With the spring meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund picking up steam, Bank president Jim Kim faced the international press today. He was asked several times about the possibility that the Bank will face competition from a planned new BRICS bank. Kim insisted first that there's plenty of room for all sorts of lending:
[E]very single one of the BRICS countries has an enormous infrastructure deficit that simply can't be met by a single institution, certainly not the World Bank in and of itself. So, for us, the BRICS Bank is quite a natural extension of the need for more investment in infrastructure, and so we would welcome it.
But he also maintained that the Bank has unique expertise:
I would point out that the World Bank has been around for 66 years. We have 66 years of experience in building infrastructure. We have knowledge that cuts across all that have been developed to working with all 188 member countries. And so our sense is that whatever other banks are built, one, there is plenty of infrastructure that needs to go around, and our sense is that they would want to take advantage of the knowledge that we have.
Kim also rejected any idea that the World Bank may be declining in relevance:
I really have no doubt in my own mind about our continued relevance for a very long time. In fact, that's precisely the news that I'm getting back from every single one of the BRICS countries. There is an increasing request for our involvement, not a decreasing sense of demand for our environment of our services.
The European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, is apparently engaged in an intense effort to broker normalization between Serbia and Kosovo. Via Radio Free Europe:
Catherine Ashton has begun a trilateral meeting with the prime ministers of Serbia and Kosovo aimed at normalizing relations between the two sides.
Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic and his Kosovar counterpart, Hashim Thaci, met separately with Ashton earlier on April 17.
The unexpected, fresh round of negotiations was announced after the EU delayed the release of reports on April 16 assessing whether Serbia is ready to start EU membership talks and Kosovo is ready for talks on a stabilization and association agreement.
The EU has linked Serbian progress toward EU membership to improvement in relations with Kosovo.
The oft-maligned Ashton has had significant past success on this issue. In February the Economist reported on her achievements in bridging the divide between Belgrade and Pristina:
In March 2011 Lady Ashton’s team brought them together to resolve a series of mundane issues, from how to regulate traffic on the borders to the issuing of car number plates. The talks have led to several deals. In October they moved up a notch. Under Lady Ashton’s guidance, Ivica Dacic, Serbia’s prime minister, has been meeting Hashim Thaci, his Kosovo counterpart. Each is a hate figure in the other’s country. But they too have made progress.
Experts from the International Monetary Fund recently left Cairo without an agreement on a multi-billion dollar loan package. Via the Associated Press:
A team from the International Monetary Fund left Egypt without getting broad backing from the opposition for a government economic plan aimed at getting a key $4.8 billion loan, political blocs said Tuesday.
Egypt’s main factions say they agree in principle on the need for the loan, seen as a lifeline for the country’s battered economy, but there are concerns over unrest if painful austerity measures linked to it are not backed by political consensus.
The IMF said in a statement that its delegation met with a range of political figures and Cabinet officials during the nearly two week-long visit that ended late Monday. In previous, shorter trips, the IMF has only focused on meeting with government officials.
But it appears possible that negotiations will continue this week in Washington, where the spring meetings for the IMF and World Bank are underway. Ahram Online reports:
A high-level delegation of Egyptian officials left Cairo on Wednesday, bound for Washington DC to take part in the semi-annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank later this week.
Central bank governor Hisham Ramez, Finance Minister El-Morsi El-Sayed Hegazy and Planning Minister Ashraf El-Arabi will join finance ministers and central bankers from around the world gathering at the event.
Hegazy, who is scheduled to take part in an IMF-sponsored discussion on 'The Political Economy of Transition in the Middle East', said before his departure that the Egyptian delegation would take advantage of the global meeting to resume talks with the IMF over a pending $4.8 billion loan to the struggling country.
With suspicious political and civil society actors still in Egypt, Washington may be a more conducive atmosphere for progress on the deal.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew was on Capitol Hill today, and he pushed Congress to approve a larger U.S. quota contribution to the International Monetary Fund. In its budget document, the administration cast the request as a means of maintaining U.S. privileges at the fund. As the largest shareholder, the United States has an effective veto over many fund decisions, and the pending reform would maintain that level of control. Lew emphasized that point today with the House Budget Committee. Via Bloomberg:
Lew defended the U.S.’s role in the International Monetary Fund after the Obama administration asked Congress to approve a plan to boost the lender’s resources.
“We have a veto in the IMF, we have a controlling voice when we need to,” Lew told the House Budget Committee today. “We have leverage so that the United States can influence the economic decisions around the world, and it’s something our international leadership depends on.”
Lew's comments came just as the IMF and World Bank are beginning their annual spring meetings. Finance ministers from around the world are descending on the 19th street headquarters of the institution. Most of them will come from smaller and poorer countries, and many of them respond to publics who are deeply skeptical of U.S. motives and of institutions like the IMF.
For these observers, Lew's rhetoric will likely reinforce preexisting beliefs about the IMF: that the institution is effectively under U.S. control and that Washington uses it to spread its influence. The dilemma for U.S. policymakers is that they need to speak the language of control and instrumentalization on the Hill and a very different dialect across town.
Arms expert Rachel Stohl had a piece in the New York Times last week chiding the administration for its mixed signals on whether President Obama would sign the brand new Arms Trade Treaty. In the course of the piece, she whacks U.S. gun rights activists for their distortions of the treaty:
Those opposed to the accord have misrepresented what it does, suggesting that it would somehow infringe on American gun owners’ rights. It would do nothing of the kind.
The treaty applies only to international transfers of conventional arms and, in fact, reaffirms “the sovereign right of any State to regulate and control conventional arms” within its territory. The treaty’s preamble also makes specific reference to the legitimate trade, lawful ownership and use of certain conventional arms for recreational, cultural, historical and sporting activities.
She's right of course. But I'd argue that many of the activists working on this issue have been guilty of their own exaggerations. Specifically, their public statements have repeatedly suggested that the treaty will change state behavior. Stohl is quite careful in her piece not to make grand claims. Others have been less circumspect. Amnesty International called the treaty "lifesaving." Oxfam official Anna McDonald was even more effusive:
From the streets of Latin America, to the camps in eastern Congo, to the valleys of Afghanistan, communities living in fear of attacks because of the unregulated arms trade can now hope for a safer future. The world will be a more secure place to live once the Treaty is in place.
It's not obvious why we should expect significant change in any of these places. The treaty allows each state to decide if and when an arms transfer might facilitate human rights abuses. No external actor reviews those decisions. Even if it were to join the treaty, Russia could decide that sending arms to the Syrian regime doesn't violate the treaty's terms. Washington can determine that it's within its rights to ship arms to Bahrain or even the fragile government in Mogadishu. And on and on. It seems quite plausible that states will make the same decisions they are making now.
The arms trade treaty is really just the latest in a series of human rights treaties with no enforcement mechanisms. And the jury is very much out on whether this kind of "soft law" is effective. In a famous study, Yale law professor Oona Hathaway found that human rights treaties had very little effect on state behavior. Non-democratic states were particularly impervious to their effects. She identified "not a single treaty for which ratification seems to be reliably associated with better human rights practices and several for which it appears to be associated with worse practices." Some scholars have backed up that result, while others have argued that Hathaway's methods were flawed. At the very least, evidence that human rights treaties improve the behavior of states most in need of improvement is wafer-thin.
You won't hear any of this from the arms trade treaty activists. For years now, they have been in the business of getting the treaty done, and they have all sorts of incentives to present its creation as a stunning achievement. I'm not equating the NRA's distortions with the activists' hopefulness. The NRA's claims can be refuted directly with the treaty text; the activists are guilty of the lesser sin of willful wishful thinking. But I would argue that the NRA and the arms treaty activists aren't quite as different as the latter would like to believe.
The Obama administration's just released budget includes something that close observers of the International Monetary Fund have long awaited. It requests a transfer of funds necessary for the United States to implement the 2010 reform package. That deal was designed both to expand fund resources and to shift some voting power toward emerging powers. It hasn't gone into effect yet -- in large part because Washington hasn't done its homework. Just last month, Congressional appropriators rejected an administration request to take the necessary steps.
When the IMF reform deal was struck in 2010, it was touted as an important step in adjusting the world's institutional architecture to new realities. The reform would, for example, make China the fund's third largest shareholder. Unsurprisingly, the administration is not advertising that fact to Congress. In fact, the budget narrative frames the measure almost entirely as an exercise in maintaining U.S. privileges:
The Budget includes provisions to implement the December 2010 IMF agreement by increasing the U.S. quota in the IMF by approximately $63 billion and simultaneously reducing by an equal amount U.S. participation in the New Arrangements to Borrow (NAB), in addition to instituting other reforms that the United States has sought. The NAB is a set of standing IMF borrowing arrangements with 38 members and institutions to supplement IMF resources as needed to respond to financial crises that threaten the stability of the global financial system. The 2010 agreement results in no overall change in U.S. financial participation in the IMF, while preserving U.S. veto power and restoring the primacy of the IMF’s quota-based capital structure in which the United States has the largest share.
Because the United States is shifting funds from an already existing IMF credit line to its new quota, the move isn't really a new expenditure. Nancy Birdsall of the Center for Global Development explains the technicalities here:
Here’s the short version of why this won’t cost American tax payers any new money: In 2009 the United States committed $100 billion to a special fund at the IMF to help stave off panic in global markets following the Lehman Brothers crash. The United States can participate in the quota increase by simply shifting $65 billion from the special fund into the formal, permanent IMF quota reserves. The result: while most other members are making new commitments to double their quotas, the US retains its current proportionate "quota share" at no cost.
As this Bloomberg story documents, however, even this seemingly minor request faces plenty of skepticism on Capitol Hill:
The timing of the request, which would implement a global agreement that would double the IMF’s lending capacity to $717 billion, is less than ideal as Congress grapples with the effects of automatic spending cuts known as sequestration. What’s more, the IMF needs new champions on Capitol Hill after the departure of two longtime supporters, Republican Senator Richard Lugar and Democratic Representative Barney Frank.
Ever since the International Criminal Court indicted Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir in March 2009, the question of where and when he would travel has been a dark parlor game for those interested in international justice. Soon after the indictment, Bashir left Sudan to visit Eritrea. His peregrinations have now included Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, China, Ethiopia, United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Malawi, and Libya. Key foreign leaders, including South Africa's Jacob Zuma (pictured above) have also greeted Bashir on his home court.
Bashir's travels have a particular punch when the destination is a country that has joined the ICC. According to the Rome Statute, member states have a legal obligation to arrest Bashir if he sets foot on their soil. He's now traveled several times in defiance of that threat, including to Djibouti, Kenya, and Malawi. Each time, the court has filed a protest with the U.N. Security Council, which does precisely nothing. However, international justice activists roar their disapproval and insist that the receiving governments are flouting their legal obligations and, more broadly, encouraging impunity.
That dynamic is playing out again this week. Chad, which has welcomed Bashir several times before, has invited him to attend a regional conference. It's expected that he will arrive today, although there are also rumors that the conference will be delayed. Watchful human rights groups have blasted out their press releases condemning the trip. It's not hard to understand the outrage. Bashir has allegedly masterminded a campaign of abuses and ethnic cleansing not only in Darfur, but also now in Blue Nile and South Kordofan. Chad's own government is deeply flawed and has been accused of a variety of human rights-violations.
But consider for a moment Chad's position. It shares a nearly 600-mile long border with Sudan. The countries have clashed militarily on several occasions. As recently as 2008, rebels operating from Chad staged an attack on the outskirts of Khartoum. Since that time, Khartoum and N'Djamena have struggled to build better relations. Chad's president made a rare visit to Khartoum in 2010 to help solidify the warming trend, and the countries formally reopened border crossings that same year. Leaving security issues aside, Chad and Sudan have critical economic, demographic, and social links.
Both governments are deeply flawed, but there are still important human benefits to them maintaining decent relations. Face-to-face presidential contact may be an important element in that effort. Instead, justice activists are demanding that Chad rebuff and humiliate a neighboring head of state in the interests of "international justice." It doesn't require a lot of imagination to see how Chad's leadership might conclude that the interests of its own people are best served by ignoring the arrest warrant from the Hague. And given the stakes in preserving decent relations between these states, it's not hard to make a plausible moral argument that they're right to do so.
More: A smart diplomat from a country that belongs to and supports the ICC writes in with this observation on Chad's behavior:
I actually fully sympathize with the notion that Chad indeed has a lot at stake in its relations with Sudan, and therefore might as well be nice to Mr. Bashir. My main problem with Chad is that they are—as far as I know—not making your argument (which is a very good one), but instead are hiding behind the African Union decision on non-cooperation. They are also not taking the formal steps necessary under the Rome Statute, which is to consult with the Court when they cannot execute an arrest warrant, but keep ignoring the Court. I think Chad might have a good shot at getting recognition of its very peculiar situation by the ICC, if it would attempt to make the argument in a proper way and in good faith.
Government of South Africa
When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990, the West suddenly had to decide how to confront what was in many respects the first great challenge of the nascent post-Cold War. Much has been made of the role that Margaret Thatcher played in "stiffening the spine" of George H.W. Bush and ecouraging a firm line against the aggression. Less noticed was her doubts about the United Nations as a vehicle for the campaign against Saddam. As I recounted in my book on the Security Council, she wanted the United States to secure U.N. resolutions condemning the invasion and noting the right of other states to aid Kuwait -- and not much more than that. As she wrote in her memoirs:
I did not like unnecessary resort to the UN, because it suggested that sovereign states lacked the moral authority to act on their own behalf. If it became accepted that force could only be used -- even in self-defence -- when the United Nations approved, neither Britain's interests nor those of international justice and order would be served. The U.N. was a useful -- for some matters vital -- forum. But it was hardly the nucleus of a new world order. And there was still no substitute for the leadership of the United States.
President Bush and his secretary of state, James Baker, disagreed. They instead made the Security Council the center of their Gulf War diplomacy, securing a string of resolutions setting up a naval blockade, imposing sanctions, authorizing force, and ultimately requiring Iraq's disarmament. America's U.N. ambassador at the time, Thomas Pickering, recalled "it became my strategy never to let the Council have a day without focusing on Iraq." That frenetic diplomacy vaulted the Security Council from the periphery back to the center of world politics. In many respects, it stayed there. And in 2003, George W. Bush faced a world where military action without council approval was seen as almost inherently illegitimate. He may have wished that his father had taken Thatcher's counsel more seriously.
David Bosco reports on the new world order for The Multilateralist.