When North Korea detonated a nuclear device on February 12, diplomats in New York knew just what to do. The UN Security Council's dance with North Korea is by now quite well scripted. Pyongyang provokes the Council's members with a missile launch, a nuclear test, or some other mischief. If the provocation is daring enough and if Washington and Beijing can agree, the Council responds with either a stern statement or incrementally tightened sanctions. The Council members then applaud themselves for their resolve, North Korea responds with bluster, tensions briefly ratchet up, and then the cycle begins again.
In a new report published by the International Peace Institute, Eduardo Zachary Albrecht wonders if this ritual is doing any good. Albrecht wants the Council to stop playing the provocation-reaction game:
The Security Council’s current approach of matching these provocations with expanded but largely rhetorical sanctions has, unfortunately, played further into the hands of the DPRK in a multitude of ways. Resolutions and condemnations contribute to fulfilling both the DPRK’s strategic interests and its normative conditions. In essence, the more the government is chastised and isolated, the more it can exploit and enjoy that gray area in the international legal system it has cut out for itself.
By this point, it's very hard to believe that the Council's sanctions are deterring the north in any meaningful way. Nor do the sanctions appear to be rendering the regime incapable of developing its nuclear program. They do, however, highlight the Council's inability to get its way. What's more, they give the regime another excuse to engage in dangerous brinksmanship and to expand its well-developed victimization narrative. Given all this, is the small additional sanctions tightening that each new resolution yields worth the expenditure of diplomatic capital? It's possible that the answer is yes. Perhaps each turn of the screw makes it that much harder for the north to produce the next bomb or ballistic missile--or to export them.
But it's also possible that the Council members are bound to the sanctions ritual for reasons that have little to do with containing the North's nuclear ambitions or altering its trajectory. The practice may be so well established that the failure to respond to a provocation somehow—even if with measures that make no real difference—will produce unacceptable domestic political costs. Better a new round of sanctions, U.S. leaders may calculate, than accusations of appeasement.
If the domestic audience is one factor, the international audience is another. The spectacle of international condemnation and punishment may be having its most important impact not in Pyongyang (or Tehran, for that matter) but on other leaders who have had occasional radioactive thoughts. Recent precedent suggests that the Security Council won't stop states hell-bent on acquiring nuclear weapons. But it will often make the process of acquiring them drawn-out and painful. Viewed from this broader perspective, the apparently futile sanctions game may make some strategic sense.
Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization
Several sources are reporting that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) may offer Egypt a stopgap loan while negotiations continue on the main $4.8 billion package. An IMF spokesperson would say only that the fund "is fully committed to supporting Egypt at this critical time" and is "currently reviewing the authorities' economic program and their macroeconomic projections and...are discussing with them the next steps in our engagement."
There are conflicting accounts of whether Egyptian officials belive such an emergency measure is necessary. Negotiations on the larger loan package have proceeded fitfully for months but have apparently run into fresh difficulties. The Financial Times has this account of the key sticking points:
At a time when Egypt’s foreign reserves have reached $13.5bn – below the critical level of three months of imports – Cairo favours a gradual approach to reform even as it is forced to cut its imports of fuel and wheat. Another complicating factor in IMF negotiations is the fact that Mohamed Morsi, the Islamist president, is reluctant to introduce measures such as a sales tax ahead of parliamentary elections.
The IMF deal faces even deeper potential problems both from the demand and the supply side. The post-Mubarak political atmosphere in Egypt is not particularly friendly to the IMF; many Egyptians recall that the Fund several times provided backing to the government of Hosni Mubarak. An Islamist party has insisted that any deal with the international lender must secure religious approval. As Reuters reported last month:
The Salafist Nour Party says the loan agreement, seen as vital to easing a deep economic crisis, must be approved by a body of senior scholars at Al-Azhar, a religious institution whose new role is embedded in the constitution.
Such a challenge could complicate the Muslim Brotherhood-led administration's effort to finalize the International Monetary Fund deal that was tentatively agreed last year but shelved following political unrest in Cairo.
Meanwhile, key IMF board members (and the United States in particular) face questions about whether Egypt's troubled government deserves international funding. Several observers have insisted that any loan package include strict conditions on human rights and freedom of expression. All of which means that a deal struck by IMF staff and Egyptian officials may still face serious obstacles.
The tense dance continues in a financial atmosphere that appears increasingly threatening. The ratings agency Fitch warned two weeks ago that further delay could be dangerous:
An IMF deal is vital for a sustained improvement in the balance of payments, and to prevent uncontrolled currency depreciation. A sustained period without IMF support could result in tighter capital controls and a sharper fall in the pound. The need for an IMF deal is becoming more pressing in the absence of further pledges of bilateral support beyond a reported agreement by Qatar to buy USD2.5bn of Egyptian T-bonds in March.
Last week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry released millions in U.S. budget aid after receiving assurances that Egypt would "complete the IMF process." It now looks increasingly likely that some kind of emergency loan will be necessary to buy time.
This Associated Press account gives Uhuru Kenyatta a strong chance of winning the Kenyan presidency outright and considers the implications of an incoming president indicted by the International Criminal Court:
A Kenyatta win could have far-reaching consequences with Western relations. The son of Kenya's founding father, Kenyatta faces charges at the International Criminal Court for his role in directing some of the 2007 postelection violence.
The U.S. has warned of "consequences" if Kenyatta is to win, as have several European countries. Britain, which ruled Kenya up until the early 1960s, has said they would only have essential contact with a President Kenyatta.
The U.S. Embassy in Kenya is larger than any American mission in Africa, underscoring Kenya's strong role in U.S. foreign policy. The U.S. also has military forces stationed here near the border with Somalia. Kenya, the lynchpin of East Africa's economy, plays a vital security role in the fight against Somali militants.
Kenyatta's ICC trial is set to begin in July and could take years, meaning that if he wins he may have to rule Kenya from The Hague for the first half of his presidency. Another option is, as president, to decide not to go. But that decision would trigger an international arrest warrant and spark even more damaging effects for Kenya's standing with the West.
Kenyatta has promised to report to The Hague even if he wins the presidency. The ICC on Friday delayed the trial of Kenyatta's running mate, Ruto, until late May.
As Mark Leon Goldberg correctly pointed out yesterday, Kenyatta's standing with the court is quite different from that of Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir. For the moment, Kenyatta is a cooperating indictee, not a fugitive. It's conceivable that he would decide he has no choice but to face trial and attempt to clear his name if he is to govern effectively. He might conclude that the travel restrictions he would face as someone defying the court would be untenable. And given the string of recent acquittals in international tribunals, he might decide that his chances at trial are good.
But my guess is that Kenyatta will find a way extricate himself from his pledge. In so doing, he'll likely have strong backing from the African Union, which has already risen in defence of Bashir on several occasions; the AU even instructed its members that they had no legal obligation to arrest Bashir. Kenyatta will no doubt face some pressure from Western states and some other ICC members to respect the court, but he will likely calculate that, given their other interests in Kenya, they won't force the issue.
Eight peacekeepers from the United Nations Disengagement Force abandoned their posts near southern Syria on Friday, and traveled to the Israel-Syria border.
After leaving their posts in the demilitarized zone between Israel and Syria, the soldiers were brought into Israel by the Israel Defense Forces, acting in coordination with UNDOF command. The soldiers are currently at an UNDOF post near Quneitra, in Israeli territory.
In light of continued fighting between Syrian forces and rebels in the village of Jamala, the UN peacekeepers feared for their lives, and decided to "retreat" into Israeli territory.
The Arab League has told its members they are free to ship arms to Syria's rebels:
[A] final statement issued at the end of a meeting of the ministers in Cairo said they had "stressed the right of each state according to its wishes to offer all types of self defense, including military, to support the resilience of the Syrian people and the Free (Syrian) Army."
Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby told a news conference that the ministers had invited the opposition Syrian National Coalition - an umbrella body for anti-Assad political and rebel groups - to occupy the seat of Syria at the League.
The Arab League decision is the second rhetorical boost for the policy of arming Assad's opponents in the last few days. During meetings in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry all but endorsed third-party arms transfers to certain rebel groups. Last month, Britain and a few other states unsuccesfully pushed to amend the European Union's broad arms embargo on Syria.
As votes in Kenya are counted, the chances are growing that Kenya's next president will be Uhuru Kenyatta or, as he is referred to at the International Criminal Court, Case No. 01/09-02/11. In March 2011, the International Criminal Court indicted Kenyatta and his running mate, William Ruto, for orchestrating ethnic violence in the wake of the country's 2007 election.
In formal terms, a Kenyatta victory wouldn't change anything in the Hague. The wheels of international justice have already started to turn. Kenyatta will remain an indictee and won't have any new protection against the charges. The ICC's founding document explicitly rejects immunity for senior officials. Article 27 of the Rome Statute provides that "official capacity as a Head of State or Government...shall in no case exempt a person from criminal responsibility..." But politically, a Kenyatta victory would be a serious problem for the young court, which began operations in 2002 and has struggled to establish its credibility.
First, a Kenyatta victory would appear to be a slap at the institution by the people of one of Africa's most important states. During the campaign, Kenyatta insisted that choosing a president was a matter for the people, not judges in the Hague. Reporting from Kenya suggests that at least some voters have been motivated by animus against the ICC. Jeffrey Gettleman's latest New York Times dispatch from Kenya offers up some anecdotal evidence of that dynamic:
[T]he International Criminal Court may have actually driven turnout for Mr. Kenyatta and Mr. Ruto, who has also been charged with crimes against humanity. Many voters said they felt that if the two won, they would have a better chance of beating the charges.
“If Uhuru’s president, it will be harder to send him to The Hague,” said Terry Wamitha, a vegetable seller in Limuru, a Kikuyu-dominated area outside of Nairobi.
Another Kenyatta supporter, Joseph Koech, a road engineer, said, “this election isn’t about tribes, it’s about the West.”
He explained: “We believe the I.C.C. is a tool of Western countries to manipulate undeveloped countries. That’s why we voted for Uhuru, against the West.”
Whether or not the indictments actually did help Kenyatta and Ruto (and there's reason to be skeptical of that claim), their victory will be perceived in many quarters as a defeat for the court. It's not the kind of publicity the ICC needs. The court already suffers from the perception that it is slow, inefficient, and toothless; now it will appear to have been spurned by a people it is ostensibly seeking to help. (A Kenyatta victory wouldn't be the first time an indictee has won an election. Sudan's Omar al-Bashir secured almost 70 percent of the vote in April 2010, a year after the ICC indicted him for crimes against humanity. But that election occurred in a thoroughly autocratic environment.)
That a freshly elected African head of state will bear the burden of ICC indictment would likely worsen already poor relations between the court and African officialdom. Many African leaders have argued that the ICC, which to this point has indicted only Africans, systematically ignores crimes committed in other parts of the world. At various points, African leaders have discussed withdrawing en masse from the treaty that created the court or, more likely, empowering a regional court to investigate atrocities, thereby displacing the ICC.
For the court, there may be an even more damaging consequence to a Kenyatta victory: It could force powerful states to choose between the ICC and their diplomatic and economic interests in Kenya. The United States and some European states have warned that there would be "consequences" for the bilateral relationship if Kenyatta prevails. Those vague words suggest that the West might sever relations with a Kenyatta-led government, reduce aid, or curtail security cooperation. But if the ICC's first decade has demonstrated anything, it is that powerful states -- even those most supportive of the court -- will rarely elevate international justice above their other interests. The most damaging result of having an ICC indictee elected president might be how little the world will care.
China should be mindful of increased trade frictions with European countries and the United States, the Chinese representative to World Trade Organization (WTO) warned on Monday.
"China must remain alert to the intensity, measures and involved industrial sectors concerning trade restrictions on China," said Yi Xiaozhun, permanent representative of China to the WTO.
European countries and the U.S. are adopting increasingly harsh trade relief measures on China's exports, Yi told Xinhua on the sidelines of the annual session of the 12th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the country's top political advisory body.
Overall, China remains well behind the United States and the European Union as a target of WTO complaints:
But since 2012, China has been sued at the WTO more than any other state:
Decisions are still pending in most of these disputes, but rulings on earlier cases are trickling in. Just last week, the European Commission celebrated a WTO decision relating to duties China had imposed on security scanning equipment.
The environment in Geneva may get even tougher for China if the United States and the EU successfully negotiate a free-trade pact. A trade deal would likely settle outstanding disputes between Washington and Brussels—freeing up government trade lawyers to concentrate their firepower elsewhere. Senior European officials haven't masked their desire to forge an alliance against what they consider a pernicious new brand of authoritarian capitalism.
The UN Security Council appears ready to end its long-standing arms embargo on Somalia. In January 1992, with the country torn by internal violence and ravaged by famine, the Council ordered all states to "immediately implement a general and complete embargo on all deliveries of weapons and military equipment to Somalia until the Council decides otherwise." The embargo has remained in place since that time, although it has been amended to facilitate a regional peacekeeping mission and to allow the delivery of equipment to the transitional government. (A good summary of the embargo's history can be found here.)
Somalia's still weak federal government has made lifting the embargo a priority. It insists that, amendments notwithstanding, the embargo hampers its ability to confront Islamist rebels that still control swathes of the country. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has backed Somalia's request. The case for lifting the embargo isn't persuasive to all Council members, however. By most accounts, Britain and France are wary. Reuters' Michelle Nichols reports that they are advancing a compromise measure that would keep some limitations in place:
The draft resolution, drawn up by Britain and obtained by Reuters, appears to propose a compromise: lifting the arms embargo for one year but keeping restrictions in place on heavy weapons such as surface to air missiles, howitzers and cannons.
The draft resolution says the arms embargo shall not apply to the deliveries of other "weapons or military equipment or the provision of advice, assistance or training, intended solely for the development of the security forces of the federal government of Somalia and to provide security for the Somali people."
It says that these weapons and equipment "may not be resold to, transferred to, or made available for use by, any individual or entity not in the service of the security forces of the federal government of Somalia."
David Bosco reports on the new world order for The Multilateralist.