January 2007 Monthly Forecast

Posted 22 December 2006
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Russia will have the Presidency of the Council in January.

No thematic debate is expected. It is unclear whether there will be any major public debate. One possibility is the monthly session on the Middle East. It will be an important first indicator about the likely approach of the new Secretary-General. There will be interest in whether he chooses to participate personally and if so how he positions the UN on Middle East issues in the post-Kofi Annan era.

The Council will welcome five new members, Belgium, Indonesia, Italy, Panama and South Africa,  who will bring interesting strengths and experience to the table. Belgium has a long history in Africa and a determination to play a positive role on African issues before the Council. Indonesia, with the largest Muslim population in the world and significant public interest in Middle East issues, will bring added weight to Council discussions on those issues.  Italy, in addition to being the sixth largest contributor to the UN regular budget, has deep experience and interest in the Horn of Africa and will shortly take over the leadership of the UN peacekeeping role in Lebanon. Panama played a leading and positive role as co-chair in the General Assembly negotiations on the establishment of the Human Rights Council. Panama’s partner as co-chair in those negotiations was the other new Council member, South Africa. South Africa brings to the Council table extensive peace making and peacekeeping experience in Africa and recent leadership experience of the G77 and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). The changed composition of the Council means that NAM membership rises from four to seven (sufficient to block adoption of a resolution). EU membership remains constant at five.

Readers will notice some adjustments in this, our first Monthly Forecast for 2007. In the light of helpful feedback and suggestions this Forecast looks further ahead than the current month and previews three major issues coming up in February and March:

In response to requests for more in-depth analytical material, this Forecast contains items on:

Somalia is the lead item. The situation there seems to be worsening daily and the risks of wider regional conflict remain grave. The door may be still open for peace talks between the Transitional Federal Government and the Union of Islamic Courts, thanks to diplomacy by the EU and some regional neighbours. Our brief discusses various options for the Council to help promote a peace agreement. However, whether there are any such opportunities will depend on whether the current fighting extends into prolonged warfare. In any event, it does seem that resolution 1725 adopted in December may prove as ill fated as the Council’s 1993  attempt to assert authority in Somalia in resolution 837, which in effect plunged the peacekeeping force into a war with General Aideed.

Darfur and the adjacent region seem to be at a critical turning point. Last ditch efforts were made in December by Kofi Annan, the US and the Council to find a way to get Khartoum to give meaningful consent to the details of the “hybrid” AU-UN operation. If such consent is forthcoming, efforts in January will focus on implementation, including the heavy lifting within the UN system to guarantee the funding. Under this scenario a more positive outlook for Darfur may be in the cards. The alternative is a bleak one, both for the people of Darfur and the leadership in Khartoum. Sanctions will be back on the agenda along, no doubt, with other forms of multilateral and even unilateral action.

Although the mandate for UNMIS in Southern Sudan does not expire until April, in view if the fact that the Council seems close to reaching a make or break point with Sudan over Darfur, we have provided in this issue a brief covering recent developments in Southern Sudan.

The Council also seems poised to take decisions regarding a deployment in Chad and the Central African Republic. This is also intensely disliked by Khartoum, but how the details play out may depend on whether Sudan is cooperative over Darfur. How the operations are structured and the extent of the even-handedness as between the governments in N’djamena and Bangui on the one hand and the Khartoum leaning rebels on the other, remain open issues in the Council at present. Clearly there are concerns in the Secretariat about the risks of being perceived to be taking sides in these civil conflicts.

The border dispute between Ethiopia/Eritrea continues to simmer. Neither the Council nor the Secretary-General sees the continued deployment of a peacekeeping force as adding value in terms of its original mandate given the positions taken by the two parties. However, because of the tensions arising from developments in Somalia and the wider risks of conflict in the region involving both countries, it seems that UNMEE will get a reprieve and will continue in some form-probably reconfigured to reduce risks for the UN personnel.

A major new development is the inclusion of Nepal in the Council’s work programme and approval of a multi-faceted UN mission is expected. There are sensitive issues in the background. Nepal has asked for military expertise to be included (but in a non-transparent way) and for a mandate that would normally in UN practice be undertaken by a mission with uniformed military personnel (but for it not to be called a “peacekeeping operation”). These requests will require some flexibility in terms of normal UN categorisation. It seems that the operation will be called a “political mission”, but normally such missions are established under the Secretary-General’s good-offices authority and funded under the regular budget. In this case, however, there seems to be a sufficient security element to the proposed mandate for it to be a Security Council mandate and funded under the peacekeeping scale of assessments. However these and other sensitive issues, such as accountability for past war crimes and human rights abuses, are yet to be discussed in detail.

The Council is not expected to take any action on Georgia, although anything it can do to nudge the parties to restart political dialogue, in the light of the expected report and briefing from the Special Representative, would be welcomed. It will be interesting to see whether the issue can be discussed on its own merits or whether the looming discussion on Kosovo—now expected in March—will overshadow the situation. It may be that a fresh start on the various issues confronting Georgia will only be possible once some of the current uncertainty over the future of Kosovo is behind the Council.

North Korea and Iran have been major issues on the Council agenda in 2006 and we have covered both in detail in Forecasts and Updates. At press time the Council was poised to adopt a draft resolution imposing sanctions on Iran. The draft has much in common with resolution 1718 adopted in October imposing sanctions on North Korea and was previewed in detail in our Update Report of 15 December. We have included in this Forecast  an overview of developments since October regarding North Korea, the work of the Sanctions Committee and the re-launching in Beijing of the six-nation talks. Looking ahead, we see a quiet period in the Council on this issue-provided all continues to go well with the six-nation talks. But it is too soon to make a similar assessment regarding Iran. Much now depends on Tehran’s reaction to the resolution and whether a way is found to engage in negotiations. But, based on the recent statements from Iran and news reports of possible deployment of contingency naval forces to the region, we expect we will be covering the issue again soon. The next deadline for compliance is in late February.

Côte d’Ivoire is on the agenda for January for somewhat unexpected procedural reasons, as well as a deterioration of the situation on the ground. It seems that the US blocked the renewal of the UNOCI mandate in December (now deferred till January) because they were unable to secure in sufficient time the necessary domestic approvals. However, it is actually timely to have a focus for a further in-depth look at Côte d’Ivoire again early in the New Year. Recent announcements by President Gbagbo seem to reinforce his persistent trend away from the internationally agreed roadmap.

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