A Golden Age for Intervention?
Neil MacFarquhar, the New York Time
8 June 2013
Samantha Power, President Obama’s nominee to replace Susan E. Rice as the American ambassador to the United Nations, has a history of disparaging both the institution and its leader.
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was “extremely disappointing” on the Darfur crisis, she told “Frontline” in 2007, “more of a secretary than a general.”
The Security Council? It is “anachronistic, undemocratic, and consists of countries that lack the standing to be considered good-faith arbiters of how to balance stability against democracy, peace against justice, and security against human rights,” she wrote in 2003.
But Ms. Power is no John R. Bolton, George W. Bush’s United Nations envoy, who once famously remarked that nobody would notice if someone lopped the top 10 floors off the United Nations Secretariat building.
She wants the system to work. As flawed as the Security Council is, she has often said, its endorsement amplifies international approval for controversial action. She criticized the American invasion of Iraq because it lacked the council’s stamp, among other reasons.
Of the existing grave international issues that the United Nations will face during her tenure, the two most important will be addressing the Syrian conflict and confronting Iran’s apparent attempts to develop a nuclear weapon.
Could the fact that both Ms. Rice and Ms. Power have taken very public stances on the importance of humanitarian intervention mean they will shift American foreign policy in that direction? The consensus among experts and their ex-colleagues is that not much will change. Ms. Power’s appointment represents continuity, and neither of them differed publicly with President Obama on foreign policy issues. (…)
Ms. Power, then teaching at Harvard, won a Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for her highly critical portrait of America’s repeated failure to stop mass atrocities, “A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide.” In the Obama administration, Ms. Power has served in the N.S.C. job Ms. Rice once held, running the office that deals with multilateral organizations and human rights. (…)
“Five years ago you might not have been able to predict where they are now,” said Edward C. Luck, dean of the School of Peace Studies at the University of San Diego and a former senior United Nations adviser on peacekeeping issues. “They were both idealists, but they have both become practical idealists. Time in government does that to you.”
Mr. Luck guided the United Nations’ effort to adopt a new global standard known as “the responsibility to protect.” It stipulates that the international community should intervene in wars to stop genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing once diplomatic efforts fail. Both women have been staunch supporters of the idea, which was the basis for the NATO intervention in Libya that resulted in the overthrow of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. Ms. Rice pushed through the critical Security Council resolution that authorized “all necessary measures” to protect civilians. Russia, backed by China, has rejected anything remotely similar in Syria despite far greater carnage.
Neither woman has suggested publicly that America intervene in the Syrian conflict, which has claimed more than 80,000 lives since it erupted as a peaceful protest movement in March 2011. Though many people have urged Mr. Obama to do more, he seems intent on avoiding a major intervention in a vexingly complex conflict. And no one gets promoted by contradicting the boss. (…)
If confirmed, Ms. Power would come to the United Nations at a critical juncture. A new peacekeeping force taking shape in Congo has been given extraordinary powers to pursue and kill guerrillas, and those expected to be deployed in Mali might soon find themselves embroiled in a shooting war against affiliates of Al Qaeda.
“There is a lot of concern that the Security Council is stumbling into pushing peacekeeping too far, just as it did in the Balkans,” said Richard Gowan, a peacekeeping expert at New York University. Beginning with her work in Bosnia as a reporter, Ms. Power saw how peacekeeping operations could backfire when overstretched, he said. “She understands clearly what happens when you start trying to do intervention on the cheap.”