Voice

A World Bank insider's thoughts on a new Bank president

A World Bank source sent along some impressions of the talk within the institution about the coming selection of a new Bank president:

On the inside, it's surprising how open everyone is about [current president Robert] Zoellick not being around much longer -- even in his senior meetings people are speaking about the forthcoming 'transition'.  Having said this, there is a minority view that until he is reasonably confident that the eventual Republican nominee has a reasonable shot at winning, he will just stay put.  Regarding Larry Summers, there is now a lot of corridor talk, but people can't believe it's serious -- the NGOs would be all over him after his earlier gaffes at the Bank (famous memo on shipping nuclear waste to developing countries because they have a comparative advantage in absorbing waste) and his gender comments at Harvard.  So I'd say a majority is still watching to see whether Hillary C. comes forward.  Recent talk though seems to suggest that Hillary may swap with Biden to strengthen voter turn-out for the Obama re-election campaign -- in which case the Summers story may become more credible.

More: An informed reader is perplexed by the complacency of the World Bank staff in the face of the opaque selection process--and wonders if it doesn't have to do with U.S. political allegiances:

What surprises me is that the World Bank staff aren't questioning the selection process more. The inside source seems to say that staff aren't calling for a new leadership selection process. Last time around the Bank's Staff Association was instrumental in forcing Wolfowitz to resign through constant pressure, letters, organisation, and activism on what became known as TCS [The Current Situation]. The staff could be very influential.

So what is keeping them in their place? Over at the IMF it wasn't surprising that a staff with a plurality of people from Europe weren't going to be very loud about breaking the habit of a European in charge. But the Bank does not have that many US citizens as staff... Could it be that the staff actually longs for a US Democratic appointee? Not that this would placate Congress much, but would it be more in line with most staff opinion - firmly in the new Democratic camp?

The Multilateralist

Indecision time for the Arab League

As the mandate for the Arab League's controversial observer mission in Syria runs out, it appears that the organization is set to give it new life:

The Arab League is likely to extend the organization’s observer mission in Syria, after several nations that had been opposed to renewing the mandate changed their position in recent days, two League officials said Friday.

Foreign ministers for the 22-member pan-Arab body were set to meet Sunday in Cairo to discuss the future of a one-month observer mission aimed at halting violence in Syria, which expired on Thursday.

Two senior officials in the League said the discussions are leaning toward keeping the mission in place because the time is not right for “escalation” and the international community is not yet ready for intervention in Syria.

Note the onus shifting that is underway between the international community and the regional organization. Important players on the Security Council insist that the Arab League should have the lead; meanwhile, the Arab League now says it will continue its manifestly inadequate response in part because the international community is not ready to intervene. We could play this game for months. The dynamic is a good reminder that for all their benefits, multilateral mechanisms can also be quite effective tools for blame-shifting and avoiding responsibility.  

Meanwhile, as if the Arab League doesn't have adequate means for temporizing, leading human rights figure Aryeh Neier has a suggestion for the organization: establish an Arab criminal tribunal. It's a suggestion that reflects the human rights movement's powerful faith in the ability of international tribunals to create change on the ground, even in the midst of active conflict:

One way to intervene with the aim of securing legitimacy and minimizing further bloodshed would be for the Arab League to establish a tribunal modeled on the International Criminal Court (ICC). Such a tribunal would have Arab judges, prosecutors, investigators, and defense attorneys, and it would conduct its proceedings in Arabic. It would have jurisdiction over the crimes that are spelled out in the ICC’s statute, and it would operate in accordance with the ICC’s procedures.

The ICC itself does not have jurisdiction over Syria, because the country is not a party to the treaty that established and governs the Court. Moreover, it seems likely that Russia, perhaps joined by China, would use its veto power in the United Nations Security Council to block referral of Syria to the ICC.

Though it would take time for an ad hoc Arab tribunal to be formed and to reach the point at which it could issue indictments, Syrian military commanders would immediately be put on notice that they could face prosecution for their actions against protesters. Indeed, the Arab League could strengthen the incentive to end the killings by determining that priority would be given to prosecuting those who commit additional crimes after the adoption of a resolution to establish such a tribunal.

Given that the Yugoslav tribunal, established during the darkest days of the Bosnia war, was a clear attempt by the major powers to avoid the action needed to prevent further bloodshed--and given the failure of that tribunal to deter Srebrenica and Kosovo--I find it remarkable that Neier is willing to offer the Arab League a similar fig leaf for inaction.