Monday, May 26, 2008

Failed States: The UN's Failure

Alice C. Linsley

David Kay, former advisor on Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction to the Director of Central Intelligence, is quoted as an expert on the threat to world security posed by "failed" states. These are dictatorial governments where there is great disparity in wealth and most citizens are young people with little opportunity for self-improvement.

Kay lists the following trends as playing a role in the destablization of global security:

The proliferation of failed and rogue states
Kay points to between 50 and 70 states that have either failed or are on the verge of failing. These include Somalia, Sudan, North Korea, Pakistan, Indonesia, Yemen, Haiti and Myanmar (Burma). Some of these failures are because of what Kay calls a “tremendous and sudden compression of economic wealth.”

The resulting social upheaval
There is a widespread failure of social integration and educational opportunities at a time when the population of young people is burgeoning. In Iraq, 62 percent of the population is under 15 years old; in Yemen the number is 50 percent. Over half the population of the Middle East is under 24 years old. Pakistan have an army that has essential replaced its education system. Young people growing up in chaos are more willing to undertake dangerous work, especailly if it is cast as noble.

Despite the government's attempts to re-invent Yemen as a pro-western friend, Yemen offers its citizens zero economic opportunity and no education system. Not surprisingly, a large percentage of Yemeni young men are addicted to qat (also known as Catha edulis). Qat is a narcotic shrub that elicits feelings of euphoria when its leaves are chewed. Qat consumption is so prevalent in Yemen that its use has become nearly synonymous with Yemeni culture.

Disruption of trade and aid
The US is dependent on global trade and the unhindered flow of energy resources. Trade and resources often must pass through failed states. A conflict could arise when the leader of a rouge state decides to prevent the flow of trade and rescources. This is increasingly likely as the worldwide competition for oil tempts some to hoard. There is also worldwide competition for water and basic foods.

The recent cylcone devastation in Myanmar illustrates the complexities of getting resources to the people who most need them. The military junta which controls that nation has barred nearly all foreign aid workers and international relief agencies from the Irrawaddy River delta since Cyclone Nargis hit on May 2. US humanitartian aid has arrived, but still has not be distributed. Neither has the United Nations been able to persuade the isolationist junta to allow supplies into the country. As of today, the UN estimates that half of the victims still have received no food and no medical attention.

The remnants of the Cold War
The Cold War is over, but the US intelligence community has yet to evolve to meet the needs of these new global realities. There is still a good deal of super powers standoff mentality. The approach of checks and balances may continue to work in the face of the threats posed by North Korea, but as earthquakes and disease stir disorder in China, that super power is concerned with more immediate problems. World problems are more complex than ever and US intelligence and humanitarian efforts are not able to adequately respond.

US intervention in humanitarian crises
“You just can't avoid intervention,” says Kay, who pointed to the Sudan as a recent example. “During the first Bush administration, the U.S. military was intervening in humanitarian crises once every two years,” said Kay. “Now it's twice a year. With 50 to 70 failed states, that becomes a norm.”

Clearly the USA can't do it all. Nor should it be expected to attend to every threat posed by failed states. That is the responsibility of the United Nations, according to its Preamble.

Preamble to the United Nations Charter


to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and

to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and

to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and

to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,


to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours, and

to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and

to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and

to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples,


Accordingly, our respective Governments, through representatives assembled in the city of San Francisco, who have exhibited their full powers found to be in good and due form, have agreed to the present Charter of the United Nations and do hereby establish an international organization to be known as the United Nations.

Signed on June 26, 1945 and went into force on October 24, 1945.

So why isn't the UN doing what it was created to do?

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