Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Aide Memoire

We all forget things. However, there is a huge difference between forgetting to water the plants for a few days, to forgetting to address pressing international political and humanitarian issues for months, sometimes years at a time. When this happens, which is dangerously often at the UN Security Council, it looks less like forgetfulness and more like systematic and deliberate neglect.
Every month, the Security Council Report (SCR) publishes a table entitled "Aide-Memoire". It contains a collection of important matters pending for Security Council discussion. As the graph below demonstrates, these reminders do little to aid the memory of the Security Council because often twelve months or more go by with the same issue in the SCR table!

The graph above simplifies the topic to either a country name or specific field. Below I will look closer at some of the frequently neglected issues, addressing the consequences of and the possible reasons for the neglect. If more detail is required on topics not covered here, you can look at the Security Council Report website.


The aide-memoire on Gaza refers to the UN Security Council failure to address the attacks on UN property and personnel during Operation Cast Lead (27th December 2008 - 17th January 2009), as laid out in the Goldstone Report. Despite express calls from Libya last year, the Security Council declined to schedule a meeting on the Goldstone Report; rather, it left the topic to the ineffectual - and close to pointless - open debates on the Middle East, which occur monthly. Not surprisingly no action was taken in these meetings.

It is clear that this is not an act of forgetfulness by the Security Council; rather, a deliberate obstruction by the United States. The spokesperson for the US State Department, Ian Kelly, even stated: "it was in the interest of all concerned, of all who share this common goal of re-launching these [peace] negotiations, to delay discussion of this [the Goldstone] report." He then went on to state that the Security Council is not the place to discuss it but the UNHRC. Interestingly, when the topic came up at the UNHRC last month, the US voted against all resolutions adopted by the Council.

As Donatella Rovera from Amnesty International stated: "The UN Security Council and other UN bodies must now take the steps necessary to ensure that the victims receive the justice and reparation that is their due and that perpetrators don't get away with murder." Alas, political bullying by Washington and the power of veto will keep this vital topic away from the Security Council agenda for the foreseeable future.

Military Staff Committee

The Military Staff Committee (MSC) is a subsidiary body of the United Nations Security Council. The Committee's role, as defined by the United Nations Charter, is to plan UN military operations and assist in the regulation of armaments. However, the MSC has done and continues to do nothing. Reasons of inaction include the Cold War stalemate and current Security Council politics; however, as Dr. Eric Grove states, really it is nothing but "a sterile monument to the faded hopes of the founders of the UN".

In 2005, the World Summit Heads of Government agreed to reevaluate the role of the MSC. However, this issue - five years down the line - is still being ignored. So what are the consequences of this and why the inaction? Consequences include a completely unnecessary expenditure on five high-ranking, and no doubt expensive, military officers. Furthermore, there is no go-to body for general, cross-cutting peacekeeping issues. Also, a reformed MSC could provide the Security Council with valuable advice and assistance, an important resource for Council members who do not have large and well-funded delegations. Finally, without reform, the MSC consists only of the Permanent Five (US, UK, France, Russia and China) which does not represent current global politics or pay credit/involve those countries that contribute the majority of UN peacekeeping troops.

Why has the MSC remained unchanged for nearly sixty years? I imagine it stems from the P5's preference to have a moribund Committee, rather than a reformed one which could devolve decision making power to other more deserving and involved countries. 

Lebanon has two issues pending for Security Council discussion; both on the agenda for a number of years. Both aide-memoires refer to the integrity of Lebanese borders: one concerns Security Council failure to discuss the recent reports of ‘Lebanon Independent Border Assessment Team', and the other refers to UN-mandated assistance to help Lebanon regain the land illegally occupied by Israel, as laid out in Resolution 1701.

It is no coincidence that every time a Security Council issues mention or imply Israel, it falls into the aide-memoire pile. As with Gaza, the Security Council has not forgotten about Lebanese national integrity; rather, the Council has been blocked from addressing the issue by the US and its allies. 

The problems of ‘aide-memoire' go to the heart of UN inefficiency. Issues of monumental importance can be sidelined, month after month, if the issue is not to the liking of a veto-wielding Security Council member.

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