The cart without the horse
FOX News is reporting that up to a third of the UN peacekeeping budget is tainted by corruption, according to an internal UN report which they obtained.
The focus of the current scandal is U.N. peacekeeping, a function that consumes 85 percent of the U.N.'s procurement budget — a cost that could reach $2 billion in 2005. Like many of the U.N.'s financial dealings, it is shrouded in secrecy. And like the multi-billion-dollar Oil-for-Food scandal, it is wrapped in what the U.N.'s own investigators now call "systematic abuse," "a pattern of corrupt practices," and "a culture of impunity."
In all, U.N. investigators have charged that nearly one-third of the $1 billion in major U.N. procurement contracts that they examined involved waste, corruption or other irregularities — $298 million in all. And that total covered slightly less than one-third of the $3.2 billion in major supply contracts that the U.N. has signed in the past five years.
You'd think there was peacekeeping money to burn and then some. But there isn't. The Demagogue, quoting a UN Press Release, notes that the African Union peacekeeping mission is Darfur is running out of money. Kofi Annan is asking them to hold on until the UN can find the authority and means to take over.
As I mentioned last week, the AU says it will run out of fund for its mission in Darfur in March. Given the Security Council's reluctance to deal with Darfur, any eventual hand-over to UN troops probably wouldn't even happen this year. So Annan is basically asking member nations to start fully-funding the AU mission so that they can hang on long enough to transfer the mission over to the UN.
The only silver lining to this apparently bad news is that Sudan is slated to take over the African Union. Transferring authority to the UN would avoid putting the fox in charge of the henhouse. But if absurdities have long been the stock in trade of international diplomacy the world is no longer being allowed to forget the joke. Interested readers can visit the Rwandan Survivor blog, a site dedicated to perpetuating the memory of those who died during an earlier UN Peacekeeping attempt. Here's one sample story.
We were a happy family ... On 6 April, we made our way to the Ecole Technique Officielle (ETO), where some people had already sought refuge with the UN. We had protection and felt safe, but on 11 April, the UN troops drove away. As they left, the Interahamwe and government soldiers came. ... They made us run. Some people were praying, others singing. As we ran, some people were hacked with machetes ... I remember my oldest sister asking Mum if we would see each other when we got to Heaven. Mum didn't say anything; she was overwhelmed. Father kept on giving us hope that nothing would happen. ... They kept on going, hacking people. People were crying, calling for their mothers, shouting out, close to death. Eventually they realized it was too dark and left.
In a way the Rwandan Survivor stories should be admitted as evidence exonerating anyone accused of stealing from the UN Peacekeeping budget. There can be no harm in stealing from an already useless enterprise. Which is not to say that one should be callous to the human tragedies which overtake well-meaning individuals trying to make a difference in the Third World -- Eight UN Troops Died in Democratic Republic of the Congo Ambush and Amnesty International Workers were detained while operating in the Sudan; but it's necessary to realize that the international institutions for dealing with collapsing societies don't work. The problem is structural and finding a few hundred million dollars more won't help.
One would hope that the US could do better. And while it can, it too is groping for an effective means of stopping disasters that are fermenting in dysfunctional societies. Marc Ruel Gerecht has a long piece in the Weekly Standard half-filled with optimism and half-sunken with foreboding ("as in badness is happening right now") about Iran. He begins by saying that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is God's curse upon appeasers.
Let us state the obvious: The new president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is a godsend. ... The unexpected election this past June of President Ahmadinejad, whom the Europeans didn't see coming (neither did the State Department or the Central Intelligence Agency), annihilated the essential cosmetics of the EU-3 dialogue with Iran. ... For the Europeans, Ahmadinejad has made it difficult--certainly unseemly--to offer Tehran more carrots to halt its fuel-cycle research. That had been the European approach ... Trade deals, World Bank loans, membership in the World Trade Organization, a bit of sympathetic anti-American rhetoric from the French and Germans, and other incentives were meant to stimulate in Tehran rational self-interest. ... the Europeans certainly wanted to try to bribe the clerical regime, and they wanted the Americans to be prepared to offer some lucrative and strategically appealing "grand bargain."
Except Ahmadinejad was not interested in bribery; he wasn't interested in anything but playing out his own apocalyptic script. And despite the demonstrated futility of bribery, diplomats in the absence of an alternative will continue to recycle the contents of their paltry bag of tricks simply because they have no other cards to play. Gerecht continues:
It's a very good bet that the U.S. officials now running America's Iran policy would rather see the clerics go nuclear than deal with the world the day after Washington begins bombing Iran's atomic-weapons and ballistic-missile facilities. ... And is there any reason American covert action against clerical Iran essentially doesn't exist? According to intelligence officials, Langley has a little under 200 officers on its operational Iran desk and around 40 analysts working full-time on the Islamic Republic. What in the world are they doing? According to CIA officers in the Near East Division, the agency had more Iranian assets 20 years ago than it does today, and it used far fewer officers. (And I can say from firsthand experience, the Iran operational units then were bloated.) The CIA is, without a doubt, the most overstuffed national-security bureaucracy in Washington. Somebody in the White House and Congress really ought to take CIA director Porter Goss aside and do a bang-for-the-buck audit of what Langley is doing against Iran. According to one CIA case officer in the Near East Division, there's not even a presidential covert-action finding "that would allow us to sh--in the country." The agency will never again become okay at covert action unless it tries. CA work is like a muscle. With exercise, it gains definition, endurance, and strength.
Perhaps one of the reasons the US adopted the military approach against terrorism and struck at targets amenable to the application of force was that it was obliged to use the only instruments of national power which reliably worked. They had a bureaucratic repertoire which in any case was all they could play. All the talk about "nuanced" or "sophisticated" approaches evaded the fact that there were no effective policy instruments between a diplomatic note and sending in the Marines. After you composed a nuanced and literary diplomatic demarche there was nothing left but to order in the Third Infantry Division. If American society really wanted the capability to covertly upend mentally disturbed dictators it would take the trouble to build up the mechanism to do it. Instead, General Michael Hayden, former director of the National Security Agency recently had to explain before a hostile audience at the National Press Club why it was necessary to wiretap Al Qaeda. Nobody in that audience really cares that there are only 40 analysts and 200 operational officers deployed against Iran. Nobody is going to "take CIA director Porter Goss aside and do a bang-for-the-buck audit of what Langley is doing against Iran" because there are politicians and journalists in abundance who would rather investigate him if he tried. The UN, the Europeans and the US each have a paradigm problem in attempting to confront the dysfunction in the Third World. The structures don't exist to provide the necessary solution, though in the end men like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may compel a belated and painful evolution.