For peace operations —even those authorised under Chapter VII
with mandates to protect civilians—
the UN relies on a standby arrangement system
that is helpful in normal circumstances, but is insufficient,
even prone to fail under more demanding crises
What might the international community do to prevent mass atrocities and to protect civilians at risk? Like the word 'peace', the laudable norms of protection and prevention appear suspect when applied by traditional military means. In Libya, NATO's demonstrations of high-tech war with the initial shock and awe were too reminiscent of Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. Each failed to provide sustainable security.
So where does this leave us? At the last World Summit, the UN Security Council expressed support for timely and decisive responses to stem mass atrocity crimes. This summer, the issue will be the focus of the UN General Assembly. Syria has heightened the urgency. Sudan magnifies it. Brazil renewed interest in the lingering questions of how and with what to prevent mass atrocities and protect civilians by suggesting a 'responsibility while protecting'.2 For now, NATO remains the default choice as we lack a reliable alternative for the more demanding operations. Officials may soon be under pressure to deliver better policy options.
Numerous challenges complicate the problem. Increasingly, people face overlapping crises due to accelerated climate change and flooding, financial crashes and resource scarcity, inequality and desperation, refugee flows and pressure on weak states, arms proliferation and the attendant probability of armed conflict. Our global support systems are slow to adapt.
Of course, it's essential to address the underlying causes and core problems of each, with work on deep prevention. Yet too many of the big issues have moved close to the tipping point where it's also imperative to address the triggers and implications of worse.
Emergencies by their very nature require rapid, reliable and effective responses. Frequently, they demand that diverse services are pre-planned, well-coordinated and promptly available. Complex emergencies also necessitate more comprehensive, integrated services to address the wider array of requirements and human needs. Almost anything can happen in the absence of a coherent effort or one lacking the appropriate tools ...
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