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"We are doing very little at the moment."

Our good buddy Jan Egeland starred in my previous satirical post, but this time, unfortunately, I'm not kidding.

Besides being U.N. Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mr. Egeland, is also the U.N.'s Emergency Relief Coordinator for tsunami aid efforts. He made the statement that is the title of this post while speaking on Thursday in New York.

In fairness to Mr. Egeland, is it too soon to expect real relief efforts to be underway? A U.S. Foreign Service officer working in one of the tsunami-hit countries reports:

Americans are everywhere in this corner of the Far Abroad, doing things that no other country on earth can or will do, and at a truly amazing pace... In stark contrast, the much-vaunted UN humanitarian effort is a disgrace.
What are Americans doing in the affected countries?
Americans are funding local Red Cross/Red Crescent organizations, organizing truck convoys to break up the supply bottlenecks at airports and seaports, loading barges with rice and biscuits, flying in a steady stream of C-130s, and steaming in aircraft carrier battlegroups (diverted from other tasks vital to our national security) laden with mobile hospitals, supplies of every imaginable type and critically needed helicopters. Local AmCham chapters are putting together huge donation drives and "greedy' American multinationals are donating expensive heavy earth moving equipment, generators, and fuel to help Asia's victims.
The U.N., on the other hand, as Mr. Egeland helpfully reminds us, is "doing very little at the moment." Okay, but what is it doing? As the U.N. itself reports on its own website,
To address the psycho-social needs of children throughout nearly a dozen countries devastated by the tsunami, selective in-service teacher training will be supported to equip teachers with specific methods and activities. While limited in their capacity and depth of the response to shock, teachers can still be trained to carry out activities which allow children, many of them orphaned, to share their feelings and to better cope with the aftermath of the disaster.
Got that? While America and other countries are actually providing tangible, urgent assistance, the U.N. is training local teachers to help kids share their feelings. No word on how the U.N. effort will help kids whose teacher was killed. Sadly, we may never know how they feel.

Note also that the while the U.N. article mentions several other hazards faced by the tsunami survivors (such as land mines being swept to unknown locations, and the spread of diseases like malaria), there is no statement that the U.N. is, you know, actually doing something about it.

Actually that's not entirely true. It's "sending damage assessment missions" to historic sites on its World Heritage List, "to decide on appropriate action."

It would appear that for people outside the feckless bureaucracy of the U.N., it's a lot easier to determine what action is appropriate. And to actually take it.

FOLLOW-UP:
Predictably, some people actually blame -- wait for it -- George W. Bush for "undermining" U.N. relief efforts by having America provide aid on its own.

We wouldn't want our food convoys getting in the way of their teacher training, I guess.

15 comments:

fasteddie said...

Well this confirms what we know to be true, the U.N. is highly inefficient in getting things done sometimes.

Just a reminder The Red Cross is one of the finest NGO's on the planet.

Anonymous said...

You are obviously as ignorant as you are vicious. Read this and cure you Freeper dulness, if possible.

"Mental wounds from tsunami running very deep
Catastrophe's unique character adds difficulty"


http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/05002/435438.stm

GaijinBiker said...

Nice ad hominem attack, Anonymous. Very classy, and it makes your point so well.

However, I'm not sure someone who thinks training teachers to discuss feelings is more important than providing immediate delivery of food, shelter, clothing, and medical treatment, should be calling other people ignorant.

Question: Do you think the teachers would be able to discuss their student's feelings without any help from the U.N.?

Happy New Year,
--GB

Big Ben said...

To be fair, I think it should be noted that the UN has a very limited budget and a relatively rigidly defined purpose, one which doesn't include disaster relief. Other international organizations like the Red Cross fill that niche. The UN's mission does, however, include promotion of education, which is one reason they are focusing where they are.

The UN is a diplomatic organization and as such, its main role in disaster relief is to encourage member countries to contribute. Criticizing them for not doing anything about the disaster is like criticizing the board of education for not fighting fires.

GaijinBiker said...

You kind of make my point that the U.N. is good for very little, especially in times of crisis. Yet it is very effective at throwing up intricate, multi-leveled bureaucracies and expensive outposts for its representatives in war-torn or disaster-struck regions.

The U.N.'s own website says its mission, in part, is the "coordination" of relief efforts. Hmm. This sounds to me like the boss who takes credit for his employees' hard work. As Bush's coalition-based relief initiative suggests, the U.N.'s efforts at "coordination" may not be as crucial as officials like Mr. Egeland represent them to be.

What is the U.N.'s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs actually, tangibly accomplishing that could not be done more effectively by state or private organizations? Its budget for 2004 was $87 million -- most of which was contributed by donor nations above and beyond their normal U.N. dues. What did that money buy us? Could it have been donated elsewhere to better effect?

Perhaps the U.N.'s limited budget should be made even more limited.

Sharon said...

That U.N. Website has to be one of the least user-friendly sites I've ever had the displeasure of using. A lot of bureaucratic layers, but try finding your way to Unicef! I think it's website is indicative of many of the problems the U.N. is unable to acknowedge, and is instead all-to-quick to blame the U.S. for.

I think there is a purpose for a cooperative international legislative body, but the U.N., like the League of Nations before it, fails to meet the most important standard: cooperation. When you appoint Sudan, Zimbabwe and Libya, among other illustrius nations, to head up your Committee on Human Rights, the "reality-based community" (to co-opt a phrase of Eric Alterman) rightfully thinks you've jumped the shark. When your Secuirty Council issues "strongly-worded criticisms" in the face of genocide, you are no longer serious committed to your purpose. When you allow friends, cronies, and despots to circumvent the very programs you created as a means of bringing rogue nations to task, you are a carbuncle on the face of international cooperation.

It is unfortunate that some of the good work that other U.N. bodies do (such as Unicef & Unesco) gets lost in the controversy surrounding the Security Council, but hopefully some of the more effective, non-political bodies contained within the U.N. structure can be supported independently of the organization at-large.

Sharon said...

Also, anyone who thinks the U.N. should be allowed to set the standard for international interventions should see the film "Hotel Rawanda". I think seeing just how the U.N. failed the people of Rawanda in their moment of greatest need will disabuse any person of their belief in the superiority of the U.N. over its' member states.

Big Ben said...

I agree that the UN in its current form is broken and often ineffective (Rwanda and Darfur being exhibits A and B), but as Sharon mentions, there is a need for some form of organization of its type, and unfortunately the UN is all we've got.

I would certainly support efforts to reform the UN or supplant it with a more effective new organization, but saying "it doesn't work, so let's defund it" only renders it further unable to do the necessary and useful work it does, such as UNICEF, coordinating PKOs, etc. It should also be noted that the UN has been quite effective at coordinating relief efforts for other natural disasters in the past. It is largely due to the unprecedented size of the present disaster that UN efforts at coordination have been ineffective.

There are obviously major structural problems with the UN, but in this post you're criticizing it for not doing something it's not even designed to do, and when called on it you just resorted to general UN-bashing.
If you've got a better idea I'd love to hear it, because I agree that the world deserves better than this.

GaijinBiker said...

OK, so here's my better idea:

(1) The U.N. should be dissolved -- or at least starved of funding by the U.S. and other serious nations, until it becomes irrelevant.

(2) If an international organization is really needed, we could try a "League of Democracies" where only nations with democratically-elected governments could join. You don't get to vote on world issues unless your people get to vote for you. (Sounds fair to me, and would eliminate a lot of the everyday U.N. lunacy like having Cuba, North Korea, Syria, and Sudan vote on human rights, disarmament, and anti-terrorism resolutions.)

(3) However, I'm not persuaded that ANYTHING the U.N. does, at least in the humanitarian sphere, could not be better handled by private groups or individual nations (or ad hoc coalitions of nations). The U.N. is ultimately concerned first and foremost with the self-preservation of its own bureaucracy, parasitically allying itself with popular causes like tsunami relief so that it can skim off part of the funds. Relief organizations need the U.N. like small business owners need the Mafia.

The bottom line for me is, whatever benefits the U.N. may provide are significantly outweighed by the drawbacks (like the oil-for-food scandal) for which it is responsible. I think more good could be done by other groups, without any of the drawbacks.

An eloquent statement on this issue by another blogger can be found here.

(P.S. -- IMHO, the guy I linked to is one of the very best writers in the blogosphere. I recommend him if you are looking for intelligent, well-reasoned, original conservative writing.)

Big Ben said...

My first impression of your better idea is that you might as well wish for a pony too while you're at it. Such a league of democracies would indeed be a major improvement, but to paraphrase Rummy: you handle international crises with the international organizations you have, not the international organizations you wish you had.

We may have to agree to disagree about private organizations and ad hoc coalitions being able to adequately do the work of the UN. One reason for the success of many past UN peacekeeping operations is the percieved legitimacy of UN troops. You may believe that the perception of legitimacy is undeserved, but in the eyes of the world a guy with a blue beret has a lot more credibility and legitimacy than a guy with a stars and stripes patch, and it makes a difference.(I agree that other organizations are often better able to handle disaster relief and such, but to assume that greed is the UN's main motivation in getting invovled seems pretty paranoid.)

I haven't had time to check out the rest of the blog you linked, so I'll have to take your word for it that it is usually well-written, but the post you linked was just silly. It segues from the UN directly to the totalitarian Myanmar regime on the logic that they both . . . have press spokesmen? The thugs in Burma are pretty Orwellian, but every country, every coroporation, every organization in the world treats media affairs as important. Bush has a media spokesmen too, attending to many news cycles a day . . whoah dude, just like 1984!

Big Ben said...

By the way, I want to make it clear that I'm not mocking you, GB. Your posts are always rational and follow basic rules of logic, even when I don't agree with your conclusions. But that guy made a conceptual leap that only makes sense if you already believe that the UN is an evil organization with sinister aims.

GaijinBiker said...

Wow, I can't believe you are quoting Rumsfeld approvingly! Ha ha.

Media concerns may be important, but when managing the media perception takes precedence over the work you are actually doing, you've gone too far.

The blogger I linked often looks for a connection between two seemingly unrelated events. It's not to say that they are exactly like each other, but to seek out interesting points where they are analogous. To me, that's part of what makes his writing so good.

He also usually has lots of facts and historical references the casual observer doesn't, plus extra style points for literary allusions.

Anyway, try some more of his blog later on, it's good stuff.

Also, it's true that neither he nor I views the U.N. in a vaccuum, but in the context of its past actions and its structure. His views on the U.N. were not re-explained in that particular post, but which have been addressed previously.

And I didn't think you were mocking me. No worries.

GaijinBiker said...

First, I don't agree that UN personnel automatically have more legitimacy than US personnel. In fact I think they have much less, if any. A U.N. vote does not guarantee that an action will be just, and an action can be just in the absence of U.N. approval.

I'm not sure I can define what justice is, but I think we can agree that it doesn't flow automatically and exclusively from a vote of the UN security council.

What if some key nations on the council have conflicts of interest -- like in the Oil-for-Food scandal, where Russia and France had secret oil deals with Saddam Hussein that undermined the UN's own sanctions on his regime? How can their views on deposing Saddam have any legitimacy?

Second, I ask you: what good is legitimacy without getting the job done?

If you had been on the short end of the stick in Liberia, Darfur, Serbia, etc., who would you have rather seen coming to your aid -- the UN blue-helmets or the US marines? (For me, there's no question.)

I will probably do a whole new post with links to the spectacular and repeated failures of UN troops to actually achieve or maintain peace in troubled regions, but it's too much of a task for this quick comment.

I am not confusing legitimacy with effectiveness; rather, I think the UN has neither.

Big Ben said...

when managing the media perception takes precedence over the work you are actually doing, you've gone too far.I have seen no evidence that the UN has crossed that line, but even if it had, the same criticism could easily be made even more strongly of the Bush administration.

I've already said I agree with you that the UN is structurally broken, but unfortunately, in the battle for hearts and minds, perceptions are more important than the political realities of how the UN actually functions.
If you had been on the short end of the stick in Liberia, Darfur, Serbia, etc., who would you have rather seen coming to your aid -- the UN blue-helmets or the US marines?If polled, I'd bet the people of those areas would say they preferred the blue helmets (although the more realistic of them probably hope it would be US marines wearing them.) Frankly, it doesn't matter whether US conservatives believe the UN has legitmacy; if the UN can confer the perception of legitimacy to a peacekeeping operation in the eyes of the local population, that has an effect on how they will react.

Also, about Egeland, however you may feel about the propriety of his comments, his accusations of "stinginess" helped fuel the pissing match between the US and other Western nations about who could offer the biggest aid package, and therefore those comments had a positive effect on the relief effort. The guy may be sanctimonious, but he achieved what he intended to.

Again, I don't like the guy, and I don't like the UN, but when the US is seen in the world as no longer having either credibility or legitimacy, you have to find a way to work with the organization that is regarded, however unfairly, as legitimate.

GaijinBiker said...

Bush and the UN both try to manage the media, but Bush is actually doing things of substance, while the UN does little else but engage in media relations. It's a question of the ratio of how much you get done, to how much you yak about it.

I can't accept your contention that genocide vicitms would like to see the US marines help them, but only if they are wearing UN blue helmets. People want troops who can protect them, period.

There are photos on the Internet of Liberians holding up signs saying "Please, Bush, Help Us!" Not the UN. Bush.

As for the legitimacy issue, looks like we'll have to agree to disagree for now. In sum, I think the question of "legitimacy" is a canard put forth by leaders of other nations who resent the fact that the U.S. is powerful enough to act on its own. It's a political attempt to weaken America and make their nations more powerful by comparison.

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