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Feel the Treaty-mentum!

A pair of developments this week signal that the Obama administration is ready to put some political capital behind campaign promises to secure American ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). 

On the former, Walter Pincus reports that Vice President Joe Biden will shepherd  the CTBT through the Senate.  Ratification requires 67 votes and the last time the CTBT came up for a vote in 1999 it fell more than a dozen votes short of passage.  The political dynamics are a bit different this time around, though, and the treaty stands a much better chance of ratification. As Matt Yglesias notes, American ratification of the CTBT would strengthen  an the international non-proliferation regime and put meat some behind President Obama's recent call for global disarmament.

Meanwhile, at a meeting of the Arctic Council earlier this week Secretary of State Clinton re-affirmed American support for UNCLOS, which establishes rules of the road for the high seas and sea beds. President Bush also supported UNCLOS, though the treaty never came up for ratification in the Senate.   As Don Kraus of Citizens for Global Solutions likes to say, UNCLOS is low hanging fruit.  It has wide support from across the political spectrum and from a diverse coalition of interest groups. All that's needed for ratification is a little effort on the part of the White House and Senate leadership. 

It would seem that there here is reason to believe the stars are finally alligning to pass both these treaties.

(photo from Flickr)

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“North Korea” and “Missile” Are All I Hear

Well, this was predictable. No sooner had North Korea's attempted missile splashed prematurely into the ocean than giddy UN-bashers began pointing their fingers accusingly at the UN Security Council, diplomacy, and, hell, even the entire goal of non-proliferation. Simply because the words "North Korea" and "missile" were involved, hawks are shaking their sabers in the direction of the easiest scapegoat -- which is, unsurprisingly, the United Nations.

A little perspective: North Korea broke the rules. But it also completely flubbed its highly touted missile launch, an achievement that was supposed to achieve glory for the DPRK and strike fear in the heart of America. Instead, the missile is lying dormant on the ocean floor -- probably bubbling its musical paeans to Kim Jung Il incomprehensibly. There was never any danger to U.S. security, and now there's even less so, given the project's failure.

Keep in mind that this missile launch also had nothing to do with North Korea's nuclear program. Yes, the rocket would be -- in Kim Jung Il's fantasy world -- filled to the brim with nuclear explosiveness...but it wasn't. And couldn't be -- thanks, it's worth pointing out, to the shift toward diplomacy that the Bush Administration undertook in its second term. Its first term warmongering and stick-wielding only pushed North Korea out of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, induced it to kick inspectors out of the country, and re-start its uranium enrichment process. As Dana Carvey might put it, before diplomacy, nuclear program; after diplomacy, no nuclear program.

So why mock the entire principle of non-proliferation over a failed, overhyped missile test that couldn't even carry nuclear material? And what exactly do hawks have in mind when they sputter about "getting tougher" with North Korea? Bombing? Tighter sanctions? Even this latter step -- unlikely to occur, given Chinese and Russian opposition, and of questionable efficacy, considering the possible damage to North Korea's already beleaguered civilian population -- would amount to taking the bait of Pyongyang's petty provocation. North Korea had rashly threatened to withdraw from the six-party talks in response to even Security Council discussion of its "satellite" launch; this is ridiculous bluster, but there is no sense in feeding such brinkmanship. Rather than escalate tensions between both sides, the best solution remains to ignore North Korea's latest bit of melodramatic theater (and a poor performance it was indeed), reprimand its rule-breaking, and focus on more important non-proliferation work.

(image from flickr user BHowdy under a Creative Commons license)

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G-Word Stays Out of Turkey

According to the dictates of pragmatism, one couldn't have reasonably expected President Obama to drop the g-word -- referencing the genocide of the Armenians in World War I, which Turkey has persistently refused to label as such -- while speaking in Turkey, his campaign promise to do so notwithstanding. And, in fact, the portion of Obama's speech in Turkey addressing the issue, while perhaps evasive, did address the matter in a commonsensically productive manner.

While there has been a good deal of commentary about my views, this is really about how the Turkish and Armenian people deal with the past. And the best way forward for the Turkish and Armenian people is a process that works through the past in a way that is honest, open and constructive.

Whether or not the President of the United States of America says the word genocide is indeed a political calculation. The politicization of this usage of a single word stems partially from U.S. domestic politics (which is why it will be much more interesting to see if and how Obama pivots when he makes the president's traditional statement to Armenian-Americans in a couple weeks) and partially from the heavy, almost all-consuming significance that the word has acquired (and which, four and a half years after President Bush declared Darfur a "genocide," to much fanfare and little action, is clearly not productive). And in this sense, what matters more is that Turkey and Armenia deal with this issue, and with their own relations with one another. The opening of the closed Armenian-Turkish border is no small accomplishment, and, though it may appear to be simply this year's entry in the annual casuistry explaining the particularly inopportune timing of a genocide resolution, achieving tangible ends can lay claim to an upper hand over a declaration that everyone assures will derail progress on some Turkey-related foreign affairs project or another.

Yet for a dialogue between Turkey and Armenia to be truly "honest" and "open," truths need to be acknowledged -- and spoken aloud. It is morally repugnant that Turkey continues to deny that genocide occurred within its bounds, and the international coup that its leaders have consolidated -- convincing the world that any mention of a "genocide" of the Armenians would provoke waves of hostility and summarily end cooperation with Turkey -- is even more perverse. Somehow, the onus is consistently placed on external actors -- such as on an American president -- over the consequences that his words may engender. Never is it considered how out of proportion -- how utterly ridiculous -- it would be for a Turkish government in 2009 to sever all relations with countries, to entirely cease its contributions to projects like that in Iraq, and to take all sorts of other rash steps that might jeopardize its own admission to the European Union, all over the use of a single word by a single world leader, about the actions of a government 90-plus years ago.

Yes, we are talking about genocide, and that is serious. But no, we are not talking about accusing a foreign government of conducting genocide (again, though, on the effectiveness thereof, see Sudan). We are doing what President Obama himself did in his speech, in acknowleding the dark parts of American history, or what the government of Australia is belatedly doing, in apologizing to the aboriginal population that suffered in that country's history. Calling a genocide a genocide is a moral imperative, yes, but it would be better for all involved -- for the Acholi people in northern Uganda, for example, who suffer ethnicity-based counter-insurgency campaigns without worldwide hand-wringing (or attention) over the g-label -- if the term coined by Raphael Lemkin were less fraught with political overtones.

More than a moral decision, though, this should be a constructive one. Leverage should be concentrated on Turkey acceding to this judgment, not on urging the United States not to upset some geopolitical balance that bears striking similarity to what Turkish genocide-deniers would readily have the West believe. Would this be "poking a stick in [Turkey's] eye?"  Only, if, effectively, Turkey is allowed to continue holding the stick. Order will not devolve into chaos in Turkey if we talk about the Armenian genocide in 1915 publicly and openly; the incentives weigh very heavily against Turkey acting recklessly in retaliation to such discussion. And then, perhaps, we would not have to again be having this debate next year. That, to me, seems like moving forward.

(image of Armenian Genocide Memorial, in Yerevan, Armenia, from flickr user Rita Willaert under a Creative Commons license)

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The G-20 Plan for the World’s Poor

Section 25 of the G-20 outcome document deals with bottom billion.

Ensuring a fair and sustainable recovery for all

25. We are determined not only to restore growth but to lay the foundation for a fair and sustainable world economy. We recognise that the current crisis has a disproportionate impact on the vulnerable in the poorest countries and recognise our collective responsibility to mitigate the social impact of the crisis to minimise long-lasting damage to global potential. To this end:

 * we reaffirm our historic commitment to meeting the Millennium Development Goals and to achieving our respective ODA pledges, including commitments on Aid for Trade, debt relief, and the Gleneagles commitments, especially to sub-Saharan Africa;

*the actions and decisions we have taken today will provide $50 billion to support social protection, boost trade and safeguard development in low income countries, as part of the significant increase in crisis support for these and other developing countries and emerging markets;

  * we are making available resources for social protection for the poorest countries, including through investing in long-term food security and through voluntary bilateral contributions to the World Bank’s Vulnerability Framework, including the Infrastructure Crisis Facility, and the Rapid Social Response Fund;

  * we have committed, consistent with the new income model, that additional resources from agreed sales of IMF gold will be used, together with surplus income, to provide $6 billion additional concessional and flexible finance for the poorest countries over the next 2 to 3 years. We call on the IMF to come forward with concrete proposals at the Spring Meetings;

 * we have agreed to review the flexibility of the Debt Sustainability Framework and call on the IMF and World Bank to report to the IMFC and Development Committee at the Annual Meetings; and

* we call on the UN, working with other global institutions, to establish an effective mechanism to monitor the impact of the crisis on the poorest and most vulnerable.

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A Wholly Different Perspective on the G-20 Meeting

The Financial Times published the leaked G20 draft communiqué yesterday in advance of the summit’s Thursday meeting in London. According (pdf) the UN Millennium Campaign, “the global economic crisis threatens to reduce development assistance by at least $4.5 billion as a result of contractions in Gross National Income, force more than 50 million more people to live in poverty and set back the fight against poverty by up to three years. Already, more than 130 million people were pushed into extreme poverty as the result of soaring food and fuel prices in 2008. This is particularly cruel and unjust given that the crisis is of the rich world’s making.” As far as the developing world and the United Nations are concerned, the communiqué reconfirms the commitment of the G20 countries to the Millennium Development Goals and promises an unspecified amount of money for "social protection" for the poorest countries.