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‘Vague Paranoia’

Corine Hegland has written a great summary article (pdf) on UNCLOS for the National Journal. I got this from Matt, who writes “She’s doing neutral reporting, so she doesn’t come out and say that there’s little to the opponents’ case besides vague paranoia but she also make it clear that there’s little to the opponents’ case besides vague paranoia.”

Slate also published an “Explainer” on the race to claim the Artic today.

Key quotes from Hegland’s piece after the jump.

The treaty’s proponents are, well, preponderant. There’s the president and his Cabinet, the former chiefs of naval operations, and all the living legal advisers to the secretary of State. Also the American Petroleum Institute; the International Association of Drilling Contractors; the Navy League of the United States; the World Wildlife Fund; the Nature Conservancy; and the U.S. Joint Ocean Commission Initiative, as well as 35 other such organizations. There’s a letter from 101 “prominent Americans,” including former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright, James Baker, Alexander Haig, Colin Powell, and George Shultz; a handful of governors and former senators and Cabinet members; and, if that’s not enough, Walter Cronkite.

At the end of a 45-minute interview, [Frank] Gaffney still brims with reasons to reject the treaty. It encroaches on American sovereignty. It creates a new U.N. bureaucracy, with taxation powers. The 1994 “fix” was no fix at all, because the treaty was not yet open to amendment, and besides, Reagan’s objections went far beyond the seabed mining issues. It will allow other nations to sue the United States over land-based pollution. It will allow other nations to sue the U.S. military for moving through their territorial waters. Countries that hate us will be able to out-vote us in the convention bodies. World judges will rule against U.S. interests, and federal judges will enforce their rulings. The Senate is rushing to a vote, with only two hearings in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and none at all in Armed Services, Commerce, Energy, Environment, Intelligence, and Judiciary, among others.

None of these claims are quite true, say treaty proponents, including the Pentagon and the State Department. Military activities are exempt from the treaty’s dispute-resolution procedures; nobody will be suing the Navy. The land-based pollution provisions essentially call on nations to enact and enforce their own laws, which the United States already does. In the one suit involving land-based pollution, an Irish challenge to a British nuclear power plant, the Irish lost. The U.S. will be able to take all disputes to arbitration, not to judges on world tribunals. The 1994 renegotiation is valid law: Nations often make subsequent agreements based on earlier agreements. The International Seabed Authority, which implements the agreement, strives to make decisions by consensus. It has no actual taxation powers, although members are assessed dues, and it may claim up to 7 percent of revenues from some oil and gas sites; it can also conduct its own hard-mineral mining at some deep seabed locations. The Senate committees held hearings in 2004.

As the Arctic ice recedes, there will be a race for the oil, gas, and mineral resources buried there. Because the United States hasn’t ratified the treaty, it doesn’t have a seat at the table where the 155 nations that have approved it will determine the validity of Arctic claims. U.S. companies want a piece of the action; U.S. environmental groups want a hand in managing what they foresee asenvironmental chaos.

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The Problems with Darfur

It seems that we are seeing the Darfur rebel-buy in problem become fully manifest ahead of this weekend’s peace talks. Various news agencies are reporting that few of the key players plan to attend the peace talks on Saturday in Sirte, Libya. Significant no-shows, of course, would mean that the peace talks would fail before they began.

To make matters worse, the peacekeeping force being prepared for Darfur is already beset by problems. Not only is UNAMID having trouble finding donor countries willing to provide 24 helicopters, but the government of Sudan is placing onerous bureaucratic obstacles to its deployment. Khartoum, for example, refuses to let the UN deploy any troops not from Africa–never mind that African militaries lack certain capacities neccessary to get the mission off the ground.

The UN special envoy for Darfur, Jan Eliasson, (known as one of the more skilled diplomats in the UN system) is understandably frustrated. The UN will inevitably be blamed for failing in Darfur. But by itself, the UN has no real power to press intransigent rebel groups to attend the meeting. Eliasson, for example, can’t threaten to sanction Khalil Ibrahim for refusing to join the talks. Neither can Jan Elliason knock on President Bashir’s door and threaten further sanctions should his government, say, refuse to lease land or provide ports of entry to the peacekeeping force. The real power rests with member states. And so far, key member states are clearly not applying the kind of pressure necessary to force all parties to the table this weekend.

UPDATE: Julia Spiegel from the Enough Campaign writes in:

“I don’t think the peace talks are doomed to fail if all of the rebel leaders are not at the table at the outset. It’s not ideal, of course, but the international community can work intensively to bring other rebel parties and potential spoilers into the fold as the talks proceed.”

“These discussions are going to take a very long time and there’s potential there to bring others on board, once the process has been proven to be legitimate. But it will take serious energy and engagement.”

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UN official raises concerns about the humanitarian conditions facing Palestinians

B. Lynn Pascoe, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, raised concerns recently about the humanitarian conditions facing Palestinians.

“Economic activity and humanitarian operations will be seriously affected by the decision of Israel to further restrict access for West Bank residents – including UN staff – to East Jerusalem and the ‘seam zone’ between the Barrier and the green line,” he said.


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The Grinch

Obviously not getting into the spirit of United Nations Day, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad derided as “piles of paper” UN Security Council resolutions demanding Iranian halt its nuclear program.

“The so-called dossier at the Security Council is a pile of papers that have no value. They can add to those worthless papers everyday because it has no effect on the will of the Iranian nation,” state television quoted Ahmadinejad as saying Wednesday.

Ahmidenijad has always positioned himself as the fly in the American ointment. But here, he’s not just insulting the United States, but Europe, Russia, and China as well. China, in particular, has increasingly sought to use the Security Council as a locus of its foreign policy priorities so it would seem to me that they have an interest in defending the authority of the Security Council against attacks like this. To the extent that Ahmidenijad has sought to stoke divisions within the Security Council, I have to wonder if his bluster today is ultimately counterproductive.

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“Does the UN Effectively Fulfill its Mission?”

Today, in honor of UN Day, DipNote, the “U.S. Department of State Official Blog,” is soliciting responses to the question above. We believe that, although there are certainly steps to be taken to ensure that the UN can more efficiently fulfill its mission (both in terms of reform and the full payment of dues by key Member States), the answer is clear (and thoroughly and eloquently spelled out here).

Submit your answer on DipNote and write to us here at UN Dispatch.

A selection from those who have weighed in at DipNote after the jump.

Ralph in Greece writes:

I believe the UN has always done the best it can. With any organization run by people, you will have problems, but the system works. Now, please get them to pay their parking tickets!! Please!

Posted on Wed Oct 24, 2007

Robert in Ohio writes:

As far as keeping some sort of dialogue open, I’ll say sure. As for the “help solve economic, social, and humanitarian problems” bit… unless you count writing futile angry letters a viable solution I’ll say no. And as with any org there will be corruption (Oil for Food prog, etc). So, I guess it really depends on what function you’d like to stress.

Posted on Wed Oct 24, 2007

Scott in Washington, DC writes:

The U.S.-UN relationships is like a marriage. It isn’t always perfect and we don’t always get what we want, but life would be much more difficult without our partner. The UN today is at least as relevant – and as helpful to U.S. interests – as it has ever been.

Posted on Tue Oct 23, 2007

Kashif in America writes:

Yes the U.N. may not be effective at times and might seem to serve the interests of certain nations who have veto power but without a consensus, no matter how horrible the other parties you are forming a consensus with are, it is still important to include them in the process. Without inclusion then you end up giving on aura of exclusivity and if that occurs all nations will feel themselves to be exempt from a framework of international law due to this aura of exclusivity. This is already occuring where Ameica thinks it can preempt and label countries as good and evil, what is stopping other coutries like Russia in doing the same against legitimate freedom struggles like in Chechnya by labeling these freedom fighters “evil” to justify horrible means of subjugation. Legitimate freedom struggles around the world have only to be labeled evil for dominating hegemonic powers to assert their will over these freedom fighters. Hey maybe the colonists of America were evil too and maybe Britain was right back then to call american colonists traitors; a list like this can go on forever but I think my point has been made.

Posted on Tue Oct 23, 2007

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Opening up the international biofuels market

by Dr. Corrado Clini, Director General of the Italian Ministry for the Environment Land and Sea and Chairman of the Global Bioenergy Partnership

Trade in biofuels and biofuels feedstocks is currently too low. European and US systems of subsidies and incentives for domestic production and of tariffs for imported feedstocks and final products are, de facto, reducing the potential biofuels production in tropical and subtropical countries, where biomass productivity is significantly higher than in temperate regions such as Europe and North America (according to some estimates up to five times higher).
Brazil beside “just” becoming the first producer of Ethanol, was able in the last 30 years to drive a flex technological revolution that contributed to its road to a complete development. Other examples of this dynamism are represented by those countries that without such internal markets are developing a biofuels industry that takes advantage of existing preferential trade agreements with US and Europe.

International trade, in fact, could provide win-win opportunities for all countries. For several importing countries, it is a necessary precondition for meeting self-imposed fuel blending targets; for exporting countries, especially small- and medium-sized developing countries, these markets are necessary to initiate their industries. Reducing and eliminating trade barriers and phasing out trade-distorting subsidies would contribute to establishing a level playing field. Investors in prospective biofuels export facilities need to be assured that markets are going to be open and that there will be scope for exports, allowing them to exploit economies of scale.

Labeling and certification of biofuels and related feedstocks may be instrumental to ensure that widespread biofuel production and use will indeed be conducive to environmental improvements. Certification and labeling remain, however, a rather complex issue. Efforts should be deployed to ensure that the development of sustainability criteria and certification systems contribute to reaching environmental objectives without creating unnecessary barriers to international trade, especially to exports from developing countries.

At the Doha Round, negotiations were launched for “the reduction or, as appropriate, elimination of tariff and non-tariff barriers to environmental goods and services.” However, although, according to WTO members, renewable energy products, like Ethanol, Biodiesel, and related products, could be classified as environmental goods, many disagreements have hampered any conclusive result.

New and innovative forums have to be utilized to reach consensus in order to create an open international market, necessary for the effective utilization of the potential benefits of biofuels in term of Sustainable Development, Technology Transfer, Climate Change mitigation, Energy, and Food Security.

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