India's least favorite World Bank report

The BRICS countries are summitting next week in South Africa, and the festivities will focus on the optimistic themes of "partnership, integration and industrialization." The BRICS may be a rising force in international economics but, at least according to the World Bank, they're still pretty bad at helping small businesses get off the ground.

Via the annual Doing Business report, the Bank and the International Finance Corporation track the regulatory and other obstacles small businesses face and rank countries accordingly. In the latest version of the report, only new BRICS member South Africa scored decently, coming in at 39 out of 185. China ranked 91st, Russia was 112, Brazil tagged behind at 130, and India pulled up the rear at 132.    

The poor BRICS showing—and what their representatives claim are methodological problems—has led several members to question whether the Bank should give the report its imprimatur. A few years ago, Brazil's World Bank representative was particularly critical. Now, India appears to be leading the charge. Speaking in Washington, an Indian finance ministery official recently reiterated Delhi's concerns:

Arvind Mayaram, Secretary at the Department of Economic Affairs in the Indian government’s Finance Ministry, said during a speech here that the methodology adopted by the World Bank’s “Doing Business” report, in which India was ranked 132 out of 185, was “not proper” and that the Indian government had formally written a letter of complaint to the Bank to this effect. Speaking at the Indian embassy here, Mr. Mayaram said: “I think that the methodology used by institutions like the World Bank have to be much more robust... There is an issue”.

U.S. Embassy Delhi

The Multilateralist

NATO's mixed Syria signals

Senior NATO officials have been sending somewhat confused signals about where the alliance stands on Syria. At yesterday's U.S. Senate hearing, NATO commander James Stavridis acknowledged that states in the alliance are considering military options in Syria:

Stavridis, who is retiring soon, said a number of NATO nations are looking at a variety of military operations to end the deadlock and assist the opposition forces, including using aircraft to impose a no-fly zone, providing military assistance to the rebels and imposing arms embargoes...

“We are prepared if called upon to be engaged as we were in Libya,” he said.

[W]ithin individual member countries, the admiral said, “there’s a great deal of discussion” about lethal support to Syria, no-fly zones, arms embargoes and more. “It is moving individually within the nations, but it has not yet come into NATO as an overall NATO-type approach,” he said.

In response to a question from Senator John McCain, the alliance's top military officer offered support to those who have advocated arming Syria's rebels: Stavridis told McCain that military aid to rebel forces could help break the current deadlock. That has been an important point of contention in recent weeks. Certain NATO members, including Germany, have argued that weapons for the rebels would only intensify the violence and encourage the regime's supporters -- and Russia, in particular -- to increase their military support.  

Stavridis did include important caveats about any alliance role in Syria. Most significantly, he said that U.N. Security Council approval would be a prerequisite for involvement. In fact, Stavridis appeared to pose a daunting triple multilateral test: Council approval, regional agreement, and NATO unanimity. At the moment, of course, it's highly unlikely the Council would endorse any Western intervention.

Caveats notwithstanding, Stavridis' comments are still in tension with recent remarks by NATO's political chief, Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Only a few weeks ago, Rasmussen told EUObserver that intervention would likely make things worse:

"It is my firm belief that any foreign military intervention would have unpredictable repercussions because Syrian society is very complicated, politically, ethnically, religiously and the regional context is very, very complex," Rasmussen noted.

"Foreign military intervention might not lead to a solution to the conflict, [it] might even make things worse," he added.

And while Stavridis argued that arming rebel forces could break the bloody stalemate, Rasmussen this week pointedly declined to enter into the debate on arming opposition forces. It's not surprising that senior alliance officials are having a difficult time coordinating their remarks. They face the devilish task of representing the diverse views of the alliance's 28 members, some of which are evolving almost daily. But there does appear to be a gap between the views of the alliance's top military officer and its political chief.