article placeholder

House votes to pay UN arrears

Late yesterday afternoon, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the last FY09 Emergency Supplemental, a conference committee agreement that includes language for full repayment of UN arrears. That's $721 million to make up for the FY04 to FY09 shortfall in U.S. payments to the UN and $168 million for the voluntary peacekeeping account for Somalia. Well done House of Representatives. Again, show your representative some love. The Senate is expected to take up the bill today.
article placeholder

Keep it up Congress

Reports from the Hill suggest that the House and Senate conference committee have agreed on language for the final FY09 Emergency Supplemental, replete with language for the full repayment of UN arrears. That's $721 million to make up for the shortfall from FY04 to FY09 and $168 million for the voluntary peacekeeping account for Somalia. Apparently, the deal was struck after it was agreed that the debate on detainee photos would be left out of this bill and decided by the courts. Needless to say, this is great news, and Congress should be commended. If you see your representative strolling down the street today, or you're calling in to request Achy, Breaky Heart, or you're writing a letter to the editor about how your dog said "hi", how about working in a shout out for Congress? The $106 billion total is above both the Senate and House passed versions, which I've heard is due to their plans to use some of the money to “forward fund” programs in FY10. But, we shouldn't count our chickens yet. Both the House and Senate, particularly the House, will face contentious votes on the Supp, most likely tomorrow, over IMF funding and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And, even if we're successful on this front, don't forget that it's an uphill battle in the FY10 budget. Stay tuned.
article placeholder

Less money for the State Department?

The House Appropriations Committee released budget allocations (the 302Bs) to each subcommittee today for the FY10 budget. The number for State-Foreign Ops, $48.8 billion, is disappointing, nearly $5 billion less than what the President requested and certainly not enough to fulfill his committments to Foreign Aid and the Foreign Service.

On top of that, CQ is erroneously reporting that the subcommittee is "set to receive significant increases above the current fiscal year's spending levels." That simply isn't true. They failed to calculate the significant amount included in two supplemental spending bills (we've been repeatedly told not to expect the same in the future), which brings this year's spending to roughly $50 billion and means the current allocation represents a significant contraction in diplomatic spending right at the moment when it is needed most. 

If the $48.8 billion still seems high to you, you would be wise to keep in mind that it represents a only 1.4% of the total budget and just 7% of the total 'national security budget.' The Department of Defense was allocated $508 billion, $20 billion more than last year (an increase equal to 40 percent of the entire State-Foreign Ops allocation).

article placeholder

World Oceans Day is coming to a body of water near you

The UN has designated June 8, this coming Monday, the first ever "World Oceans Day," a day dedicated to celebrating and protecting, well, the world's oceans. Our friends at Citizens for Global Solutions, UNA-USA, and the Better World Campaign are taking this opportunity to push for U.S. ratification of that long-overdue no-brainer of a treaty, the UN Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

We've blogged about the Law of the Sea treaty before, making the rather uncontroversial argument that signing a treaty that will increase the United States' ocean territory, protect marine life, enhance research opportunities, and make international shipping lanes freer and safer -- and that is supported by Republicans and Democrats, oil executives and environmentalists, for crying out loud -- should be one of those things that fits into U.S. priorities quite obviously. Add to this the fact that nations that are a party to UNCLOS are rapidly gobbling up the remaining (and globally warming) Arctic ocean territory, and that the U.S. risks being left on the sidelines if it doesn't sign its name soon, and you have the ingredients of something that clearly should have been signed yesterday.

Unfortunately, the Law of the Sea has been held up for far too long by a handful of Senators with objections that, with any scrutiny whatsoever, turn out to amount to no more than myths. On the plus side, though, the Foreign Relations Committee's chairman, John Kerry, has stressed that UNCLOS will be a priority for the committee this year. But it is unlikely that the Senate would adopt any major treaty without strong presidential leadership.

So, via CGS, click here today or Monday to send a message to President Obama urging him to support ratification of this important but neglected treaty.

article placeholder

Happy Peacekeeping Day, from the U.S. State Department

Dipnote solicits a post for the occasion from a top State Department official involved with UN peacekeeping.  Her words echo ours:

[W]hile UN peacekeeping can’t resolve every conflict, the U.S. firmly believes that it can be a valuable tool for helping parties to a conflict restore peace and stability.

The truth of that statement can been seen in places like Sierra Leone, Guatemala, and Mozambique, which are at peace today with the help of successful peacekeeping missions. The U.S. strongly supports the UN’s “blue helmets,” and in part that support stems from the fact that multilateral peacekeeping allows the U.S. to share the burdens and risks of peacekeeping with the world community.

And this support is more than merely rhetorical.  For the first time in years, the administration's budget allocates full funding to all UN peacekeeping missions.  Now it will have to make sure that Congress does not attempt to wedge in any cuts to this important funding.

(image of Pakistani peacekeepers in Haiti, from UN Photo)

article placeholder

Obama Administration Sets Preconditions for Negotiations at Durban Review Conference

Sam Stein listens in on a conference call in which National Security Council Director for Multi-lateral Affairs Samantha Power explains to American Jewish leaders the Obama administration's hang-ups about participating in the UN anti-Racism Durban Review Conference next week.  

The current working text, she said "met two of our four red lines frontally, in the sense that it went no further than reparations and it did drop all references to Israel and all anti-Semitic language. But it continued to reaffirm, in toto, Durban I. And while it did drop specific references to defamation, it continues to include very problematic language on incitement... that are out of line with core U.S. commitments to free speech. So that's where we have been for a couple weeks, with a text that is dramatically improved... [but] also ratifies the U.S. decision to walk away in the sense that it did seem to spur the other delegations to go back to the drawing board... We have not reengaged in any kind of formal way with this process. Our red lines remain our red lines... In order for us to participate in the negotiations, to sit behind the placard, to be involved in a frontal way, much more would need to be done. And all four of our red lines will need to be met." [emphasis mine]

This sounds to me like the Obama administration is setting the kind of "preconditions to negotiation" that candidate Obama so eloquently sought to remove from the catalogue of American diplomacy.

article placeholder

The Dirty Fight Against Koh

The invaluable David Weigle exposes a conspiracy afoot by the forces of darkness to obstruct the nomination of Harold Koh as the State Department's top legal advisor.  According to a letter obtained by Weigle, groups like the Frank Gaffney-fronted Coalition for American Sovereignty (which was founded to oppose the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea) and the Center for Security Policy are attempting to portray Koh's legal views as somehow outside the mainstream.  They planned on circulating the letter in advance of his nomination hearing, though far right commentators like Glenn Beck of Fox News have already begun a concerted smear campaign against the Yale Law School dean.

Back on planet earth it is Koh's detractors -- not Koh himself -- who hold fringe views on international law and sovereignty.   Take the debate over the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea:  Most Democrats and Republicans support ratification. President Bush supported ratification as does President Obama. The United States military supports ratification and peace groups support ratification.  Environmentalists and the mineral extractive industry too support support ratification.  But Frank Gaffney?  He thinks UNCLOS is a full frontal assault on American sovereignty!