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Jul 30, 2014

'Tireless' Bishop's UN triumph no real biggie

Careful reading of Julie Bishop's "momentous" UN Security Council resolution regarding flight MH17 reveals it isn't such a big deal, writes an anonymous Canberra insider and former DFAT officer.


Support for United Nations Resolution 2166, regarding the downing of flight MH17, has been overwhelming. In an entirely non-politicised manner (or so we have been assured), the resolution has been cast as demonstrative of Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s resolve and indicative of their leadership credentials. But is it really such a big deal?

The Australian Financial Review‘s John Kehoe described Resolution 2166 as “[Julie Bishop’s] momentous United Nations Security Council resolution”, and “probably Bishop’s finest achievement in international diplomacy in her 10 months in the job”. Peter Hartcher was equally enthusiastic: “UN Security Council Resolution 2166 was a case study in swift, effective diplomacy in response to a crisis … Abbott, the motive force behind the enterprise in the UN and beyond, gets primary credit.” And Michael Fullilove, executive director of the Lowy Institute, argued more broadly: “Council membership has lent Tony Abbott and the tireless Julie Bishop authority and leverage as they seek information and justice on behalf of the Australians on board MH17.”

The adulation has not the sole preserve of Australian talking heads, with Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans “wholeheartedly thanking Australia for taking the initiative with this resolution, and especially the personal commitment from Julie Bishop … ”, and Argentina’s ambassador to the UN, Maria Perceval,  singling out the “courage of Australia” in drafting the resolution. Articles in the Australian media have been invariably similar, offering an “insider’s” account of a David and Goliath-esque showdown between Julie Bishop and Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin (one suspects replete with the trademark death stare from the member for Curtin).

But descriptions of Bishop as “tireless” are getting quite tiresome, particularly for those who have read the two-page resolution and are wondering what all the fuss is about. Resolution 2166 is largely facile, couched in language that is evasive and non-committal, and has little substantive effect beyond the UN Security Council chamber in New York. The resolution has not stopped fighting around the crash site, it has not established the framework for an international investigation, and it has not facilitated the hasty return of the remains of victims. Those who have hailed Resolution 2166 as a victory against Russian revanchism and, by extension, the separatists of Donetsk, fail to understand the relative insignificance of the recovery of the bodies of victims. While this is an important symbolic act for grieving families, it is an irrelevant detail for Russian President Vladimir Putin/the pro-Russian separatists, and hardly demonstrates a sign of contrition that they are permitting the corpses be returned.

Resolution 2166 is a Pyrrhic victory, permitting Western leaders and the international community to be seen as doing “something” for grieving families. But the rest of the world doesn’t really care about the treatment of corpses in a sunflower field in the Ukraine. Even a cursory analysis of some of the non-permanent members of the UNSC (Rwanda, Nigeria, Jordan, Chad, Argentina, Chile) that voted unanimously for “Julie Bishop’s momentous resolution” reveals a recent history of violence and displacement where the value of life is vastly different to their Western counterparts. Do you think Rwanda, whose experiences with UNSC dithering resulted in the deaths of 80,000 men, women and children, is really that concerned with the repatriation of 30-odd Australian corpses? Or Nigeria, with its own troubles with Boko Haram and kidnapped schoolgirls? Resolution 2166 is possibly the best compromise that could have been achieved based on the politicised nature of the UNSC, but ultimately insignificant and ineffective.

The operative paragraphs of the resolution can arguably be broken into three distinct sections. The first grouping is an uncontroversial repetition of what has already been said by most world leaders, condemning the downing of MH17 and reiterating deepest sympathy for the victims. None of this is new.

The next grouping registers broad support and concern, with no additional obligations to what is already occurring. It “supports efforts to establish a full, thorough and independent international investigation into the incident”; “recognizes the efforts under way … to institute an international investigation … and calls on all states to provide any requested assistance to civil and criminal investigations”; and “expresses grave concern at reports of insufficient and limited access to the crash site”.

The final grouping outlines the entire point of the resolution: namely, the return of the bodies of victims and laying the ground work for an investigation. However, without any attached enforcement mechanism, the operative paragraphs appear nothing more than benign rhetoric, especially considering it is being primarily addressed to nominally non-state actors. Operative paragraph 11 is illustrative of the problem of the resolution — demanding accountability for those responsible but not outlining any mechanism through which this could be achieved.

Furthermore, the ongoing conflict around the crash site is in direct violation of the resolution. What is particularly insightful is the recent bout of fighting was not instigated by the stereotyped rabble-rousers — the pro-Russian separatists — but by Kiev. Kiev’s open violation of the resolution is demonstrative of the questionable achievement that was 2166, which “demands that the armed groups in control of the crash site and the surrounding area refrain from any actions that may compromise the integrity of the crash site” and “demands that all military activities, including by armed groups, be immediately ceased in the immediate area surrounding the crash site to allow for security and safety of the international investigation”.

Most UNSC resolutions do not result in substantive action; rather it is the interpretation of them and their incremental weight that builds the milieu of international standards. In doing so, it is important that we consider the actual effect of any resolution, lest unfulfilled expectations become self-defeating and erode the perceived utility of the international system.


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44 thoughts on “‘Tireless’ Bishop’s UN triumph no real biggie

  1. tonysee

    I do wonder if this will come back to bite Abbott and his team especially, in the broader political context, as they are the masters of simplistic catchphrases.

    Will all those who were heartened by the grand, decisive statements around MH370 and MH17 eventually realise, with some disappointment, that ‘you said you’d fix it and you didn’t’?

  2. Pedantic, Balwyn

    The commentary by “Anonymous” is very ungenerous and lacks any credibility by failing to mention that Ms Bishop wore her best suit, had her make-up,nails and hair professionally pampered for the occasion. Next time stick to the facts!

  3. Kevin Herbert

    Bishop’s real ability when operating solo was on show in her recent asinine ‘lose lose’ statement that China needs to be stood up to, after which she was described by a leading Chinese government newspaper as a ‘complete fool’. Most informed Aussies agreed with that view.

    The UN Security Council Resolution 216 was dictated to her by CIA Director Brennan in a meeting on her arrival in New York according to media reports.

    Bishop is yet another Liberal lightweight, who like Lord Downer of Bagdad, will always be operating beyond her abilities.

  4. Peter Watson

    So, the Australian media is starting to pull its head out of Tony and Julie’s collective butt and have a look around. Not a pretty picture out here in the real world.

  5. klewso

    Lady Penelope – “Blunderbirds are go!”

  6. David Hand

    My comment on this topic was deleted by the moderator.
    So much for free speech.

  7. leon knight

    That’s a shame David – I am sure it was insightful…try again with a fair approach and it may get through…

  8. Yclept

    No free speech here David, we don’t understand it, because we didn’t get an invite to the Free Speech 2014 symposium, the only place for balanced free speech.

  9. David Hand

    One thing the resolution has achieved is to legitimise the next level of pressure on Russia and the Ukraine with the physical presence of inspectors in Eastern Ukraine publicly attempting to access the site. Without 2166, they’d be chilling out in their Amsterdam hotel.

    I challenge you in your vast Canberra and DFAT inside knowledge to offer up one, just one thing the government should have done differently in the past 10 days.

    Just one mate. I’m not holding my breath.

  10. Daly

    Abbott was delighted to make an ‘operation’ of the response to MH17. It took the media light and heat off his woeful 2 previous weeks of failure to manage Parliament to pass the budget.
    I would like someone to add up the cost of over 100 Australian public servants, including the GG, Angus Houston (a consultant on $1500+ a day), 100 AFP personnel and an unknown number of Defence personnel shipped at short notice from Australia to Europe and remaining there as we speak. Then there is Julie Bishop and her team flying around like blowflies to be at each photo opportunity.
    All this in the middle of a ‘budget emergency’ when the age of entitlement is over, except for Tony Abbott’s twice daily media events.

  11. dazza

    “It may be unseemly to point out that the Coalition was opposed to the efforts of Kevin Rudd and his government to win a place for Australia on the Security Council because, they argued, a place on the Security Council would not give Australia any greater influence in international affairs. The whole exercise, it was argued, was a distraction and a waste of time.
    The fact is though, that had Australia not had a seat on the Security Council, Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop could not have played the decisive role they have played in this terrible tragedy and its aftermath.”

  12. Daniel Kirton

    Typo: Rwanda lost between 800,000 and 1 million people during the 1994 genocide. The commonly accepted figure is the more conservative.

  13. dazza

    How things change for the hypocrites in the murdock land and therefore the disgraceful Government we hopefully have for a short time thank god. Does anyone remember the outrageous comments from Abbott and Bishop about Gillard wanting a seat in the UN security council??
    Now they’re “swanning around’ there themselves .. hahh.
    And of course the propaganda news were there to back them up all the way.

  14. Brendan Lawrence

    Like a lot of resolutions majority of people don’t pay particular attention to them as they don’t appear to have any real significance. This particular resolution did because it was response to the MH17 tragedy. But unsurprisingly it contains nothing of worth or any real impact, and like most bureaucratic responses it just gives the appearance of doing something rather than actually doing something.

  15. Kevin Herbert

    Why should any pressure be put on Russia?

    Oh sorry..that’s right..out dopey PM shot off his mouth too soon in blaming Russia…where’s the proof they were involved?


  16. Yclept

    I suppose if we don’t bother honouring the UN convention re asylum seekers why should Russia have to worry about this resolution.

  17. klewso

    Is the West held as responsible, as Putin has been, for the use of ordnance it makes available around the world, backing their “freedom-fighter” favourites?

  18. Peter Marer

    Maybe anonymous commentary should be seen as vacuous chatter worthy of nothing. We cry for free speech however we are to insipid to put our name to it

  19. Yclept

    “Maybe anonymous commentary should be seen as vacuous chatter worthy of nothing.”

    or not…

  20. Fair Suck of the Sav

    ‘I challenge you in your vast Canberra and DFAT inside knowledge to offer up one, just one thing the government should have done differently in the past 10 days.Just one mate. I’m not holding my breath’

    Well David you can breath easy here it is: Acknowledge the importance of labor for pursuing a place on the UN Security Council.

  21. Liamj

    Yawn, another australian foriegn minister does spade work for another yank war, wake me after the australian media does its ‘shock horror, we were misled’ ritual, which will be long after the first 100,000 civilians are ‘collatoral damaged’.

  22. Mark from Melbourne

    What gets me is all the adulation for someone doing the job they’re expected to do as a minimum…oh and Tony displayed empathy. Good on him but hardly worthy of the rapturous applause from those in the media.

  23. Steve Smith

    Off topic, but that picture reminded me of Davros. I googled the idea and it and it appears i’m not the first. No one has done a mock up yet but that picture to me seems perfect.

    Is it even possible that the Liberals can admit to themselves that a place on the UN Security Council wasn’t such a bad idea after all?

  24. CML

    @ Kevin Herbert #13.
    You are correct – no one should be putting any pressure on Russia.
    Have a look at the very long and detailed analysis of the demise of MH17 on this website: http://www.globalresearch.ca/
    The article is entitled “MH17 Verdict: Real Evidence Points to US-Kiev Cover-up of Failed ‘False Flag'”, by 21st Century Wire. July 25, 2014.
    Sorry I don’t know how to do links. Think you will find the article interesting, and there is also many more on the same site.

  25. Johan

    Julie had previously failed the taxi driver/ flight attendant test (that is, dismissive and self absorbed). But, now she gets my vote.

  26. MJPC

    Can anyone tell me if they have found MH370 yet, particularly in light of the PM’s comments weeks/months ago that it would be found within days?
    The black boxes are the best the world is going to get to explain the destruction of MH17.

  27. AR

    Lady P & her Beloved Leader should be grateful that their gratuitous poking of the Russian bear has received, thus far, the attention it warrants.
    None at all.
    As FrankieS sang, “High Hopes”.

  28. klewso

    AR, you talking about “Toady Tracy”? “The Perils of Penelope”, one of my favourite episodes.
    But, look close and you can see the strings. Rupert’s pulling.

  29. Dogs breakfast

    ““UN Security Council Resolution 2166 was a case study in swift, effective diplomacy in response to a crisis … Abbott, the motive force behind the enterprise in the UN and beyond, gets primary credit.”

    Yep, amazing stuff, with planes being blown out of the sky, Gaza atrocities piled on atrocities, Ebola virus threatening in Africa, Ukraine at war with itself or a proxy Russia, we really showed em.

    We drafted a statement at the UN. Phwoar, world leaders in the making, that will show ’em.

    And this

    Maria Perceval, singling out the “courage of Australia” in drafting the resolution.

    Excuse me while I gag violently. Courage? COURAGE! we drafted an effing statement. That isn’t courage, for crying out loud. Courage is a Palestinian who tries to work and bring up a family in the midst of a brutal chaos, courage is a soldier fighting for the country and purpose he believes in, in a legitimate defence of the nation or the weak. Courage is the people of Ukraine trying to eke out a living while war rages around them, or the people of Iraq who do not take up arms for religious sophistry, and try to continue to live.

    We could hardly have been more ineffective, we have just sewn a shroud to cover the dead body of international politics.

    I’m looking forward to the UNSC statement on the declaration of how many angels can fit on the head of a pin, as something substantive and real to my life.

    Tireless! harrumph.

  30. Karen

    Team Abbott flogging MH17 with their cheap words for what’s its worth to boost their careers and chances at the next poll. Awful. I can only hope that voters should be focussing on their mistreatment under this budget. Because, as they say, actions speak louder than words.

  31. David Hand

    But Fair Suck,
    Membership of the Security Council is a complete waste of time. This churlish article and all the spiteful comments about how useless Bishop has been believe so anyway.

  32. extra

    Team Abbott’s energetic response to MH17 has certainly taken their Budget debacle off the front pages- managed to divert attention until they reached the Winter Recess, where they are much safer from scrutiny.

  33. klewso

    And away from NPA?

  34. klewso

    Who’d do you reckon would win a useless fight, Bishop or Gillard?

  35. Kevin Herbert


    I expect it would end in a draw….

  36. The Pav

    RE “Michael Fullilove, executive director of the Lowy Institute, argued more broadly: “Council membership has lent Tony Abbott and the tireless Julie Bishop authority and leverage as they seek information and justice on behalf of the Australians on board MH17.””

    I find it hugely ironic that Bishop and Abbott did their best to decry the previous govts efforts to secure a seat on the Security Council .

    Of course if they had any decemcy they would giove credit to where it is due but that is not something anyybody associated with scum like Abbott would ever do. His govt completely lacks any ethics, commonsense, or economic competency

  37. leon knight

    I personally find Abbot and Bishop offensive with their continued beating up of superstitious fears about body parts – this is cynicism at a revolting level, when the grieving families would be far better left in peace to cope with their losses…and the the media, even the ABC, pander to it endlessly. Disgusting.

  38. klewso

    Bishop was one of the prime negotiator/architects of the “repatriate Tamil boat people to Sri Lanka solution”.
    And this government knew about this potentially embarrassing NPA affair before the MH17?

  39. David Hand

    The article contends, “Resolution 2166 is largely facile, couched in language that is evasive and non-committal, and has little substantive effect beyond the UN Security Council chamber in New York”.

    And yet we now have the full Dutch and Australian reconnaissance team deployed on site. I am absolutely sure they would not be there but for 2166.

    Therefore this entire article and all the spiteful comments that follow it, have been proven wrong. Totally and absolutely wrong.

    Bishop has achieved a remarkable win for the bereaved at the security council.

  40. klewso

    “Spiteful”? Like it’s a bad thing?
    After years of professional and social media (validated by the pros) conservative commentariate’s “logical”, “justifiable” jaundiced vilification used to dog and slag off Rudd/Gillard/Labor governments over any issue?

    And when it comes to foreign affairs, the way “Rudd’s administration” was sequestered for blame over the bugging of the Indonesian president as if that was purely a Rudd/Labor phenomenon – by the remnants of Howard’s government – this one – and their fellow travellers?
    After AWB, NPA and the bugging of East Timor – in the “national (commercial) interest” – undertaken during the previous Howard Coal-ition tenure? And who knows what sort of buggery after 9/11? No wonder so many want to brand the likes of Assange and Snowden as “enemies of the status quo”?
    [And for those advocating a more “civil politick” during the tenure of this Abbott government (while overlooking the way they carried on to get there) – one thing :-
    What do you reckon the Born to Rule will do when Labor eventually takes that rattle off them; other than revert to conservative business and spite as usual?]
    “Chickens … Roost. Roost …. Chickens”?

  41. klewso

    “Spiteful” as if it’s a bad thing ….. and forget how this Abbott Limited News Party government came to power?
    The tactics it used to win. The avalanche. The tsunami – of spiteful, cant, conservative invective in the press encouraging social media, aimed at undermining the less-than-involved’s majority of the swinging voter perception of confidence in “Labor’s ability to govern” – that Abbott rode to power.
    That washed away political civility?
    To play on misogyny.
    “Labor’s economic profligacy”/”Stimulus” – while ignoring the cost of Howard’s tax-cuts-for-votes, Iraq, and “little things” like F35’s? Let alone the fact they didn’t have a GFC to contend with? The way we fared that?
    “Pink batts” and ignore Iraq when it comes to that waste.
    “Gillard’s lie” – and God forbid we be reminded of Howard’s myriad “non-core promises”?
    Heaven help us if we were to remember the moral implications of the likes of “Children Overboard” and how that was used. Or the treatment of Halverson? The behind-the-scenes chicanery of Patricks? The national interest as served by “AWB”, and it’s latest “subsidiary” NPA? The bugging of East Timor to benefit a party “patron” and tax-payer?
    But now “The Coal-ition is in power – everyone has to toady up!”?

  42. The Pav

    Glad to see you’re carrying on with the cheer leading David,

    Sorry but as yet they have achieved nothing with only a minimal presence.

    I suspect that this will be as good as it gets. As to it being a remarkable win…well really get sensible

  43. klewso

    Since opening them, Spite and Cynicism are two-way streets. They don’t flow “Right to Left Only”. They are not the domain of conservatism – that used them to such effect for 6 Labor government years.

    As for those that take offence at what they see as the “voyeurism” of the media and some politicians, with their personal record (“Bishop strutting the world stage/commemoration services”?) – I don’t think that renders their sympathy for those families, in this their time of horror, any less legitimate, as seems the case being pursued by some.

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