Last Monday, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) conducted an underground nuclear test in defiance of United Nations resolutions and more than two decades of concerns from the international community. It was the DPRK’s third and largest atomic test since 2006, prompting an emergency meeting and united condemnation from the UN Security Council.
The ongoing conflict in Mali, grounded in a rebel takeover of the country’s north nearly a year ago, has already affected hundreds of thousands of people. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that more than 150,000 people have fled to neighboring countries and an additional 230,000 have been displaced internally. The humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate, even as international and regional actors, along with the UN Security Council, work to prevent the area from becoming a stronghold for terrorist groups.
Syria and the world were shocked by news of a massacre in Houla, the largest scale violence since the UN deployed 300 monitors to the country. The monitors were sent to observe the implementation of UN-Arab League Joint Envoy Kofi Annan’s six-point plan, but so far their deployment has failed to stem the violence.
Over the weekend, the world welcomed a unanimous vote by the Security Council on resolution 2043, which authorizes the UN observer mission in Syria to expand its strength from 30 to 300. The UN-Arab League Special Envoy for Syria, Kofi Annan, called it a “pivotal moment for the stabilization of the country.”
In coastal Accra—the seat of one of the world’s fastest-growing economies—industry has been expanding in more ways than one. Ghana, known as one of the most stable countries in West Africa, has become a major global hub for cocaine trafficking. Smugglers have been escalating their activity across the region in recent years, using Ghana, Guinea Bissau and other countries in the Sahel region as way stations between Latin America and Europe, where cocaine sales total more than $2 billion per year.
Six months ago, a member of the Nigerian radicalIslamist group Boko Haram drove a car laden with high explosives into theUnited Nations compound in Abuja and detonated it. The blast killed 23 peopleand injured more than 80. It was the first, and so far only, time the group hadattacked such an international target. But it has hardly been the only target.Since 2009, the group has killed at least 1,000 people. Almost every day sees anew attack or shootout in northeast Nigeria. Boko Haram has targeted churchesand police stations with particular ferocity. In January, militants killedscores of people in coordinated attacks in Kano, the largest city in the north.
"Iwant to return as soon as possible," Abu Hamzeh tells me from his hospital bedin Tripoli. The young man, just 25, fled Syria for Lebanon more than two months ago. He'srecovering from bullet wounds to his thigh and shoulder, inflicted by a sniper whofired on Hamzeh while he was leading demonstrations in his hometown, Homs, the epicenterof the Syrian uprising.
Since the outbreak of violence in Syria in March 2011, the UN Security Council has passed 60 resolutions. None of these have dealt with Syria, an issue about which the council is starkly divided. While western powers such as the United States and countries of the European Union emphasize the need for action and have themselves imposed harsh sanctions on the Syrian regime, China and Russia have resisted. In October, the latter two countries vetoed a watered-down Security Council resolution demanding UN action.
It's been called the UnitedNations' beauty pageant: Every year, a handful of states compete for the five rotatingseats on the U.N. Security Council up for election. Countries' delegations pullout all the diplomatic stops-from opening new embassies tohosting cruises around the Greek Islands-in hope of winning the necessarytwo-thirds majority vote in the U.N. General Assembly. Some PermanentRepresentatives ignore instructions from their Foreign Ministry, supporting thecountry known for putting on the best cocktail parties. With a secret ballotsystem, it is hard to ever predict which member states will triumph until thevotes are counted.
A new mediation service, the Independent Diplomat, appeared on the international scene in 2004, providing advice to governments and political groups who adhere to democratic principles. One of its most recent projects, for example, was helping South Sudan to establish itself as a new country.