The European Union has resisted a British-led push to modify the EU arms embargo on Syria and allow weapons shipments to rebel forces. Via the Washington Post's Edward Cody:
Rejecting a push by Britain, European governments on Monday decided against providing weapons to Syrian rebel forces, expressing fears that more arms would only lead to more bloodshed in a conflict that already has taken nearly 70,000 lives....
The European Union imposed an arms embargo against Syria in May 2011, covering the government as well as the rebels, but it was scheduled to expire March 1. Monday’s decision renewed the ban for three more months, but, in what was portrayed as a compromise, it contained a promise to alter the terms to permit the supply of more nonlethal equipment designed to save civilian lives.
The relevant provision of the Council's conclusions reads as follows:
The Council agreed to renew the restrictive measures against Syria for a further three
months, amending them so as to provide greater non-lethal support and technical assistance for the protection of civilians. The Council will actively continue the work underway to assess and review, if necessary, the sanctions regime against Syria in order to support and help the opposition.
In the same meeting, the EU foreign ministers almost—but not quite—called for a referral of the Syrian violence to the International Criminal Court:
The EU calls on the UN Security Council to urgently address the situation in Syria in these aspects, including on a possible referral to the International Criminal Court as requested in the Swiss letter to the Security Council of 14 January 2013. The EU recalls that all those responsible for crimes against humanity and war crimes must be held accountable.
On Friday, the UN Security Council will meet to consider the security implications of climate change. Council diplomats will hear from the secretary general, a top World Bank official, a leading climate expert, and representatives of island states most directly affected. For the assembled diplomats, it promises to be chock full of information. However informative, the meeting is not technically a Security Council session. Instead, it's an "Arria formula" gathering. The UN describes them this way:
"Arria-formula meetings" are very informal, confidential gatherings which enable Security Council members to have a frank and private exchange of views, within a flexible procedural framework, with persons whom the inviting member or members of the Council (who also act as the facilitators or convenors) believe it would be beneficial to hear and/or to whom they may wish to convey a message. They provide interested Council members an opportunity to engage in a direct dialogue with high representatives of Governments and international organizations — often at the latter’s request — as well as non-State parties, on matters with which they are concerned and which fall within the purview of responsibility of the Security Council.
Informality is a key attribute of these meetings, but so too is deniability; the Arria formula allows Council diplomats to meet even when key members doubt that the subject merits a meeting. As Security Council Report points out, China, Russia and a few other members are not keen to have the Council grapple with climate change any more than it already has.
President Obama's State of the Union endorsement of a free trade pact with Europe has moved the issue to the policy front burner. For both sides, the deal's expected economic lift is the principal selling point. But European and U.S. officials have emphasized another advantage: the benefits of a trade pact for the troubled multilateral trading system, led by the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Washington and Brussels insist that a bilateral pact would in fact advance global trade liberalization. The EU envoy to the United States made the point in a Wednesday op-ed:
Working toward a trade pact also recognizes that a more intense EU-US partnership can enhance the capacity of Europe and the US to deal more effectively with other regions of the world.
Reaching an ambitious economic agreement between us would send a powerful message to the rest of the world about our leadership in shaping global economic governance in line with our values.
The battle to promote free and open democratic principles and practices, as Europe and the US interpret them, is far from over and the attraction of undemocratic formulas of governance is a reality in many parts of the world. A free trade agreement not only serves European and US interests, it serves the interests of the world – and promotes democratic values.
The White House point person on international economic affairs, Michael Froman, also emphasized that a pact would "help set global rules that could help strengthen the multilateral trading system."
Unsurprisingly, Washington and Brussels are taking the most sanguine view of the longstanding debate about the compatability of regional and global trade liberalization. They're not alone in their optimism. Indonesia's candidate to lead the WTO told Reuters that a bilateral deal would push other players to get more serious about stalled global talks. "The U.S.-EU deal will be a catalyst...Others will see the momentum and they won't want to be overtaken by events."
But advocates of global free trade have long worried that the trend toward regional and bilateral trade blocs will suck the energy out of global trade talks and, worse, create a confusing and inefficient trading system. WTO officials reacted cautiously to the news of a US-EU trade push. Via Agence France Presse:
Creating preferential trade agreements (PTAs) between states, such as an EU-U.S. deal, may achieve some of the same ends, but many experts are concerned that breaking the world into blocs could end up creating new obstacles to global trade.
"The more problematic side of myriad different PTAs is that they create a hodgepodge of different regulations, standards and norms that can evolve into serious non-tariff barriers," said Keith Rockwell, chief spokesman at the Geneva-based WTO.
India was famously cool to the Western-led intervention in Libya, and its criticism of that operation led U.S. ambassador to the UN Susan Rice to publicly express disappointment with Indian diplomacy. The script has been different with Mali. The Times of India unpacks New Delhi's support for the latest intervention in north Africa:
Indian officials said they have been "kept in the loop" by Paris from the beginning. In December 2012, during its last month at the UN Security Council, India co-sponsored a French resolution UNSCR 2085 that supported an African Union-ECOWAS military force in Mali. The French military intervention in Mali has not prompted the expected negative reaction from New Delhi.
And, the target this time around is al-Qaida and its affiliated groups in that region, where India, like others, is developing economic interests. India's reaction to the France-led operation in Libya in 2011 was much more negative. In fact, many in the Indian government believe that the Mali crisis was a natural blowback of the Libya conflict.
Off the record, Indian officials express fears that al-Qaida-fuelled unrest could spread in those difficult regions, because of what they believe is a deadly cocktail of Islamist extremist ideology, widespread poverty, lack of governance and vast amounts of arms and weapons. Most of these weapons were taken out of Libya after the fall of the Gaddafi regime.
The account doesn't mention another distinction likely relevant to India: The Mali intervention is bolstering a sitting government while NATO action in Libya ultimately toppled one.
Richard Gowan offers an insightful review here of India's recently concluded term as a Security Council member. He identifies two distinct phases. India came onto the Council determined to galvanize Council membership reform, willing to challenge the West (over Libya, for example), and keen to work with other emerging powers. By the second year of its term, on Gowan's account, India had more limited ambitions:
In 2012, India switched tactics and began to play a more defensive game. It took a lower profile on Syria, supporting American and European positions in the Security Council, leaving China and Russia isolated in their opposition to serious pressure on Damascus. Indian officials continued to look for new openings on Security Council reform, trying to whip up support among developing countries. But they used their presidency of the Council in November 2012 to highlight the uncontroversial issue of piracy.
By all appearances, the threat of military confrontation is growing in the Pacific. News that a Chinese vessel locked its fire-control radar on a Japanese ship is only the most alarming recent development. China and the Philippine squared off recently as well.
Given the evident danger of conflict involving major powers, one might think that the world's institutional answer to the problem of conflict—the United Nations, and specifically its Security Council—would be knee-deep in Asia's troubled waters. In fact, the Asian maritime crises are not even on the Security Council's agenda. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (who hails from South Korea) occasionally ruminates on the danger of the dispute and pleas for negotiations, but he is a peripheral player at best.
It's not hard to explain the UN's absence. China is a veto-wielding permanent Council member and is adamantly opposed to elevating the dispute to the multilateral level (at the regional level, China has worked hard to prevent ASEAN from reaching a common position). It's not clear that the United States or Japan sees any useful role for the United Nations at the moment. No other involved state has forced the issue onto the Council's agenda.
In many ways, today's Security Council is frenetically active. It meets almost every day, supervises more than a dozen peacekeeping and observer missions, monitors sanctions regimes, and debates weighty topics such as how to advance the rule of law in the world. But this veneer of constant activity masks an inability to grapple substantively with some of the world's most critical security issues--including Israel-Palestine, Kashmir, U.S. counterterrorism policies, and Asia's territorial disputes. A huge chunk of the Council's work is on matters of tangential importance to major powers—specifically weak internal governance in (mostly) African states. The UN was designed above all to prevent another global conflagration; more than sixty years on, the organization still struggles to be relevant in the crises most likely to spark one.
French president Francois Hollande wants the G20 to consider whether the Euro is overvalued. Via Reuters:
France will raise concerns about the strength of the euro's exchange rate at talks among euro zone finance ministers next Monday and at a mid-February meeting of G20 economic powers, Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici said....
His finance minister said he would broach it with other euro zone finance ministers at a meeting next Monday and then at Russian-chaired talks among G20 ministers on February 15 and 16.
Germany is not pleased.
The international tribunal charged with investigating crimes committed in Rwanda today handed down two acquittals. Via BBC:
A UN-backed court has overturned the genocide convictions of two Rwandan former ministers and ordered their immediate release.
Justin Mugenzi and Prosper Mugiraneza had been sentenced to 30 years in prison in 2011 for complicity, and incitement, to commit genocide.
Those decisions add to a string of recent acquittals by international courts. Last month, the International Criminal Court released from custody former Congolese militia commander Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui after his acquittal. In November, the international tribunal for the former Yugoslavia acquitted the former prime minister of Kosovo. Appeals judges at the same tribunal also overturned the conviction of two former Croatian generals.
David Bosco reports on the new world order for The Multilateralist.