The nomination process for the next World Bank president has yielded three official candidates: Jim Kim of the United States, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria, and Jose Antonio Ocampo of Colombia (Jeffrey Sachs withdrew his candidacy after the United States nominated Kim). According to new procedures agreed to last year, candidates will now interview separately with the Bank's executive board, comprised of 25 executive directors. Once the interviews are complete, the board can begin its deliberations. Along the way, the body has the option of conducting an informal straw poll to test support for the various candidates and potentially winnow the field (the procedures recommend, but do not require, a straw poll if there are more than three candidates).
When it comes time to make a decision, most board members will likely push to do so by consensus rather than by vote. The procedures declare "the objective of the Board of Executive Directors is to select the President by consensus." In most cases, the Bank's board does operate by consensus; formal votes are relatively rare. Few key players will want to see the new president elected by a divided board. But of course the formal voting power of individual Bank members and the voting rules will shape even a decision ultimately taken by consensus, and so it's worth reviewing the somewhat byzantine World Bank voting mechanics:
--Each country that belongs to the Bank possesses a certain number of voting shares, and electing the Bank president requires a simple majority of the votes cast. The United States is the largest shareholder, with nearly 16 percent. This share is enough to block Board action on some matters (changing the Bank's articles or bylaws, for example), which require an 85 percent supermajority. Oddly enough, electing the Bank president does not require supermajority support. This is important; it has sometimes been assumed that the United States has the ability, on its own, to veto any candidate. As a question of practical politics it may have that power, but not as a formal matter.
--Voting share is based on the shares a given country holds, which is in turn based (loosely) on economic size. Taken together, the United States and the executive directors from European Union countries have a combined voting share that is almost exactly fifty percent. If the European board members all honor the "gentlemen's agreement" that has given the World Bank presidency to the United States and the the top IMF post to Europe, the election may be all but over. No other regional bloc can muster that kind of voting power; all African directors together, for example, account for less than six percent of voting share.
--Votes are cast by the executive directors. Major players--the United States, Japan, Germany, France, China, the United Kingdom, Russia and Saudi Arabia--have their own executive directors, but most countries form country groupings that "share" a director. The executive director from Austria, for example, represents Austria, Belarus, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Kosovo, Luxembourg, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia and Turkey. When he casts his vote, he votes the collected voting share of those countries, and there is no provision for splitting up that share.
This complicated structure generates several questions:
--Will the executive directors from EU countries line up behind the same candidate, or will they split? For the most part, the EU countries attempt to coordinate their policies at the World Bank and IMF (and here there is the added incentive of protecting European privilege at the IMF), but bloc voting is not a given. And it's worth noting that several EU executive directors include in their groups non-EU countries, which may complicate their decision. The Austrian director, for example, will have to at least think about what Turkey wants.
--Will the emerging countries and the developing world split their support between Ocampo and Okonjo-Iweala? A key question will be whether the BRICS attempt to pool their voting power. They have occasionally attempted to present a unified front on global governance issues, but it's not clear that they will be able to do so here.
--Will a straw poll lead to the exit of either Okonjo-Iweala or Ocampo (likely the latter) and allow for support to consolidate behind one non-American candidate?
--Does Ocampo have broad support among Latin American countries? Unlike Okonjo-Iweala, who received the endorsement of the African Union, Ocampo has not received the formal backing of a regional organization, and it's not clear that all major players in the region support his candidacy.
In November 2010, the executive board of the International Monetary Fund agreed to a much-ballyhooed package of reforms designed to make the Fund both more equitable and more capable of responding to global crises. Then managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn described the agreement as a critical step toward recognizing new ecoonomic realities:
It means we now have the top 10 shareholders that really represent the top 10 countries in the world, namely the United States, Japan, the four main European countries, and the four BRICs. The ranking of the countries is now really the ranking they have in the global economy.
At the time, the IMF chief also lauded the agreement to double the "quotas" that countries pay into the Fund, boosting the institution's lending power substantially and reducing the need for ad hoc funding lines.
That was almost 18 months ago. The measures are still not in place, however, because the required combination of states have not taken the domestic steps necessary to make them effective. In its understated way, the staff of the IMF appears concerned. The latest report on implementation noted that time is running out for members to meet their self-imposed deadline of late 2012:
[T]he membership remains about half way toward meeting the thresholds for acceptance of the Seventh Amendment...With only seven months remaining on the timeline suggested by the Board of Governors, a substantial effort is needed to make the 2010 Governance and Quota Reforms effective no later than the 2012 IMF/World Bank Annual Meetings.
Because voting at the Fund is weighted by economic power, the approval of the most powerful economies is most important. According to the IMF report, those G20 members that have done at least some of their homework on the agreed reforms are Australia, Brazil, China, France, India, Italy, Japan, Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and the United Kingdom. Those G20 members that still have to enact both reforms are Argentina, Canada, Germany, Indonesia, Mexico, Turkey, and the United States.
The United States, with by far the largest voting share, is the critical missing piece. Facing some Congressional hostility, the Obama administration has balked at requesting the needed funds for the quota increase. Add IMF reform to the very long list of things that Congress will have to grapple with once the election is over.
Jeffrey Sachs' quixotic campaign to become World Bank president continues, and now he's bidding for Canadian support. In response, the Canadian International Council is hosting a decidedly feisty forum on whether he's the right man for the job. Former Canadian diplomat and UN official Scott Gilmore made the case against Sachs, whom he accused of being "the chief proponent of the top-down, centrally planned, western-imposed model of poverty reduction that has so spectacularly failed over the last 50 years." Sachs fired right back:
I am certainly not a proponent of "the top-down, centrally planned, western-imposed model of poverty reduction." I have a long track record, of leading effective programs that cut malaria, AIDS, TB, hunger, and poverty. For example, malaria in sub-Saharan Africa is down by 30-40%, with the strategies that I helped to champion and implement around Africa.
The United States, the European Union, and Japan are apparently ready to launch a joint challenge against China's export restrictions on "rare earth" minerals at the World Trade Organization (WTO). In response, China insists that it stands ready to defend its policies and is suggesting again that it may defend its export quotas on environmental grounds:
The rare earth export restrictions by China have been made out of consideration for the environment and the sustainable utilization of resources, rather than export protection -- that’s according to Chinese officials responding to complaints made by the US, EU and Japan.
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Liu Weimin says China has made unremitting efforts in providing rare earth minerals to the international community.
NATO's largest mission is coming to an inglorious end. Offcially, the alliance still claims that 2014 is the year it will disentangle itself from Afghanistan. Even before the recent bloody incidents, however, key members of the alliance were talking about an earlier departure. The violence sparked by revelations of Koran burning and the murder of Afghan civilians by a U.S. soldier have sapped already low levels of trust between the alliance and its Afghan partners and made an early exit more likely.
What happens to Afghanistan--and to the region--after NATO's departure is the most obvious question. But the alliance's coming retreat from Kabul raises another issue: what happens to NATO after its largest mission ends? Since shortly after the Cold War, and notwithstanding predictions of its demise, the Western alliance has been in a frenzy of activity: it expanded to take in almost a dozen new members; through the Balkans conflicts, it developed a new speciality as a regional stabilization force; it activated its members' Article V committments for the first time in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and a few years later took on the Afghanistan mission.
Barring some new development, however, NATO activity will soon be at its lowest ebb since the early 1990s. Expansion of the alliance has mostly run its course. The Libya operation is done. The Bosnia stabilization mission, launched in 1995, was handed over to the European Union in late 2004. NATO does still have a mission in Kosovo, but that force is now smaller than 6,000 troops and will probably shrink further. Just as NATO moves into a shiny (and expensive) new headquarters building in Brussels, the world's most successful military alliance may find itself struggling to be relevant.
There are several different scenarios for the alliance:
The Waiting Game: The last two decades suggest that the alliance may not have to wait long before some new military challenge descends on it. While the alliance isn't keen to intervene in Syria, the continuing instability of the Arab Spring may ultimately lead to a new stabilization operation. Parts of the Balkans are still tense and may require new attention. An African mission isn't out the question. On this view, all the alliance really needs to do is oil the wheels of military cooperation and stand ready. For all its fissures and tensions, NATO still brings together most of the world's most advanced militaries and offers them a ready-made command structure. In an unstable world, it won't be long before that machinery is needed again.
Turn East: Some of NATO's newer eastern and central European members might prefer that the alliance look closer to home for dragons to confront. Russia is rearming and showing signs of revanchism. It periodically makes noises about placing missiles in the enclave of Kaliningrad. The conflict with Georgia could easily flare up again. In this tense atmosphere, perhaps NATO should return to its original mission: Keeping Europe safe from Russian bullying.
New security threats: NATO's members face a new generation of security threats, from cyberattacks to shadowy terrorist networks. One possible path forward for the alliance would be to develop expertise in these areas and become more than a provider of stabilization forces. This would require a major reorientation; the alliance is not well placed to address these more nebulous threats. It doesn't operate drones or do much with special forces. Its national interlocutors are defense ministers, not intelligence agencies or interior ministries. But there is a need for greater coordination in these areas, and NATO could prove to be a convenient and familiar forum.
Go Global: Back in 2005, the current American ambassador to NATO, Ivo Daalder, wrote an article with James Goldgeier arguing that NATO's future lay outside the alliance's traditional area of operations. What's more, they argued, the time had come for NATO to expand its membership beyond the North Atlantic area. "NATO's next move must be to open its membership to any democratic state in the world that is willing and able to contribute to the fulfillment of NATO's new responsibilities." The expensive and controversial Afghanistan operation has sapped enthusiasm for this kind of dramatic change, but it remains a potential long-term alternative.
Slow Fade: Maybe this search for ways to keep the alliance relevant is misguided. After all, institutions and alliances should respond to some felt need; they are not ends in themselves. Commentators of a realist bent--for example, George Will and Steve Walt--have long expected that NATO would come undone in the post-Cold War. The frenetic alliance activity of the last fifteen years has seemed to prove them wrong, but they could see an important long-term reality: that there is no compelling strategic need for the alliance. Without that need, and as the spate of nation-building operations subside, NATO may start a dignified fade into the background.
A personnel announcement from the International Monetary Fund arrived in my inbox this morning:
“I have informed the Executive Board of my intention to appoint Jianhai Lin as the Secretary of the Fund,” Ms. Lagarde stated. “Jianhai has had a wide-ranging Fund career in both country and policy work. This breadth of experience has been of particular benefit to the IMF, where Jianhai's skill in building consensus among staff, Management and our global membership has been essential for the productive work of the Executive Board during one of the most challenging periods in the Fund's history.”
Mr. Lin, a Chinese national, studied at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, China, and University of California at Berkeley, and earned his doctorate in international finance from the George Washington University. Before coming to the Fund, he worked in the financial sector and academia....
The Secretary’s Department has operational responsibility for the 24-member Executive Board of the IMF, and also serves as the regular point of contact with the Fund’s 187 member countries on institutional matters. This includes responsibility for working with the IMF’s Board of Governors, and the policy-guiding International Monetary and Financial Committee.
I'm not certain how important this particular post is, but it does continue the trend of growing Chinese influence at the World Bank and the IMF. Chinese nationals already occupy the World Bank chief economist slot and one of the several deputy managing director positions at the IMF. This is part of a broader--and, to my mind, very salutary--trend of increasing Chinese engagement with international organizations.
But growing Chinese influence in the upper reaches of international organizations does raise a question: what is the informal relationship between these individuals and the Chinese government? When they take on international responsibilities, officials are supposed to shed any professional loyalty to their home state and work solely on behalf of the organization (and, more broadly, the international community). The standards of conduct provided to UN officials make very clear that they must be free of government influence:
If the impartiality of the international civil service is to be maintained, international
civil servants must remain independent of any authority outside their organization; their
conduct must reflect that independence. In keeping with their oath of office, they should
not seek nor should they accept instructions from any Government, person or entity
external to the organization. It cannot be too strongly stressed that international civil
servants are not, in any sense, representatives of Governments or other entities, nor are
they proponents of their policies.
That's the theory. In practice, that line has not always been respected. Nor is it always easy to do so even when intentions are good. Imagine, for example, the situation of David Lipton, who recently became the number two official at the IMF. In moving the few blocks from the White House (where Lipton served as a special assistant to the president), Lipton was being asked to work on many of the same issues but to switch his allegiances from the U.S. government to the Fund almost overnight. His boss, Christine Lagarde, had to make the same rapid transformation from national official to international civil servant.
For those accustomed to moving in and out of government in open societies (and perhaps particularly for lawyers used to representing different clients), this psychological transition is feasible. My sense is that governments in liberal democracies usually try to respect the independence of international officials. But the historical record shows that authoritarian governments have a hard time wrapping their mind around the concept of independent international civil servants. It was an open secret, for example, that Soviet officials working for the United Nations reported directly to and took orders from Moscow. Other senior UN officials knew it and devised work-arounds when necessary.
I'd imagine that the current situation with Chinese officials at international organizations is much more nuanced than that. But how much more?
More: The always insightful Bruce Jones sends along this comment:
UN officials stress their independence from their original member state, and for good reason. But in some contexts, including the IMF, a vital qualification of senior staff is their ability to pull their ‘home’ government along with multilateral decisions. Take David Lipton, the number two man at the IMF. For the first two and a half years of the Obama Administration, he was Mike Froman’s right hand man in navigating the global financial crisis, and a key advisor to Obama. They know and trust him; and this is a huge asset for the IMF. So the question is less whether the senior Chinese officials at the IMF are independent of Beijing; it’s are they plugged in enough to pull Beijing along in key IMF strategies.
This is a very smart point; the question it begs though is to what extent there can be an independent IMF strategy (or point of view) if senior staff are so plugged in that they are channeling the mindsets of their home states. The ability to "pull in" key member state governments is only valuable, it seems to me, if what these states are being pulled toward is more than just a reflection of their own views.
With the euro crisis and its attendant intra-European tension dominating headlines, it would be logical to assume that Europe's common foreign policy has suffered. But has it? Jan Techau of the Carnegie Endowment provides here an insightful, and mostly upbeat, assessment of Europe's role in the world. Financial chaos notwithstanding, Europe has hung together on Iran and been surprisingly coherent on the Arab spring. Perhaps most importantly, he argues, the U.S.-Europe relationship may have actually benefited from the euro crisis:
[D]espite the frequent warnings that America is drifting away from Europe, the euro crisis has actually brought America and Europe closer together. The Obama administration, banks, and the business community in the United States clearly understand that Europe must remain stable or the ramifications for America will be horrific. They need stability in Europe, and they need Europe to tackle this crisis and to manage it well in order to survive themselves. It’s very clear that President Obama is on the phone with Germany’s Angela Merkel and President Sarkozy of France all the time, and that the U.S.-based financial institutions have a very strong stake in the euro crisis—there is a lot of coordination going on across the Atlantic. It may not be for positive reasons that they are cooperating, but they do and that’s basically a good thing.
Techau acknowledges that the EU's new foreign policy arm--the External Action Service--has stumbled out of the gate. But even here, he sees cause for optimism. And, once again, the financial crisis may be having some salutary side effects:
[T]here are signs that the service is gaining a little bit of traction. The financial crisis has absorbed a lot of capacity in the member states to deal with international affairs. Now, they are looking at Brussels and at the relatively large External Action Service, with its capacity and its brain power, to actually give them ideas as well. It’s happening under the radar, behind this financial crisis and nobody really looks at foreign policy institutions.
Europe has been struggling for decades to fashion a more coherent foreign policy while maintaining its traditional links with the United States. At least in the short term, the euro crisis might actually be advancing those goals.
I've speculated recently that the absence of serious discussion about referring Syria to the International Criminal Court--a step that would require a UN Security Council resolution--reflects more than just a gloomy realization that Russia and China would likely veto such an attempt. I think the Libya experience in some respects soured the Obama administration, and maybe other Western states, on ICC referrals in the midst of conflict. In comments before a Senate committee today, Hillary Clinton gave the strongest indication yet that the United States doesn't see international justice as helpful in the Syrian context:
"Based on definitions of war criminal and crimes against humanity, there would be an argument to be made that he would fit into that category," Clinton told a Senate hearing on the State Department budget.
"People have been putting forth the argument," the chief US diplomat said.
"But I also think that from long experience that can complicate a resolution of a difficult, complex situation because it limits options to persuade leaders perhaps to step down from power," Clinton said.
This is a remarkably broad statement that flies in the face of a lot of American rhetoric (though not necessarily American practice) regarding international justice. I'd expect that Clinton will get some serious pushback from the human rights community--and that she may feel compelled to walk back her statement.
Poor Christine Lagarde. Even as the IMF managing director seeks to drum up new resources for the Fund to help prevent a European meltdown, senior U.S. officials keep signaling a distinct lack of enthusiasm.
Lagarde has argued repeatedly that the IMF needs to boost its lending capacity to nearly $900 billion and has been making that case around the world, including in Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Brazil, China, and at Davos. Lagarde acknowledges of course that the onus is on Europe to craft a more robust response, in particular by merging the two bailout funds Europe has already created. And she's certainly not keen to accentuate any differences with the United States, the IMF's largest shareholder.
But the differences are impossible to ignore, and this weekend's meeting of the G20 highlighted them. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner repeated the administration's mantra that substantial IMF action would be premature. Via Reuters:
"There is broad agreement that the IMF cannot substitute for the absence of a stronger European firewall and the IMF cannot move forward without more clarity on Europe's own plans," Geithner said.
The U.S. Treasury chief repeated that he was not prepared to go to Congress now to seek more resources for the IMF because he didn't feel they were needed at this time.
He declined to say how big a financial firewall he felt Europe needed to put up now but noted that, in order to be credible in markets, it had to be bigger relative to possible claims that might be made on it.
For her part, Lagarde appeared to acknowledge this weekend that her dreams of a much bigger IMF war chest won't be realized any time soon. "Raising significantly the firepower of the IMF is not something you can do by flicking your fingers," she said.
What's at work here are different responsibilities and political realities as much as different economic analyses. Senior IMF officials have a responsibility to the international system as a whole and do not face the political pressures politicians do. The IMF appears to have accepted that Europe, for a host of architectural and historical reasons, may be unable to devise its own solution to the debt crisis in a timely manner and are determined to put a backup system is in place.
My sense is that U.S. officials share those fears, but they face the countervailing political reality that Congress, not to mention Republican presidential candidates, would howl about new U.S. funds to "bailout" Europe. And that makes all the difference. Because of immediate political pressures, the United States is willing to run the risk that there simply won't be a firewall. Lagarde, as steward of the global financial system, is much less comfortable doing so.
Brazilian foreign minister Antonio Patriota tells Laura Rozen that the UN Secretary General should speak out on whether a strike against Iran would be legal:
"No doubt adding an additional flashpoint of military action in a volatile region will greatly exacerbate tensions," Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota told Yahoo News in an interview in New York Tuesday. The international community should proceed "with the utmost caution."
"There is a role for him in this," Patriota said he had proposed to the UN chief. "One sometimes hears the expression, 'all options are on the table.' But some actions are contrary to international law."
I actually wouldn't be shocked if Ban Ki-moon took him up on the invitation. Ban's a second-term chief, so he need not worry about angering key UN members (namely, the United States). And if he were to come out with a strong statement against the legality of a strike, he'd win praise for having tried to help avert a conflict (without actually having done so, of course).
On the substance of the legal question, Israel has a steep hill to climb. The basic UN Charter structure has been broadly interpreted to provide that a lawful use of force must either be in self defense or authorized by the UN Security Council. There's almost no possibility of the latter, so Israel would have to hang its hat on self defense. And Israel could marshal an impressive body of statements from Iranian leaders suggesting that Iran is functionally in a state of war with the Jewish state. Consistent Iranian support for Hezbollah and other militants attacking Israel bolsters the case. The argument here wouldn't be preemptive self defense (which would be a real stretch); it would be that the two countries are already effectively in a state of war, and that a strike against Iranian nuclear facilities would be another phase in that ongoing conflict.
Israel might be able to make a distinct argument that a strike would be legal. Pointing to the actual practice of states--and with particular emphasis on the post-9/11 period--Israel could argue that a strike does not violate the UN Charter's key provision restricting the use of force, Article 2(4). That article reads as follows:
All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.
Over the decades, a number of legal scholars--including, notably, Anthony D'Amato--have argued that this provision is not the blanket prohibition on the use of force that many claim it to be. So long as Israel's strike would not aim to dismember Iran or strip away its political independence, the argument would go, it's not expressly prohibited. Writing in the July 1983 issue of the American Journal of International Law, D'Amato made just that argument regarding Israel's 1981 strike against Iraq's nuclear reactor:
[I]t is open to serious question whether Israel's strike was a use of force against either Iraq's territorial integrity or its political independence. No portion of Iraq's territory was taken away from Iraq by the bombardment...Nor was Iraq's political independence compromised. Iraq's power was undoubtedly lessened, but in what sense was its governmental authority vis-a-vis other sovereign governments diminished?
Israel could point to a host of cases in which states used limited force and were not condemned in any way by the international community. NATO's 1999 air campaign against Serbia would be a key exhibit. What's more, in the case of Iran, Israel could claim to be advancing a goal--the ending of Iran's nuclear weapons program--that does have clear international backing, as evidenced by multiple Security Council resolutions.
Neither of these arguments is likely to persuade many people. While the self defense argument has a surface plausibility, a strike directly against Iranian territory would be a radical escalation of what has been a low-level proxy conflict. Very few people will view an Israeli strike as anything other than the opening of a new conflict. The Article 2(4) route, for its part, radically diminishes the conventional interpretation of that provision. Even diplomats and lawyers sympathetic to the argument--including some in the U.S. State Department, I'd wager--aren't likely to say so publicly. The United States has been cagey about the formal justification for many of its own counterterror strikes and clearly prefers to leave many uses of force in the legal murk.
But the complexity of the arguments that would be on offer may well induce the UN Secretary General to stay silent and let the Security Council speak for the organization.
A notable feature of the international response to Syria has been the limited discussion of employing the tools of international justice, namely the International Criminal Court (ICC). Because Syria is not an ICC member, granting the court jurisdiction would require the UN Security Council to act, as it did in Libya and Sudan. Activist groups such as Human Rights Watch have supported a referral, and the UN's top human rights official called for an ICC investigation, but diplomacy on the justice issue has been subdued.
This no doubt reflects the current impossibility of persauding Russia and China to accept an ICC investigation. But my sense is that it reflects something else as well: a Western reconsideration of the benefits of deploying international justice in the midst of conflict. Both the Libya and the Sudan referrals resulted in indictments for the respective head of state and senior ministers. And in both cases, the benefits have been murky, while the costs in terms of diplomatic flexibility have been significant. With the possibility of exile for Assad still circulating, I don't sense that the West is eager to foreclose any options.
There's nothing in this more cautious approach that is necessarily destructive of the push for international accountability. Once the Syria conflict has played out, the Council or, conceivably, the Arab League can initiate processes for investigating and meteing out punishment. What this staggered approach does undermine is the notion that justice must be a tool for managing ongoing conflict.
I've never understood why so many international justice advocates and human rights professionals are fiercely attached to the vision of justice as a tool for managing conflict in the first place. It's as if justice for its own sake is not enough; it must also be shown that pursuing justice always has salutary political and policy consequences: that it always deters atrocities and never backs indictees into a bloody corner; that it "delegitimizes" those indicted and never impedes diplomatic resolutions. These claims are all but unverifiable empirically. They are more expressions of faith than analysis. What's more, they are oddly consequentialist positions for folks who pride themselves on principled activism.
More: Astute reader Don Kraus points to another reason that the United States might be wary of referring Syria to the ICC. "The US will be reluctant to pursue this option because a Syrian referral would include the Golan Heights, which would put territory under Israeli control within the Court’s jurisdiction."
While Eurozone finance ministers put the final touches on another stop-gap measure for Greece, the foreign ministers of the G-20 met in Los Cabos, Mexico under a blanket of heavy security. Nobody expected all that much from the meeting and it appears that not much occurred. It was reported that only nine of the G-20's foreign ministers attended the event, with ministerial no-shows including Russia, China, and India.
Even with the size of the gathering reduced, the photo accompanying this story speaks volumes about a problem for the G-20: the often stifling formality of an initiative designed in large part to foster informal contacts between senior leaders of the world's most powerful countries (I'm not sure a meeting titled an "Informal Meeting," emblazoned with a logo, and equipped with a dais can really be informal).
The G-20 finance ministers will meet this weekend in Mexico City, with the Eurozone crisis as the leading topic. Statements from key players such as Japan, however, already suggest that the group will not break much new ground:
The G20 is not yet ready to agree on providing more funds to the International Monetary Fund to fight Europe's debt crisis, Japan's finance minister said Tuesday ahead of a key meeting this weekend.
The Group of 20 nations "are not yet in a situation where they are moving in the same direction and are about to decide specific amounts" of additional funding for the IMF, Jun Azumi said at a news conference.
FP executive editor Susan Glasser and Turtle Bay's Colum Lynch sat down this week with U.S. ambassador to the UN Susan Rice. In the course of the conversation, she offered the most detailed response I've yet seen from an American official to the charge that the West abused its authority in Libya under Resolution 1973:
"We made very, very clear -- I made very, very clear -- in laying out to the Security Council what this authority would entail. The protection of civilians, as mandated and drafted, in what became Resolution 1973, was going to involve air strikes against [Muammar] Qaddafi's command and control centers, air strikes against moving columns, air strikes against any asset of the regime that would threaten civilians. We discussed this at great detail and we, in fact, debated language that laid all of that out in great specificity so that countries could not claim that they didn't know exactly what they were granting when passing that resolution," said Rice. "We wanted the council to make a clear eyed decision. If they hadn't supported this it wouldn't have happened…But in voting for it, or not opposing it, the council gave a clear-cut green light. Now there may be some cynical folks who say that perhaps the Russians and the Chinese were trying to give the coalition -- NATO, and Western and Arab powers -- enough room to hang themselves and they're frustrated that that wasn't exactly the outcome. I don't know. But I do know it was very clear what they were voting for and the outcome was one that was potentially foreseen ... although I understand that you have to be somewhat nuanced to see it. But the resolution and the actions of NATO really were genuinely to protect civilians, they were not designed for regime change…What transpired was that, in addition to the NATO air campaign to protect civilians, [there was] growth and transformation of the opposition. They cohered ultimately into a sufficiently capable multi-front force to ultimately topple Qaddafi."
Rice appears to be insisting not that there can be reasonable disagreement about the scope of the resolution but that Russia, China, South Africa, and India are disingenuous in asserting that NATO's activities went well beyond what the Council had authorized. At the same time, she does appear to acknowledge (although her words are not entirely clear on this point) that there were two distinct phases to the operation: the first designed to protect civilians from immediate attack and the second to help the transformed opposition topple Qaddafi. Rice also suggests that the rebel forces were transformed through some organic process, adroitly sliding over the question of whether foreign military advisors and arms shipments of dubious legality were an important part of that transformation.
The debate about whether the West was disingenuous and manipulative in its use of Security Council authorization has now run for months, and the camps are pretty well delineated. Rice and others (see Erik Voeten's smart post here) insist that the BRIC claims to have been snookered are not credible. Others, myself included, see the Libya operation as fairly clearly in excess of Security Council authority (though not necessarily bad policy).
On its own, this debate is not all that important and should probably now be consigned to dusty law reviews, where folks can wrangle over the fine points of old Security Council resolutions for years. But there is embedded in this debate something important: the question of whether the Obama administration is genuine in its professed committment to multilateralism. Steve Walt, in response to an earlier post of mine, doubles down on his insistence that the administration (and interventionists more broadly) are deeply hypocritical:
The real puzzle is why advocates of intervention are so fond of invoking multilateralism, institutions, and the importance of international law, and then so quick to ignore it when it gets in the way of today's pet project. Realists aren't always right, but at least we're not hypocrites.
The charge here is that many of those who claim to respect law and institutions in fact use them as mere means to an end and will happily discard them when inconvenient. They do not see them as genuine restraints that should be respected for their own sake, but as tactical instruments to be deployed and withdrawn as the situation demands. The administration loves the UN's Human Rights Council when it is criticizing others, but feels no obligation to respond seriously to the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings when he asks about American targeted assassinations.
Nor does the administration appear inclined to part with the customary great-power privileges that sap the legitimacy of existing multilateral institutions in the eyes of much of the world. Despite the administration's claims to want a more equitable international architecture, for example, it quietly backed Europe's bid to maintain leadership of the IMF. It shows no signs that it will surrender its customary privilege of naming the head of the World Bank and open that process to international competition. And on perhaps the most enervating issue of great-power privilege--the structure of the UN Security Council--the administration has zero appetite for reform.
Hypocrisy may be too strong a term here. I'd say it's just more evidence that the actual practice of politics makes pragmatists of everyone.
Steve Walt argues that NATO's Libya overreach was critical to the Syria diplomatic stalemate:
[I]t is both ironic and tragic that some of the most enthusiastic defenders of multilateralism and international law seem all too willing to ignore them when they get in the way of other things they want to do, however laudable the latter goal might be. But a commitment to multilateralism and international law is not something you can invoke when it suits you and ignore when it doesn't, at least not without paying a price. Powerful states like the United States can (and do) act with impunity on occasion, but they shouldn't be surprised when such behavior backfires later on.
I agree with some of this and argued as much early in the Libya campaign, when it became apparent that the West was going to use its UN authorization to protect civilians as a lever to pursue regime change. I even wondered whether abusing Council authorization wasn't worse in the long run than simply bypassing the Council.
But there is something profoundly disorienting about a self-proclaimed realist making this kind of argument. Is Walt saying that the West should have not pursued its strategic goal of ousting Gaddafi out of deference to the fine points of a Security Council resolution? (From a narrow national-interest perspective, the Libya campaign seems to be a model: a limited investment to secure the ouster of a troublesome national leader without any committment to prolonged nation-building in the aftermath.) And since--from Walt's perspective--international relations is all about interests, why can't one simply turn on and off the rhetoric about multilateralism and law? It's all rhetoric in any case, isn't it? Surely Walt doesn't believe that uber-realist Russia and China are actually offended by the abuse of multilateral institutions?
I demand that Steve Walt rise and tell us whether he is actually, in some secret chamber of his heart, a believer in international law and institutions.
More: A reader writes this:
Why can't it simply be the case that they recognize that the defence of multilateral institutions from abuse at the hands of the world's sole superpower is a vital national interest for them both?
After all, this is a truism: even together [Russia and China] are not The Biggest Bruisers On The Block.
It is therefore in their national interest that the rule of the jungle does not prevail in international relations, precisely because there are Much Bigger Brutes Than Them lurching around the foliage.
Bosco seems to be quick to laud the USA's willingness to pursue its own national interest, yet he seems to be remarkably reluctant to consider that other countries might consider it to be in THEIR national interest to remind Uncle Sam - just occasionally - that he is at risk of getting drunk with power.
My point here was not really about the merits of pursuing the national interest. It's about realism and the role that realists assign to international organizations and international law. From a realist perspective (and here you can see this classic article by Walt's co-author, John Mearsheimer) international organizations and law are all but irrelevant. They are either entirely cosmetic or mere reflections of state power. They certainly do not alter the way that states exercise that power. So it is passing strange for someone from this theoretical tradition to argue that that there would be any significant "blowback" due to alleged abuse of Security Council authorization.
My own guess (maybe more of a hope) is that Walt may be tiptoeing toward making a realist case for international institutions and law. The argument might run like this: in a world where damaging and potentially catastrophic conflict is always possible, the primary political virtues are prudence and restraint (something classical realists have long argued). International law and institutions in many respects attempt to build up habits of prudence by requiring that action--particularly military force--clear certain procedural hurdles, notably the Security Council veto. The realist will never believe that political leaders would follow organizational rules or international law out of any sense of obligation. But maybe leaders can be convinced that following the rules is almost always the most prudent course.
The superb Marc Lynch has an interesting post up on the post-veto Syria landscape in which he argues that the vetoes have damaged the UN and rendered it less relevant:
The U.S. and its allies will continue to find other ways to try to deal with the Syrian crisis, even without the UN. But the failure of the UN to act, as Secretary General Ban Ki Moon suggested, harms the institution itself by revealing its inability to act in defense of the Charter's promise. The next stages, whether military or not (and I expect not), will more resemble the Kosovo and Iraq campaigns which were launched without international legitimacy. This will significantly undermine the prospects that such actions will contribute to the positive development of international norms of atrocity prevention or the more controversial "responsibility to protect." That is tragic for an administration which has prioritized the UN and, with the exception of its hopeless diplomacy on the Israeli-Palestinian file, has done well with it.
In a narrow sense, Lynch is of course correct that the vetoes have marginalized the institution; until the situation in Syria changes appreciably on the ground, I'd expect the Council to stay on the sidelines. But he is arguing, I think, that the UN has lost relevance in a broader sense. And here, I'm very skeptical. There's often a tendency to take discrete Council decisions or non-decisions and extrapolate to an argument on the organization's trajectory. After the U.S. bypassed the Council over Iraq, op-ed pages were full of commentary on how the diplomatic punch-up had damaged the institution. Who would have guessed that an explosion in UN peacekeeping was just around the corner and that two years later the Council would refer Sudan to the International Criminal Court?
The point is this: the Council is a political body whose value and role depends almost entirely on the shifting political interests of the P5. Those interests vary from crisis to crisis and will change, sometimes quickly. A Security Council that looks impotent and dysfunctional now may well appear formidable, or at least quite serviceable, in some other context.
The indomitable Inner City Press gets Russian UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin to wax philosophical about the veto power:
I hope people understand, some of them argue with all due respect without realizing the consequences for their own national interest for stripping us of the veto powers. When they find themselves in a hot spot without anyone being able to exercise the veto, they will come to regret it. Things happen.
Read the whole thing here.
In response to recent posts on the Security Council veto power, a number of smart folks were in contact to advance the notion of the "responsibility not to veto"--a concept that has been bubbling among Responsibility to Protect advocates for a number of years. (For a superb discussion of the concept and its roots, see this article by Ariela Blätter and Paul D. Williams.) The notion is that while a formal end to the veto power is not possible, the P5 can and should agree to a 'code of conduct' for its use. Specifically, the veto should not be used to oppose international action in the face of mass atrocities:
The use of the veto by the P5 to block rescue missions in cases of gencocide and mass attrocities, constitutes one of the main obstacles to the implementation of the Responsibility to Protect and rapid reaction by the international community to end mass violence against civilians. The principle of the Responsibility Not to Veto (RN2V) consitutes a means to enable more effective international actions to protect endangered civilian populations. It stipulates that the P5 should not use their veto power to block Security Council resolutions in response to genocide and mass atrocities which would otherwise pass by a majority. In addition, the P5 should provide a public justification to the use of veto against any such resolution.
The approach of altering Security Council practice through behavioral norms rather than formal rules or architectural modifications is eminently sensible. What's more, there's evidence that the P5 can be shamed in certain circumstances. Some members are obviously more susceptible to normative pressure than others, but the reports indicating that Russia may be ceding ground on Syria suggest that even the most obstinate can be pushed.
Profitable as generating a norm against the veto is, it has important limitations. Most important, I think it exaggerates the degree to which 'mass atrocity' situations can be parceled off from 'political' situations. There's a strong tendency in the advocacy community to think that when a situation involves atrocities it therefore sheds (or should shed) its political character. But states, even those sympathetic to the R2P cause, never stop thinking about the political and strategic realities (nor should they). And the idea that political actors will often be able to reach consensus on what constitutes a "mass atrocity" situation and should be dealt with as such seems illusory.
To take one recent example: Iraq in 2005-2006 was certainly a "mass atrocity" environment; the country was beset by frequent bombings aimed at civilians, and the toll was ghastly (probably greater than in Syria today). But few people spoke about it in the R2P or "mass atrocity" venacular. It was instead conceived of as a political and military problem. Why? Because U.S. troops were on the ground; because of the controversial background of the U.S. invasion; because of uncertainty about how to address the violence; because of the lack of credible Iraqi leaders. In short, because of the political and strategic context.
In important respects, R2P advocates want to decontextualize atrocity situations. They insist that the context doesn't matter, that the atrocities are unacceptable. It's a powerful and persuasive idea. But in a political world, it will always struggle.
The Times of India reports on a new diplomatic push by the four leading candidates for permanent Security Council membership:
India, Japan, Brazil and Germany chose the Indian Republic Day to launch a fresh offensive in the UN for expansion of the Security Council. The G-4, as they are better known, for the first time, put a joint bid for the UN Security Council during a closed plenary session at the UN General Assembly on Thursday, which is headed by Zahir Tanin, the UN ambassador from Afghanistan.
In a strongly worded statement, the G-4 countries said, "This Council should be expanded in both the permanent and non-permanent categories of membership, taking into consideration the contributions made by countries to the maintenance of international peace and security, as well as the need for increased representation of developing countries in both categories. On numerous occasions, we have reconfirmed our view that Africa should be represented in the permanent membership in an enlarged Council."
The article presents China as the main obstacle to Council reform; I'd say the more serious problem is the inability of these four to convince a critical mass of the broader UN membership that reform would mean more than adding to the ranks of the privileged major-powers. With its emphasis on more non-permanent seats and more Council transparency, the statement suggests that they are committed to crafting a reform package that could entice the small and mid-size states needed to achieve a two-thirds majority in the General Assembly (the threshhold for amending the UN Charter). If they manage that, my guess is that the current P5, even China, would be hard pressed to torpedo the initiative.
Writing in the Guardian, Mark Weisbrot isn't inclined to let the story of the United Nations' role in Haiti's cholera epidemic disappear. After surveying the evidence, he finds that the UN is still in denial:
How much more evidence could we possibly need? You can bet that any impartial jury or judge in the world would find that the UN brought this epidemic to Haiti. And according to most countries' laws, they would have to pay for what they did. Indeed there might even be criminal responsibility, since this action was so incredibly reckless in its disregard for the life and health of the victims.
UN officials had to be aware of the dangers that troops coming from an area where there was cholera could pose to a country like Haiti, where so many people do not have access to clean water or sanitation facilities. They had to know how important it was not to let that bacteria pollute the country's water supply.
Where are all the human rights organizations on this issue? Is the UN so sacrosanct, or perhaps influential, that nobody can state the obvious when an abuse of this horrific magnitude has been committed? So far one small, brave, and independent NGO – the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti – has announced it will pursue legal action to force the UN to pay for the damages.
It now appears very likely that Moammar Qaddafi was killed at the hands of his captors. Human rights groups are calling for an inquiry and the International Criminal Court has reportedly asked to examine the former leader's body (it's not at all clear that the Libyan authorities will acquiesce to that request). The question that is already arising is whether Qaddafi's killing constituted a war crime that could be investigated by the ICC. The answer, in short: Yes, it was likely a war crime; and no, the ICC is not likely to prosecute anyone for it.
First, the question of whether Qaddafi's execution constitutes a war crime that falls under the ICC's jurisdiction. To be a war crime, there's got to be a war (or state of armed conflict). Here, there's no doubt that there was an armed conflict underway when Qaddafi was killed. Does killing a combatant who has surrendered constitute a crime? Quite clearly. The ICC statute includes in its list of war crimes the following:
Killing or wounding a combatant who, having laid down his arms or having no longer means of defence, has surrendered at discretion...
What's more, the ICC's jurisdiction over crimes committed in Libya extends to the actions of the NTC and anti-Qaddafi fighters just as it does to Qaddafi's own men. The Security Council referred the "situation" in Libya to the court, not the particular behavior of one party or another.
But the fact that the ICC would have jurisdiction over Qaddafi's killing does not answer the question of whether it's likely to investigate. The court has no obligation to prosecute all or even most of the crimes that fall under its jurisdiction. In fact, the ICC's governing statute clearly guides the prosecutor away from isolated acts toward large-scale behavior:
The Court shall have jurisdiction in respect of war crimes in particular when
committed as part of a plan or policy or as part of a large-scale commission of such
crimes. [my italics]
The choices of the prosecutor and the rulings of the ICC judges in recent years have made abundantly clear that the court prioritizes large-scale crimes that form part of a broad pattern or practice. Given that emphasis, it is unlikely the court will ultimately prosecute anyone for Qaddafi's killing unless they decide that there existed within the anti-Qaddafi forces a broad practice of war crimes or crimes against humanity and that the Qaddafi killing was a manifestation of that.
What's more, the new Libyan authorities could foil any ICC investigation by carrying out their own investigation. With a national investigation underway, the ICC must yield unless it determines that the investigation is a sham. To the chagrin of many (mostly outside Libya, it seems), Qaddafi will never now see a courtroom in the Hague; neither will whoever killed him.
From the comments: Kevin Jon Heller, who knows as much about the ICC as anyone, believes an investigation into the killing is possible:
Although I share your skepticism that Gaddafi's executioner will ever face prosecution, I don't think the odds are quite as bad as you claim. Don't forget, although the Security Council's Darfur referral was directed at the actions of Bashir's government, not at rebel groups like JEM, Moreno-Ocampo nevertheless brought charges against rebel leaders for their alleged involvement in the murder of 12 Blue Helmets. That was an isolated act, yet Moreno-Ocampo had no hesitation in pursuing it. (And it's important to note, though it's implicit in your post, that the "plan or policy" element is not jurisdictional; it's little more than a suggestion.) Is it really inconceivable that Moreno-Ocampo would charge the murder of Gaddafi along with various crimes committed by the Gaddafi regime? After all, his rebelphilia is legendary...
The West's natural reaction to Russian multilateralism is suspicion, and in particular a fear that whatever project Moscow has in mind is designed to counter Western influence. And Russian rhetoric often feeds that unease. In today's IHT, Raffaello Pantucci and Alexandros Petersen urge the West to get over itself. They insist that Vladimir Putin's new Eurasian Union idea is, at root, a product of Russia's growing unease with Chinese influence in Central Asia. On their view, Moscow has become concerned that the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, in particular, has become a potent vehicle for Chinese economic influence:
The core of Russia’s concerns is the slow but steady progress of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, originally set up in the post-Cold War period to define borders between its five members — China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan ( later joined by Uzbekistan).
But in the last 10 years the S.C.O. has evolved into the most interesting, and perhaps consequential, example of Chinese diplomacy. As a Chinese scholar put it to us the other day in Beijing, the organization went from being focused on regional security to honing in on regional development — a trajectory that accords tidily both with China’s and the Central Asians’ interests.
While nominally an equal partner to all members, Russia has felt like a junior partner in the S.C.O. Once one of the two poles in the world, Russia is now considered among the ranks of new rising powers — not a bad group to be in, but clearly a step down from its previous position in global affairs.
The president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, delivered his State of the Union speech to the European Parliament today. It featured a full-throated call to move beyond intergovernmental negotiations and to vest more power in the suprnational elements of the EU, notably the Commission itself:
It was an illusion to think that we could have a common currency and a single market with national approaches to economic and budgetary policy. Let's avoid another illusion that we can have a common currency and a single market with an intergovernmental approach.
For the euro area to be credible – and this not only the message of the federalists, this is the message of the markets – we need a truly Community approach. We need to really integrate the euro area, we need to complete the monetary union with real economic union. And this truly Community approach can be built how? In the coming weeks, the Commission will...present a proposal for a single, coherent framework to deepen economic coordination and integration, particularly in the euro area. This will be done in a way that ensures the compatibility between the euro area and the Union as a whole....
For all of this to work, we need more than ever the independent authority of the Commission, to propose and assess the actions that the Member States should take. Governments, let's be frank, cannot do this by themselves. Nor can this be done by negotiations between governments.
Indeed, within the Community competences, the Commission is the economic government of the Union, we certainly do not need more institutions for this.
For a reason the Treaties have created supra-national institutions. For a reason the European Commission, the European Central Bank, the European Court of Justice were created. The Commission is the guarantor of fairness. Moreover, the Commission, which naturally works in partnership with the Member States, is voted by and accountable to this House. The directly elected Parliament both of the euro area and of the European Union as a whole.
As Leigh Phillips explains here, Barroso was referencing the long-running policy and academic debate between those who see the European Union primarily as a vehicle for intergovernmental bargaining and those who see it as a fundamentally supranational project. It's not surprising that Barroso ends up on the supranational side of that debate. But his blunt contention that national governments are, on their own, incapable of navigating out of the current crisis is remarkable.
All the anticipation and manuevering surrounding Palestine's membership bid culminated today in the speeches by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In their distinct styles, both leaders gave impassioned speeches and offered theatrical gestures. Abbas waved Palestine's application for full membership and received a thunderous ovation. For his part, Netanyahu challenged Abbas to begin direct negotiations immediately in UN headquarters. "What is there to stop us?" he asked.
Meawnhile, the Quartet was reportedly finalizing a statement that would put the Palestinian membership application on ice while calling for accelerated peace negotiations. Taken together, the last few days of frenetic UN diplomacy have created the distinct impression that the status quo is unsustainable and that something must change--and fast. Players who normally say little about the Middle East peace process have all been forced to take stands on the advisability of the membership push. Various commentators have suggested that the days when the United States could effectively dominate the peace process have ended.
I think that impression is likely wrong. The European Union--desperately trying to save the Euro--has little time or energy to spend on Middle East peace. The Arab world is consumed by internal political change. I don't sense any eagerness on the part of the BRICS to manage Middle East diplomacy. The hothouse atmosphere in New York is therefore deceiving--it has created the impression that an energetic round of newly multilateral Middle East diplomacy is about to break out. In fact, the drama and the theatrics may have had the opposite effect, serving as a form of ritualized political combat that will defuse pressure for action rather than galvanize it.
Behind the standing ovations and the genuine emotion of the debates is a world in turmoil. Key political leaders are distracted. To the extent they are focused on the world, their attention is directed toward avoiding an economic meltdown. The world's leaders had a chance this week to vent their spleens about the Middle East. Barring dramatic events on the ground, that will probably be more than enough for them.
At the International Monetary Fund's headquarters, managing director Christine Lagarde is participating in a BBC World debate on the parlous state of the world economy. Alas, the event began streaming live on the IMF homepage as final preparations for the broadcast were still underway. Lagarde could be heard chatting with former Obama economic advisor Austan Goolsbee about his confirmation hearing (only two senators showed up, he said). Asked by someone to speak for a sound check, Lagarde first counted to five and then could be heard to say, "you're very good looking!" A wisecrack, undoubtedly, but oddly chosen.
The Palestine debate is still consuming most of the oxygen at the UN's annual General Assembly meetings. But the Obama administration is also helping to unveil two new initiatives that signal a flexible approach to multilateralism. The first is the so-called Open Government Partnership, which President Obama formally kicked off yesterday together with Brazil's Dilma Rousseff and a handful of other national leaders (snazzy video here).
The Open Government Partnership is a new multilateral initiative that aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. In the spirit of multi-stakeholder collaboration, OGP is overseen by a steering committee of governments and civil society organizations....To become a member of OGP, participating countries must embrace a high-level Open Government Declaration; deliver a country action plan developed with public consultation; and commit to independent reporting on their progress going forward.
Eight countries (Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, South Africa, United Kingdom, United States) have committed to the program and another thirty have been deemed eligible to participate. Interestingly, Russia is currently eligible while China is not. Those countries that participate conduct regular self-assessments and are reviewed as well by outside observers.
Tomorrow, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will help launch--with Turkey--the second major initiative: a Global Counterterrorism Forum. Like the open government initiative, the counterrorism forum is an attempt to bring together certain key players outside the formal UN structures.
The GCTF is a new multilateral counterterrorism body with 30 founding members (29 countries plus the EU) from around the world and is a major initiative within the Administration's broader effort to build the international architecture for dealing with 21st century terrorism. It will provide a unique platform for senior counterterrorism policymakers and experts from around the world to work together to identify urgent needs, devise solutions and mobilize resources for addressing key counterterrorism challenges. With its primary focus on capacity building in relevant areas, the GCTF aims to increase the number of countries capable of dealing with the terrorist threats within their borders and regions.
The forum is designed to provide a space for senior counterterrorism practitioners to exchange information and expertise. The initiative enters a field that has become understandably crowded at the multilateral level. The UN Security Council already has its own counterterrorism committee, which formed after the 9/11 attacks, and an executive directorate that supports its work. (The UN's structure has received decidedly mixed reviews.) Outside the UN, the G-8 countries formed their own Counter-Terrorism Action Group (CTAG) in July 2003, although much of the energy has gone out of that initiative. CTAG will continue to exist, but all indications are that the new forum will effectively displace it.
The administration is at pains to emphasize that while these programs are not part of the formal UN structure, they do not represent attempts to circumvent the organization. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has endorsed the Open Government Partnership, and I've been told that UN officials were consulted regularly on the counterterrorism initiative.
But both programs clearly reflect an understanding that operating within the formal UN context has severe limitations and that plenty of useful multilateralism can take place outside. The Bush administration tried its own form of ad hoc multilateralism--the Proliferation Security Initiative--which, after a bumpy start, has received good marks from some keen observers. A desire to conduct multilateralism outside the hyper-politicized and byzantine UN structure, it turns out, is bipartisan.
With the Palestinian bid to achieve UN membership approaching a decisive point, it may be worth reviewing some key moments in Palestine's relationship with the world organization:
May 1949: Israel admitted to the United Nations.
Nov. 1970: General Assembly "condemns those Governments that deny the right to self-determination of peoples recognized as being entitled to it, especially of the peoples of southern Africa and Palestine." Beginning at this time, the Assembly passed regular annual resolutions affirming the right of Palestine to self-determination and encouraging all states to achieve that.
Nov. 1974: The General Assembly "invites the Palestine Liberation Organization to participate in the sessions and the work of the General Assembly."
Nov. 1975: General Assembly requests the Security Council "to consider and adopt the necessary resolutions and measures in order to enable the Palestinian people to exercise its inalienable national rights..." In that same session, the Assembly passed the famous resolution declaring zionism to be a form of racism.
Jan. 1976: PLO representative addresses the Security Council.
Dec. 1988: General Assembly "[a]cknowledges the proclamation of the State of Palestine by the Palestine National Council on 15 November 1988...[and] decides that, effective as of 15 December 1988, the designation 'Palestine' should be used in place of the designation 'Palestine Liberation Organization' in the United Nations system, without prejudice to the observer status and functions of the Palestine Liberation Organization within the United Nations system, in conformity with relevant United Nations resolutions and practice."
July 1998: General Assembly "decides to confer upon Palestine, in its capacity as observer, and as contained in the annex to the present resolution, additional rights and privileges of participation in the sessions and work of the General Assembly and the international conferences convened under the auspices of the Assembly or other organs of the United Nations, as well as in United Nations conferences."
I distinctly remember coming across Martin Feldstein's 1997 Foreign Affairs article on European monetary union and all but scoffing. He argued, in essence, that monetary union makes severe political tension and even military conflict more likely in Europe. The article struck me as absurdly gloomy -- a cranky diatribe. A key insight from that article:
A critical feature of the EU in general and [monetary union] in particular is that there is no legitimate way for a member to withdraw. This is a marriage made in heaven that must last forever. But if countries discover that the shift to a single currency is hurting their economies and that the new political arrangements also are not to their liking, some of them will want to leave. The majority may not look kindly on secession, either out of economic self-interest or a more general concern about the stability of the entire union. The American experience with the secession of the South may contain some lessons about the danger of a treaty or constitution that has no exits.
Suffice to say that his take is looking less outlandish today, with senior European officials making pretty similar warnings.
As Josh Rogin reports here, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen formally introduced today her bill on United Nations reform. It's a dreadful bill--more screed than proposed legislation (I made my way through almost the whole draft). It includes lengthy collections of controversial things said by various UN and UN-affiliated folks, mostly about Israel.
At her press conference, the congresswoman pitched the bill as being all about reform. "This bill is about reforming the U.N.; it's not about bashing the U.N.; it's not about taking the U.S. out of the U.N," she insisted. In fact, the draft legislation has relatively little detail on UN management practices but includes plenty of attempts to dictate political outcomes at the UN. In essence, it threatens to pull U.S. funding if the rest of the world doesn't accede to U.S. political preferences on several critical issues.
Fortunately, the bill has almost no chance of passing and is more interesting as a window into the worldview of professional UN-skeptics than as a legislative project. It's worth noting how bizarre a bill like this must appear to much of the world. The United States has vast influence in New York. It has a permament Security Council seat with the veto power. It effectively dictates who the organization's secretaries-general are. Because of consensus practices, Washington has enormous say in how the UN's budget is shaped. And yet to read the bill you would think that the U.S. is powerless, overmatched, and under siege.
I've seen several news reports today indicating that Turkey is planning on lodging a complaint with the International Criminal Court about Israel's Gaza blockade (e.g., here and here). While the references are not very clear, they seem to indicate a misunderstanding of how the ICC works. Turkey cannot bring a complaint to the ICC, in the sense of one party suing another, thereby opening a case that judges decide. The Turkish government can certainly provide information to the prosecutor about alleged crimes (as can individuals and NGOs), but it is only the prosecutor and judges that can decide to open a formal investigation. Moreover, there are several formidable obstacles to ICC involvement. First, it's not clear that the activity Turkey is complaining of fits into one of the defined categories of crimes the ICC can prosecute (a violation of international law broadly speaking isn't enough--the conduct has to constitute a war crimes, crime against humanity or genocide).
Second, there's a major question as to whether the ICC would have jurisdiction. Israel is not an ICC member state and so jurisdiction would have to be based somehow on the territory where the alleged crimes occurred. And that, in turn, opens the question of whether Palestine itself has the standing to acquiesce to ICC jurisdiction. Palestinian representatives have lodged a declaration with the court accepting jursidiction, but the court has not yet decided what force, if any, that declaration has. It appears that the court, like just about everyone else, is waiting to see how events unfold at the United Nations this fall before making any definitive statement.
Update: A reader emails to point out that this Guardian article makes clear the Turkish will be pursuing a remedy at the International Court of Justice, not the ICC, which makes much more sense.
Further update: There would still seem to be jurisdictional problems for the Turkish government at the ICJ. It appears that neither country accepts the compulsory jurisdiction of the court, which means that Turkey would likely need to base jurisdiction on some treaty both countries have signed that provides for ICJ resolution of disputes. Georgia encountered a similar problem in its ICJ case against Russia; the court ultimately found that Georgia's treaty hook couldn't sustain a case.
Former British prime minister Gordon Brown is echoing recent calls by Labour Party leader Ed Miliband to bring together the G-20 leaders:
The G-20, which represents 80% of world output, came into its own in 2009 as the only multilateral body able to coordinate global economic policy. Unfortunately, its member states soon abandoned that goal and defaulted to national solutions. Predictably, going it alone has proven futile in ensuring economic recovery. The G-20’s time has come again. The sooner French President Nicolas Sarkozy calls the G-20 together to act, the better.
It's hard to imagine, as Brown implies, that the impediment to a dramatic G-20 summit is Sarkozy. My sense is that neither the United States nor China see much point in convening an emergency summit without a clear sense of what it will accomplish. In today's Financial Times, Barry Eichengreen, Peter Allen, and Gary Evans offer up a a very concrete task for the group—saving the euro:
[A] facility financed by the G20 and led by the Asian countries, which are flush with funds, should be created to purchase preferred shares in European banks. Asian countries should want to do this: their own stability hinges on the stability of the world economy, of which Europe is a critical part. Moreover, if Europe, with their help, succeeds in drawing a line under its crisis, those preferred shares will be a highly profitable investment. In addition, the G20 should expand the network of central bank swaps. Eurozone banks depend on dollar funding, which the European Central Bank cannot provide.
For all the attention that the race for the new IMF head received, the solution that the authors propose would mark a much more dramatic change in the power structure of that institution. If the emerging powers largely fund a new facility to save the euro, they will acquire a degree of practical and moral ownership of the IMF much greater than they would have acquired by naming a new managing director.
David Bosco reports on the new world order for The Multilateralist.