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Guéhenno to Trump: You Cannot ‘just crush’ ISIS
Guéhenno to Trump: You Cannot ‘just crush’ ISIS
UN Strengthens Peacekeeping Despite U.S. Scepticism
UN Strengthens Peacekeeping Despite U.S. Scepticism
Interview / Global

Guéhenno to Trump: You Cannot ‘just crush’ ISIS

Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Crisis Group’s President and CEO, speaks to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour about the international challenges that are likely to persist in 2017 and the growing need for robust international structures to meet the threats.

In a broad discussion with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, the President and CEO of International Crisis Group says military power alone cannot defeat the Islamic State. YouTube/CNN

You can find a transcript of this video below.

Amanpour: Jean-Marie Guéhenno, welcome to the program.

Guéhenno: Thank you.

Amanpour: You know, drawing on all your experience and you’ve had lengthy experience in national security, whether as a French diplomat, as a UN diplomat, now as head of the International Crisis Group, can you explain how ISIS is still out after more than two years of U.S. and coalition bombing? 2017 starts like 2016 ended.

Guéhenno: Well, I think whether it’s IS or al Qaeda, because, by the way, al Qaeda is very much out there. We don’t have the right strategy. We think that we can do it on a global scale when in reality, the causes of IS are very local where the very harsh tactics of the government radicalized some parts of the opposition. And that’s why IS really flourishes on conflict. The best way to stop IS to prevent conflict.

Amanpour: OK. Well, given that, what do you expect to happen under a Donald Trump who said that his view of IS is just to, you know, bomb the hell out of them.

What do you think can be done differently with the new administration?

Guéhenno: I do hope that he will not act on his idea of bombing the hell out of IS because that’s not the way to go. The way to stop IS is to have people who feel they have representation in government and then they move away from radical elements. That has been the proven method wherever there have been terrorists. And the notion that you can just crush them is wrong because then they disperse, they move to the next country as we’ve just seen in Turkey.

Now Turkey is being infected by the chaos in Syria. You see in Libya, the chaos in Libya now is spilling over into the Sahel. So you push in one point, you just spread the disease in other countries.

Amanpour: The problem, though, Mr. Guéhenno, as you know better than most because you’ve sat at the top tables while this chaos has been implemented all over the world. Nobody seems to have the patience to talk about governors and to talk about representation of people so that this IS infection doesn’t feed on it and grow.

And in fact, President-elect Trump says that, again, he’s not interested in nation-building and he even believes that he may or may not like Assad, but that Assad is there to fight terrorism. And that’s why the U.S. should, with Russia, back that. So Assad is going to stay. Again, how is that going to change?

Guéhenno: Well, you see, I think there’s been a big shift in the pendulum. There was a time in early 2000 when both President Bush and the UN thought you could really rebuild the world. I think now we’ve been chasing. We see that it’s much more difficult. But the pendulum shouldn’t go in the other direction and think that we can’t do anything about it.

Now for Assad, the rhetoric of Assad must go, did not fit with the reality. Assad is part of the picture, but at the same time, the notion that you can have a stable, long-term Syria with a government that ignores a big chunk of the population, that’s not going to work.

What I do hope is that between Turkey and Russia, they are going to have some kind of agreement because so that there’s a more inclusive government gradually. If that doesn’t happen, I think the Russians will be stuck in Syria and I think they don’t want that. So that’s maybe why they can come to a deal with Turkey.

Amanpour: You’ve written a major piece about the challenges ahead and you’ve also said we’re about to enter one of the most dangerous decades that you remember, certainly in modern history – why? Why is this going to be more dangerous than what we’ve just gone through?

Guéhenno: Well, I think, you know, there’s a trend that started during the Obama administration, a kind of U.S. retreat. But Obama wanted to compensate that with a very strong support to multilateral institutions to organisations that create, so to speak, the bricks and mortar of the international system.

If you don’t have that, if every country thinks it has to look first at its own interest without any consideration for the broader implications, then you can have a lot of wars and clashes and that’s a dangerous situation. The U.S. is by far overwhelming in terms of power, but if the hard power of the U.S. is not made acceptable by soft power, by a sense that they are principled, that guide U.S. policy, then the rest of the world will get very nervous.

Amanpour: And that, because again, Donald Trump has talked about a transactional foreign policy basically for America’s best interest, what is that going to mean?

Guéhenno: Well, the world cannot be just a succession of deals. It needs predictability. And in that respect, I think one should be interested in China, because China knows full well that it is a growing power, but it wants it – you heard what they said on climate change, they think this agreement is important. China does not want an unpredictable world. And to avoid an unpredictable world, you need structures, you need more than deals.

You know, it’s like in business. You have business people who think that you go from one deal to the other, and others who think you have to build a relationship with the client. Well, the world is more the second model than the first.

Amanpour: So if you were to look ahead, what do you consider the most serious challenge and the most difficult one to get to groups with on the world stage, coming up, let’s say in the next six to 12 months?

Guéhenno: Well, I think the way we go to address the issue of the instability in Europe is major, because if we see a deepening of the European crisis, if you see the European Union in danger, then one of the major voices, balancing voices in the world, will be lost.

And during the Obama administration, there was strong support for the European Union. I think it’s the best interest of the United States to continue to support the idea of the European Union and the European Union, is going to be challenged in 2017.

Amanpour: Jean-Marie Guehenno, thank you so much indeed for joining us.

Guéhenno: Thank you.

UN peacekeepers (UNIFIL) patrol the border with Israel near the village of Kfar Kila, Lebanon 04 December 2018. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho
Q&A / Global

UN Strengthens Peacekeeping Despite U.S. Scepticism

This Friday, the UN hosts the 2019 Peacekeeping Ministerial Conference, an opportunity for politicians and diplomats to fill gaps in blue helmet missions. In this Q&A, Crisis Group’s UN Director Richard Gowan previews the agenda.

What is the point of the conference?

This is the latest edition of a series of conferences that former U.S. President Barack Obama kicked off with other leaders at the UN General Assembly in 2015. Vice President Joe Biden had chaired a trial run the previous year. The basic idea is to get senior figures together to pledge military units, or other forms of help like training, to UN Peacekeeping.

This process was the Obama administration’s response to major gaps in the UN’s forces revealed by crises such as the collapse of South Sudan in 2013. The president used his convening power to get other leaders to pledge high-grade units from advanced militaries that the UN was unlikely to attract otherwise.

The initiative, which included defence minister-level talks in the UK and Canada in 2016 and 2017, has worked quite well. The British sent medics to work with the UN in South Sudan, Portuguese special forces have deployed to the Central African Republic (CAR), and a number of NATO and EU members have sent air assets and intelligence specialists to Mali. Well-established UN contributors, such as Rwanda, have also upgraded the range of forces and types of units – like helicopters – that they offer the UN.

We are likely to see some additional steps in that direction this week. This year’s conference is not quite as high-powered as some of the earlier ones. One hundred and twenty countries will participate, but only half are sending ministers. Nonetheless, there are still countries that want to get involved in blue helmet operations. Mexico, for example, will make its first concrete pledge of a fully-fledged peacekeeping unit this week.

What sort of resources do peacekeepers need?

While peacekeepers often get stereotyped as shambolic and ill-disciplined, the overall picture is actually rather better. Only a limited number of troop contributors – mainly under-resourced African militaries – now consistently deploy ill-equipped or untrained contingents.

These ministerial meetings have helped raise the overall standard of forces. More broadly, the UN is able to be somewhat selective about which troops to deploy, as the total number of peacekeepers worldwide has dropped in recent years. When President Obama hosted his peacekeeping summit in 2015, the organisation was responsible for 105,000 soldiers and police officers worldwide, and UN officials had to scramble to find even quite basic infantry battalions to meet this level of demand. That figure has dropped to 88,000 as missions in places where they are no longer needed, like those in Liberia and Haiti, have closed down. This has allowed the UN to reject particularly ill-prepared contingents. The global number of peacekeepers is likely to drop further – the Security Council is slowly winding down its mission in Darfur, which has been a huge drain on the UN and is now well past its prime.

UN officials also want to use this opportunity to push governments to deploy more female troops and police as peacekeepers.

I facilitated a warm-up conference for this week’s meeting focusing on training peacekeepers in Uruguay last December, and it was striking that major UN troop contributors are working hard to standardise and upgrade deployment systems so that their troops will be attractive candidates for UN missions (a useful source of income for some militaries).

Nonetheless, the UN still has difficulties finding enough troops and military equipment for especially risky missions. Mali, where over 120 personnel have been killed in hostile acts by jihadist insurgents, is the most pressing case. UN officials hope that ministers attending this week’s conference will pledge help on problems like countering roadside bombs for the Mali force. They also need helicopters there, but these aircrafts are perennially difficult to find, and governments often place burdensome caveats on how these costly assets can be used.

UN officials also want to use this opportunity to push governments to deploy more female troops and police as peacekeepers. The UN Secretariat would like to double the number of women in its military and police units. The current figure is under 5 per cent. Defence officials – including Western ones – gripe that this request is unreasonable given the overall lack of women in their forces. But militaries including the Ethiopians, Rwandans, Ghanaians and Tanzanians have made good progress against the UN’s target. Angelina Jolie will be at the UN on Friday to encourage the laggards to do better.

Is the U.S. still a fan of the process?

The Trump administration’s attitude to this Obama legacy initiative is ambiguous. The U.S. is still one of the formal co-conveners of the process. Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan represented Washington at the last meeting in the series in Canada (and his boss, then-Secretary James Mattis, only declined to attend that summit for scheduling reasons). This Friday, the senior American representative will be the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, David Hale. He is a highly experienced diplomat, but it is clear that the U.S. interest in the process is down.

That fits with the administration’s broader and growing scepticism toward UN peace operations. The U.S. has been pushing hard for budget cuts to blue helmet missions since President Trump took office. Washington is now reportedly preparing to call for some hefty reductions to the size and budget of the UN mission in Mali, despite its struggle for security.

It is not clear whether Washington’s dislike for peacekeeping is motivated by budgetary concerns, principled aversion for multilateralism or practical doubts about what the UN can achieve – or all three at once. It is fair to point out that, while the Obama initiative may have motivated NATO members to send high-grade units to Mali and South Sudan, neither is close to stable. National Security Advisor John Bolton gave a harsh speech criticising “unproductive” and open-ended UN missions in Africa in December.

If the U.S. is retreating from this process, will other powers replace it?

European countries, which have a direct security interest in the UN managing threats in places like Mali and Lebanon, are taking this conference reasonably seriously. France has pressed its European allies to send personnel to Mali, and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and his German counterpart Heiko Maas will be in New York. The UK is sending a comparatively junior minister, but London is a little busy with other political concerns right now. British officials thought that their recent deployment in South Sudan was good operational experience, and would like to make another significant contribution to the UN fairly soon.

If Washington’s mounting scepticism toward UN peace operations creates a vacuum, it should not be surprised to see others start to fill it.

But as so often happens when the U.S. steps back from multilateral institutions, eyes will turn to China this week. There are currently 2,500 peacekeepers from the People’s Liberation Army on UN missions, which is 1,000 more than deployments by all the other permanent Security Council members combined. Beijing is not sending a top political figure to this week’s meeting, and may not make any big new pledges. But back in 2015, President Xi Jinping promised to deploy up to 8,000 new troops on UN missions. Chinese and UN officials have taken some time to identify and assess suitable additional units, but this technical process is now largely complete. There is a good chance that the number of Chinese peacekeepers will expand quite considerably in the coming years, and Beijing has signaled that it wants senior UN posts and envoy-ships in recognition of this investment.

That could make the current U.S. administration, which has repeatedly raised concerns about China’s rising influence in international institutions in recent months, uncomfortable.

But if Washington’s mounting scepticism toward UN peace operations creates a vacuum, it should not be surprised to see others start to fill it.