Tag: international organizations

Miss Universe is Like Other International Organizations…except the members are half naked

Last week Dan Drezner asked What Does Miss Universe Tell us About World Politics in 2013? The post starts off on a positive note- that one can find politics anywhere- before it descends into one of the most classic examples of gender-avoidance/oblivion I’ve read in ages. Drezner swiftly calls on “the most qualified person on earth” to outsource engaging on a lady topic write the remaining post. I felt like I was back at uni and my male professor had brought in a female body (any female body) to teach the week on gender. Sure she has a PhD and was Miss Earth- and she does have a unique perspective on pageants; however, since when do we need an insider to write about the politics of an issue (Drezner didn’t rely on a Russian, for example, to substantiate his earlier comments about Putin and Russia).

  • Do we still need ladies to comment on lady issues Drezner?

The post descends further into the gender abyss as Jessica Trisko Darden tells us that pageants are sort of like other international political events and that the organization itself is similar to familiar international organizations: “The decision-making process is opaque, often contested, and in many ways reflect the underlying power relations and interests of the dominant countries.” Sure, I’m with you. Miss Universe is like the Olympics, or the Rugby World Cup- there is entertainment and politics happening at the same time. Got it. The post then mentions some slight problems with the organization, including institutional racism vis a vis excluding African delegates from a fashion show. And then, the post ends. That’s it. Like my professors over a decade ago, Drezner doesn’t come back in at the end of the lecture to engage with the content and he certainly doesn’t address the half-naked ladies elephant in the room: that pageants are different from other entertainment/political events in that they involve (largely men) judging the esthetics of one WOMAN who is meant to embody each country. Good lord, if you can’t find and name the gender and race politics of Miss Universe where will you ever be able to find them? Skinny, straight, long-haired women parading in romantic, caricature costumes of their nation (you will never see Miss Canada wearing a replica uniform from the Indigenous residential schools- but you might see them in some phony universalized Native-American costume, for example)….and you don’t think to write about gender and race? You missed the politics completely Drezner (and I’m holding you accountable, not your guest lecturer). Let’s drop the useless comparison to other international organizations and talk about a few ways the pageant is political: Continue reading


Can Kofi Annan Build Democratic Time?

Patient voters in Zimbabwe, from The Guardian 2008.

Democracy sits in time. It is a looping circuit of accountability between leaders and led. Voters authorise leaders to act on certain problems. Through everyday experience and media reports those voters can track if the leaders are doing what they said they’d do. Another election comes around and voters can stick or twist, authorising another set of actions. The loop of democracy creates expectations about what everyone should be doing and when. Everyone knowing and following this temporality is a necessary condition for democracy to work. Given that all but 11 countries have held elections since 2000, we live in a world of democratic loops.

At the publication of a new report on strengthening democracies today, Kofi Annan was challenged to think about how democracy can be strengthened at different times. The report, Deepening Democracy: A Strategy for Improving the Integrity of Elections Worldwide, was conducted by the Global Commission on Elections, Democracy & Security and published by the Kofi Annan Foundation. While there is unlikely to be any global consensus of what integrity, transparency or democracy mean, the Commission hopes that its recommendations can be taken up in different countries in the coming years, and that it might inform whatever programme emerges in 2015 to succeed the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. The group Annan leads make explicit connections between democracy and development. In the report they write, ‘elections with integrity matter for empowering women, fighting corruption, delivering services to the poor, improving governance, and ending civil wars’. Consequently, the actions this group recommend on ‘deepening democracy’ may have knock on effects on much broader issues of welfare and sustainability. This makes their attempts to shape the temporality of democracy important for the temporality of those broader issues.

Democracy can move too quickly, for some. Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Egypt rushed to hold elections when their institutions and social norms were not ready, were immature, were weak, leading to unpleasant outcomes that impugn democracy’s name. While it is understandable people may wish to mark a new beginning in their societies, should they not have waited until their democratic governance was ready? To these charges, Mr. Annan’s group said that all the international community can do is be positive and supportive. It should not immediately condemn a society, nor judge it by the standards of established democracies. There is a need for patience, to be there for the long haul; imagine if the international community had given up on Burma?

Democracy can move too slowly, for others. Isn’t the significance of elections diminishing in a world where social media campaigns allow citizens to hold elected officials accountable on a continual basis? Let’s face it: elections are an industry. They give politicians a chance to control their relationship to citizens. They give political scientists easy case studies on which to build careers. Long ago, the loop of accountability got lost along the way. And perhaps, when an election is years away but officials are performing badly, it is sometimes necessary to short-circuit the loop! Here Mr. Annan agreed to some extent. There need to be ways to hold leaders to account between elections, and this is where civil society is vital. By sustaining pressure between elections, it is possible for citizens, journalists and activists to signal to leaders that they can expect the same pressure after the next election, he said. Social media enables more rapid, flexible campaigns. Corrupt officials can be thrown out at any time.

What emerged from the discussion was a commitment to the integrity of elections over the integrity of democracy more generally. It is perhaps more straightforward for an international body of experts such as Mr. Annan’s Global Commission to focus on elections than on the slow between-times. Mr. Annan recognised these between-times matter, but only committed to encourage civil society to exert pressure on leaders and to recognise the potential of social media campaigns. Elections offer the more tangible prospect of rules, institutions and practices that can be easily identified and improved. If the Global Commission can shore up the integrity of these moments, then the loops in-between may be more secure. If, at election time, the influence of money and clientilist relations can be replaced by rule of the law and genuine inter-party competition, this may cultivate the continual political culture of democracy the group advocate.

Even if that is the case, does the group’s focus on democratic process obscure the importance of the content of democratic politics? Democracy for what, time for what? Elections matter because their inter-connected character allows parties to be held to account for the substantive gains of wealth, security, quality of life, or whatever else they have promised. But surely democracy requires plural political parties to make different promises. It is no place for the Global Commission to begin prescribing substantive policy goals to any country’s parties. However, we began with the proposition that the looping time of accountability is a necessary condition for democracy to work. If the content of party programmes does not deliver then is democratic time sufficient?

Cross posted from Global Policy: https://www.globalpolicyjournal.com


Quarter-Baked Idea: The Post-Cold War Concert System

This is the first in what may become an occasional series. Over the last year or two, I’ve drifted out of regular blogging. The usual excuses apply: too much work and not enough energy. I am so badly behind on a number of book chapters, manuscript revisions, and the like that the simple act of writing this explanation feels like a misuse of my time. Well, anyway, so my notion is this: write short posts designed to provoke discussion of various issues in international relations and international-relations theory. We’ll see if it works.

For the last decade or more, unipolarity has been the basic framework in security studies for understanding contemporary international order. We’ve debated about the general stability of unipolarity. We’ve argued about whether the character of American leadership impacts that stability. And we’ve spent–and continue to spend–an enormous amount of time contemplating the power-transition dynamics associated with the rise of China.

I wonder, though, if our unipolarity fixation obscures some important aspects of post-Cold War security order. In the early 1990s another image of world politics seemed plausible: that of a new great-power concert. After all, the United Nations was constructed with an embedded concert architecture via the United Nations Security Council, and the 1991 Gulf War suggested a reinvigoration of that latent aspect of international order.

The standard story is that those hopes were dashed by retreat from Somalia, the Rwanda debacle, NATO expansion, NATO’s intervention in Kosovo, and so forth. Renewed optimism–at least those who favored such an arrangement, including Moscow–after 9/11 quickly gave way to talk of “American Empire” as the Bush Administration mobilized to invade Iraq. Thus, most recent discussions of a great-power concert have been forwarded looking. In essence, foreign-policy pundits debate whether the US should pursue some kind of new capital-c Concert  as the fundamental component of a post-Iraq grand strategy. Sometimes the Concert in question is supposed to be composed of democratic states, and other times not.
Continue reading


The Security Council and Norm Creation

It’s easy to think of the Security Council as essentially a reflection of great power interests when we see outcomes such as the failure of a resolution calling for President Assad’s departure.

However I am re-reading Cora True-Frost‘s article on the other side of the Security Council this week, and thought I’d flag this article as an excellent example of scholarship about the power and politics of such international organizations as norm consumers / diffusers. In short, her work reminds us that the UNSC not only sometimes wields (through its members and procedures) institutional and coercive power, but (even when no action is take) it also wields significant productive power in global society.

True-Frost’s argument is really about norms, not institutions, but the paper details the Security Council’s role as a pivot in Marty Finnemore and Kathryn Sikkink’s “norm life cycle” argument. F/S argue that for norms to “cascade” they must be accepted by a wide variety of both states and international organizations. The argument dovetails with my work and that of Cliff Bob on the significance of institutional “superpowers” in specific issue areas “adopting” norms as a means of socializing states. For Cliff, these “gatekeepers” can be NGOs; I’ve found that depending on the issue area the most highly central organizations may also be international secretariats. In either case, for new ideas to proliferate through the fabric of global society they must be adopted and carried by a wide variety of international bureaucracies in the issue area associated with the new norm.

Finnemore and Sikkink do not develop a theory of how socialization of “network hubs” by norm-entrepreneurs works, and that’s where my new book picks up. I’ve been building on Cliff Bob’s gatekeeper model which sees hubs as agenda-vetters, but the language of True-Frost’s model is that organizations like the UNSC might be better understood as “norm consumers.” That is, they are inherently receptive to new ideas and have evolved over time to incorporate this agenda-carrying function into their mandate.

The examples she provides are the thematic resolutions on Threats to International Peace and Security (TIPS) resolutions, including those on protection of civilians, women peace and security, children and armed conflict, HIV-AIDS, peacekeeping and the like. These are human-security related resolutions that both set the agenda for specific issue areas and legitimize/reproduce the concept of human security within the Security Council architecture. These resolutions also result from a process that tends to be more open to advocacy networks and epistemic communities – the sorts of actors from which new ideas often percolate to the highest levels of international society.

For my project, what interests me is some of the theoretical distinctions she’s drawing (is she describing norm production or simply issue proliferation? I think there’s a difference) and her ideas about the nature of the relationship between the SC as an institution and other human security-minded entities through which ideas percolate before they take root in the discursive fabric of international society.

For Duck readers, this post is just a rambling reminder that in between thinking of the Security Council as a reflection of power politics and/or a failed and defunct institution in need of reform, we should remember its productive as well as institutional power. This power – including the power to legitimate the concept of human security – accounts for the fact that the UNSC now considered internal human rights violations as a threat to international peace and security worthy of a debate at all.


Travel Notes From The Human Rights Frontier

Guest Post by Joel Oestreich

A few days ago I met the woman in the attached photograph. Her name is Karima. She is a college graduate who was born a male and, at 21, had gender reassignment surgery. Some time later she entered the “Miss Transgender India” contest and took fifth place. Her boyfriend, out of jealousy, set her on fire (her neck, torso, and upper arms show terrible scars) and broke her leg so badly that she can no longer stand unassisted.

After that experience, Karima joined a group of “hijra”. In India, hijra are communities of transgendered people who identify as women or who have actually had sex-change surgery. Shunned, or worse, by society, they survive largely by begging, by dancing and giving (or withholding) blessings at weddings, or through sex work. They normally have few other employment options, and can expect little protection from government and the police. Usually groups of hijra are led by “gurus” who exploit the “chelas”, or disciples, under them, taking their earnings and forcing them into sex work.

I met Karima because she was participating in a program, run by a local NGO and sponsored by the UN Development Programme, to teach the transgender community about their civil rights. The training, which took place over two weeks in the city of Raipur in Chhattisgarh state, included talks and exercises on legal remedies, community organizing, right to information issues, and petitioning for government action. It also had psychological social workers talk about building self-esteem, and an effort to build job skills. The NGO is talking to employers about finding jobs for hijras.

Why is the UN sponsoring such programs? The idea of a “human rights based approach to development” began with talk about many economic and social rights – the right to food, shelter, education – but has led UN agencies increasingly towards promoting civil and political rights as well. That means working with marginalized groups such as lower castes and untouchables, indigenous (“tribal”) peoples, and even hijra. It also means promoting social change, and challenging government power. This happens at the highest level – where, for example, UN agencies have quietly pushed back against Indian government opposition to providing aid in areas held by Maoist rebels – and at the local level – where NGO workers on UNDP projects have been roughed up for promoting lower-caste rights. Of course the UN agencies understand their limits, and in the past UN officials have been asked to leave – quietly – for speaking of rights too much. But its no longer a taboo topic.

There’s no upbeat ending to Karima’s story. This tiny project in one state is hardly likely to change very many lives; it’s a pinprick in the vast social fabric of India. True reform will require Indian action, not anything the UN can do. But it points to interesting changes in how human rights are pursued by the UN system. And is indicative of how the very meaning of development has undergone a transformation internationally.
Joel Oestreich is Associate Professor in the Department of History and Politics at Drexel University and the author of Power and Principle: Human Rights Programming in International Organizations. He is currently traveling in India on a Fulbright Fellowship.


En Garde, Lagarde

I happened to be walking up 19th Street in downtown DC today in the early afternoon. Numerous media vans were parked along the road, and the sidewalks between F and H Streets were filled with eager reporters and bemused staff, obviously enjoying a long lunch break. A stranger, clearly new to the area, came up to me and asked, “Do you know where 700 19th Street is?”

Me: “Are you looking for the IMF?”

Lost stranger (from the UN in New York, as it turned out): “Yes, I am,”

Me: “You just missed it. It’s the big gray building with the excited crowd and throng of cameras in front of it.”

Lost Stranger: “Oh, what’s going on?”

Me: “They’re getting ready to announce the new Managing Director.”

Lost Stranger: “Really? You mean that lady? Is that a big deal?”

Me: “Yes, that lady – Christine Lagarde. And it is a big deal.”

My answer actually surprised me. I had taken it as a foregone conclusion during the last several weeks that Christine Lagarde would be the next IMF Managing Director. Over the past two days, this became even more evident as Lagarde won endorsements first from China and then the US. It thus wasn’t a shock when the Executive Board chose Lagarde today over her competitor, Mexican economist Agustin Carstens. So what’s the big deal?

The big deal is that, despite her French roots, Christine Lagarde does represent a real change at the IMF. Putting a women at the helm of any international organization today is a noteworthy achievement. Quick – how many female IO leaders can you name off the top of your head?

Putting a women in charge of the IMF is even more remarkable. The IMF, as many have noted, is a very masculine, hierarchical organization with a marine-like culture. Yet there are women who work for the IMF (I have met many of them, and they are amazing). There are even women who have reached the near-top of the managerial ranks, such as former Deputy Managing Director Anne Krueger and current Deputy Managing Director Nemat Shafik (who, after only a few weeks on the job, was sent to represent the IMF in an important European trip shortly after Strauss-Kahn’s arrest in New York in May). Certainly, being a women in charge of such a male-dominated organization will be difficult, but it is not an insurmountable obstacle.

So gender will not be Lagarde’s biggest challenge in leading the Fund. Instead, here are a few thoughts on the bigger hurdles that Madame MD will face in the coming months:

First, Lagarde is going to have to prove that she can be unbiased in leading the IMF in the ongoing bailout of Europe. Many have questioned the appropriateness (perhaps even an explicit conflict of interest) of putting a French finance minister in charge of the IMF at this time. Lagarde will assume the post of Managing Director next Tuesday, and her first task will be to drive home the joint rescue package for Greece, which is bound to attract criticism no matter how austere or lax the bailout turns out to be. Will she be able to deliver the tough love and stand her ground against her former European colleagues?

Second, Lagarde will need to demonstrate that merit – not nationality – should indeed be the basis of leadership selection at the IMF. In her own speech before the Board last week, she reminded the Executive Directors that when she was on the Board of Governors at the IMF, she went on the record in support of an open leadership selection process. There will be pressure for her to put some muscle behind this statement, perhaps by appointing a non-American to replace John Lipsky as First Deputy Managing Director. [On this, see Mohamed El-Erian’s op-ed in today’s Financial Times. See also Stephen Richter’s suggestion that Carstens receive a consolation prize in the form of Lipsky’s number two spot, although it is not at all clear that Carstens would want this].

Third, Lagarde will have to win over the IMF staff. This is especially important when major change within the Fund is needed to address serious weaknesses in the organization’s relevance and effectiveness in critical areas such as its surveillance functions and financial sector expertise. There is no doubt that Lagarde has superb managerial skills and is by all accounts extremely charming. This will be an asset in her role as political figure in high level negotiations and in representing the IMF in the public arena. But inside the IMF, it may be a different story. One of Lagarde’s biggest deficits, as Martin Wolf recently argued, is that she is not actually an economist. She is a lawyer. And in an organization dominated by highly trained economists, her inability to debate the finer details of academic theories and models may make it very difficult for her to earn street cred and push for change within the walls of 700 19th Street.

(KW note: thanks to CP for today’s blog title)


Why the Geneva Conventions Need a Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism

Someone recently asked me whether, in the wake of the Richard Goldstone’s qualifications of his infamous report, the UN was losing its credibility to issue fact-finding studies on humanitarian law violations.

In my view, no matter how “credibly” a study is conducted, it is vulnerable to such critiques under the existing system – in which all humanitarian law reporting is partial, ad hoc and selective. That’s because unlike other international regimes, the Geneva Conventions comes with no official monitoring body.

At Foreign Affairs, I discuss this at more length and argue that it could and should be changed:

When the conventions were created, they were meant to be self-enforcing: signatories pledged that their own troops would follow the rules and agreed to bear primary responsibility for monitoring and punishing violations. But the treaties establish no independent organization to monitor compliance with the Geneva Conventions in real time, investigate alleged crimes after the fact, or produce even-handed analyses of each actor’s conduct measured against baseline humanitarian standards set by the treaties.

Without an independent monitoring mechanism capable of making informed, systematic, nonpartisan claims about what has happened on the ground, it is all too easy for countries to exploit the gray areas in humanitarian law. Consider drone attacks in Pakistan, which are criticized for having an undue impact on civilians. No independent body is responsible for systematically counting how many civilian casualties they cause. Nor is there any international institution to aggregate other relevant numbers — for example, civilian casualties from non-aerial attacks worldwide — for comparison. Instead, journalists and think tanks produce wildly conflicting estimates, relying on non-comparable sources and talking past one another. The discussion over drone use is thus stalemated, and it is left to the allegedly offending government to determine whether, in its estimation, its actions are justified.

An independent, multilateral monitoring agency tied to the Geneva Conventions could begin to fill this reporting gap. Such an organization would ultimately need to be designed by states through a negotiated consensus, but it is not too hard to envision what it could look like. Its role could be not to judge or condemn but to report; its data, a gold standard for courts, governments, NGOs, and scholars. The agency could be staffed not by lawyers and advocates but forensic specialists, statisticians, social scientists, and criminal investigators. It could include a mechanism for receiving and investigating confidential reports from soldiers who witnessed war law violations, filling a serious gap in the Geneva regime by formalizing war-crimes whistle-blowing. By limiting its mandate to objective reporting and requiring it to conduct rigorous and systematic investigations in every situation that meets a legally defined threshold for armed conflict, states would have less reason to fault the results of its investigations.

Read the whole article here.

[cross-posted at Lawyers, Guns and Money]


UNSC Resolution 1970: Wait, did the UN just kinda do what it was supposed to?

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1970 is a pretty amazing document. Over the last few days I’ve found myself trying to decide if this a rare example of the UN Security Council doing what it was originally designed to do – or an example of an international organization working because there is a relatively powerless state with no allies involved. I suspect it’s probably both.

Still, I’ve been following The Multilateralist blog over at Foreign Policy and I think David Bosco has it just about right:

Last night, the UN Security Council passed unanimously a resolution imposing an asset freeze and travel ban on Libya’s ruling elite, and also referring the situation to the International Criminal Court. None of these measures is unprecedented: the Council has used asset freezes and targeted sanctions with increasing frequency in recent years, and it referred the case of Sudan to the ICC in 2005. But the scope, speed and unanimity of the resolution are remarkable.

I think this last line is a very significant point – even if it’s about a relatively straightforward situation in Libya, 1970 is a comprehensive resolution that was passed quickly and unanimously. Even more remarkably, China, Russia and the United States voted for it (no abstentions) even if it has the power to potentially put Gaddafi on trial at the ICC – an institution they’re not all entirely chummy with.

Clearly this will not solve all of the problems in Libya, but I also don’t believe it is merely an impotent angry-worded letter that critics often speak of. And there are a few things in here that I think are interesting and worth highlighting…

First, the ICC referral. On the surface this isn’t unique, but (as I mentioned above) it is still rather interesting that ALL states on the UNSC agreed to it. The operative clause goes that the UNSC….

4. Decides to refer the situation in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya since 15 February 2011 to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court;

But the reasons why China, Russia, the US, India, (etc) probably found this acceptable can be found in the 6th clause of the resolution:

6. Decides that nationals, current or former officials or personnel from a State outside the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya which is not a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court shall be subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of that State for all alleged acts or omissions arising out of or related to operations in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya established or authorized by the Council, unless such exclusive jurisdiction has been expressly waived by the State;

In other words, if a citizen of the US, Russia, China, India (etc) is somehow involved in crimes against humanity, the ICC will not have jurisdiction over them (or any non-ICC national.) It will be interesting to see if this results in anyone getting away with some nasty stuff.

Additionally, Bosco makes an interesting observation on this point:

But it is notable that the resolution references (although in a non-operative paragraph [ed: this means in the preamble, before ‘Action under Chapter VII]) Article 16 of the Rome Statute, which gives the Council the power to suspend ICC investigations if it believes doing so would advance peace and security. It’s not immediately obvious to me why a resolution referring a situation to the court would emphasize this provision. It’s possible that China, the United States and others particularly skeptical of an untethered ICC simply wanted to emphasize the Council’s power to reel in the court. But it could also be a signal that the Council would consider stopping the ICC process in exchange for the peaceful transfer of power.

This is interesting. There has been some criticism of the ICC that its activities in Africa are actually hindering rather than helping resolve conflicts. So would the threat of a prosecution actually give any incentive for Gaddafi to surrender? And would ICC advocates be satisfied if such a deal was made – transfer power peacefully and we’ll leave you alone? I have my doubts.

Then again, if I was Gaddafi, I’d probably rather have my fate decided in sombre environment of The Hague than at the armed and rather angry mob that is headed his way. (If nothing else, surely this would give him another platform for crazy speeches and more elaborate hats?)

Second, there are references to “The Responsibility to Protect” in the preamble of the resolution, and in the comments of the representatives of those who voted on it, but not in the ‘meat’ of the resolution. This is not a big surprise, given how rather toothless the concept has become since 2005’s World Summit Outcome Document (see articles 138 and 139). However, this kind of does seem the ideal time, if ever there was one, to invoke the principle.

Finally, the voting and accompanying statements. According to the press release, when speaking on the Resolution, the Chinese representative said the following:

LI BAODONG ( China) said that China was very much concerned about the situation in Libya. The greatest urgency was to cease the violence, to end the bloodshed and civilian casualties, and to resolve the crisis through peaceful means, such as dialogue. The safety and interest of the foreign nationals in Libya must be assured. Taking into account the special circumstances in Libya, the Chinese delegation had voted in favour of the resolution.

Three points here: First, it’s clear that China agreed to the resolution because of “special circumstances” rather than suggesting it was something they would normally support.

Second, it’s also clear that he is against an armed humanitarian intervention and is not alone on the Council. The Russian representative, while supporting the 1970, spoke out against “counterproductive interventions” that other states might be tempted to engage in.

Third, when Russia and China are voting for sanctions against you AND supporting an ICC investigation in your country, it goes to show you just how freaking isolated you are. I suppose at this point it might be the result of neither country having substantial material interests in Libya and realizing they had nothing to lose (and potentially something to gain in terms of UN ‘street cred’) if they voted for it. (Certainly a sentiment, along with hypocrisy, expressed in this cartoon in the Economist.)

Ultimately, it’s a very interesting resolution and I’ve been using it in my teaching all week. Is it a rare example of the UN doing what it was designed to do in the first place? Even if not, I suspect that scholars will be interested in the reasons for the content of the resolution, the speed at which it was passed, and the effect it eventually has on the crisis – if any.

PS: Oh and I see that the UN has now thrown Libya off of the UN Human Rights Council. Way to act, guys! 


The Security Council Goes Nuclear

I just finished reading the UN Security Council’s latest Cross-Cutting Report on The Security Council’s Role in Disarmament and Arms Control; Nuclear Weapons, Nonproliferation and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction.

It’s an excellent overview for non-experts on the relationship of the UN Security Council to nuclear diplomacy. Background sections cover the history of UNSC’s involvement in disarmament and arms control and why it mostly failed during the Cold War; the nature of alternative bilateral and non-UNSC multilateral arrangements to date and their drawbacks; the Security Council’s engagement with a series of WMD crises since 1977; and the relationship between nuclear weapons and other WMD (though the report accepts as valid the socially constructed distinction between WMD and conventional weapons – obviously the authors haven’t read Tannenwald). Anyway, it’s useful reading for anyone wanting the current skinny on disarmament and non-proliferation regimes and where the UNSC fits.

But the report also includes an optimistic, forward-looking and (I think) a little bit naive appraisal of the Council’s resurgent role in nuclear diplomacy, which was set out in Article 26 of the UN Charter but fell by the wayside for much of the UN’s history:

“The Security Council has shown… that it has the potential – and the power, if it chooses to exercise it – to contribute to addressing both specific and broader disarmament dimensions of security issues… Clearly there are a huge range of options the Council members can pursue in their national capacities that would have positive impacts on the disarmament and non-proliferation agenda.”

These, the report goes on, include “national statements in UNSC debates, committing the UNSC to “play a regular role,” an annual high-level meeting, an omnibus resolution bringing together and updating existing resolutions, statement and decisions on disarmament; and “establishing a high-level subsidiary body to support the Council in discharging a strategic-level role in the area of disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation.”

But most of avenues envisioned here for SC involvement seem halfhearted and largely rhetorical. On the one hand, the Security Council has one thing going for it that other nonproliferation forums lack: a 2/3 majority voting process rather than a consensus process where every stakeholder has a veto. On the other hand, the P5 veto dilutes this advantage for all issues; and it’s particularly problematic on nuclear policy given that the P5 are all on one side of the disarmament debate. Indeed the report’s appraisal of the SC’s earlier efforts at nuclear diplomacy paints a more somber picture of its ability to exert more than an epiphenomenal effect on political outcomes, for this very reason:

“The P5 – all of whom have nuclear weapons – seem unusually united about compliance with the nonproliferation obligations in the NPT and preventing other states and nonstate actors from acquiring nuclear weapons. However, the Council’s record of effectively addressing the parallel obligations on the P5 under article VI of the NPT [which requires nuclear states to work in good faith toward disarmament] is almost completely absent in any practical sense… Council action against state proliferation has been uneven and is often criticised as selective… it has acted firmly against nuclear programmes in Iraq, the DPRK and Iran. Nuclear weapons programmes in Israel, Pakistan and India were largely ignored.”

As anyone schooled in realist theory knows, this is precisely the pattern that would be predicted in the absence of the Security Council.

So ultimately I think it is naive to place much faith in the UNSC as a bulwark against nuclear proliferation. This doesn’t mean it’s entirely devoid of power. The UNSC is good for three things, all significant:

First, as Inis Claude famously argued, it functions as a collective legitimation body, so it has some role to play in reproducing norms negotiated in other forums like the Conference on Disarmament. Second, it may be poor at helping states escape collective action dilemmas, but it does constitute a forum for states to coordinate policy responses vis-a-vis non-state actors – perhaps it should be taking the lead particularly on this aspect of non-proliferation policy. Third, as any civil society actor who has attempted to influence a Security Council resolution knows, it functions to securitize issues: the agenda of the UN Security Council is considered a signal to the global community about the significance of threats and concerns, and in this sense alone its re-engagement with disarmament and proliferation issues is important.

Doesn’t mean we should pin all our hopes on New York, however. I think it is far more significant that the United States is now playing a lead role on nonproliferation issues as well holding the rotating Presidency for the month of September. To the extent that the UNSC has power to play a constructive role, it will be wielded through sympathetic P5 governments.


My Final Two Cents for the Summer

So starting this week I’m going on a six-week blogging hiatus to make an epic road trip west with my kids, visiting friends and family. Prepping for this trip while getting my book to the publisher and doing committee work hasn’t left me much time lately to weigh in on Iran, but by way of a temporary farewell, I decided to leave you with this final thought for the summer:

Is it not high time that the international community established an international regime for governing and adjudicating democratic elections in all countries?

Various international organizations already monitor elections in many transitional contexts on an ad hoc basis, with a fair measure of success; indeed for transitional countries, Judith Kelley argues that international election monitoring has become a norm. But this norm extends only to democratizing countries: current international understandings suggest that the mark of a genuine democracy includes an ability to monitor one’s own elections, so established democracies generally do not consider allowing international monitors to involve themselves in the democratic process, nor do they experience pressure to do so.

Yet this intersubjective understanding among countries seems completely counterintuitive and counterproductive given widespread perceptions among electorates – even in the most established liberal democracies – that the democratic process in their own country is at least somewhat suspect. Increasingly, it seems to me, the expectation of a democratic process, coupled with the perception that elections are rigged or unfair, and coupled with lack of credible evidence one way or the other, leads to the very domestic instability that democracy is expected to pre-empt. Iran is only the latest example.

In a global society that is or proclaims to be inching toward ever greater lip-service to democracy as a constitutive norm of responsible statehood, and in a global system whereby the outcome of elections in one country now have ripple effects around the world, it is quite easy to imagine treating genuine “free and fair domestic elections” as a global public good. This public good – “free and fair elections” is as plausibly and feasibly overseen through an international organization’s collective legitimation function as are various other global social processes, from the adjudication of trade disputes to the development of scientific consensus regarding climate change to the verification of compliance with weapons treaties to the prosecution of war criminals and genocidaries.

Why not elections as well? What if an independent international organization – separate from the United Nations – were created whose mandate it is to monitor national elections in every democracy? What if signing onto such a regime and abiding by its rules (that is, subjecting one’s national elections to international oversight) became understood as a constitutive element of a claim to be a democracy, a way of distinguishing sham democracies from the real McCoy? What if such a bureaucracy adjudicated electoral outcomes, rather than leaving it up to the internal machinations of the governments whose very interests are at stake? What if citizens of every genuine democracy came to expect no less, and came to trust in a disinterested third party to ensure a fair outcome?

I pose this question to readers not so much to invite a discussion about whether such an idea is realistic (the “how do we get there from here?” is another interesting question – but then again, all international regimes existing today would once have seemed infeasible). Rather, I invite a discussion about whether, if implemented, such a regime would not be a positive step for democracy and for global civil society. I think it would: am I wrong, and if so why?

I look forward to reading over the summer, participating in comments from time to time, and picking up the pen once again in the Fall. Ciao for now.



The G-20 is wrapping up in London, and they seem to have successfully issued a communique that is actually more than straight boilerplate non-commitment.

My hope is that the reforms discussed for the IMF begin a re-fastening of the embedded-liberalism that has served as the foundation of the international order and an institutionalization of this new compact.

The global economic turmoil is revealing two key structural facets of the international order. First, the US remains the Hegemon. In the end, the world is looking to the US for leadership, and its clear that only the US can provide the economic and political leadership to pull the world out of the current crisis. Second, and conversely, while the US is probably as powerful as its ever been, the price of hegemony is skyrocketing, and other actors are rapidly accruing power as it diffuses away from the US. Quite simply, the current US trajectory seems unsustainable, and it requires a new grand-bargain it is to reach a new sustainability. Immediate evidence of this new structure: the G-20 as the forum for rescuing the world’s economy.

As the NYT reports:

the leaders of nearly two dozen of the world’s largest economies agreed Thursday to a broad array of new fiscal and regulatory steps, in a desperate effort to revive the paralyzed global economy.

At the conclusion of the first economic summit meeting to rivet world attention in decades, Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain announced that the leaders had committed to $1.1 trillion in additional loans and guarantees to finance trade and bail out troubled countries….

Among the steps Mr. Brown detailed are strict new regulations on hedge funds and rating agencies, as well as a crackdown on tax havens, which will be publicly named and subject to sanctions if they do not agree to share tax information with the authorities of other countries.

The Group of 20 also agreed on new global rules to cap the pay and bonuses of bankers, as well as a common approach to dealing with the toxic assets on the balance sheets of the world’s banks. That is an issue that has bedeviled the Obama administration and other governments.

Giving teeth to an endorsement of free trade at the last summit in Washington, the countries agreed to “name and shame” countries that erected trade barriers. They also pledged $250 billion in financing for trade.

The most concrete measures relate to support for the International Monetary Fund, which has emerged as a “first responder” in this global crisis, making emergency loans to dozens of countries.

The Group of 20 pledged to triple the resources of the Fund to $750 billion — through a mix of $500 billion in loans from countries, and a one-time issuance of $250 billion in Special Drawing Rights, the synthetic currency of the Fund, which will be parceled out to all its 185 members.

The BBC details the reforms to the IMF:

The IMF is also set to have a bigger role in preventing future crises, by developing an early warning system for financial problems, and taking a larger role in looking at the problems of the financial sector as a whole, in conjunction with a new global regulator, the Financial Services Board.

But the biggest changes in the IMF will come after 2011, when it has been agreed that there will be a review of the voting structure. That could lead to the US losing its veto power, while China and other emerging countries get a bigger voice.

It has already been agreed that in future, the convention that the World Bank and IMF must be headed by an American and a European respectively will be abandoned.

In return, China will be asked to lend some of its reserves to the IMF – and will continue to push for the idea that the SDR will become a real reserve currency, ultimately replacing the dollar.

The changes to the resources and the role of the IMF are historic and perhaps the most important outcome of the G20 summit.

But it must be borne in mind that providing more resources for the IMF can be only a short-term solution to the immediate crisis now engulfing developing countries.

While full reform remains more of a fantasy than reality, this is certainly more than a nod in that direction.


The Colonial Fleet Colonizes UN Headquarters

I kid you not. The Chicago Tribune reports the following:

“On March 17, there will be a “Battlestar” retrospective at the U.N. in New York and a panel discussion of how the show examined issues such as “human rights, children and armed conflict, terrorism, human rights and reconciliation and dialogue among civilizations and faith,” according to Sci Fi.

The “Battlestar” contingent on the panel will consist of executive producers Ronald D. Moore and David Eick, as well as stars Mary McDonnell (who plays president Laura Roslin on the show) and Edward James Olmos (Admiral William Adama).

UN representatives on the panel are Radhika Coomaraswamy, special representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict; Craig Mokhiber, deputy director of the New York office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights; and Robert Orr, assistant secretary-general for policy planning, executive office of the Secretary-General.

The panel will be moderated by “Battlestar” fan Whoopi Goldberg.”

Comment away.

P.S. Hat tip to Greg Niermeyer, Polsci 121-A student and bigger geek than me.


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