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Dec 242017

The behaviour of the US during the last week has been exceptionally dysfunctional and indeed puts it alongside rogue states. For those tuning in late, the US has recently announced that it is moving its embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Now there are all sorts of reasons why this is a dumb move and incredibly provocative in a part of the world that does not need any more provocation.

But here we are looking at the US and the UN rather than the move itself (however dumb it was).

The UN decided to call for a resolution that in effect says “We think this is a dumb move.” and the US reaction has been more or less along the lines of what you would expect a spoiled brat and a bully to react like.

Before the vote, the US spokesperson was grumbling about how its friends shouldn’t countenance such a resolution, that those who receive US aid should be careful, and how dare the UN put forward such a resolution when the US pays for the UN (hint: it doesn’t).

And afterwards, the US announces a party for its friends, and that nobody who voted in favour of the resolution was invited. So there!

Just like a spoiled child.

First of all, organisations like the UN need to be funded or they don’t exist. And the way that the UN is funded is based on every member’s ability to pay except that there is a ceiling on each individual’s level because the US threw a tantrum a while back. The US pays approximately 22% of the UN’s budget, so about $2 billion which is considerably less than the cumulative total of the countries that make up the EU (a roughly comparably sized block) which pays approximately 27% of the budget ($2.5 billion).

And a big chunk of that UN budget is spent within the US because the UN headquarters are in New York.

Frankly some of us are a little tired of hearing the US whinging about how much it pays.

Secondly the UN is there to do lots of things, but one of the most important is to allow countries collectively and formally tell another country that it is doing something dumb – and if a resolution passes with 129 countries voting for it, you can be pretty sure you’ve done something dumb. Sure that you are right despite that many votes against you? That’s a sign of overweening arrogance.

Threatening (“We’ll remember who are friends are”) people to vote in your favour is dangerous in the extreme. People remember bullies and the stench of it remains for a very long time.

Jan 152010

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One of the things that is clear from the current chaos in Haiti approaching nearly four days since the earthquake (and to be fair from other disasters) is that getting aid on the ground takes far too long. This is not supposed to be a criticism of anyone – I’m simply at this stage wondering what the delay is caused by.

Perhaps we have unrealistic expectations of how quickly aid can be sent in – I’m sure that it is a lot harder than we think it should be! I’m sure there will be those throwing criticism at the UN, the Haitian government, etc. all without much in the way of justification.

What are the politics of sending in assistance in situations like this? Normally if US troops were to “go in” to a country to help out n a disaster without permission from the government it would be an act of war – can you imagine how the Chinese government would react ? So normally we can assume that those offering assistance need to obtain permission from the local government.

But what happens when the local government has effectively ceased to operate ? The Haitian government has problems at the best of times, and was effectively unreachable for a while during the immediate aftermath of the earthquake. Did the rescuers have to wait until they could get someone from the government on the phone ? I cannot imagine the UN operating any other way – they are (and in fact should be given their other work) the paragons of diplomatic nicety.

Perhaps governments could consider giving advanced permission along the lines of “Hey! If a really big disaster happens, you’ve got permission to come in and help and we’ll have a nice polite chat about it afterwards”. Do such arrangements already exist ?

The other thing that springs to mind is that there needs to be some way of arranging air transport very rapidly. In this case there is an airport close by, but an airport that is not up to dealing with a such a large influx of cargo planes. In many other cases, there is no convenient airport. Perhaps it is not possible to build a temporary airport in a matter of hours, but it is something that needs someone to think about a way of trying. At the very least it should be possible to “upgrade” the air traffic control system equipment in a matter of hours – which appears to have been a problem in Haiti.

People can survive without food for quite a while, and without water for not so very long, but those in need of medical help need it now. Do we need to consider parachuting in small medical stabilisation teams ? Obviously a full field hospital would be preferred but a small team (or many of them) with supplies that can be carried can at least stabilise causalities to give them a better chance of surviving until more comprehensive facilities are available.

Similarly in the event of earthquakes, parachuting in search and rescue teams with minimal equipment could accomplish quite a bit even before heavy equipment is available.

There is also the psychological effect of having someone on the ground. Even if those early aid workers cannot accomplish much for those who are fit and healthy, they at do least indicate that help is coming and that they have not been forgotten.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, we need a more military approach to emergency aid in situations like this. And I’m not exactly a fan of the military! The military are used to reacting very rapidly to a limited extent with rapid reaction forces available to go into action on very short notice. If the UN were given the resources to setup an organisation that would work in the same way (but with different aims) it would be very much more effective at responding to disasters like this.

After all, we use the normal military in situations like this – who aren’t even properly equipped for performing this job!

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