The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Not a good day in international politics

October 20, 2005

One of the main reasons I started blogging was to force me to keep up with current events. I spend so much time reading history and social theory that I often lose track of why I wanted to study international relations in the first place. Sometimes, however, the news just isn’t all that good, as it was last night.

The worst news continues to come out of South Asia, where reports place the death toll at over 79,000. Foreign aid remains inadequate – both in size and speed.

The spread of bird flu remains the most pressing “nightmare scenario” for widespread global death and destruction. The AP reports the detection of H5N1 in the Tula region, while the BBC notes increasing panic in Europe and Asia, but also reports that “Hungary says it has developed a new vaccine that appears to protect humans and animals against the virus.”

When I see news organizations write “Hungary develops a new vaccine that protects humans and animals against the virus” and not place the news in the third paragraph of the story, I’ll be a bit more excited.

The news from South Asia, as well as the continuing threat posed by global pandemics, really needs to be stacked up against recent findings about trends in deaths resulting from warfare. As Ivo Daalderwrites:

Wars have become dramatically less deadly over the past five decades. The average number of people reported killed per conflict per year in 1950 was 38,000; in 2002 it was just 600–a decline of 98%.

From a cosmopolitan perspective and from the vantage point of enlightened self-interest, the implications for how we allocate our resources are interesting. I’m something of a hawk on defense policy, but I’m not convinced we’re getting good “bang for our buck” (sorry, couldn’t resist).

Meanwhile, bad news out of the WTO talks. According to Reuters,

Negotiations on a global trade pact risk collapse, the United States and the European Union both warned on Wednesday, after trading powers failed to resolve their differences over farm reform.

Agriculture lies at the heart of the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) Doha Round and the pressure has been on the European Union since the United States last week seized the initiative with an offer of sweeping subsidy cuts.

But with France digging in against concessions, the EU has struggled to produce a plan for opening up its lucrative farm market that comes anywhere near meeting the demands of the United States and others.

“It is time for the EU to step forward (with an offer) or bear the responsibility for derailing the Doha Round,” U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman (news, bio, voting record) told Reuters shortly after the trade talks ended with no progress.

A spokesman for EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson acknowledged that the EU had put nothing new on the table and said without movement soon there will be no chance of a global deal by a December deadline.

That’s not all the French have been up to. Chirac’s still making nice with everyone’s favorite Latin American firebrand, Hugo Chavez. The story should be familiar by now: French economic interests in Venezuela combine, perhaps irresistibly, with a chance to tweak the United States.

Chavez may be one of those problems that the US helped make for itself. I don’t have any love for the man, and particularly for his fondness for destabilizing his neighbors, but I do think the US should’ve waited longer before making it clear that Chavez was an enemy. A defter touch would’ve made it easier to handle current developments, and might even have averted some of the worst neo-Castroism we’re seeing now.

Finally, the US may have opted out of the ICC, but that hasn’t done anything to insulate our troops from universal jurisdiction, apparently.

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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.