget it. Although, being a diplomat, he actually used a great many more words than that.

Mali’s 14 million people are almost all Muslims, but there is a deep ethnic divide between the black African majority in the southern half of the country and the Tuaregs (only 10 percent of the population) who dominate the desert northern half. Last March, a military coup in the capital, Bamako, distracted the Malian army long enough for Tuareg separatists to seize control of the entire north.

The Tuareg separatists had been in business for many years, but an influx of weapons and fighters from Libya after the fall of the Gaddafi regime gave them a new impetus. Having driven government troops out of the north and declared the independent nation of Azawad, however, the separatists were then rapidly pushed aside by Islamic extremists who declared a jihad against practically everybody.

A military coup in a West African nation, even if the government then lost control of half the country to separatists, would normally be of interest only to other West African states. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) might back military intervention to reunite the country, or it might not, but the rest of the world would ignore it. Not this time.

What set alarms bells ringing in the United States and Europe was the fact that al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) is a major force in the alliance of Islamist fundamentalists that now controls northern Mali. The mere mention of al-Qaeda sets Western governments salivating like Pavlov’s dogs, and the issue of reconquering northern Mali suddenly got onto the international agenda.

Western countries have been pushing for a UN Security Council resolution authorising military action against the rebels for months, and in October they got their way. The resolution gave regional leaders 45 days to provide plans for an international military intervention to oust the rebels in northern Mali, and the US government recently said that war was now “inevitable”.

At that point Ban Ki-Moon wrote his letter to the Security Council condemning the rush to military action: “I am profoundly aware that if a military intervention in the north is not well conceived and executed, it could worsen an already fragile humanitarian situation and also result in severe human rights abuses. Fundamental questions on how the force would be led, sustained, trained, equipped and financed remain unanswered.”

“A military operation may be required as a last resort to deal with the most hardline extremists and criminal elements in the north,” Ban conceded, “but before that stage is reached, the focus must be on initiating a broad-based and inclusive national dialogue…” Diplomatic buzz-words, certainly, but he is fighting for time and that’s all he has.

But US drones are already overflying northern Mali on a daily basis. US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has refused to rule out direct American support for training or other operations on the ground in Mali. A real war will soon start in Mali.

It would involve the same kind of UN intervention force that has been fighting the Islamist al-Shabab militia in Somalia: African countries provide the troops, and Western countries cover the costs. But whereas the Ugandan, Kenyan and Burundian armies that are doing the heavy lifting in Somalia are reasonably competent soldiers, the West African armies that would provide the troops in Mali are not.

Take the biggest army in the region, for example. As a senior Malian official told The Guardian newspaper last month, “The Nigerian army is in a shocking state. There is no way they are capable of forward operations in Mali…The Nigerian forces lack training and kit, so they simply don’t have the capability to carry out even basic military manoeuvres. They have poor discipline and support.”

So who will pick up the pieces if the ECOWAS force, already unpopular in Mali, fails to recover the north? Probably Western troops, but that would trigger powerful anti-Western reactions all over Africa. It might produce a military victory and reunify Mali by force, but it would be a political disaster. The extremists could not hope for a better recruiting tool.

This whole operation is being driven by a reflex panic about terrorism. But northern Mali is a very long way from anywhere else, and there are no flights out.

The better approach would be to wait for the rebels in the north to fall out and start fighting one another, which they probably will. Meanwhile, train and equip Mali’s own army for the task of retaking the north by force, if that ever becomes necessary, although the fact that it is currently run by the turbulent and ignorant junior officers who made last March’s disastrous coup certainly doesn’t help.

Still, Ban Ki-Moon is right. Sometimes the best thing to do is as little as possible.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 8 and 11. (“A military…has”; and “Take…support”)