The Perils of Prejudging the United Nations

As the byzantine diplomacy on Syria continues, one thing is clear. In a dynamic environment, the UN Security Council can move from the cheap seats to center stage very quickly. At least for a moment, the multilateral process that President Obama described as "hocus pocus" is getting another look. The New York Times notes the  sudden shift:

[A] senior White House official said Tuesday that administration officials — who just last week had been dismissing the United Nations as ineffective in the Syrian conflict — had begun working with American allies at the United Nations to further explore the viability of the Russian plan, in which the international community would take control of the Syrian weapons stockpile. 

It's quite possible this will all amount to nothing, and that the West will ultimately strike Syria without the Council's blessing. But the volte-face is a good reminder that blanket judgements on the organization's utility are ill-advised. The Council is an important diplomatic tool but its impact is always going to depend on the particular political dynamics at work. Acknowledging that reality is difficult for both sides of the often overheated debate about the organization. 

The Multilateralist

Pakistan Finally Gets Its IMF Loan

At long last, the International Monetary Fund has approved a new loan for Pakistan. The new package totals almost $7 billion. The last package collapsed amidst disagreement over whether Pakistan was complying with loan conditions and it's taken years to negotiate a new version. Pakistan's Express Tribune provides some context:

It is the 16th programme that Pakistan and the IMF have agreed since 1958.

Both parties have a chequered history, with Islamabad earning the reputation of a one-tranche nation – a veiled reference to the country’s track record of taking loans at critical times but abandoning them prematurely, either because a crisis of balance of payments averts or because further disbursements required some tough policy actions.

The Fund wants plenty of tough action this time as well, particularly on the country's tax system:

[T]o ensure medium-term fiscal sustainability and create fiscal space for social and investment spending, it is important to raise the tax-to-GDP ratio, including by broadening the tax base through a reduction in exemptions and concessions and extending taxation to areas currently not fully covered by the tax net. An overhaul of tax administration is also required, and provinces should contribute fully to the adjustment effort.