The governments of Germany and Brazil on Friday asked the United Nations General Assembly to adopt a draft resolution establishing a right to privacy in the digital age. The draft resolution would declare that United Nations is “deeply concerned at human rights violations and abuses that may result from the conduct of any surveillance of communications,” explicitly including “extraterritorial surveillance of communications, their interception, as well as the collection of personal data, in particular massive surveillance, interception and data collection.”
Because it would be passed by the General Assembly, the resolution would not represent a binding commitment. Instead, it expresses the sentiment of the international community. Its strength would thus depend on the ability of Brazil and Germany to garner consensus among the 193 United Nations Member States on the resolution.
The report comes at an interesting time in Kenya’s political history. About six weeks ago, Uhuru Kenyatta won the presidency and was sworn into office. However, Kenyatta has been charged by the International Criminal Court with orchestrating some of the violence following the last presidential election. That violence resulted in more than 1,500 deaths and displaced more than 300,000 people from their homes.
Truth and reconciliation commissions are interesting instruments. They are generally charged with revealing wrongdoing rather than achieving justice per se. And they have been growing in popularity in recent
Archbishop Desmond Tutu presides over South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
years. One of the earliest was Argentina’s National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons (the Comisión Nacional sobre la Desaparición de Personas, or CONADEP). CONADEP was established shortly after the collapse of Argentina’s military government in 1983, and was charged with investigating the fate of the estimated 30,000 persons who were “disappeared” by the Argentine government between 1976 and 1983. Perhaps the most famous was South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which was established in 1995 and was charged with witnessing and recording the crimes and human rights abuses committed by both state and opposition forces during the apartheid era. Other notable examples include Brazil’s Comissão Nacional da Verdade, which is currently investigating human rights abuses by the country’s former military government, and Canada’s Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which is currently investigating human rights abuses in the country’s residential school system for the Canada’s first nations.
Most truth and reconciliation commissions represent an effort to expand understanding rather that to achieve justice. They generally lack the power to prosecute offenders. Indeed, in many cases, like the South African TRC, individuals offering testimony before the commission were generally granted amnesty for any confessions they offered. The emphasis, in other words, is on promoting transparency and providing a historical record and testimony rather than on achieving justice in the traditional sense. But this also a source of controversy, as victims can sometimes feel as though the perpetrators of violence and human rights abuses can escape punishment.
What do you think? Do truth commissions represent an instrument of justice by witnessing and providing a historical record of human rights abuses? Or do they undermine justice by permitting human rights abusers to escape criminal prosecution? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.
President Barack Obama chairs a meeting of the UN Security Council, September 24, 2009.
Blogging at Foreign Policy, David Bosco yesterday posted an interesting proposal for reform of the United Nations Security Council. As most readers probably already know, the UN Security Council is comprised of 15 members. The five permanent members (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) each possess a veto over Security Council action. In addition, ten non-permanent members are elected by a two-thirds majority vote of the General Assembly to two year terms on a regional basis.
The structure of the Security Council was set in the immediate aftermath of World War II, when the five permanent members made more sense. The structure makes little sense today, though. Several important countries (such as Brazil, Germany, India, and Japan) lack a permanent seat but want one. Meanwhile, the current permanent members of the Security Council are hesitant to embrace expansion, as any expansion would dilute their position.
And therein lies the challenge. Given the competing positions, there has been little agreement on how to move forward. And any changes would require the approval of 2/3 of the Member States in the General Assembly and agreement by the five permanent members of the Security Council. Thus while a general consensus that the Security Council’s structure needs reforming is widely shared, the specifics of any individual country’s membership on the Council draws opposition. Italy and Spain oppose Germany’s claim, Mexico, Columbia, and Argentina oppose Brazil, Pakistan opposes India, South Korea opposes Japan. The African bloc also demands membership, though precisely which countries would represent Africa on the Council is not entirely clear. Given this level of disagreement, it has been relatively easy for the permanent members of the Council to avoid the difficult decisions associated with reform.
And this is what makes Bosco’s proposal so intriguing. He suggests that the General Assembly engage in a policy of collective disobedience, refusing to approve any new rotating members for the Security Council until the permanent members of the Security Council move forward with a real reform of the Council. It would also force the various camps in the General Assembly to set aside their competing positions and develop a coherent reform proposal. Bosco notes the collective action problem that would have to be overcome for this proposal to work. Nevertheless, it represents in interesting possibility in moving a twenty-year old debate forward.
What do you think? Should Brazil, Germany, India, and Japan be granted permanent membership on the United Nations Security Council? Can the United Nations overcome the structural challenges it faces and reform its structure to become more relevant in the 21st century? Or will competing positions and the structural power of the permanent members undermine proposals for reform? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.
The BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) announced their intention to fund a new development bank to challenge what they perceive as the Western-dominated agenda of the international financial institutions (IFIs). The move, which came about two weeks ago, has generated considerable discussion both of the charges leveled by the BRICS against the IFIs and about the role of the BRICS in global politics more generally.
The BRICS’s new development bank would be funded through an initial donation from each of the five countries, though considerable debate over what precisely the new bank will do. And therein lies the fundamental problem. The idea of South-South cooperation, that is, the exchange of resources, knowledge, and technology between developing countries, has been popular since the 1970s. Its proponents argued that South-South cooperation could reduce developing countries dependence on the developed world and could lead to a shift in the international balance of power away from the first world. But little real progress has been made.
And that precisely is the issue. As the al Jazeera article announcing the BRICS development bank noted, “Disputes remain over what the new bank will do, with all sides trying to mould the institution to their own foreign or domestic policy goals, and with each looking for assurances of an equitable return on their initial investment.”
Collectively, the BRICS countries represent approximately for one-quarter of global economic activity and are home to about 40 percent of the world’s population. And yet their interests are often at odds, reflecting the diversity of their political and economic experiences. Blogging at Project Syndicate, political economist Dani Rodrick argues that, “just about the only thing these countries have in common is that they are the only economies ranked among world’s 15 largest that are not members of the OECD.” Rodrick notes that in the structures of their economies (Russia and Brazil depend on commodity exports, India on Services, and China on manufacturing), their political systems (Brazil and China are democracies, China and Russia are not), and on their global position (China is rising while Russia is a superpower in decline), the BRICS have little in common.
Further, apart from the development bank proposal (which still lacks any real details), the BRICS have failed to articulate a coherent global policy in any real sense. Rodrick argues that the BRICS have played “a rather unimaginative and timid role” in global politics, while Joseph Nye notes that the diversity (indeed, the rivalry) between the BRICS countries undermine their potential to work together to develop a coherent challenge to the existing global political and economic infrastructure.
What do you think? Does the BRICS bank represent a challenge to the international financial institutions? Can Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa present a new impetus for South-South cooperation? Or do the stark differences between the countries undermine the potential for effective cooperation? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.
NATO is at a watershed. The Libya “moment,” which President Obama and others wanted to offer up as an example of a new robust, American-led multilateralism, is quickly morphing into a demonstration of NATO’s weaknesses. America wants to be accorded the respect of being the leader but is hamstrung by domestic problems and a lack of strategic clarity. France and Britain seem willing to pick up the slack but others won’t follow. Germany seems increasingly uncomfortable with the burdens placed on it as Europe’s de facto leading power. The military alliance is overly dependent on U.S. power. There are too many chefs. There is not enough overall mission clarity.
Meanwhile, even while the BRICS are a long, long way from being politically cohesive, they are rent with divisions over important issues, and they have zero aspirations to anything as formal or as action-oriented as an alliance, they do have a few things going for them that make them powerful…The Atlantic alliance may be where much of the money and power has been. The “BRICS Plus” represents not only the bulk of the world’s people and resources but also where the fastest growth is.
The G-20 is increasingly forced to recognize the important role of the BRICs. Brazil’s continuing defiance on the issue of currency controls provide but one example. And while the BRICs continue to be excluded from other key positions in the international community—most notably, with the exception of China, from permanent representation on the UN Security Council—they are nevertheless making their presence felt. The interesting question is how the BRICs will shape the international community moving forward. While suggestions that the United States and its western allies are in decline may be overstated, it does seem clear that the international community will increasingly need to accommodate a greater diversity of interests, represented in part by the BRICs, moving forward.
In international trade law, dumping is defined as selling goods below the cost of production plus transportation and handling. Under World Trade Organization rules, dumping is illegal. But countries continue to engage in the process, as demonstrated by the large number of cases involving accusations of dumping heard by the WTO’s dispute resolution panels.
Perhaps the most high-profile dispute in recent years has been the dispute between Brazil and the United States over U.S. cotton subsidies. Brazil contends (and the WTO panels have upheld twice, first in 2005 and again in 2008) that U.S. cotton subsidies are illegal under WTO rules because the sale of such subsidized cotton represents dumping. The cotton dispute is one of the key sticking points in current Doha Round of WTO talks, as a number of developing countries, including Brazil, have demanded the elimination of U.S. cotton subsidies which depress global cotton prices. According to a report prepared by the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development, global cotton prices would be 6 percent higher absent U.S. subsidies. This represents a significant increase in the livelihoods of poor cotton producers in the global south.
A new study, prepared by Timothy Wise for Woodrow Wilson Center, analyzes the impact of agricultural dumping on Mexican farmers under NAFTA. Looking at agricultural production and trade from 1997 to 2005,Wise concludes that Mexican producers suffered across a number of agricultural sectors, losing some $1.4 billion per year over the course of the study. According to Wise, this represents more than 10 percent of the value of all Mexican agricultural exports to the United States. Maize production was particularly hard hit, as maize imports from the United States were priced, on average, 19 percent below production costs, leading to a 66 percent decline in real producer prices for maize during the time under study. Wise concludes that
Mexico certainly serves as a warning to developing countries considering agricultural trade liberalization. The case also highlights the weakness of international rules for defining and disciplining agricultural dumping. That weakness, and the vulnerability of developing-country farmers to import surges, makes all the more reasonable developing-country demands in the stalled Doha Round negotiations for strong Special Product measures to protect key food crops and effective Special Safeguard Measures to protect against import surges. Until agricultural dumping can be disciplined effectively, developing countries must retain the policy space to defend themselves. Mexico gave up most of its defenses under NAFTA. Farmers are paying a high price.
Dumping—or more generally agricultural subsidies and trade—represents one of the key barriers to the conclusion of the Doha Round of international trade talks. Intended to address some of the major imbalances in international trade, the Doha Round was intended to be the first round of international trade talks focused squarely on international development. But differences between the developed world, led primarily by the European Union, the United Sates, and Japan, and the developing world, led by China, Brazil, India, and South Africa, have paralyzed talks since 2008, and the prospect of rekindling talks appears dim. The major outstanding issues remain:
Agriculture, especially agricultural subsidies and dumping: Massive subsidies by the United States, Japan and the European Union continue to depress global agricultural prices, undermining production in the global south.
Access to essential medicines: Establishing conditions under which developing countries can reconcile meting public health needs with the strong system of intellectual property protections afforded under World Trade Organization rules.
Special and Differential Treatment: Determining if developing countries will be afforded different treatment under some WTO rules.
Blogging at Triple Crisis, Kevin Gallagher noted an interesting development in the “blame game” between the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the United Nations, and the World Trade Organization regarding the causes of the global financial crisis last year. As Gallagher notes, the World Trade Organization held its much anticipated session on the WTO and the financial crisis last week, claiming that the WTO played no negative role in the crisis.
The debate centers on the role of financial controls and capital account liberalization in the broader liberalization process. While the International Monetary Fund increasingly recognizes the importance of capital controls in preventing financial crises, the World Trade Organization continues to maintain that the imposition of capital controls may be “actionable” under the General Agreement on Trade in Services. In other words, even as the IMF acknowledges that imposing limits on the ability of speculative investors to move in and out of particular economies may provide an avenue for governments to limit the negative impact of such speculative investment on their national economies, the World Trade Organization’s rules make such restrictions a punishable offense.
The recognition of the importance of capital controls is not new. Joseph Stiglitz made a similar argument following the 1997 Asian financial crisis, arguing that the IMF ignored the importance of sequencing liberalization to avoid economic crises in developing economies. But there are two important take-away points here. First, the fact that the IMF—the former bastion of unrestricted liberalization—now recognizes that liberalization must be paced represents an important development in the international economy. Indeed, as a February 2010 IMF Staff Paper noted, controls on capital inflows “can usefully form part of the policy toolkit to address the economic or financial concerns surrounding sudden surges in capital.” Second, as Gallagher argues in his paper on the topic, capital account liberalization is not associated with economic growth in developing countries. In other words, at least among developing economies, there is little benefit but much risk in liberalizing financial flows. This is something that the government of Brazil recognized early in the global financial crisis, when it imposed a two percent tax on capital inflows attempting to limit portfolio investment tin the county.