Merit and nationality in multilateral leadership

By David Bosco

The process for selecting the next United Nations Secretary General has received plenty of attention worldwide, much of it focused on whether a woman will be selected for the first time. The leadership selection process at the World Bank has gotten less press, and with good reason: its members decided to short-circuit the process by simply renewing the term of current president, American Jim Yong Kim. Prominent Bank-watchers have responded angrily. Via the Financial Times:

[C]ritics warn that both Mr Kim and the World Bank’s legitimacy risk being further damaged by the US’s decision to speed through the Korean-born American’s reappointment before President Barack Obama leaves office early next year. They also argue that the lack of other candidates is a symptom of how many big emerging economies such as China are turning away from the Washington-based lender to focus on their own new institutions.

“As a US citizen I am really chagrined by this process. The US, I think, is putting the long-term relevance, effectiveness and legitimacy of the World Bank at risk, which is not a good thing,” said Nancy Birdsall, a former senior bank official who leads the Center for Global Development, a think-tank.

It’s evident that plenty of the anger at the quick Kim reappointment derives from specific dissatisfaction with his tenure. But the discontent is also part of a much broader debate about how to select leaders for major multilateral organizations. Different organizations have different procedures, but several follow unwritten customs about which countries’ nationals get which posts. The head of the International Monetary Fund is always from Europe; the International Court of Justice always has judges from each of the permanent five countries; the UN Secretary General never comes from the P5.

And in the case of the World Bank, the United States has always had the privilege of selecting the president. Birdsall’s colleague, Michael Clemens, argues cogently that the time has come to end that tradition. He correctly notes the changed U.S. role and shifting economic realities that make U.S. privilege outdated. But Clemens also specifically links the search for the most qualified candidate to the end of nationality restrictions:

Selecting the World Bank’s president on merit alone would revitalize development policy and strengthen the Bank as an institution. It would tap a pool of highly qualified development experts and managers around the world, people who are full of ideas on how to take the Bank in new and productive directions.

The highly qualified Nigerian candidate Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, for example, has said that she would make youth employment her top priority as World Bank president. Given the links between youth unemployment and violence, this focus would not only respond to the priorities of developing countries, but also be in the interest of the U.S.

Criticism of the Bank’s practice of putting citizenship ahead of merit in the selection of a president has been constant over the years. In 1981, eminent Indian economist S.L.N. Simha wrote, “There is no justification at all for continuing the convention of having a U.S. citizen as the Bank’s president. Let this job go to suitable persons in other countries.”

In one sense, Clemens is obviously correct: a geographically unrestricted search would create the largest pool of candidates and should allow for an increase in merit (however that is defined). But I think the connection between merit and nationality restrictions is much more complicated than Clemens suggests.

We actually have experience with relatively unrestricted multilateral searches, and nothing about them suggests that merit rules the day. The current and past UN Secretary General selection processes are instructive (these searches are not entirely unbound; as indicated, there is a tradition against P5 nationals being considered). Broad geographic selection processes create fertile ground for horse trading. In the absence of some tradition about whose nationals occupy a position, states or regions will quickly develop norms on whose “turn” it is to occupy it. And in these arguments, merit usually loses out to considerations of national or regional equity. There’s strong evidence then that removing nationality restrictions doesn’t replace politics with merit, it simply changes the politics.

None of this is an argument in favor of customary national “ownership” of multilateral posts. But it it should be apparent that seeking merit in multilateral leadership selection is about much more than doing away with geographical limitations. And in some circumstances, policing merit might actually be easier when the geographic pool is restricted. In any case, I would argue that geographical limitations are much more problematic from an institutional legitimacy perspective than as the wellspring of unqualified leaders.



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Kevin Rudd’s ahistorical fears for the UN

By David Bosco

Former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd may not be the next United Nations Secretary General but he remains a prominent voice on the future of the organization. In his capacity as chair of the Independent Commission on Multilateralism, he just produced a sweeping new report on the state of the UN. He depicts an institution that is vital to world peace—and in great peril:

The uncomfortable truth is that while the UN today is not broken, it is in trouble. The danger is that it is starting to drift into irrelevance as states increasingly “walk around” the UN on the most important questions facing the international community, seeking substantive solutions elsewhere, increasingly seeing the UN as a pleasant diplomatic afterthought…The UN, like many old institutions both national and international, is being overwhelmed by the major systemic changes and challenges now buffeting the international community at large.

This kind of analysis will be familiar to anyone who has read past “Whither the UN?” reports. The organization always seems to be overwhelmed, underfunded, and on the verge of crisis. How strong is Rudd’s new claim that the UN faces a “drift into irrelevance”? And are the threats to the organization any more pronounced than those it has faced in the past?

To his credit, Rudd compiles a thoughtful list of the organization’s achievements and the various ways in which it has been useful. But he ultimately finds little comfort in this litany. On balance, he sees evidence that the organization is being marginalized. His bill of particulars includes a weak UN performance on Iran, Ukraine, North Korea, and Syria. These examples of dysfunctionality have something in common: they are issues on which major powers have (or had) strong–and sharply diverging–interests. It is no surprise that an organization with the great-power veto built into its structure will have trouble grappling with crises that feature disagreement between its titans.

Rudd also sees lingering effects from the Iraq War and the American decision to fight without Security Council approval. He describes that war as a damaging departure from the norm that the Security Council must bless armed intervention not in direct self-defense. “The modern precedent [the Iraq War] has created has paved the way for other interventions to occur without Security Council backing,” he writes. But the norm of Council control was quite weakly established, even in the post-Cold War. Rudd neglects to mention, for example, that the 1999 Kosovo intervention–which compelled Serbia to give up part of its territory!– also lacked Council approval. And where is the evidence that Iraq has paved the way for other interventions? Viewed in the broader historical context, it is striking that a United States bent on military action even paused in an effort to get Council approval.

Several of Rudd’s other indicia of organizational crisis are products less of marginalization than of hyperactivity. For example, he lashes the organization for sexual abuse by peacekeepers and for bringing cholera to Haiti. These charges are fair, but they are in large part a symptom of the frequent use of peacekeepers. The UN has more than 100,000 peacekeepers in the field, many more than at most points in its history. It’s no secret that the organization struggles to find equipped, trained, and vetted troops for these missions. But the missions keep coming, hardly a sign of an organization on the brink of irrelevance.

Some of Rudd’s other criticisms–an inconsistent response to human rights violations and atrocities–are fair enough, but they again beg the question of whether the organization is any more guilty than in the past. In fact, there’s strong evidence that the UN’s human rights machinery, for all its faults, is more active and assertive than it has ever been. The Human Rights Council is arguably more effective than its predecessors, and UN special rapporteurs help shed light on many domestic abuses that the organization once ignored.

None of this means that the UN’s performance cannot improve, of course, and Rudd includes thoughtful and informed proposals for reform. One doesn’t need to think the organization is in crisis to take them seriously.


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Canada moves to join the AIIB

By David Bosco

Canada is joining an increasingly long list of U.S. allies making peace with the Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB):

Canada will apply to join the China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), the bank’s president Jin Liqun said on Wednesday, making it the latest ally of the United States to join the new international development bank.

The multilateral institution, seen as a rival to the Western-dominated World Bank and Asian Development Bank, was initially opposed by the United States but attracted many U.S. allies including Britain, Germany, Australia and South Korea as founding members.

In announcing its desire to join the AIIB, Canadian officials have lavished praise on the fledgling institution. Canadian Finance Minister Bill Moreau lauded its “lean, clean and green” mandate and predicted that it will be “a highly effective multilateral institution.”

Canada announced its plans just as an AIIB vice president vacated his post because of allegations of mismanagement in a previous position. As the Financial Times notes, that move leaves an opening that new members might be keen to have their nationals fill:

The AIIB’s five vice-president slots were highly sought after by its 57 member countries. The bank’s remaining vice-presidents hail from Germany, India, Indonesia and the UK.

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How Brexit could weaken France at the Security Council

By David Bosco

Alongside the cascade of commentary on Brexit’s implications for Britain and the European Union, a few observers are asking what it will mean for the United Nations, and particularly for the Security Council. The consensus view seems to be that Brexit will weaken London’s claim to a permanent Council seat. Foreign Policy‘s Colum Lynch makes the case that the UK’s EU exit will weaken British diplomats on the Council:

Over time, European governments are expected to grow less willing to submit to London’s leadership role at the United Nations in crises from Libya to Somalia, where British diplomacy is backed up by European muscle and euros. That will greatly enhance the influence and prestige of France, which will become the sole remaining representative of the European Union, among the council’s big power caucus. Great Britain, meanwhile, may suddenly find itself as “the runt of the Security Council,” quipped Richard Gowan, a U.N. specialist at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

There’s a strong logic to this argument, but I wonder if Brexit might in the long run make the French hold on a Council seat even more tenuous. With Britain in the EU, the two European powers have been able to jointly resist calls for a consolidation of their seats into an EU seat. With the UK on its own, France will bear the full brunt of that pressure, which could increase in a post-Brexit Europe. An EU without Britain’s skepticism might accelerate its integration on foreign policy and security matters. If and when Germany finally acknowledges that its own prospects of acquiring a permanent seat are hopeless, it may make the creation of an EU seat a diplomatic priority. And at that point, France may have trouble resisting the logic of an EU seat at the Security Council table.

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Can regional organizations save democracy?

By David Bosco

Scholars have examined whether a country’s membership in regional organizations can impact its domestic politics. Jon Pevehouse’s 2005 book Democracy from Above made the case that regional groupings, in certain contexts, can help shape domestic politics and solidify transitions to democracy.

Two unfolding political crises will be notable further tests for the thesis. In Poland, the European Union is struggling to keep the Polish government of Jaroslaw Kaczynski from straying into authoritarianism. The European Commission last week expressed concern about the government’s moves to limit the power of Poland’s highest court:

Recent events in Poland concerning in particular the Constitutional Court have led the European Commission to open a dialogue with the Polish Government in order to ensure the full respect of the rule of law. The Commission considers it necessary that Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal is able to fully ensure an effective constitutional review of legislative acts.

The Commission’s criticism met with derision:

A day after the European Commission slammed some of the conservative government’s moves, which have paralyzed the country’s Constitutional Tribunal and triggered international censure and domestic opposition against the ruling Law and Justice party, Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski poured scorn on the EU assessment.

“What right the Commission has to judge anything?” Waszczykowski said on state radio, just hours before meeting with EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini. “It is not binding for us. We treat this document that has arrived as an opinion, as a suggestion.”

A similar dynamic is unfolding between the Organization of American States (OAS) and Venezuela, a member state. Last week, the OAS triggered steps to debate that country’s worsening political and economic plight:

By invoking its Democratic Charter the organization effectively began a process of debate that could eventually lead to Venezuela’s suspension. But analysts say the more likely avenue initially will be a series of discussions to break the political stalemate between Mr. Maduro and his opponents who control the National Assembly.

As in Poland, the regional group’s criticism provoked an angry response from the Venezuelan government and its backers in the region. But these pyrotechnics are likely just early salvos in an extended struggle between these faltering democracies and the overwhelmingly democratic clubs to which they belong.

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Human Rights Council tempers its focus on Israel

By David Bosco

One of the most persistent criticisms of the UN’s Human Rights Council is that it has focused disproportionately–almost obsessively–on the Israel-Palestine dispute. The Obama administration has argued that its engagement with the Council has helped to improve that situation. And a new Brookings Institution report by Theodore Piccone and Naomi McMillen provides some empirical support for that claim:

An analysis of the Human Rights Council’s behavior toward country-specific issues since 2006 also demonstrates that while Israel/Palestine continues to dominate country-specific human rights issues at the Human Rights Council, recently – especially since 2011 – states have begun to more seriously address human rights situations in other countries and regions. For instance, in the early years of the Council, commissions of inquiry disproportionately dealt with the human rights situation in Israel/Palestine, but in the last four years new COIs have been established for a wide range of countries, including the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea, Eritrea and Sri Lanka. Additionally, special sessions have been convened in the last three years regarding the situations in the Central African Republic, Iraq, and Nigeria (Boko Haram). While Israel/Palestine continues to occupy a significant amount of the Council’s agenda, states are clearly starting to expand their attention to include a more diverse array of country-specific human rights issues around the world.

The report, which is chock full of data and insightful analysis, also notes that state participation with Council’s special rapporteurs and with the new Universal Periodic Review process has improved.

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Erdogan blasts Security Council structure

By David Bosco

Speaking in Uganda, Turkish president Recep Erdogan made pointed comments about the structure of the UN Security Council:

Criticising the veto power of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), Erdogan said, “The world cannot be given up to five permanent members’ initiative.”

The speech kicked off his four-day official tour of East Africa, in which he will also visit Kenya.

In his speech he said there are no Muslim or African countries among the five permanent members of the UNSC.

“What kind of justice is this? What kind of law is this?” he asked.

Turkey has developed a somewhat idiosyncratic position on Council reform in recent years. Erdogan has harshly criticized the Council’s performance in Syria and has critiqued Russia’s use of the veto in particular. Rather than seeking to join the bloc of countries seen as likely new permanent members (Brazil, Germany, India, and Japan), Turkey has insisted that new permanent seats would make the Council less democratic and less effective. Erdogan himself reportedly argued that permanent seats should be abolished and that the Council should feature twenty rotating seats.

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Ending reappointment for WTO judges?

By David Bosco

I wrote last week about the controversy surrounding U.S. opposition to reappointing a member of the WTO’s appellate body. Yesterday, a collection of former appellate body members released a letter expressing concern about the episode’s impact on the impartiality of the body. In so doing, they suggest getting rid of the reappointment process altogether:

Should WTO Members conclude now that they would like to do still more to help ensure the impartial independence of the Appellate Body, we suggest that the current system of reappointment be abolished. Instead of one four-year term, with the possibility of a second four-year term, we recommend a single, longer term for all Members of the Appellate Body.

Practice regarding reappointment is mixed in other international judicial bodies. The International Court of Justice permits reappointment while the International Criminal Court does not (unless the judge has served less than a third of a full term). At the regional level, the European Court of Justice allows reappointment, but the European Court of Human Rights gives judges nonrenewable nine-year terms. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has six-year judicial terms and allows judges to be reappointed only once.

In the academic literature, a number of scholars–and a few former practitioners–have attempted to understand how states use appointment and reappointment processes to manage and influence international courts. For insightful articles, see here and here.

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The lonely U.S. bid to unseat a WTO judge

By David Bosco

Given its power, the World Trade Organization’s appellate body receives very little attention. Its seven members generally toil in obscurity even as they issue rulings on trade disputes with huge economic implications. But a U.S. campaign to unseat one appellate body member has brought the WTO’s judicial arm unusual attention.

The dispute emerged earlier this month at a session of the Dispute Settlement Body (DSB), a WTO committee that includes all members. The United States opposed what would normally be the routine reappointment of appellate body member Seung Wha Chang, a South Korean national. In the International Trade Daily, Bryce Baschuk provides context:

The U.S. opposition comes during a precarious time for the WTO dispute settlement system, which is overburdened by a heavy workload of complex dispute cases and a growing shortage of senior dispute settlement judges.

More than two-dozen WTO members—including Brazil, the European Union, Japan, and South Korea—commented on the U.S. decision and many said it posed a serious threat to the independence and impartiality of the appellate body.

Unless the U.S. withdraws its opposition, Chang’s term will end on May 31 and open a second vacancy on the seven-member panel.

International trade expert Gregory Shaffer sees in the U.S. move a serious threat to the WTO’s integrity:

[The U.S. Trade Representative’s] hubris could be explained if this were Putin’s Russia. Or perhaps Trump’s America. But the Obama administration? Has this fallen outside the President’s radar? It is a high-risk strategy for an administration that professes to be internationalist. The core reason for building a global trade regime is to create a third party institution that helps manage conflicts that could ultimately endanger international welfare, peace, and security.

Even if Shaffer is overstating matters, U.S. isolation on this issue is striking; the summary of the DSB session indicates very little support for the American position. It is conceivable that there is broader dissatisfaction with Chang and that the United States is taking the hit for others (it wouldn’t be the first time). But the episode may also represent a new instance of hamfisted diplomacy in the international economic realm (with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank imbroglio being the most notable recent example).

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Ban Ki-moon chides big powers for absenteeism

By David Bosco

With the end of his term approaching, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon isn’t mincing words. He expressed frustration earlier this week that so few of the G7 countries sent their leaders to the first ever World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul. Via the Christian Science Monitor:

In closing the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit he had called to address the 125 million people currently in need of some form of assistance, Mr. Ban said Tuesday night, “It’s a bit disappointing that some leaders could not be here, especially those of the G7” group of industrialized countries. ”They are the richest countries in the world, and they show leadership by example.”

That’s about as severe a lashing as the world’s top diplomat ever gives the most powerful members of the organization he runs. Yet the mild-mannered Ban didn’t stop there, but went on to single out the leaders of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council: “The absence of those leaders from this meeting do not provide an excuse for inaction.”

Germany’s Angela Merkel was the only G7 leader to attend the gathering. Countries represented by their heads of state included Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Croatia, Madagascar, Niger, Palestine, and Ukraine.

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