My New Book!

My New Book!
My New Book!

Friday, October 23, 2020

October 23, 2020: UN Histories: Peacekeeping


[October 24th will mark the 75th anniversary of the official establishment of the United Nations. So this week I’ll AmericanStudy five histories connected to the UN, leading up to a weekend post on global interconnectedness in 2020.]
What we can learn from both the longest-running and a more recent UN peacekeeping mission.
The first two missions on which UN peacekeepers embarked have also proven to be the organization’s longest-running international efforts. In 1948, the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO) sent peacekeepers to the Middle East to monitor a ceasefire in Palestine between Israel and the coalition of Arab states that had commenced hostilities against the new nation on the day after the May 14th proclamation of the Israeli state. In 1949, the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) was created and dispatched to the states of Jammu and Kashmir, in an effort to maintain a ceasefire between India and Pakistan over those contested regions. In both of these cases, multiple subsequent outbreaks of hostilities—and the uneasy peaces that exist even when conflicts have not broken out—have required the peacekeeping forces to remain in place; as we near the 70th anniversary of both missions, it’s fair to say that UN peacekeepers now comprise a permanent part of the community in these contested spaces.
In April 2014, the UN authorized peacekeepers with the newly created United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA; the UN does love its acronyms) to travel to that African nation, hoping to alleviate some of the human rights crises unfolding in the aftermath of civil conflict and genocide and to help the nation transition back to stability. An African-led effort, the International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA), had already been in place, but in September that organization formally transferred its authority to the UN peacekeepers, ushering in the UN’s official role in the rebuilding nation. It’s far too early to assess the outcome or success of this latest UN peacekeeping mission, but as of the August 2015 moment in which I wrote this post, the news isn’t good: a Rwandan peacekeeper working for the UN mission has apparently shot and killed four of his colleagues and wounded four others. This act of murder and perhaps terrorism is of course far from unique to the UN or its peacekeepers, but it does reflect an uncomfortable truth about all of the UN’s missions: that they are undertaken by people and groups just as flawed and limited as in any other human endeavors, and yet are consistently asked to perform heroic duties in the world’s worst situations.
It’s easy to see that contradiction as the root of, or at least a primary factor in, the inability of the Palestine and Kashmir peacekeeping missions to keep conflicts and hostilities from reoccurring in those contested spaces; the UN peacekeepers might not be responsible for the conflicts in the same way as the local parties, that is, but they’re just as human and so just as unable to prevent the conflicts as are even progressive leaders in those affected nations. A famous, coincidental photograph which made the social media rounds in 2015 expresses with particular clarity that cynical take on the peacekeepering missions and their failures to change the realities on the ground. Yet on the other hand, who’s to say that without the presence of the UN peacekeepers, conflicts in Palestine and Kashmir (both of which include the possibility of nuclear retaliation, let’s note) wouldn’t have intensified far further and more destructively? After all, UN peacekeepers have completed 55 missions over the organization’s 70 years of existence, leaving these affected nations and regions not perfect but unquestionably more stable and healthy than would otherwise have been the case. While we can’t be naïve about the realities, it’s nonetheless worth remembering and celebrating those successes on this anniversary.
Special post this weekend,
Ben
PS. What do you think?

Thursday, October 22, 2020

October 22, 2020: UN Histories: Secretary Generals


[October 24th will mark the 75th anniversary of the official establishment of the United Nations. So this week I’ll AmericanStudy five histories connected to the UN, leading up to a weekend post on global interconnectedness in 2020.]
What three representative UN leaders tell us about the organization and its histories.
1)      Dag Hammarskjöld (1953-1961): Sweden’s Hammarskjöld was not the first elected UN Secretary General (that honor went to Norway’s Trygve Lie), but I would argue he was the first to illustrate the new organization’s international influence. That was particularly illustrated by the controversial 1960-1961 Congo Crisis, in which the precise nature of the UN’s involvement and influence remains under debate by historians. While the UN had not been able to prevent the Korean War (a situation that contributed greatly to Lie’s 1952 resignation), in the Congo the organization wielded its power and authority far more successfully, in the process shaping that nation’s and its continent’s future for many years to come. While we might debate President John F. Kennedy’s statement (after the Secretary General’s tragic death in a 1961 plane crash) that Hammarskjöld was “the greatest statesman of our century,” he unquestionably made the UN into far more of a global player than it had previously been.
2)      Javier Pérez de Cuéllar (1982-1991): Each of the subsequent Secretary Generals have extended that legacy, dealing with their own global crises and wielding the organization’s authority and influence in their own ways. Peru’s de Cuéllar was the first Secretary General from the Western Hemisphere, and on that level alone reflects the organization and the world’s evolution into and beyond the 1980s. Moreover, a number of the crises through which de Cuéllar led the UN connected closely to postcolonial settings and issues as well: from mediating Britain and Argentina’s disputes in the aftermath of the 1982 Falklands War and promoting the 1983-4 work of the Contadora Group (a transnational Central American organization working for regional peace) to negotiating Namibia’s 1990 bid for independence from South Africa, among other moments. Such issues had been part of the world for centuries, of course, but they gained much greater visibility in the 1980s, and de Cuéllar’s UN reflected and amplified that presence.
3)      Kofi Annan (1997-2006): Like de Cuéllar, Ghana’s Annan was significant in part because of geography: he was the first UN Secretary General from sub-Saharan Africa. But in many of his most prominent actions and initiatives, Annan also helped usher the UN into the new millennium, working to reform and strengthen its management, secretariat and Security Council, and Human Rights Council, among other efforts. It was in part for these necessary and meaningful reforms, and in part for such pioneering initiatives as the UN Global Compact and The Global Fund (for AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria) that Annan and the UN were co-recipients of the 2001 (centennial) Nobel Peace Prize. While the UN is far from perfect, as I’ll work to analyze in the next two posts, Annan ensured that it would move into the 21st century in evolving and vibrant ways, extending and deepening the legacy of these prior Secretary Generals and of the organization’s global role and impacts.
Last UN history tomorrow,
Ben
PS. What do you think?

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

October 21, 2020: UN Histories: Muir Woods


[October 24th will mark the 75th anniversary of the official establishment of the United Nations. So this week I’ll AmericanStudy five histories connected to the UN, leading up to a weekend post on global interconnectedness in 2020.]
On a potent symbolic expression of memory and community.
In this post on the histories and meanings of Northern California’s Muir Woods National Monument, I highlighted a unique and striking May 19th, 1945 ceremony. On that spring day representatives from 50 nations, in the midst of the meetings in San Francisco that would produce the United Nations Charter, traveled to the woods to commemorate Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the histories and ideas that had led them and the world to this moment and the new organization it would create. Roosevelt, who had died of a massive cerebral hemorrhage just over a month before the ceremony (on April 12th), had proposed (inspired by his visionary, activist Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes) that the conference as a whole take place at Muir Woods. While that did not end up being the case, the May 19th ceremony in the woods represented a clear way for the group to honor Roosevelt’s vision, one cemented by their placing of a commemorative plaque at the site’s sacred Cathedral Grove in tribute to the fallen president and world leader.
The plaque and tribute bring into stark focus the contrasts between Roosevelt’s role in the origins of and support for the United Nations and those of Woodrow Wilson for the League of Nations. There were of course numerous factors and histories that contributed to those contrasts, and it’s neither fair nor productive to compare the two presidents and moments (or the two world wars, for that matter) as if they existed in a vacuum or on a level playing field. Yet without using the contrast to judge or blame Wilson, necessarily, it is nonetheless instructive to note Roosevelt’s far more consistent and successful connection to and advocacy for the international organization he had helped found. Indeed, while we might criticize the level of individual influence wielded by Roosevelt and Winston Churchill in the UN’s origins, there can be little doubt that without those two leading figures, and the ways in which they pushed their fellow Allied leaders to sign and support the 1942 UN Declaration, the idea for the UN might never have survived the subsequent years of war. For those and many other reasons, the May 1945 ceremony and plaque rightly remembered and celebrated Roosevelt’s foundational and vital role in the UN’s development.
The Muir Woods ceremony did more than just remember a fallen leader, however. It also captured two distinct but interconnected elements of an ideal global community, both reflected in Harold Ickes’s initial argument for holding the UN conference at the woods: “Not only would this focus attention upon the nation’s interest in preserving these mighty trees for posterity, but in such a ‘temple of peace’ the delegates would gain a perspective and sense of time that could be obtained nowhere better than in such a forest.” The first clause of Ickes’s inspiring sentence highlights the global environmental advocacy toward which the UN would move over the next half-century; such environmentalism was of course not a focus of the organization’s wartime efforts, but could and did become an important ongoing emphasis for such a groundbreaking international entity. And Ickes’s second clause reflects the idea of a long view of global history and community, one that does not focus simply on specific conflicts or issues but also seeks to move beyond them and toward the kind of overarching understanding of humanity and the world on which the survival of both those entities ultimately depends. “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness,” Muir himself argued—an idea expressed nicely by this symbolic and significant 1945 ceremony.
Next UN history tomorrow,
Ben
PS. What do you think?