Prisoners of Peace

Today, peacekeepers are more apt to serve in regions where there is “no peace to keep”; where the potential belligerents are non-state actors (rebels, extremist groups, etc…) to whom the rules of international law —and the logic of deterrence— matter little; and where Western (or “developed”) countries are loathe to donate their own troops.

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Screen Shot 2014-09-12 at 4.49.34 PMToday, I published a short op-ed on last month’s kidnapping of 45 Fijian peacekeepers in the Golan Heights by the Al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front. Thankfully, the Fijian peacekeepers were released yesterday, but their two week ordeal illustrates a worrying symptom of a broken system: today, peacekeepers are more apt to serve in regions where there is “no peace to keep”; where the potential belligerents are non-state actors (rebels, extremist groups, etc…) to whom the rules of international law —and the logic of deterrence— matter little; and where Western (or developed countries) loathe to donate their own troops.

As a result, these blue helmets in the world’s most vulnerable conditions are primarily culled from the developing world.

While you can read the full article here, I’ve included the compiled UN data below.

One additional note, of course, is China’s increased contribution to the UN ranks, particularly during the last decade. The UN missions in Mali and South Sudan, for instance, have seen the Chinese don blue helmets with increasing frequency. For some, this willingness to deploy troops signals a growing “militarization” of their role in Africa. For others, however, their contributions note a shift in political rhetoric: once a strict proponent of state sovereignty with an acute allergy towards principles of foreign intervention, China has become more dependent on their international connections. Measures to ensure stability, then, are in line with their own political interests. But we’ll leave that debate for another day.

A new museum stirs tensions in Hong Kong

Last Saturday, the June 4 Memorial Museum opened in Hong Kong. In the fifth floor of an unassuming office building, the 800-square foot museum documents the 1989 protests in Tiananmen Square, and commemorates the hundreds of lives lost (and the thousands injured) after the Chinese government’s crackdown.

Supporters of the June 4 Museum clash with police and members of the opposition at the opening of the June 4 Museum in Hong Kong on April 26, 2014. (Photo: Adam McCauley)
Supporters of the June 4 Museum clash with police and members of the opposition at the opening of the June 4 Museum in Hong Kong on April 26, 2014. (Photo: Adam McCauley)

Last Saturday, the June 4 Memorial Museum opened in Hong Kong. In the fifth floor of an unassuming office building, the 800-square foot museum documents the 1989 protests in Tiananmen Square, and commemorates the hundreds of lives lost (and the thousands injured) after the Chinese government’s crackdown.

[Read my full article on Al Jazeera]

As one of my sources told me: “In a debate where Beijing is charged (rightly) with lying about the past, getting the details right can really matter.” These details, such as who was hurt or killed (not merely student protestors, but also civilians and citizens sympathetic to the protest’s message) and where those abuses were committed (the military drove people into the streets surrounding Tiananmen Square). These little details, if missed, provide some parties with ammunition to deny the “history” of an event; it gives semantic weight to assertions by the Communist Party of China that, no, there were no actual deaths in Tiananmen Square, even if there were many near Tiananmen Square.

Whether marveling at the power of belief and the unwillingness of museum supporters (not to mention the Hong Kong Alliance who created the museum) to stand behind their message, I was struck most by Saturday’s comment by Johnny Lau, a journeyman journalist who reported from Tiananmen in 1989.

When I asked about the pro-Communist protestors who had amassed outside the museum’s entrance, he said. “Regardless of their message, at least they have the right to protest here.”