Richard Gowan

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Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan speaking virtually at UN headquarters, New York City, October 2023. Mike Segar / Reuters

Ever since 1947, when the United Nations General Assembly voted in favor of partitioning Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, the organization has grappled with crises in the Middle East. In recent decades, discussions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the UN have featured the same basic dynamic: the United States uses its veto to block criticism of Israel at the Security Council while Arab states rally developing countries to defend the Palestinians. The debate at the UN in the weeks after Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel has largely followed this familiar pattern. The United States has blocked the Security Council from calling for a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, but it could not stop a resolution passed in late October by a huge majority in the General Assembly demanding a “humanitarian truce”.…  Seguir leyendo »

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses the emergency session of the U.N. General Assembly, Feb. 28, 2022 (AP photo by Seth Wenig).

After an inauspicious beginning, 2022 has been a year of low-key but sometimes surprisingly successful muddling through for multilateralism. Russia’s  invasion of Ukraine in February had the potential to throw many international institutions into disarray.  Diplomats worried that Russia could use its veto to block routine business in the United Nations Security Council, or else that Western powers might boycott international gatherings, like the annual  G-20 Summit in November, if Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened to show up.

But if—as Kenya’s ambassador to the U.N., Martin Kimani, memorably warned on the eve of Russia’s offensive—multilateralism was “on its deathbed”, the patient has made it through the year alive.…  Seguir leyendo »

Servicemen attend the "RAPID TRIDENT-2021" military exercise at Ukraine's International Peacekeeping Security Centre near Yavoriv in the Lviv region, Ukraine September 24, 2021. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

Prior to this week’s NATO summit in Brussels, Poland stirred up discussions of sending an international peacekeeping force to Ukraine. The concept, which Polish officials have emphasised is at a “preliminary” stage, is to deploy a force that could assist with humanitarian operations and would be robust enough to defend itself in combat. The proposal is unlikely to gain traction since, like the idea of a NATO-enforced no-fly zone over Ukraine, it raises the risks of direct confrontation with Russia. But peacekeeping operations come in many shapes and sizes, and it is possible that some sort of international presence will eventually be needed to support a cessation of hostilities in Ukraine.…  Seguir leyendo »

Diplomats at the United Nations are preparing for an unholy row over Ukraine. As Colum Lynch of Foreign Policy reported this month, the Biden administration “is planning for a high-profile public showdown with Russia” in the Security Council if Moscow launches a new offensive against its neighbor. If hostilities escalate, the United States, its allies, and Ukraine are also likely to push for other U.N. bodies, like the General Assembly and Human Rights Council, to condemn Russia. While Russian diplomats will reject these criticisms out of hand, the crisis could make it harder for Washington and Moscow to compromise over other crises on the U.N.…  Seguir leyendo »

An era of international conflict management appears to be at an end. In the three decades since the conclusion of the Cold War, the United States, its allies, and multilateral organizations such as the United Nations have devoted considerable political, military, and financial resources to mediating regional conflicts and civil wars and rebuilding fragile states. In a period of muted major power tensions and relatively rare classic interstate wars, the United States was able to focus on intrastate conflicts—those within states—and the attendant risks of regional instability and transnational terrorism. Despite disputes such as that over Iraq, the United States often worked through the UN Security Council and looked for common ground with China and Russia over conflict management.…  Seguir leyendo »

The United Nations Security Council may be about to pass its first-ever resolution on the implications of climate change for peace and security. The council has talked about climate security since 2007, and it has acknowledged that environmental challenges such as droughts and degradation of farming land can fuel conflicts in regions like the Sahel and the Horn of Africa. But it has not laid out a systematic approach to assessing these risks or responding to them.

This could be about to change, as Niger and Ireland—two elected members of the council—plan to table a resolution on climate security this week.…  Seguir leyendo »

Displaced people walk with their belongings in a flooded area after the Nile river overflowed after continuous heavy rain which caused thousands of people to be displaced in Bor, central South Sudan, on 9 August 2020. Akuot Chol / AFP

What are Security Council members negotiating about?

UN Security Council members are discussing a draft resolution on climate security tabled by Ireland and Niger at the end of September. If it passes, it will be the first resolution of its kind, although the Council has held sessions on climate change and its implications for peace and security since 2007. These discussions, which were sporadic at first, have become much more frequent in the last five years. But aside from one statement (which lacks the stature of a resolution) in 2011, the Council has never formally put its concerns about climate change on paper.…  Seguir leyendo »

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres removes his facemask upon arriving at a press conference on 29 April 2021 at the end of a 5+1 Meeting on Cyprus in Geneva. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

UN Secretary-General António Guterres will make his case for a second five-year term to the UN General Assembly on 7 May. It will largely be a formality. Guterres faces no serious rival for the post, and he is on good terms with all the UN Security Council’s permanent members, although Russia says it is still thinking over his renewal. It is a good moment to reflect on his approach to UN conflict management to date and the challenges he will face in the future.

When Guterres became Secretary-General in 2017, he promised a “surge in diplomacy for peace”. He has found it difficult to deliver, as the UN has been at the centre of few successful peacemaking endeavours during his term to date.…  Seguir leyendo »

First badge of AstraZeneca/Oxford coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines, are being unloaded from a plane upon arrival at Khartoum International Airport in Sudan on 3 March 2021. Anadolu Agency/Mahmoud Hjaj

Can the Security Council help hasten the end of the COVID-19 pandemic? Its role in managing the global health crisis to date has been limited and at times embarrassing. After UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for a global ceasefire to facilitate humanitarian and medical responses to the virus in March 2020, Council members agreed to endorse the initiative. But they still took over three months to adopt a resolution on the issue, mainly thanks to bickering between the United States and China. By the time they signed off on a compromise text on 1 July, it was a dead letter: governments and armed groups that had responded positively to the Secretary-General’s initial call had already lost interest in it.…  Seguir leyendo »

Nominated US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield participates as US President-elect Joe Biden speaks during a cabinet announcement event in Wilmington, Delaware, on November 24, 2020. CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP

Diplomats at the UN have responded to Joe Biden’s victory in the U.S. election with enthusiasm tinged with caution. The president-elect’s pledges to rejoin the Paris climate change agreement and keep the U.S. in the World Health Organization (WHO), marking a clear break with outgoing President Donald Trump’s disdain for multilateralism, are naturally welcome. It is “Christmas come early”, jokes one European ambassador. African officials are excited that Biden has nominated Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a former ambassador to Liberia and assistant secretary of state for African affairs, to be the U.S. permanent representative in New York.

Yet the new administration will face considerable challenges in restoring U.S.…  Seguir leyendo »

Germany’s Tenure on the UN Security Council

Germany’s two-year stint on the United Nations Security Council has been constructive and bruising in equal measure. German diplomats have made significant contributions to Council debates on issues ranging from the future of Sudan to the security implications of climate change. But they have also clashed with China, Russia and, most strikingly, the United States.

It has been Germany’s misfortune to serve on the Council during one of the more dysfunctional periods in its post-Cold War history. The Trump administration has aimed to marginalize the UN on most security issues. Taking advantage of this U.S. disengagement, Russia and China have become increasingly assertive.…  Seguir leyendo »

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (centre) speaks to reporters following a meeting on Iran at the UN Security Council, 20 August 2020 in New York (Mike Segar/pool/AFP via Getty Images)

After the United States experienced a rebuff at the United Nations last week – with almost the entire membership of the Security Council rejecting its attempt to re-impose UN sanctions on Iran – US officials warned that the dispute could lead to a major crisis in the Council, damaging the institution’s authority.

They are not alone in this analysis. Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, a vocal critic of the US sanctions drive, has accused Washington of risking “a very serious scandal and rift” at the UN.

But these dire predictions may prove to be exaggerated.

The argument pivots on the US claim that, acting on the UN resolution that endorsed the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA), it can demand the reactivation of UN sanctions resolutions on Iran that were terminated as part of the bargain.…  Seguir leyendo »

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is seen on a video screen during a virtual climate summit, known as the Petersberg Climate Dialogue, in Berlin on 28 April 2020. Michael Kappeler/Pool via REUTERS

Just over a month ago, on 1 July, the UN Security Council passed a resolution addressing COVID-19 that looked hugely ambitious on paper. Echoing an earlier initiative by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Resolution 2532 centres on a call for “all parties to armed conflicts to engage immediately in a durable humanitarian pause” lasting 90 days in response to the pandemic. This document will earn a footnote in histories of the UN, as it is the first time the Council has advocated such a global ceasefire. But beyond that, it seems unlikely to be widely remembered, as its practical effects have been all but nil.…  Seguir leyendo »

Russian and Turkey servicemen are on a joint patrol along the M4 highway at Idlib de-escalation zone, Syria on 5 May 2020. Sputnik via AFP

The UN call for a global ceasefire in response to COVID-19 has lost momentum, but I would begin by saying that Secretary-General António Guterres deserves credit for coming up with a genuinely compelling appeal, and I think the resonance of his original proposal took a lot of us by surprise.

When we first heard he was calling for a ceasefire, cynical diplomacy watchers, such as myself, thought it might be a bit of a gimmick, and not have any concrete impact. What was interesting was that in the first week to ten days after he made the appeal, in late March, we saw quite a lot of armed groups and governments acknowledging the call and promising to consider it.…  Seguir leyendo »

United Nations Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar shakes hands with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at 10 Downing Street, London, July 14, 1982 (Press Association photo via AP Images)

When Javier Pérez de Cuéllar turned 100 in January, his current successor as Secretary-General, António Guterres, sent a congratulatory message stating that “I have often reflected on your example and experience for inspiration and guidance.” This sounds like a standard diplomatic pleasantry, but there may have been a more to it than that.

As UN chief from 1982 to 1991, Pérez de Cuéllar, a former Peruvian diplomat, was intimately involved in ending Cold War conflicts from Afghanistan to Central America. Guterres, since his appointment in 2017, has warned that the U.S., China and Russia risk starting a “new Cold War” if they do not rein in their current tensions.…  Seguir leyendo »

General view is seen during the United Nations Security Council meeting at the United Nations headquarters in New York, United States on December 20, 2019. Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency

Splits among the five permanent members of the Security Council or P5 (China, France, UK, Russia and the U.S.) on issues from Syria to Venezuela are now a regular and frustrating feature of UN diplomacy. Nevertheless, meeting at a Holocaust commemoration in Israel last month, French President Emmanuel Macron and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin reportedly discussed convening a leader-level meeting of the five at this September’s UN General Assembly session. Does this initiative suggest that relations among the P5 are about to take a turn for the better?

Perhaps marginally, but the outlook for Council relations remains fairly bleak. Looking at the Council’s agenda for the next several months, there are reasons to believe that the P5 face a factious 2020, risking more divisions over crisis situations from Mali to North Korea, and above all the tangle of conflicts in the Middle East.…  Seguir leyendo »

New U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft casts a vote during her first U.N. Security Council meeting at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., 12 September 2019. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Security Council diplomats have a chance to engage in some self-criticism this week. On Thursday and Friday, representatives of the Council’s current members will attend a workshop with their counterparts from the five elected members joining it in 2020 (Estonia, Niger, Tunisia, Vietnam, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines). This event, convened by Finland, is one of two annual opportunities for Council insiders to discuss their collective efforts – the other, a retreat with the Secretary-General, took place in May – and their talks can be quite frank.

According to a detailed summary of last year’s workshop, “a participant lamented that there was a prevailing image of the Security Council as an organ that was becoming less effective and less influential over time”.…  Seguir leyendo »

How is Kelly Knight Craft doing as U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations?

It is almost exactly one month since Craft presented her credentials to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Sept. 12. It has been an eventful period, including the annual General Assembly jamboree and Security Council crisis talks on North Korea and Syria. To top it off, Guterres warned this week that the U.N. is about to run out of operating funds because over 60 members have not paid their annual dues. The U.S. has accumulated over $1 billion in arrears, equivalent to a third of the U.N.’s regular budget, putting Craft in a tricky spot.…  Seguir leyendo »

Ukrainian troops fire a howitzer close to the front line in the Donetsk area of Ukraine on Jan. 11. (Markiian Lyseiko/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Could a U.N.-backed peacekeeping force end the grinding war in eastern Ukraine that has claimed more than 10,000 lives? In September, Russian President Vladimir Putin hinted that he might be open to a U.N. force. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and the Trump administration also seem keen on the idea.

The Russians want something light. Ukraine would like a hefty U.N. force to quickly take control of the breakaway areas of the Donetsk basin, or Donbas — but recognizes that Russian-occupied Crimea is off-limits.

Even if a diplomatic compromise is possible, how would a force work on the ground? In a new report for the Hudson Institute, I explore the lessons of past operations for a deployment in the Donbas.…  Seguir leyendo »