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Global consensuses can be plural

With all due respect to Peter Beinart, I think he gets this one wrong:

And that means you can either forge truly global institutions—which include Moscow and Beijing—or you can forge institutions whose members genuinely respect freedom. You can’t do both. Similarly, it would be nice if there were a global consensus that nuclear proliferation was bad, but there’s not. Countries with nukes mostly think that no one else should enter the club. Lots of countries without nukes want in.

It’s all well and good to say that we can have different kinds of international institutions for different issues: global ones where there really is a moral consensus; limited ones where there is not. But in the real world, you can’t keep things so separate. The more you alienate non-democracies by creating powerful new institutions on human rights, the harder it is to get their cooperation on issues of common concern.

This reminds me of the tired debate about creating a "League of Democracies." On the one hand, Beinart is right that pushing for such a provocative (and ill-defined) "pro-freedom" institution will only make global cooperation more difficult. But on the other, different global institutions do exist. The role of the UN is not undermined by the existence of NATO, nor is the World Bank's by the G-8 or G-20.  Advocating human rights through the Human Rights Council does not impede the work of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Moreover, the fact that all countries in a global institution don't agree on something does not mean that the institution itself is useless, even at tackling a problem on which its members have differing viewpoints. The UN and other mixed groups of countries are proper venues for negotiating nuclear nonproliferation precisely because they contain both countries with and without nukes, and whose commitments toward nonproliferation vary. You can't come to an agreement on something in a group in which everyone already agrees. "Forging" a global consensus is difficult work; you can't just corral the right countries into the right groups. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try, even on aims that might seem to be at odds with one another.

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On the eve of Hillary Clinton’s trip, an insider’s look at the Indian political scene

Eriposte is a regular contributor to The Left Coaster, where he frequently writes on issues pertaining to the Indian sub-continent. In his previous contribution to UN Dispatch, eriposte wrote about the link betweem rural poverty and extremism in Pakistan. 

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be in India from July 17 through July 21, visiting both Mumbai and New Delhi. This is a trip aimed at laying a foundation for a deeper and more strategic engagement with India. Interestingly, one of the leading Indian newspapers The Hindu reports that in Mumbai, "she will be staying at the Taj Mahal Hotel in an act of solidarity with the 26/11 victims" - a reference to one of the major sites targeted in the coordinated terrorist attacks last year (26/11).

Clinton will not visit Pakistan during this trip, implicitly sending a message that the United States no longer views India merely "through the Pakistan lens" - a message that was also indirectly conveyed earlier by eliminating India from the charter of Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke. In a recent speech, Secretary Clinton said "We see India as one of a few key partners worldwide who will help us shape the 21st century" and characterized this period as "a third era...U.S.-India 3.0". Some of topics that are expected to be discussed during her trip include global security, nuclear energy, climate change, trade and human development. Given the significance of this trip to US-India relations, this might be an appropriate moment to highlight some of the key players in India when it comes to foreign policy.

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Sanctions tightening around North Korea

The facts that China appears to be on board -- not to mention that the UN panel on North Korea sanctions may come to consensus before its deadline -- do not bode well for a defiant Pyongyang.

The U.N. Security Council neared agreement on Wednesday on North Korean firms and individuals to be added to a blacklist for involvement in Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs, diplomats said

"We are very close" to agreement, Japanese Ambassador Yukio Takasu told reporters. Diplomats from several countries said a council committee that has been discussing the issue for a month was on target to meet a weekend deadline for completing its task and could do so as early as Wednesday.

Meanwhile, North Korea insists that its "sovereignty" be respected before negotiations can recommence. This seems to have it completely backwards. North Korea's leaders aren't exactly the ones to place conditions here; they're the ones who will need to reconsider their country's nuclear program if they are interested in, say, having unfrozen bank accounts or being able to travel anywhere.

Yet I wouldn't be surprised to hear some off-the-mark commentators continue to insist that an utterly isolated North Korea somehow has "the upper hand" in this drama.

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The “continued vitality and relevance” of certain international institutions are questioned Clinton’s speech

John captured one good quote below.  Here's  another I jotted down. Sayeth the Secretary: "We are seeking institutions that combine efficiency and capacity for action with inclusiveness...Their continued vitality and relevance depend on their legitimacy and representativeness--and the ability of their members to act swiftly and responsibly when problems arise. "

The UN as a whole has the legitimacy and relevance part covered. And various UN agencies like the World Food Program, World Heath Organization and UNICEF have the "swiftness of action" down pat.  The Security Council, however, sometimes lacks a bit of both criteria. I wonder, therefore, if a statement like this is meant to lay the groundwork for a new push on Security Council reform? 

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Post-previewing Clinton’s speech

Previewed yesterday, here's a bit of a post-preview, if you will, of Hillary Clinton's speech at the Council on Foreign Relations today (just about over now), mostly courtesy of our friends on the FP blogging team.  Laura Rozen had some excerpts of the speech before Clinton even gave it; WaPo's Glenn Kessler looks at the Iran bits; Josh Keating couldn't find it on the teevee; and Dan Drezner has a great play-by-play for those who (like me) missed it.

The key graf for fans of international cooperation:

Today, we must acknowledge two strategic facts: First, that no nation can meet the world's challenges alone.... Second, that most nations worry about the same global threats, from non-proliferation to fighting disease to counter-terrorism....Just as no nation can meet these challenges alone, no challenge can be met without America.

I suppose the variant of the United States as "indispensable nation" was pretty much inevitable, but I'd just add (in case Secretary Clinton did not) that if no nation can meet these challenges alone, but America needs to be part of the battle, then U.S. engagement in the global body featuring every nation on the planet seems like a good idea.

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Congratulations, Russia and Georgia

Your wrangling over the name of the UN mission that was scheduled to be extended last month, in a fairly de rigueur process, has resulted in the departure of the 130-odd UN observers that many in Abkhazia -- from government officials to everyday people -- trusted as the only effective objective presence in the border region.

"We were interested in the mission continuing its work," Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba said.

"(The mission) opened contacts for us, making it possible for us to participate in the international (diplomatic) process; our problem would be discussed at U.N. Security Council meetings." There are more than 200 E.U. observers in Georgia itself, but they are not allowed to enter Abkhazia. The E.U. observers only patrol the Georgian-controlled part of the conflict zone.

"The U.N. cars used to patrol our village, and we would feel more secure," said a 72-year-old woman who lives in Nabakevi in Abkhazia and declined to give her name. "The end of the mission to me means the end of the hope for peace." [emphasis mine]

The concerns about Georgia and Russia gearing up for a another war should not be taken lightly. Last year's confrontation was completely unnecessary, a result of foolish provocation from both sides. The short-sighted step of forcing out UN observers is a rash move down the same counterproductive line. Their departure may not be the end of peace prospects, but it certainly makes them look a lot dimmer.

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Assessing Ban’s Burma visit

S-G Ban is briefing the Security Council on his recent trip to Burma today. And while Britain's Foreign Minister may have praised Ban's trip, others were less sanguine about the outcome of his meetings with Burma's ruling junta. Most of this criticism has focused on the fact that Ban was not able to meet with jailed "on trial" opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. But Refugees International's Sean Garcia has a different objection, which I think is more worth looking at: that Ban was too focused on his political mission.

Garcia argues that by calling on Burma's generals to adopt political reforms -- and receiving blithe promises to transition to civilian rule in exchange -- he fed their insecurities about an international agenda of regime change. Putting political pressure on recalcitrant leaders-for-life is of course important -- but, because of their very recalcitrance, this is also very likely to only strengthen their anti-democratic resolve. It also made Ban look worse for not securing a meeting with Daw Aung; as unfortunate as it may be, there was very little likelihood that the Burmese generals would have consented to more than a superficial meeting between the two, and there is little that Ban Ki-moon can do to ensure that the opposition leader's trial will be anything more than grossly unfair.

Yet I am also not as optimistic as Garcia that Ban could have achieved too much more in the way of allowing humanitarian aid into the country either. The international community did succeed, eventually (and sort of), in convincing the junta to permit aid to reach the population after last year's devastating Cyclone Nargis. But as that case demonstrated, for such a ruthless and desperate cadre of leaders, even (or especially) the humanitarian assistance is political.

This is not to say that Ban's visit was in vain, or that his pursuit of both tracks, that of political reform and that of human rights and humanitarian aid, were dead ends. The Secretary-General's office is one of the bully pulpit, even if his rhetoric is not of the brow-beating variety. Than Shwe and company do not need any further reasons to oppress their own people; but they know that they are pariahs, and that joining the community of nations as a respected member requires some modicum of both political and human rights.  Conveying this is the balance that the S-G needs to strike every time he opens his mouth, no less in an environment as fraught as Burma's than in the Security Council chamber.

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U.S. names Great Lakes Special Envoy

Will a new U.S. Special Envoy to the Great Lakes region (that's Congo-Rwanda-Burundi, not Michigan-Wisconsin-Illinois) solve MONUC's difficulties?  Well, no, but it's still good to see the United States engaged in the oft-neglected region.  And the man tapped for the job, Howard Wolpe, is, as his informed introductions of many a speaker over at the Woodrow Wilson Center indicate, one of the more knowledgeable Africa hands that President Obama could have picked.

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Two cannot be the only number to fight climate change

The world's largest carbon emitters, meeting at the tail end of the, er, rather tumultuous G8 summit in L'Aquila, Italy, look like they're going to take an unfortunate step backward (or at best sideways) in the rapidly dwindling months before global climate negotiations in Copenhagen begin in December. The promises of these countries have gone from, a year ago, a pledge to reduce emissions by 50% by 2050 -- albeit passing over the very relevant detail of specifying 50% of levels from which year, 1990 or 2005 -- to an agreement to drop all numbers whatsoever from this year's text.

Instead of set targets, the 17-nations in the forum, which is chaired by U.S. President Barack Obama, will acknowledge the "broad scientific view" that global warming must not be allowed to exceed two degrees centigrade, these officials said.

Ignore the scare quotes -- they are de rigueur for the Wall Street Journal. If global temperatures increase two degrees centigrade, we are beyond serious trouble. The point of these summits is to figure out how to ensure that from happening, and dodging the tough question of what targets to set does not help solve that problem in the least.

The blame here, of course, is diffuse. Developing countries like India and China don't want to commit to stringent reductions just when their economies are booming, and poor countries are worried they won't be able to afford the new technologies that such adaptation will necessitate. I'm going to have to pin good deal of blame on countries like the United States and Japan, though, which have more or less conceded that they are not going to be able to even try to hit the more ambitious targets. Candor is appreciated, but I fail to see how lowering the numbers -- let alone leaving them out entirely -- will spur developed economies to bring about the admittedly costly changes of ensuring that the planet doesn't boil over.