November 7, 2008

Advisor Examines U.N.’s Role in World

Print More

“The [United Nations] has grown very big. A lot of people think it is too large; it is different to different people, much like the proverbial elephant to the three blind men,” began Lakhdar Brahimi, former U.N. special advisor and Cornell A.D. White Professor-at-Large. Yesterday evening, he addressed a crowded lecture hall about the progress and shortcomings of the U.N. as a humanitarian and peacekeeping force in the world.
Brahimi, who served a 15-year stint at the U.N. as a peacekeeping specialist, argued that the U.N. has done “reasonably well” in its mission. His lifetime work includes service as Algerian ambassador to the United Kingdom and leading several U.N. peacekeeping missions across the globe, including to Iraq and Afghanistan. Brahimi is also responsible for the famed Brahimi Report, a document critiquing U.N. peacekeeping efforts during the later part of the 20th century.
The lecture — held in the Plant Sciences building — was a part of a weekly series hosted by the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs. The A.D. White Professor-at-Large program brings distinguished scholars and scientists as “non-resident professors” to campus to lecture and participate in faculty discourse several times during their six-year appointments.
“His breadth of knowledge was amazing,” said CIPA student Brianna Menning, who attended the lecture for her thesis on U.N. human rights policy. “He’s done just so much work all across the world and has tremendous experience in foreign affairs and peacekeeping.”
Throughout the lecture, Brahimi discussed the successes and failures of the U.N., which he cites as an “organization I have served very happily, with great frustration, over the past fifteen years.”
He began by reiterating the U.N.’s original objective in being the main agent in “preserving the future generations from the scourge of war,” an objective that he expressed concern about.
“World peace means peace hopefully everywhere, not just between the ‘big boys’ like the United States and Russia,” he argued.
Brahimi stated that the United Nations had failed to the extent of being partially responsible for the massacres in Yugoslavia and Rwanda. He attributes some blame to the apathy of the prominent players on the U.N. Security Council, the “big boys” who do not care enough about regional conflict in small and poor countries.
“I did everything I could in 1999 in Afghanistan to convince the Pakistanis and Taliban that another military campaign was not necessary,” he continued. “It’s terribly embarrassing to think the situation has been resolved but to see conflict begin all over again. I should have been more persistent to the Security Council for this matter.”
Despite the failures, Brahimi expressed optimism for the U.N. intervention in Kosovo and Temur, which he claimed to demonstrate the power of the press and the “CNN Effect” in mediating violent conflict. He also discussed the Brahimi Report, a “frank exercise in self-criticism” that resulted in a landmark evaluation of methods and policy in peacekeeping and several key changes to the U.N.’s own department of peacekeeping.
For the last part of the lecture, Brahimi discussed the issue of legitimate force and the controversies surrounding its jurisdiction, especially in Iraq.
“Afghanistan is an example of real legitimacy, in that nobody questioned the Americans after the eleventh of September incident,” he began. “Iraq is not seen in the same light by an overwhelming majority of the international community.”
According to Brahimi, the countries that had sent large contingencies of troops to Iraq along with the United States had populations that were overwhelmingly against the action. He posed this fact as a part of the larger question of determining who in the international scene had the true authority to approve or disapprove of going to war.
Brahimi admitted that the U.N. needs serious reform, particularly the Security Council, so that “an easier method of garnering the approval of 192 countries” can be used for future peacekeeping missions.
Carolyn Witte ’12, member of the Cornell International Affairs Review, and a contributing Sun columnist, found the last lines of the lecture particularly striking.
“He closed with the desire for the U.S. to take a lead once more for international cooperation,” she said. “Before that, though, we have to deal with our own internal problems and hypocrisy.”