NOTE: This post was written by Elaina Estrin, one of the School of Diplomacy’s two UN Youth Representatives. Elaina is a student majoring in Diplomacy and International Relations and Modern Languages. Elaina’s focus is on international organizations and post conflict state building. She is fluent in English and Russian and she will be continuing her Arabic language studies in Muscat, Oman this upcoming summer. Elaina has interned with the office of Senator Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) and taught English in Petrozavodsk, Russia. She has also worked closely with a DC based consulting firm called Field Strategies. Currently she is the head of Public Relations of SHU’s Slavic Club and Secretary for SHU’s International Law Society.
Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon kicked off the UNA-USA Members Day on Friday February 20th, saying the fight against ISIL “is not a war against any religion by any religion or against any civilization or by any civilization. This is a war against such a brutal criminality – unspeakable, intolerable brutality – beheadings, kidnapping, killing, raping. All this must be addressed in the name of humanity. This requires a multi-dimensional effort”. There is no religion which condones the killing of innocent lives and it is important to note that although ISIL is an acronym for Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, it does not represent Islam or its beliefs and it is not a state. The terror group goes by many names Daesh, ISIL, ISIS, but regardless of what you call them, they are a threat to the security of every country alike. Various religious and secular leaders have condemned the acts of this terrorist group which has used coercion and violence to take over parts of Syria, Iraq and are now trying to spread to further regions.
For the past few months the media has been covered in gruesome photos and videos of the terrorist group. In a video posted by the group, members stated that their goal was to restore an Islamic state, or caliphate, in the Eastern Mediterranean region known in Arabic as Al Sham. One of the indispensable panels during this year’s Member’s Day was titled “Back to Iraq: The Rise of ISIL and the End of Arab Spring”. This panel was specifically intriguing to me because institutions such as the United Nations were built to deal with issues like ISIL, which transcend state borders and cannot be solved by one state alone. This enemy is largely unknown because there are a number of different forces including rebel fighters against Assad, Assad’s army, Al Qaida, and now ISIL all operating and controlling certain regions in Syria. This is why it is so necessary for organizations such as the UN to serve as a platform for dialogue about how to approach this rising threat.
To truly understand what brought Syria and Iraq to the threshold of ISIL one needs to know a bit about the Arab Spring. The Arab Spring is part of the revolutionary wave around the world since the early 2000’s; including the Coloured Revolutions and the Umbrella Revolution. Jeffrey Laurenti, who moderated the panel, explained that in states like Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Tunisia, and Bahrain people began to protest to show their leaders that they are dissatisfied and demand change. This was believed to be the promise of better governance, but some say it has only caused more turmoil. Many of these revolutions tried to pave a path to liberalism without Democracy. Which lead their countries to have no legitimate leaders, distrust in authorities, lack of security, disintegration among people and crumbling organizations. Where do you start to pick up the pieces and rebuild in states that are so shattered?
This lack of stability, jobs, belonging, and communication has lead people, especially young people, to turn to extremist ideology. As Aldijana Sisic, Chief of the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women explained “activism can provide a powerful framework for hope”, but it can also lead individuals down an extremist path. In societies that have been through so much chaos, people often feel they have nowhere to else turn. It is up to the international community to publicize that there are other options besides joining a brutally violent organization like ISIL. Italy’s permanent representative to the UN, Ambassador Sebastiano Cardi was another one of the panelists. Since Italy was a former colonial power in Libya and “has been on the forefront of problems facing the Arab world” he was able to explain why there was such an influx of foreigners from all parts of the globe turning to ISIL to find solace. They leave for a number of reasons including glory, religion, money, politics, adventure, and to feel as if they belong. ISIL recruits are also not limited by gender, age, or skill making them all the more appealing to displaced people around the world. However this group has been the cause of many displaced people in the Levant region. Ambassador Cardi emphasized Italy’s policy of helping migrants that are trying to escape from Libya and other Arab nations infected with ISIL.
One of the questions posed to the panel was regarding Responsibility to Protect (R2P) which is a human rights norm that advocates for the prevention and end of Genocides, war crimes, and acts against humanity. Ambassador Maureen Quinn from the International Peace Institute spoke at length on this topic explaining that “R2P is not dead.” She discussed the 2 aspects involved in R2P; the sovereignty of the state and the international community. The state and its leaders have a responsibility to protect their people, while the international community must uphold the state and monitor its effectiveness. In reality the UN is still limited with R2P because as Mrs. Quinn put it “many conflicts are not susceptible to outside mediation and geopolitics as well as national interests must be considered”. There are also budget limitations being as the peacekeeping budget is 8.5 billion and the mediation budget is 100 million. There is a lot of uncertainty in situations such as ISIL and they must be taken into consideration.
Mr. Laurenti discussed the skepticism people have about what the UN can achieve and how these achievements cannot be measured by months or years but by decades. Eventually these meetings will produce results. But if we doubt the effectiveness of the UN to solve these emerging problems where the enemy is unclear, borders constantly change, and innocents of various nations are being killed, we need only think on the present while “looking at a world before 1945” as Mr. Laurenti put it. A world without the UN.