Why Are UN Agencies Failing?

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Recently, the president of the Syrian Negotiation Commission (SNC) placed the blame for war crimes taking place in the region firmly on the shoulders of the U.N. “The United Nations failed to prevent violence that rages in Syria… We hold the United Nations, the Security Council and the international community directly responsible for failing to take action to prevent these crimes,” Nasr al-Hariri said. One organization, Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) has talked in depth about the turmoil in the region. FDD has extensive coverage on various news media channels and can be viewed on YouTube for more information.

The comments came as the Russian-supported Bashar al-Assad regime continues to wage a relentless assault on his people. A recent Russian air-strike offensive in an enclave near Damascus is said to have killed around 1,400 civilians, according to a British-based watchdog group called the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Multiple independent agencies have estimated the death toll of the Syrian conflict to be in the hundreds of thousands. Most of the deaths at the hands of the Syrian government and its allies. Millions more have been displaced both within the country’s borders and outside it leading to the worst refugee crisis since World War II.

Despite the widespread media attention that the civil war has received the UN failed to prevent the al-Assad regime from carrying out brutal tactics, which have included the use of chemical weapons, mass executions and the torture of civilians. Recently the U.S. pulled out of the United Nations’ Human Rights Council. America’s Ambassador Nikki Haley referred to the committee as “a hypocritical and self-serving organization that protects abusers.”

It’s undeniable that the U.N.’s agencies, commissions, and panels have a dismal record of accomplishment. Along with failing to defend human rights, the U.N. regularly panders to activists. Last December, two respected commentators called for the U.S. to cut funding to the World Health Organization (WHO). FDD’s CEO, Mark Dubowitz has outlined some reasons behind the United Nations’ track record of failing agencies.

Historically the U.S. has been disproportionately burdened with the cost of the organization. Annually U.S. contributions, (including voluntary fees) have totaled nearly $8 billion. However, that may be coming to an end under the Trump administration. Last year, State Department staffers were ordered to make significant cuts to the U.N. funding contributions.

A primary problem with the U.N. is the monopoly structure. There’s little oversight to punish inefficiency and incompetence because there are no consumers or constituents. In some ways, failure is rewarded because programs that don’t work are given more money and resources. U.N. officials are also rewarded for giving off the impression of a functioning organization. Vast amounts of resources are dedicated to commissioning reports, guidelines, press releases and agreements, and for holding meetings and committees.

In the absence of accountability, U.N. officials feel little need for transparency. Information is only given out by order of the public relations department with the express intent of painting a favorable picture of the U.N. Access to information and requests by the press or third-party organizations often go ignored.

Many have placed the blame of the many failing U.N. agencies on the selection process of the U.N. leadership. Heads of state and government ministers aren’t incentivized to send their best or brightest. As a result, the U.N. has to make do with the bottom of the barrel. Special treatment has often been given to some countries over others with little regard for qualifications. Once someone is hired at the U.N., it can be challenging to get rid of them leading to a notorious amount of waste. Donald Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, and a former ambassador to the U.N. once said “The U.N. Secretariat building in New York has 38 stories. If it lost ten, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.”

The comment was no doubt a reference to the sheer number of redundant and obsolete positions that have been created over the years. It’s unlikely, however, that with Bolton working so close to the President that the U.N. will maintain such high funding from the U.S. over the next few years. We might even see a reduction of more than ten floors. To see how the current administration might proceed going forward on other matters click here to read more.

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The Cause and Effect of Government Corruption in Iran

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Iran has been a severely divided nation since the fall of the Shah in 1979, but the already politically turbulent climate has been worsening lately due to economic and social discontent. The complaints are all too familiar to the other oil-powerhouses in the region:  corruption and financial inequality. Youth unemployment is at an all-time high, and the economy has been slow to recover since sanctions against the country were lifted in 2016. In recent years the price of fuel, dairy, and meat, have all skyrocketed, with little hope for a fall anytime soon.

 

Mark Dubowitz from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) spoke with the Wall Street Journal about the state of Iran, and how the current administration could learn something from Ronald Reagan. In Dubowitz’ opinion “The Islamic Republic of Iran is imperialist, repressive, and—unless we adopt a new strategy—[is] on its way toward possessing nuclear weapons.” The series of public Iranian protests, which lasted from December 2017 to January 2018, could suggest a threat to the stability of the government.

 

Most information regarding the size of the demonstrations and more specifics about the motivations are unclear due to the government’s strict prohibitions on news coverage and social media. The Iranian Minister of the Interior blamed social media for causing unnecessary fear and violence, and in response the government has vowed to limit such technology. Things only grew more opaque after the Iranian State News Network was banned from covering the protest, and reports were restricted from private news organizations.

 

In retaliation for the the protests, many cities suffered internet outages. In several regions the internet providers are either wholly or partially owned by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and therefore report directly to the government. At the height of the unrest, the country showed a drop as high as 50% in internet traffic, and a massive surge in the use of online masking software, such as the anonymous browser TOR.

 

Some think the fast growth of the cause might have been sparked by an organized anti-government group operating covertly within the country. The US and Saudi Arabia might have reason to fund groups like the Iranian Kurds who disconnected from the central government, but there is no evidence that happened.

 

What we do know is that the demonstrations began with a protest in Mashhad against rising prices. Mashhad is a known haven for religious fundamentalists, so it’s possible the conservatives stoked the demonstrations in an attempt to undermine President Hassan Rouhani, who is considered a political moderate. However, even if the hardliners caused the protests, it’s evident that the sentiments are shared across the country.

 

President Rouhani and the rest of his administration have called for calm and reiterated that the citizens have a right to demonstrate so long as property isn’t destroyed. One of the government’s responses was to ban English language lessons in public schools because it paved the way for a “cultural invasion of Western Values.”

 

There is a great deal of criticism for the government’s excessive arrests and use of torture. Twenty-five total deaths during the movement have been reported, with many having suspicious circumstances. The White House referred to the reports of inmates being tortured as disturbing. Many arrests have been cited as clear human rights violations. In Malayer, a 15-year-old boy was sentenced to five years in prison for pulling down a government flag in a city square.

 

The violent suppression of protests, the human rights violations, and government censorship all might force Western nations towards a more aggressive stance with Iran, which could severely cripple the nuclear deal. If sanctions are brought back, and the financial inequality worsens, then it’s likely there’s more civil unrest to come.

Iran’s Reign Continues as the Top Sponsor of Terror and Terrorist Activities

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For over three decades, the United States has listed Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism. In that time, Iran has done little to convince the Western world otherwise. In fact, their actions over the years have only further established their reputation as duplicitous, to say the least.

Though the U.S. and Iran have had particularly rough tensions in the past, Iran’s relations with the rest of the world, and even their own people, have not been any better. Though Iran’s leaders claim act on behalf of their nation, they have no interest in bettering conditions for the average citizen.

For example, behind claims of developing programs to bolster economic advancement and stability, Iran has notoriously fostered hidden nuclear proliferation activities for decades. Additionally, despite the terms of the current Iran Deal they continue to make incremental violations, which started mere months after the JCPOA was signed by Iran and the P5+1 (U.S., Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia).

In the latest annual report to date published in July 2017, the State Department named Iran as the “planet’s foremost” state sponsor of terrorism in 2016.  The 2017 Worldwide Threat Assessment by the U.S. Intelligence Community also listed Iran as the foremost sponsor in terrorism, and named Hezbollah in Lebanon as its primary accessory that continues to pose a threat to U.S. interests and partners worldwide. There are various criteria for being listed as a state sponsor of terror, and that designation remains in place until there’s adequate proof that the state has stepped away from their nefarious activities.  Until then, the designation is not to be rescinded.

To “qualify” as a state-sponsor of terror, the state in question must have demonstrated a deliberate use of terrorism or aid to a terrorist organization as a foreign policy tool against other countries or groups of people. Direct attacks or a funneling of resources in financial, weaponized, or intelligence forms count as participative efforts to support terrorist activities.

For years, Iran has been acting as a patron of terrorism in the region. They have actively trained and sent resources to Hezbollah, facilitated terrorist activities in Palestinian territories, and have even trained and provided Iraqi militants with bombs,and other weaponry. Since at least 2005, Iran has been actively supporting the Iraqi insurgency and influencing local politics. Iran aggressively threatened U.S. efforts in Iraq, directly resulted in the deaths of U.S. troops. For these and other reasons, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds-Force (IRGC-QF) was also added to the list of foreign terrorist organizations by the U.S. in 2007.

In fact, the IRGC-QFsupports terrorist organizations outside of Iran. They have been an active force in the Afghanistan insurgency and have supported the Taliban in western and central areas of the country.

In Iraq, Iran is positioning itself to gain more leverage in the region  by dominating local politics. Though Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, elected in 2014, initially seemed like just the pillar Iraq needed to stand up to Tehran influence, his recent move to join forces with Iran-aligned Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) is making experts in the West uncomfortable, to say the least. Factions of this group (Asaib ahl al-Haq, Kataib Hezbollah, and Harakat al-Nujaba) have been involved in various sectarian attacks and human rights abuses including attacks on Americans and Iraqis, both civilian and military personnel, alike.

The Big Picture

Since the Hostage Crisis nearly four decades ago, the U.S. and the West have been at odds with Iran and their overt and clandestine activities in the region. Their nuclear proliferation activities had been surreptitiously developed over a few decades, and they continuously lied about their enrichment activities and their long-term nuclear intentions. Though the 2015 Iran Deal was meant to mitigate their nuclear activities, opponents of the deal in its current form say the restrictions are not enough. One analyst, Mark Dubowitz, has consistently outlined flaws in the Iran deal, mainly arguing that Iran sees no negative repercussions to their actions and thus will not change their behavior; the incentive is not yet good or strong enough.

Until we figure out a way to paralyze Iran’s power plays, we can only expect to see them continue their reign as a state sponsor of terror.

JCPOA Unlikely to Produce an Honest Iran

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The 2015 Iran nuclear deal, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was a culmination of sorts for a marathon of nuclear negotiations with Iran. In broad terms, the agreement among six nations plus Iran would restrict key elements of Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting some economic sanctions.

Recently, incremental violations of the JCPOA by Iran have aggravated old wounds, and President Trump has threatened to withdraw from the deal on grounds that Iran is not held accountable to the extent that it should and continues to get more out of the deal than Washington does.

While those in favor of the JCPOA in its current form argue that it prevents the Islamic Republic from developing a nuclear weapon for the next decade, it is important to keep in mind Iran’s past and present activities when considering the fate of the deal.

Why Are We So Concerned With Iran?

 While some may argue that all countries have legitimate nuclear interests, Iran has been singled out for good reason. Their long-standing violation of nuclear safeguards has left the West leery of trusting Iran’s activities and intentions. In the past, Iran has clearly shown itself as less than fully forthcoming with their nuclear activities. Worse, its program has received significant foreign assistance from Pakistan, Russia, China, and even North Korea. The first revelations were in 2002; proving that Iran had been scaling up its nuclear program throughout the ‘90s. Another major source of concern came in 2009 via a letter from Iran to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of an undisclosed enrichment plant at Fordow buried under a mountain (near the holy city of Qom). Analysts say that the reason Iran came forward with this admission was to get ahead of the Western disclosure; they knew U.S., British, and French officials had gathered enough evidence to bring forward an accusation. While initially non-operational, Iran was developing the Fordow plant parallel to Natanz. Soon after the revelation, Iran begun enriching uranium at Fordow, in contravention of multiple UNSC resolutions.

Iran has maintained that its nuclear program is only intended for peaceful purposes as a civilian energy program. However, a decade long game of cat and mouse with the IAEA and development of a vast arsenal of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles suggests otherwise.

Is the JCPOA Effective Enough?

In 2015, the JCPOA was adopted in an effort to better keep tabs on Iran’s nuclear program. It outlined an agreement that would allow the IAEA to regularly inspect Iran’s nuclear facilities, and limit their uranium-enrichment activities to a single facility for 10 years. Other facilities would be converted to avoid proliferation risks. In exchange for these stipulations, Iran would be granted certain relief from sanctions previously imposed upon them.

While the JCPOA may have opened up civil communications and dealings with Iran, critics of the deal feel the restrictions were not harsh enough. Mark Dubowitz of FDD says that the agreement allows Iran to continue nuclear development, albeit at a slower pace. He also adds that as the deal ages, “sunset clauses” come in to play that would ultimately allow Iran to engage in nuclear enrichment at near-zero breakout times. All the while, Iran thumbs its nose at the international community and skirts punishment (sanctions) since its violations of the deal aren’t deemed “egregious.” But what happens as these incremental violations build up over time? Mark Dubowitz of The Foundation for Defense for Democracies points out that Iran has not stopped their development and subsequent test launches of ballistic missiles. Though the UNSC resolution implementing the JCPOA does contain language limiting ballistic missile activity, critics have argued that a renegotiated, or “fixed,” deal should tighten these provisions.

When will Iran be held accountable not just for egregious violations, but incremental ones as well? We have yet to see an honest turn-around in Iranian behavior, and if the JCPOA continues in its current form, we should have no reason to expect otherwise.