x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

UN can't cope with many civil conflicts

The absurdly slow response to Mali’s crisis is a sad reminder that the world needs better leadership.

Now that the conflagration has burnt out and the embers are cooling, the fire department is almost ready to arrive.

That's the situation in Mali, where United Nations peacekeepers will be taking up position soon. The absurdly slow response to Mali's crisis is a sad reminder that the world needs better leadership.

If the 12,640 UN-sponsored soldiers and police due in Mali on July 1 find that there is some peace to keep, that will be no thanks to the world body, which responded to the crisis at a glacial pace.

Last year Mali's long-running problem with Tuareg separatists was eclipsed by a greater menace, as Islamist extremists with arms from Libya moved steadily south. In January, with the UN still wringing its hands, France acted, pouring 4,000 tough, well-equipped combat troops into its former colony to reverse the flow of events.

Now the Islamists have been dispersed, though not defeated. Malian troops are replacing the French, who are leaving. The government has reached a deal with the Tuareg. A just-approved $15 million (Dh55mn) loan, though not large in itself, signals to aid donors that it's time to open the spigot. Elections are planned for July.

Perhaps the peacekeepers will prove useful, but plainly the UN deserves no credit for the progress so far in Mali. Indeed, from the former-Yugoslavia wars of the 1990s to Rwanda in 1994 to Syria today, the UN has repeatedly failed to live up to the brave words of its 1945 Charter, "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war".

After the world wars of the last century, arbitrary boundaries were imposed on many peoples. Then, throughout the Cold War, East and West propped up numerous unsavoury tyrannies; the revolutions and realignments that followed withdrawal of that support continue still, at the price of bitter multiparty internal disputes, as in Syria and Libya.

Wars, in the old sense of major combat between two states, are strikingly scarce in today's world. But outsiders, through the UN or through regional security alliances, can do little to prevent domestic conflicts; indeed external "non-state actors" often make them worse, as Syria shows so vividly.

Mali, for all its remaining problems, has at least been given a new chance at stability and progress. Other countries are not so lucky.