Voice

Obama's budget and the International Monetary Fund

The Obama administration's just released budget includes something that close observers of the International Monetary Fund have long awaited. It requests a transfer of funds necessary for the United States to implement the 2010 reform package. That deal was designed both to expand fund resources and to shift some voting power toward emerging powers. It hasn't gone into effect yet -- in large part because Washington hasn't done its homework. Just last month, Congressional appropriators rejected an administration request to take the necessary steps. 

When the IMF reform deal was struck in 2010, it was touted as an important step in adjusting the world's institutional architecture to new realities. The reform would, for example, make China the fund's third largest shareholder. Unsurprisingly, the administration is not advertising that fact to Congress. In fact, the budget narrative frames the measure almost entirely as an exercise in maintaining U.S. privileges:  

The Budget includes provisions to implement the December 2010 IMF agreement by increasing the U.S. quota in the IMF by approximately $63 billion and simultaneously reducing by an equal amount U.S. participation in the New Arrangements to Borrow (NAB), in addition to instituting other reforms that the United States has sought.  The NAB is a set of standing IMF borrowing arrangements with 38 members and institutions to supplement IMF resources as needed to respond to financial crises that threaten the stability of the global financial system.  The 2010 agreement results in no overall change in U.S. financial participation in the IMF, while preserving U.S. veto power and restoring the primacy of the IMF’s quota-based capital structure in which the United States has the largest share.

Because the United States is shifting funds from an already existing IMF credit line to its new quota, the move isn't really a new expenditure. Nancy Birdsall of the Center for Global Development explains the technicalities here:

Here’s the short version of why this won’t cost American tax payers any new money: In 2009 the United States committed $100 billion to a special fund at the IMF to help stave off panic in global markets following the Lehman Brothers crash. The United States can participate in the quota increase by simply shifting $65 billion from the special fund into the formal, permanent IMF quota reserves. The result: while most other members are making new commitments to double their quotas, the US retains its current proportionate "quota share" at no cost.

As this Bloomberg story documents, however, even this seemingly minor request faces plenty of skepticism on Capitol Hill:

The timing of the request, which would implement a global agreement that would double the IMF’s lending capacity to $717 billion, is less than ideal as Congress grapples with the effects of automatic spending cuts known as sequestration. What’s more, the IMF needs new champions on Capitol Hill after the departure of two longtime supporters, Republican Senator Richard Lugar and Democratic Representative Barney Frank.  

The Multilateralist

Chad's awkward neighbor

Ever since the International Criminal Court indicted Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir in March 2009, the question of where and when he would travel has been a dark parlor game for those interested in international justice. Soon after the indictment, Bashir left Sudan to visit Eritrea. His peregrinations have now included Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, China, Ethiopia, United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Malawi, and Libya. Key foreign leaders, including South Africa's Jacob Zuma (pictured above) have also greeted Bashir on his home court.  

Bashir's travels have a particular punch when the destination is a country that has joined the ICC. According to the Rome Statute, member states have a legal obligation to arrest Bashir if he sets foot on their soil. He's now traveled several times in defiance of that threat, including to Djibouti, Kenya, and Malawi. Each time, the court has filed a protest with the U.N. Security Council, which does precisely nothing. However, international justice activists roar their disapproval and insist that the receiving governments are flouting their legal obligations and, more broadly, encouraging impunity.

That dynamic is playing out again this week. Chad, which has welcomed Bashir several times before, has invited him to attend a regional conference. It's expected that he will arrive today, although there are also rumors that the conference will be delayed. Watchful human rights groups have blasted out their press releases condemning the trip. It's not hard to understand the outrage. Bashir has allegedly masterminded a campaign of abuses and ethnic cleansing not only in Darfur, but also now in Blue Nile and South Kordofan. Chad's own government is deeply flawed and has been accused of a variety of human rights-violations.

But consider for a moment Chad's position. It shares a nearly 600-mile long border with Sudan. The countries have clashed militarily on several occasions. As recently as 2008, rebels operating from Chad staged an attack on the outskirts of Khartoum. Since that time, Khartoum and N'Djamena have struggled to build better relations. Chad's president made a rare visit to Khartoum in 2010 to help solidify the warming trend, and the countries formally reopened border crossings that same year. Leaving security issues aside, Chad and Sudan have critical economic, demographic, and social links.

Both governments are deeply flawed, but there are still important human benefits to them maintaining decent relations. Face-to-face presidential contact may be an important element in that effort. Instead, justice activists are demanding that Chad rebuff and humiliate a neighboring head of state in the interests of "international justice." It doesn't require a lot of imagination to see how Chad's leadership might conclude that the interests of its own people are best served by ignoring the arrest warrant from the Hague. And given the stakes in preserving decent relations between these states, it's not hard to make a plausible moral argument that they're right to do so.

More: A smart diplomat from a country that belongs to and supports the ICC writes in with this observation on Chad's behavior:

I actually fully sympathize with the notion that Chad indeed has a lot at stake in its relations with Sudan, and therefore might as well be nice to Mr. Bashir. My main problem with Chad is that they are—as far as I know—not making your argument (which is a very good one), but instead are hiding behind the African Union decision on non-cooperation. They are also not taking the formal steps necessary under the Rome Statute, which is to consult with the Court when they cannot execute an arrest warrant, but keep ignoring the Court. I think Chad might have a good shot at getting recognition of its very peculiar situation by the ICC, if it would attempt to make the argument in a proper way and in good faith.

Government of South Africa