Julian Braithwaite

Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN and other international organisations in Geneva

Part of UK in Switzerland

16th November 2015 Geneva, Switzerland

How Can Geneva Help Paris?

How can Geneva help Paris?

I was going to write this week about antimicrobial resistance, the stealthily spreading obsolescence of antibiotics that will cost the world an estimated 10 million lives a year by 2050 if we don’t act now.

But after Friday, that somehow didn’t feel right.

With over 130 mostly young people massacred and another 300 injured, many of them gravely, what use is the World Health Organization (WHO) or diplomacy itself against an absolutist ideology whose adherents believe they have a divine right to kill anyone who doesn’t agree with them?

Now, many argue, is not the time for talking, but for action.  For armed response units, undercover special forces on our streets, drone strikes, new powers for the intelligence agencies, even escalating military intervention.

And there will be a place for some and maybe all of these things.  This threat to our security is amenable neither to a traditional military response, nor to regular civilian policing.  Despite its name, Islamic State is not a state that can be defeated militarily.  Our criminal justice systems cannot deter people who don’t care about surviving their crimes.  And our police forces alone cannot stop crimes that are orders of magnitude more complex than anything they handle in the course of their normal business.

But before we react, we must ask ourselves: why did they do it?  To think this is the senseless violence of madmen would be a mistake. These people didn’t just plan to kill dozens of innocent people.  They wanted to strike a deadly blow against the very idea that Muslim immigrants can live and prosper in western democracies.  To fan the embers of suspicion towards the refugees arriving in Europe into flames of xenophobia (it’s odd, is it not, that a young man preparing to die should take his passport with him?)  And to provoke an overreaction at home and abroad that would recruit untold thousands more to their absolutist cause.

Gruesome though it is, terrorism is politics by other means.  We will ultimately defeat Islamic State on the battlefields of ideas and diplomacy, not on the blasted plains and streets of Syria and Iraq.

And that’s why the fight against antimicrobial resistance matters.  Because it is a symbol of a world with which Islamic State cannot possibly compete.  One made up of nations coming together in international organisations like the WHO that have saved millions of lives; in organisations like the World Trade Organization (WTO) that have helped nations trade freely across the world, lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty.

But there are more immediate ways in which the agencies and organisations in Geneva can help the people of Paris.  An end to the conflict in Syria won’t end terrorism.  But it will spell the end of the so-called Islamic State.  And at the heart of the attempts to bring that about is Staffan de Mistura, the UN Special Envoy for Syria based in Geneva.  Peace today seems an impossible pipe dream.  But if all those countries who have pledged their support to France this weekend do come together around de Mistura’s mission, it will become a realistic prospect.

Just as importantly, Geneva must reaffirm a principle that it has stood for since the nineteenth century:  that our common humanity matters more than any differences of religion, race or belief.  Never has it been more important to confirm our help to the millions affected by the war in Syria and elsewhere, and to offer new homes for the most vulnerable.  That’s why the work of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and others is so important.  And that’s why it is so important to continue to develop robust resettlement programmes that give hope to people who have lost everything, and that reassure the millions whose generosity has inspired their leaders to unlock their doors, and to let the refugees in.

If we can do that, then the Islamic State has already lost.  Because every Syrian who prefers the help of UNHCR or Europe to life in the new caliphate represents a defeat.  Syrians are indeed voting with their feet.  And they are voting against Islamic State and all it stands for.

About Julian Braithwaite

Julian Braithwaite was appointed Her Majesty’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations and other international organisations in Geneva in April 2015. Julian was born in Rome, and has…

Julian Braithwaite was appointed Her Majesty’s
Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations and other international organisations in Geneva in April 2015.

Julian was born in Rome, and has degrees from Cambridge and Harvard universities, where he studied biochemistry, history and international relations.

He is married to Biljana Braithwaite and they have
two daughters, Anya (born 2000) and Katya (born 2004). He spent much of his career dealing with the crises in the former Yugoslavia and goes to Montenegro every summer.

Julian posts on the United Nations and the issues around globalisation, including human rights, the internet, global health, humanitarian crises and arms control.