I’m puzzled by the following sequence of events. (This story has a very clear summary.)
- The UN issues a report entitled “Children and Armed Conflict”. The report highlights quite a few groups for committing grave abuses against children. The “Saudi Arabia-led Coalition” in the war in Yemen is on this UN blacklist. The report fingers the Coalition for killing and maiming children and for attacking hospitals and schools. (So far I’m not puzzled.)
- UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon then announces that he is caving in to pressure and will remove Saudi Arabia from the UN blacklist:
“The report describes horrors no child should have to face,” Ban said at a press conference. “At the same time, I also had to consider the very real prospect that millions of other children would suffer grievously if, as was suggested to me, countries would defund many U.N. programs. Children already at risk in Palestine, South Sudan, Syria, Yemen, and so many other places would fall further into despair.” (The quote is from the same summary story mentioned above.)
Moon stops just short of directly naming his blackmailer but it’s obviously Saudi Arabia.
Of course, this story is sad and pathetic. It would be nice to live in a world in which the UN can at least speak the truth and exert moral suasion upon belligerent parties to clean up their acts even if the UN cannot force good behaviour. Unfortunately, we do not really live in this world.
But here’s the puzzle. Why do the Saudis think they have accomplished something with their bullying censorship?
Saudi Arabia was named in an obscure report that is read by only a handful of specialists. Suddenly the report is famous. What’s the take-home message for people outside the Saudi inner circle? Is it that the UN screwed up by naming the Saudi-led Coalition but that this mistake has now been corrected and the Saudis are finally getting the respect they deserve? I don’t think so.
It’s as if a rape victim names her rapist but then recants, saying that he threatened to kill her unless she did so – the rapist then breaths of sigh of relief now that his good name has been cleared.
The only way I can make sense of the Saudi behaviour is to think of it as just a single move in a long game. This time Saudi Arabia elevates a black-hole report to a major news item spiced up by Saudi blackmail.
But next time the UN will think twice before embarrassing the Saudis.
Maybe it makes sense that way. But if so then we should always assume that the Saudis are behaving much worse than the self-censoring UN says they are.
PS (Two hours after posting) – Looking at this again I realize that my title is a little weird. This is because I started with the title but then the ideas drifted while I wrote and by the end the connection between the post and the title became obscure.
For the record, the idea is that the dispute resolution harmed both parties. Saudi Arabia comes off as a bully and blackmailer in addition to the original charge of abusing children. The UN demonstrates that it can’t be trusted to speak the truth. So, at least in the short run, both sides are damaged by the dispute.