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    Middle East
     Jan 12, 2010
The case for a parallel UN
By Kaveh Afrasiabi

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The idea of a second United Nations may seem both idealistic, impractical, and even out of tune with the contemporary needs of the global community, that has vested so much energy in the existing UN, deemed as the preeminent world organization responsible for maintaining global peace and security. Theoretically, the UN provides a unique forum for peaceful 

resolution of conflicts and conflict-prevention, a splendid mechanism to avoid anarchy in international affairs.

But 60-plus years after its historic foundation as a timely overhaul of the predecessor organization, the League of Nations, the UN today is gripped with some fundamental problems that no amount of organizational reform can possibly remedy. The main problem with the current and past efforts at UN reform is that they are often based on a false, and highly defective and indefensible, assumption, that is, the blind faith that by reforming the various functioning, structure, and management system of the UN, such as expanding the Security Council or increasing the power and role of the General Assembly, the organization will move closer to its ideal self-image and thus can overcome most if not all of its present problems, perhaps save the endemic financial problem.

As an inter-governmental organization, the UN is not a revenue-generating body, but rather a totally consumptive one that relies on contributions by member states and private philanthropists. It is akin to a large charity organization that is, unfortunately, less and less capable of living up to par with the growing demands - for peacekeeping, peacebuilding, development, poverty reduction, etc. -- placed before it.

Of course, this is not to overlook the UN's critical contributions in all the above-mentioned areas or to underestimate the net contribution of the UN family of organizations to maintaining a modicum of civilized world order, in light of its other contribution in initiating the "Alliance of Civilizations" program that focuses first and foremost on the hitherto thorny relations between the West and the Muslim World.

Rather, it is strictly as a result of a sober and candid assessment of the world community's needs on the one hand and the various actual and or potential limitations of the United Nations that the idea of a parallel UN makes sense, above all, to complement the UN's peace-related efforts that consume a bulk of the organization's finance, manpower, and focus.

Clearly, as Jean-Marie Guehenno, a former undersecretary general for UN peacekeeping, admitted in an interview with this author, the demand curve for UN peacekeeping has been escalating upward while the supply curve has not kept pace and, in a word, has fallen short.

Although in the past couple of years, there have been gallant efforts to address this and other related problems by creating a separate department of field operations, in order to streamline and thus make more efficient the operational aspect of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), the verdict is not out yet and it is as of this moment unclear if any substantial improvements have resulted from such organizational reforms of the peacekeeping dimension of the UN, not to mention the related Peacebuilding Organization that has micro-focused on a few select countries and, besides, is not an operational organization, but rather primarily a policy forum geared toward the "post-conflict" societies.

These aside, there have been some talks of the growing NGOization of the UN, particularly in such areas as development, climate, health, education, relief efforts, disarmament, etc. Consequently, on the surface, the complex and multifarious nature of UN organization and its network of associated organizations appear to make redundant any discussion of a parallel UN, one argument being that this would amount to duplicative efforts with negative impact on the existing UN and its needs for focused activities to shore up its role in, among others, global economic decision-making.

Certainly, such arguments would make perfect sense if the intention would be to simply replicate the UN, but not if the idea is to create an alternative organization that would have the main distinction of being an "inter-societal" rather than an "inter-governmental" organization and, also, strictly restricted to the twin issues of peacekeeping and peacebuilding.

Above all, the mandate of the second UN would be to pull together the forces of civil society in creating a parallel peacekeeping force that aims to contribute in the critical area of peacekeeping, where the DPKO and the entire UN machinery has been stretched dangerously too thin.

Rather than an auxiliary force, like so many existing ones, that support the DPKO's peacekeeping missions around the globe, the idea of an entirely new, independent, and self-motivated, rather than UN-looking, inter-societal peacekeeping force that simply functions in tandem with the UN, that is, coordinates its efforts with the DPKO while pursuing its own separate identity and agenda, is one that should put an immediate stop to the conceptual denigration of many NGOs as "non-governmental," that is a non-identity, especially for the plethora of faith-based NGOs that have a stake in world peace.

Concerning the latter, in light of the occasional foray of religion in the UN's agenda, particularly since the valiant efforts of former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, to integrate more meaningfully the world religions with the UN activities, we have witnessed a growing trend in terms of the interconnection between religion and peace efforts, peace diplomacy, etc. In US, Canada, and Europe, for instance, there is no dearth of church-based peace efforts, some of which focus on conflict mediation, while others on anti-war, etc.

No matter how important and useful such (inter) faith-based efforts, their net effects and output have seriously fallen shy of their potential, that can be galvanized in the form of a new phenomenon, an inter-faith peacekeeping force, with its unique and identifiable identity, insignia, uniforms, force structure, internal discipline, leadership structure, hierarchy, division of labor, mission, structure, budget and fund-raising mechanism, etc.

Hypothetically, such an inter-faith peacekeeping force can draw on the recruitment of various present or retired DPKO personnel for training purposes, while designing its own rules and guidelines regarding the force's "rules of engagement" and the like.

Compared with the UN, however, the advantage of such a new force is that it capitalizes on its 'early warning system' to detect emerging conflicts, particularly in multi-ethnic and multi-religious societies, that happens to be the case of a solid majority of nations in the world today, thus allowing it to intervene 'preemptively' in areas where the UN bureaucracy may be too slow. Theoretically speaking, had such a force existed in early 1990s, it could have dispatched a force to the lawless Rwanda to prevent the genocide there, in light of the unforgivable dereliction of UN's duty with respect to that conflict situation.

Needless to say, a new inter-faith peacekeeping force would have to engage in diplomacy with the various governments around the world in order to receive the permission for dispatching its forces, which it can do in part through an organic rapport with the UN and in part through its own cadre of diplomats. A fundamental requirement for success is, without the slightest doubt, the complete and fundamental independence of this force from any governmental influence, which in turn means that at no point it should receive any financial contributions from any government, good or bad, around the world, no matter what is at stake.

Nor should this inter-faith force be equipped with deadly arms or live ammunition, rather it should be only lightly armed, relying on stunt guns, spray guns and the like, and only in severe life-threatening situations resort to force protection, e.g., by the UN's peacekeepers.

However, in many scenarios, such as neighborhood patrol in Haiti or Sierra Leon, or parts of Congo, this new force would not necessarily need to rely on weapons to execute its functions, and its entry in the less volatile contexts nowadays covered by the UN's Peacebuiding Commission, would represent a timely and relatively safe introduction in the field of global peace efforts.

The initiative for this inter-faith peace can come from a variety of sources, such as the world congress of religion, or another combination of primarily faith-based peace-focused organizations and solidarity networks. As the 'next stage' in the ever important issue of religion and peace, the foundation of such a new peacekeeping force will undoubtedly inspire and galvanize the efforts and imagination of many people, especially the youth, around the world and, therefore, it would be incumbent to create a youth division as well in order to capitalize the world young generation's potential contribution, that could empower them and establish new venues for their integration in global peace efforts.

A separate women's division may be also called for, in light of the reservation of some religiously conservative participants to engage in public efforts in proximity with the opposite sex. An inter-faith group's peace organization's first priority would be to formulate the common grounds and the zones of agreement that permit cooperative work, and to disallow the areas of disagreement from hampering such cooperation.

In conclusion, at the outset of 2010, when there are millions of unemployed youth around the world, especially in parts of the third world, who can be the fountain for this initiative, this is an opportune time to launch a new global inter-faith peacekeeping force, as the genesis of a second UN, and thus make a novel contribution to the lofty objective of world peace.

Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) . For his Wikipedia entry, click here. His latest book, Reading In Iran Foreign Policy After September 11 (BookSurge Publishing , October 23, 2008) is now available.

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Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing.




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