Friday, June 20, 2008

They doth protest too much (and in the wrong place)

So every day outside the UN Secretariat building, protesters gather to shout slogans on megaphones. The most common protests are about Tibet and Darfur. Both issues are weekly regulars, at least. Less common but still reliable are aggrieved citizens of the Falun Gong and Taiwan.

Which makes me wonder: what do they actually expect the UN to do about these issues? Shouldn't they be protesting outside the Chinese embassy? All of these issues except the Darfur one are internal to China (and the Darfur one is internal to Sudan). China, like any P5 member, can stop any UN action anywhere. It can veto Security Council action. It has the developing world on its side to quash any General Assembly action. If the Secretary-General speaks up, China can block him from getting a second 5-year term at his post. And they can veto any future candidate who dares breathe the word "Tibet."

As for the Darfur issue, the UN is trying to get its peacekeepers on the ground, but without governmental consent its options are limited. Although I doubt even China can lobby Sudan to accept the UNAMID force unconditionally, they are the only ones who have any serious leverage over the situation at all at this point. Moreover, the UN peacekeeping department doesn't like sending missions to places like Darfur unless there's a peace to keep, and in Darfur there isn't any. So to the sober analyst, UNAMID probably shouldn't even be deploying at all at this point, and major donors are so unconvinced of its success that they won't even pony up a pittance of helicopters so the mission can do its job.

So why are the protesters gathering outside UN headquarters every day? The issue here is, people think the UN is this nebulous global good guy who can solve the world's problems, like a teacher in a classroom. Khartoum is being evil? Go tell the UN to fix it! Beijing quashing religious dissidents at home? Call the UN! It's the panacea to the world's ills, right? Well, news flash: IT ISN'T. It's designed to stop conflict between states. There is nothing, NOTHING in the UN Charter that allows for UN action to solve internal matters inside China, or Sudan, or anywhere else.

So welcome to the real world, Guy With Megaphone screaming "What do we want?! PEACEKEEPERS! When do we want them? NOW!" Now go protest the Chinese embassy, mostly so I won't have to walk in front of your damn megaphone on the way into the UN every morning anymore.

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