Several media outlets are reporting that Brazil's Roberto Azevêdo has been selected as the next director general of the World Trade Organization. He will replace Pascal Lamy, the French diplomat who has led the Geneva-based organization since late 2005. Azevêdo bested Mexico's Herminio Blanco, a former trade minister, for the top spot.
I argued earlier this week that the chances that the leadership selection will significantly impact the troubled organization are slim. The WTO director general has a limited capacity to budge states on issues as well-worn and highly sensitive as trade. But there were notable differences between the final two candidates. A career diplomat, Azevêdo has been Brazil's man at the WTO for years. He knows the institution and its dynamcs well and so there may be less of a learning curve than would have been the case with Blanco. During the selection process, the Brazilian highlighted his inside knowledge. "The most distinguishing trait between my candidacy and the candidacy of Mr. Blanco...is that I come from within," he told Agence France Presse.
The men also had quite different policy profiles, in large part derived from their backgrounds and home countries. Blanco, a University of Chicago-educated economist, had negotiated dozens of free trade agreements during his time in government, including NAFTA. Mexico has generally been free-trade oriented. The Economist this week described the country as "one of the most open manufacturing economies in the world..." Azevêdo has a less sparkling record in brokering trade agreements and hails from a country that has at times tilted toward protectionism. For that reason, former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo suggested to the Wall Street Journal that a Brazilian might not be the best choice for an organization devoted to free trade:
"Brazil has not been the most positive partner at the WTO," said former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, who is now director of Yale University's Center for the Study of Globalization. "Perhaps Brazil doesn't have the best credentials to lead the WTO. As a country that tends to be protectionist, it's not a great champion of a multilateral trading system."
In fact, Brazil has struck several blows for free trade in recent years, although it's not likely Washington remembers those fondly. Brazil challenged U.S. subsidies on agricultural products, including cotton and orange juice. The cotton case, in particular, has often been cited as an example of how emerging powers can use the WTO mechanism to force change from more established powers.
While U.S. officials were exceptionally tight-lipped about the race, the history of testy trade relations between Washington and Brasilia produced speculation that the United States preferred Blanco while most developing contries were keen on the Brazilian. If so, Azevêdo's selection would constitute a mild but still unusual rebuff to the United States. For all the talk of rising-power influence, the United States has done well recently in multilateral leadership races and isn't used to coming up short.
Despite a new and more open selection process, it got Jim Kim through as World Bank president without too much trouble. The United States was pleased to see Fatou Bensouda selected last year as chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (though as a non-member, the United States had no formal say in that process). And U.S. officials were quietly happy to see Europe -- in the person of Christine Lagarde -- retain leadership of the International Monetary Fund after Dominique Strauss-Kahn's implosion and subsequent resignation.
The past friction between Brazil and the United States on trade likely won't impact Azevêdo's ability to get along with the superpower. By all accounts, the Brazilian is affable and diplomatic. What's more, the United States has seen former trade adversaries ensconsed in Geneva before. Pascal Lamy himself had been Europe's point person on a series of tense trade disputes with the United States (including the interminable Airbus-Boeing fight) before taking the WTO helm. But if Lamy's record is encouraging in terms of comity, it's sobering from a results perspective. All Lamy's smarts and diplomatic finesse weren't enough to spark the stalled Doha round negotiations.
NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen warned European lawmakers yesterday that the European Union cannot rely on its vaunted soft power (h/t EUobserver.com). Speaking before the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs and Subcommittee on Security and Defence, Rasmussen warned against continuing cuts in Europe's defense capabilities.
If European nations do not make a firm committment to invest in security and defense then all talk about about a strengthened european defense and security policy will just be hot air. And it won't bring us any closer to the strong and open Europe that we all want...We Europeans must understand that soft power alone is really no power at all. Without hard capabilities to back up its diplomacy, Europe will lack credibility and influence. It will risk being a global spectator rather than the powerful global actor that it can be and should be.
The NATO chief went out of his way to characterize the recent EU-brokered breakthrough between Serbia and Kosovo as the product of both hard and soft power. While crediting the EU's Catherine Ashton, he noted pointedly that "both parties wanted wanted assurances that NATO would guarantee the security to implement the agreement."
Rasmussen's plea for greater European military wherewithal echoes concerns articulated by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a recent speech.
The race for leadership of the World Trade Organization is in its final stages. After several rounds of consultations, the field of candidates has been winnowed to two: Mexico's Herminio Blanco and Brazil's Roberto Azevêdo. The candidates and their respective governments are engaged in frantic last-minute lobbying. Via today's Financial Times:
The stakes are high. After stalled efforts to clinch a sweeping multilateral trade agreement in the decade-old Doha round, the WTO is seeking to revive its mission – and its relevancy – ahead of a big ministerial gathering in Bali in December.
But are the stakes really high for anyone other than the candidates? The trade organization has two principal functions: forum for multilateral negotiations and dispute resolution mechanism. It's not clear that even a charismatic and effective director general has much to say about either. The Doha negotiations--or whatever replaces them--will occur well above his pay grade. And the dispute resolution system is mostly in the hands of the experts who form panels and the appellate body members who render final judgements.
The candidates themselves sometimes seem a bit muddled about whether their skills will matter. In the space of two paragraphs in a FT guest post, Blanco suggests both that the organization's future is entirely in the hands of states--and that the choice of the next director general will be critical:
The current status quo is no longer an option. The WTO is as relevant as its member countries want it to be. It is now time for them to decide where they want this organisation to go and what role it should play in the years to come.
The on-going selection process for a new WTO director general constitutes a precious opportunity for members to move forward and to select a director general with the capacity to move the organisation beyond the status quo.
Blanco's first paragraph seems correct: the organization's membership has to decide what happens next. Both candidates are seasoned and accomplished, but neither is likely to have much impact on the organization's future trajectory.
Britain has invited Kenya's new president to London next week in what will be the first trip outside Africa for the leader who is facing an international trial for crimes against humanity, officials said Friday.
The invitation for Uhuru Kenyatta to attend a conference on Somalia in London on Tuesday -- co-hosted by both Britain and Somalia -- marks a notable shift in attitude by Britain.
London, like the rest of the European Union and other Western powers, has a policy of only "essential contact" with anyone charged by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
President Kenyatta, voted into power in March 4 elections, is to go on trial in July at The Hague-based ICC for crimes against humanity related to post-election violence in 2007-2008.
Britain's high commissioner to Kenya Christian Turner delivered a letter of invitation to Kenyatta when they met on Wednesday, high commission spokesman John Bradshaw said.
At least in formal terms (if often not in practice), the Kenyan government and Kenyatta are cooperating with the court. The invitation is therefore not equivalent to one for Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir (who is in open defiance of the court). As Colum Lynch reported in FP, the United Nations recently clarified that its personnel may have a wide range of contact with ICC indictees who are cooperating. But the London invitation is still surprising. It comes shortly after judges rebuked the prosecutor's office for its handling of certain evidence in the Kenyatta case. Via Reuters:
Judges hearing the case against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta at the International Criminal Court have sharply rebuked prosecutors for failing to disclose evidence that could be used in his defense, but stopped short of restarting the trial.
While the reprimand will have no impact on the trial itself, it is a fresh blow to prosecutors who accuse Kenya's newly-elected president of orchestrating bloody post-election clashes five years ago in which 1,200 people died.
Elements of the United Nations' newly authorized "intervention brigade" have begun to arrive in Congo. The roughly 3,000-person force will include troops from India, Uruguay, and South Africa and has a mandate to neutralize--through force, if necessary--militia groups operating in eastern Congo. One of the largest militia groups, the M23 movement, has pledged to strike back if the UN brigade confronts it:
The rebels’ threat comes as peace talks appear to have reached a dead end between the Congolese government and the M23 rebels who seized the provincial capital of Goma late last year and held it for two weeks.
“We are waiting for the brigade; we are ready. Our men are on maximum alert,” said Stanislas Baleke, an official with the M23’s political branch.
The M23 already has issued threats to South Africa and Tanzania, both contributing troops to the U.N. intervention brigade, warning them that the M23 will not hesitate to fight back if the brigade attacks them.
This kind of rhetoric may not mean much and it's far from certain that there will be direct clashes. The brigade's presence may instead serve as an incentive for militia groups to negotiate and even eventually disarm. But if there are confrontations, this Voice of America account raises an important question: what happens if the M23 or other militias direct their ire not at the intervention brigade itself, but at the bulk of the UN force, which is spread out and has far fewer resources:
Several Congolese observers have asked whether MONUSCO can continue its existing mission if the brigade starts targeting rebels. They suggest the rebels might retaliate against the spread out groups of blue helmets from Asian countries, who could be vulnerable and might even be taken hostage.
The question for the United Nations in Congo is not only how ready the intervention brigade is to fight, but how able the rest of the large UN force is to defend itself.
The International Monetary Fund's effort to negotiate a $4.8 billion loan with Egypt's government has hit new trouble on multiple fronts. First, Egypt's point person for the negotiations resigned, for reasons that remain unclear. Via Ahram Online:
A key Egyptian negotiator with the International Monetary Fund said on Sunday he has resigned as first deputy finance minister, in a potential blow to Cairo's prospects of an early IMF deal.
Hany Kadry Dimian has been the crucial point man in Egypt's protracted and so far fruitless negotiations to obtain a $4.8 billion loan needed to help combat a severe economic crisis...
Kadry gave no explanation for his decision to quit, first reported on the Egyptian dissident Rebel Economy blog, saying he would say more on Tuesday. A senior European diplomat said his departure was not a good omen for Egypt's hopes of wrapping up a deal on the long delayed IMF loan next month, as the government has said it aims to do.
Kadry was the one expert in the ministry who fully understood the IMF programme and was able to deal with the global lender professionally, the diplomat said.
Then a prominent Egyptian politician inveighed against the draft loan package:
Egypt should refuse a $4.8 billion (3 billion pounds) loan from the International Monetary Fund rather than submit to terms that would further impoverish the poor and could spark a revolution of the hungry, leftist leader Hamdeen Sabahi said on Monday.
Sabahi, 58, who came third in a presidential election last year after the 2011 uprising that toppled autocratic President Hosni Mubarak, told Reuters that neither the global lender nor Egypt's Islamist-led government had told the public the truth about austerity conditions attached to the proposed loan.
Meanwhile, Egypt's parliament has delayed consideration of legislation insisted upon by the Fund. Via Reuters:
Speaker of the upper house of parliament Ahmed Fahmy appeared visibly frustrated as he announced that the chamber would halt what had been scheduled as its final reading of the law because it did not have the necessary government data.
"What finance ministry or tax authority does not know how to calculate the income bracket or who benefits and who is harmed? This is not worthy of the council," Fahmy said, as members clapped their support.
Fahmy said that debate was suspended "until the government provides correct data, otherwise this government can go wherever it wants to go."
In addition to cutting fuel subsidies and raising sales taxes, Egypt has said it will rein in its soaring budget deficit with measures including tax changes targeting the wealthy.
Last Thursday, the United Nations Security Council unanimously approved a substantial new peacekeeping mission. The new operation--ponderously named the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA)—will likely become the UN's third-largest peacekeeping mission, after those in Congo and Darfur. But just how multidimensional the force will be is a matter of debate and interpretation. In voting for the mission, Russia's UN envoy, Vitaly Churkin, endorsed a narrow view of its mandate:
[W]e are disturbed by the growing shift towards the military aspects of United Nations peacekeeping. What was once the exception now threatens to become unacknowledged standard practice, with unpredictable and unclear consequences for the security of United Nations personnel and their international legal status.
Russia also doesn't want the peacekeepers getting in the business of arresting war criminals (the International Criminal Court has an ongoing investigation of alleged atrocities in Mali):
We believe that using Blue Helmets for the tasks involved in arresting those accused by the International Criminal Court, including through the use of force, is not part of United Nations peacekeeping and carries a number of risks for the peacekeepers, who could find themselves required to take part in actions that should be conducted by specially trained troops.
Moscow's interpretation is at least in tension with the text of the resolution, which provides that the mission should conduct a wide range of tasks, including the following:
Stabilization of key population centres and support for the reestablishment of State authority throughout the country...to stabilize the key population centres, especially in the north of Mali and, in this context, to deter threats and take active steps to prevent the return of armed elements to those areas;
To protect, without prejudice to the responsibility of the transitional authorities of Mali, civilians under imminent threat of physical violence, within its capacities and areas of deployment...
To provide specific protection for women and children affected by armed conflict..
To protect the United Nations personnel, installations and equipment and ensure the security and freedom of movement of United Nations and associated personnel...
To monitor, help investigate and report to the Council on any abuses or violations of human rights or violations of international humanitarian law committed throughout Mali and to contribute to efforts to prevent such violations and abuses...
To assist the transitional authorities of Mali, as necessary and feasible, in protecting from attack the cultural and historical sites in Mali, in collaboration with UNESCO...
To support, as feasible and appropriate, the efforts of the transitional authorities of Mali, without prejudice to their responsibilities, to bring to justice those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Mali...
For all these tasks, the resolution "[a]uthorizes MINUSMA to use all necessary means, within the limits of its capacities and areas of deployment, to carry out its mandate." As always, there is plenty of wiggle room in the text, and the force commander will get to decide what the "limits of [the mission's] capacity" are. But it's fair to ask whether there was a meeting of the minds between Russia and other key players on the Mali mandate.
The stagnant politics of the U.N. Security Council reform campaign are well known: While mouthing niceties about the need for reform, the current permanent council members have little interest in advancing the process. Meanwhile, the broader U.N. membership -- which would have to approve any reform -- cannot agree on a plan. The four leading aspirants for permanent seats (Brazil, Germany, India, and Japan -- known as the G4) are viewed suspiciously by another group of states, who argue that they only want to expand the council's oligarchic structure rather than fundamentally alter it.
In essence, that's where the process has been stuck for decades. Along the way, the prospects for reform have ebbed and flowed. In 1997, a Malaysian diplomat introduced a plan that won significant support but ultimately succumbed to divisions in the General Assembly. In 2005, a High-Level Panel launched by Kofi Annan developed several possible reform packages and spurred serious negotiations on a draft resolution. In 2009, negotiations formally shifted from an open-ended working group to an intergovernmental track. But that procedural change meant little in practice, and negotiations have sputtered since then.
For all the rhetoric about the urgency of reform, there's no sign that anything will change. So what might move the process forward? There's one simple but dramatic step that U.N. members seeking reform could take: stop endorsing the council's current structure through their votes. Every fall, the General Assembly elects new non-permanent members to the council. For the most part, these elections are regional deals, with decisions made long in advance of the formal voting (some regional groups even assign their slots more than a decade in advance). But the entire U.N. membership must vote, and no country can be elected without securing two-thirds support in the assembly.
Refusing to engage in the annual Security Council election process until there is reform would be a modest and proportional act of disobedience. There would be a significant collective action problem, of course, and states would have to pledge in advance to abstain. But if that cooperation could hold, the manuever might radically change the landscape. With a large bloc of states withholding votes, no new members could be elected, and the council would face an institutional crisis. Large-scale abstention could force the permanent members to engage in the reform debate in a way they have mostly avoided to this point. Even more important, it would compel the competing blocs within the General Assembly to settle their differences and forge a plan that could win the two-thirds necessary to amend the charter.
There is precedent for the use of voting power in the assembly to force council reform. In 1963, the assembly voted to increase the non-permanent seats on the council from six to ten. A few years later, the permanent members all acquiesced by ratifying those amendments. Why? In large part, they agreed because newly decolonized states in Asia and Africa implicitly threatened to use their voting power to stuff the council with their members and exclude states from eastern and western Europe, the Americas, and elsewhere. As a U.S. State Department official wrote at the time, the U.S. "would do better to acquiesce in enlargement than fight it."
If U.N. members are serious about forcing Security Council reform, they should stop complaining -- and then stop voting every year to endorse the body's current structure. The fact that they are not prepared to do so says something important about political realities at the United Nations: Many members ostensibly in favor of reform prefer the council they know to a reformed council they don't.
David Bosco reports on the new world order for The Multilateralist.