August 2006 Monthly Forecast


Ghana will have the Presidency of the Council in what promises to be an unusually busy month.  A thematic debate on consolidation of peace in West Africa is expected.

Clearly the crisis in the Middle East will dominate the Council’s activity in August. However, other very serious situations will also need a substantial portion of the Council’s time, including Darfur Timor-Leste and Haiti. Also it seems highly likely that Somalia and Iran will require attention. 

The Council will also be following closely the situation in the DRC following the 30 July election and the situation in Côte d’Ivoire where increasing obstacles to the October election seem to be emerging.

The Council will also take up again the appointment of the Secretary-General.  A further straw poll is possible but not certain.  Some Council members seem keen to make changes in the process for the next straw poll.

Middle East
The division in the Council is becoming increasingly marked-and this has played out in the tense and difficult negotiations over the Council response to the death of four UN personnel in an Israeli attack on their observation post.

The main dividing line is whether the Council should call for a ceasefire in Lebanon now or wait until the situation on the battlefield resolves itself either by the Israeli forces achieving their objectives or becoming a stalemate. Led by France, the vast majority of Council members believe that the Council can and should call for a ceasefire now. Most would agree that a long term ceasefire needs to be built on a sustainable foundation, i.e. a solution to the underlying problems, but would also argue that a call for a pause in the aerial bombardment, at least in selected areas, to permit humanitarian access and evacuation is appropriate and does not prejudice that objective.

For the US, however, a call for a ceasefire would be at best a declaratory statement, since Israel has made its intentions clear. For Israel (and the US) the issue is that Hezbollah is seen as a terrorist organisation and therefore it is impossible to negotiate a ceasefire with it. It seems that they consider that any pause would be exploited by Hezbollah to consolidate positions and would therefore only prolong the battle.

The announcement, by an Israeli minister close to Prime Minister Olmert, that following Israel’s evacuation warnings, henceforth any persons in southern Lebanon must be considered combatants, has serious implications for the Council. It seems to herald a significant intensification of the air bombardment. If indeed there are still substantial concentrations of non-combatants in the area, some Council members may be even more inclined to call for a temporary protected evacuation corridor and perhaps a wider pause to facilitate evacuation. Secondly, if this announcement proves correct, it also has significant implications in terms of risks for the UN peacekeepers. It is currently expected that the Council will decide on 31 July to keep UNIFIL in place for a further month. However, if the risk level increases, inevitably the Secretary-General will be obliged to evacuate UN personnel to safer ground.

But apart from the ceasefire issue, as France points out, the Council has the opportunity to contribute to the resolution of the crisis by developing the elements that would make up a sustainable basis for cessation of hostilities. Many of these now seem widely agreed at the level of principle and include:

The 26 July Rome Conference agreed a list of principles for “lasting security”. These included the 1949 Armistice Agreement, as well as recent Security Council resolutions on Lebanon. Many observers suggest it is necessary to add to this list elements which will constitute an incentive to Hezbollah (and its backers in Syria) to cooperate because they believe that, even if Israel prevails in southern Lebanon, it will not be the sustainable solution which the US and Israel are seeking. A devastated and occupied southern Lebanon, in the absence of some new factor which really does produce a “new Middle East”, is thought more likely to produce lasting hostility than lasting security. In this regard, there have been suggestions that the Council will need to look at a wider framework with a regional dimension. Interestingly the Rome Conference statement also mentions that a “lasting solution…must be regional”.

In practical terms that may mean the Council will need to discuss including the Sheb’a Farms, the Golan and implementation of resolution 242 as part of an overall lasting solution. No doubt Council members will recall that as recently as 13 June, when reviewing the monitoring force in the Golan, the Council unanimously agreed in a presidential statement that tensions would not be removed until there was a “comprehensive settlement covering all aspects of the Middle East problem…”

As this Forecast goes to print the Council was expected to adopt a resolution which would make the resolutions of the IAEA directed at Iran’s nuclear programme, which are currently only recommendations, binding obligations under international law. This is in response to the failure of Iran to respond substantively to the “incentives package” agreed by the P5 plus Germany in June. The resolution is also expected to specify that sanctions will follow if Iran does not commit to negotiations on the package.

The resolution will weaken Iran’s position, in the sense that one of its strongest cards hitherto—that everything it was doing was permitted under international law—will disappear. And Iran is particularly concerned about the current requirement of the P5 plus one that suspension of enrichment would be a condition for entering negotiations, as opposed to an eventual negotiated outcome. It insists on negotiations with no pre-conditions.

The optimistic scenario is that the Council will not have Iran on the agenda in August because Iran will respond to the package in good time for IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei to review it and report to the Council in late August or early September. The less optimistic scenario involves an adverse Iranian response to the Council resolution or a rejection (or thinly veiled rejection) of the “incentives package”. In that case a heavy confrontation could be expected. Council members seem conscious of the possibility that both this issue and the situation in the Middle East could influence each other.

Although the humanitarian situation continued to worsen in July, Darfur pretty much dropped off the Council radar screen. But the Council will face major decisions in August. The Secretary-General’s recommendations following the UN/AU assessment mission expected shortly. Based on public comments from Under Secretary-General Guéhenno, it seems that a transition strategy will emerge involving a very substantial strengthening of AMIS by the UN, which in effect allows the UN both to preposition a significant amount of mission resource and to enhance AMIS capacity at the same time. The Council will need to authorise this-a very innovative step in terms of building cooperation between the UN and regional organisations.

Because there is no precedent as yet for UN assessed contributions being used by another organisation it will not be an easy decision.  It seems possible the Council may also want to go some way in the resolution towards defining the eventual mandate for the UN mission in Darfur. This will assist in securing ACABQ and Fifth Committee budgetary support. It will also help to meet the concern of many Council members that it is important to continue to demonstrate to Khartoum the solidarity between the UN and the AU on the need for a transition of the peacekeeping force to the UN.

It seems likely that the issue of sanctions against violators of the Darfur Peace Agreement will also be on the table during August.

With respect to the regional aspects involving Chad and the Central African Republic, it seems that at this point there are no proposals for Council action.

A difficult problem seems to be brewing over the likely recommendations from the Secretariat for a new UN mission in Timor-Leste. All Council members are agreed that there is a need to seriously reinforce the UN presence in the light of the recent outbreaks of violence. The disagreements seem likely to centre on:

With respect to the military contingent, Australia strongly favours the current arrangement whereby its forces are there with host country consent and under national command. By contrast, it seems that others (including the Government of Timor-Leste) prefer a traditional UN blue-helmet operation. But some Council members are asking whether the cost of a full UN military presence is really justified in all the circumstances.

Compromises are possible, including retaining the military units under national command but placing them under a UN mandate (as in Afghanistan) with defined reporting obligations to the Council and establishing in addition a small team of UN military observers. The Secretariat “one size fits all” planning template also seems to be part of the problem on this issue.

The inflexible planning template seems also to be a part of the problem regarding the proposed police contingent. To many observers, the proposal seems certain to repeat the “heavy footprint” problems of UNTAET, with huge numbers of indifferent quality personnel from very diverse backgrounds unable to meaningfully relate to the needs of a very small and fragile society. This was a major source of criticism of the UN by the Timor-Leste government. Again some Council members will be concerned about this from a cost perspective.

Finally a number of Council members, who have been concerned about justice and impunity issues in Timor for some time, are feeling that recent events have confirmed to some extent their misgivings about policy on those issues. They will be concerned to ensure appropriate reflection of these matters in the future mandate.

August will also be an important month for Haiti in terms of the long term UN commitment. The Secretary-General’s recommendations seem likely to include continuing the UN operation in the present form, but with an additional focus in the coming period on assistance to the justice and security sectors. There seems to be wide agreement, including within the core group, on these recommendations and the resolution should proceed without controversy. However, this conceals a wider disagreement within the Council which is not new, but which is currently raised by some in the case of Haiti, about the inability of the UN system as currently configured, to harness economic and social assistance effectively under a single operation within the assessed budget.

Full forecast