MAKE CIVILIANS SAFE - THE RESPONSIBILITY TO PROTECT
The news that a Malaysian civilian plane has been shot down, with the loss of everyone on board, is shocking. So too is the news of ongoing conflict in Gaza, with Palestinians shooting rockets at Israeli civilians, and Israeli bombs killing Palestinian children.
These tragic events, and many others, make it clear that we need to do more to make the world safe for civilians. There should be United Nations peacekeepers in Ukraine, in Gaza, and around the world wherever there is conflict and there are civilian lives at risk.
Australia will hold the United Nations Security Council Presidency for a month in November. What should we be doing with this rare opportunity?
I am dismayed and often disgusted by events in Iraq, Syria, Gaza, Afghanistan and Ukraine. I know the people of North Korea are brutalised by their leaders and that drug lords in Mexico and Colombia routinely put on public display the bodies of those they have executed. The antics of Boko Haram, Al Shebab and other violent fundamentalists make me sick.
I don't believe in unilateral action of the "coalition of the willing" kind. As we have seen only too clearly from Vietnam to Iraq, that only makes matters worse, with violence begetting violence. But I don't believe we can just sit here and shrug our shoulders and say there is nothing we can do about it.
I do believe in collective international action to solve problems. And of course we have the United Nations, established precisely to solve international problems and to seek to improve on the abysmal record of the First and Second World Wars. I know it does a lot of good, but the level of global violence suggests that it needs to be doing much more.
Why doesn't it do more? Well that would be because the big powers - members of the UN Security Council with a veto power over UN action - are prepared to turn a blind eye to, to cover up, the sins and misdeeds of their allies and supporters. No-one has clean hands here. Not the United States, not Russia, not China. All three of them are guilty of putting up with outrageous conduct when it Is done by one of their supporters, and all three are willing to use their veto power in the Security Council to stop the UN from taking meaningful action.
Over my years of political life I've come to realise that a key measure of political integrity is what political leaders are prepared to tolerate by way of misconduct from people in their camp. And at present the big powers, instead of working together to put an end to war and political violence, are prepared to tolerate way too much.
Of course getting the big powers to lift their game is no easy matter. But I make three observations that might help. First, people concerned about global conflict should seek to breathe new life into the "responsibility to protect". This doctrine took a long time to develop and was very quickly put into cold storage after Libya. But it does have the potential to save civilian lives, and we should demand that the UN Security Council uses it when outbreaks of violence occur. Some people might think that this will require a lot more resources for the UN. But it is nonsense to think that we don't have these resources readily at hand. The US, Russia and China have massive numbers of troops and equipment at their disposal. All that is required is for some of these resources to be handed over to the UN, and to operate as blue helmets.
Second, we should be wary of the way that trade agreements and global trading arrangements act as a handbrake and make countries reluctant to tell home truths to their trading partners. Countries around the world should not allow their independence and self-sufficiency to become so compromised that they cannot say what needs to be said or do what needs to be done.
Third, our attitude matters. Everyone has to be willing to put the weights on the big countries and demand action from them. It is not good enough to let them blame this or that rogue state, or rogue General, or rogue religious leader. We should tell the big powers we know they can the fix the problem if they genuinely want to, or if they can't that the world is willing to help out.
Not an easy row to hoe, to be sure, and often inconvenient. But far superior to Coalition of the Willing type unilateral action, which has proven to be disastrous, and far superior to fatalism, and meekly allowing this violence to continue, or trying to pick up the refugee pieces. That is an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, when what is needed is more fences at the top. An ounce of prevention is indeed worth a pound of cure, and we should use our time in the sun chairing the Security Council to advocate that.
Kelvin ThomsonMember for Wills