How “global governance” works

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We said – a couple of us start to walk up to the room where the multilat is because we had sent advance to look at the room, the room where we were going to have the China bilat and realize the room is occupied by what we think are the Chinese and we can’t get into the room to look at it. So they come back and it sort of got our antennae up a little bit. So by the time several of us, including Denis McDonough and I, got into the multilateral room we’ve now figured out why we can’t get into that room: because that room has Wen, Lula, Singh and Zuma. They’re all having a meeting.

Q So they weren’t at the airport?


Q And you guys didn’t know this.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We did not know this. We are getting – I can show you some of the emails that we’re getting saying – because truthfully I asked one of the advance guys, did you see anybody else in the hallway? And he said, just clearly Chinese.

Q So Wen –

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Wen, Lula, Singh and Zuma. But we’re starting to get emails one by one, hey Zuma is in this room, too; hey, Singh is in this room, too. So all of a sudden that’s when we start to make sure we’re walking up to the multilateral room. The President is beginning to leave. He spends time right before he leaves – this would have been right before 7:00 p.m., the President is talking with Chancellor Merkel and Gordon Brown about going for this bilateral meeting with Premier Wen, that they had rescheduled for 7:00 p.m.

Again, we thought we were still on for a bilateral meeting. That’s when our delegation walked over. We held and I think Ben moved the pool because we had heard at this point previous to this that the pool for the Chinese had been assembled outside of this room. And we had the President wait for a minute while Ben moved the pool so that – we had heard that they were going to pre-set without any of us. So we had the President hold.

That’s I think when many of you start to pick up this story. This is when I think you, in the pool report, said, you know –

Q When he said, are you ready, are you ready?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Are you ready for me? We were going to –

Q You were going to crash their meeting.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, no, no, no, no. We weren’t crashing a meeting; we were going for our bilateral meeting.

Q And you found those other people there.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We found the other people there. We found this out as we were going –

Q So as you walked in you realized it –

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We found this out – remember, we found this out as Denis and I are walking up to the room to go with the President, because the delegations were the same for the Wen bilat, Denis, Ben and I were both in the delegation for the original Wen bilat. That’s when the President walks in – Helene has in the pool report, you know, “Are you ready for me?”

Q Is it correct to say that when he walked in he didn’t know?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don’t – I think it’s safe to say they did not intend to have that meeting with four of them; they intended to have that meeting with one. The President walks in – and by the time I finally push through I hear the President say – there aren’t any seats, right, I mean, I think if you’ve seen some of the pictures, there were basically no chairs.

– From Robert Gibbs’ play-by-play to reporters on Air Force 1, en route home from Copenhagen.

The Foreign Office’s budget travails

Finally, some proper media coverage of the appalling budgetary nightmare in which the UK Foreign Office finds itself – the result less of actual budget reductions (though that problem is certainly in the post too), but of the pound’s decline against the US dollar. Alex Barker and Anna Fifield in the FT:

The problems at the Foreign Office were caused by a Treasury decision in late 2007 to stop shielding it from currency fluctuations a few months before sterling’s 30 per cent decline against the dollar. As a result the Foreign Office lost about £100m from its £830m core budget this financial year, in spite of attempts to hedge. The shortfall is expected to rise to £120m in 2010-11, close to 15 per cent of the core budget.

Most coverage has focused on what this means for counter-terrorism budgets in Pakistan (although wouldn’t you know, the Telegraph has found a bonuses angle to the story).  But that’s just a microcosm of a much larger issue.

Reflect for a moment on the fact that the three defining events of the last decade – 9/11, the 2008 food and fuel price spike, and the credit crunch and ensuing global downturn – were all fundamentally about foreign policy.

More than that, they were about a collective failure by states to manage trans-boundary global risks, as David and I argued in our article on global resilience for World Politics Review last year. (By the way, we’ll be publishing a new Brookings Institution report on Confronting the Long Crisis of Globalisation next week, co-authored by us and CIC director Bruce Jones – this to coincide with the 40th anniversary meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, which takes ‘global redesign’ as its theme.)

True, the Foreign Office is not the lead department on terrorism, resource scarcity or international economics. It’s hardly as if FCO could have prevented 9/11, the resource spike or the credit crunch on its own. But that’s the whole point. No-one – no one government department, no one company, no one country – can manage these risks on their own. Which means better risk management is fundamentally about influence: persuading coalitions of states, international organisations and non-state actors to collaborate in pursuit of global resilience.

So one might think that a properly resourced (and, we would argue, reformed) Foreign Office would be recognised as central to the UK’s ability to work to manage global risks. Instead, the Treasury has left FCO to swing in the wind over a failure to hedge against currency fluctuations (something you might suppose would be the Treasury’s job in the first place) – and on top of this will look to cut the Foreign Office’s budget in the next Spending Round.

It’s not just the irony that every time FCO’s budget gets hammered, it’s because the rest of the government is having to clear up after  the Treasury’s failures – whether in currency hedging, or having to bail out the banks (breaking the public sector bank in the process) because the Treasury screwed up financial regulation.

It’s that it shows such a truly awe-inspiring inability to learn from past mistakes. Never mind whether HMT is shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted on the credit crunch. By taking the knife to the Foreign Office, it seems hellbent on letting all the other horses out too. If we want to shift from constant fire-fighting against global risks towards actual prevention – which, bean counters note, also happens to be much cheaper – then we should be scaling up FCO’s budget dramatically, and turning it into an influence projection platform fit for the 21st century.

It’s not even as if it’ll be that expensive, for heaven’s sake. The FCO’s budget is peanuts in the larger scheme of things (see chart below, which shows UK spending on the three international departments as a proportion of total government expenditure).  You could eliminate the Foreign Office altogether, and the dent you’d make in the deficit wouldn’t be more than a rounding error.


(P.S. It’s worth noting that – contrary to what you might suppose – the arguments above apply to DFID as well as FCO. True, DFID’s programme budget is rising steadily upwards towards 0.7% of GNI. But its admin budget – including staff – will also be under severe pressure in the next Spending Round.

It’s already had to lose one in six staff since the Efficiency Review in 2005. If you go to their offices in Palace Street, you find that they’ve let out their entire top floor to other tenants. So if, as we’ve long argued here, effective development work depends on people as much as money, then DFID too needs to be properly resources in headcount terms.)

Posted in UK

One quarter of US grain crop now fed to cars rather than people

Food for thought from the Earth Policy Institute yesterday:

The 107 million tons of grain that went to U.S. ethanol distilleries in 2009 was enough to feed 330 million people for one year at average world consumption levels. More than a quarter of the total U.S. grain crop was turned into ethanol to fuel cars last year. With 200 ethanol distilleries in the country set up to transform food into fuel, the amount of grain processed has tripled since 2004.

Total number of underourished people in the world this year, according to FAO: 1.04 billion; in other words, US ethanol production could eliminate a third of global hunger.

Did Copenhagen die yesterday?

Yesterday, I speculated about prospects for the Copenhagen Accord if Democrats lost their super-majority in the Senate. Well, voters in Massachusetts handed them a thumping – so what next?

In Politico, Martin Kady II looks on the bright side. Yes, healthcare may now be dead (many Democrats seem to be abandoning it without a fight – though I suppose that could change over the next 24 hours) – but Obama can still get other key parts of his agenda through Congress, Kady believes.

Unfortunately, on climate, what looks bright to Kady is likely to look exceptionally gloomy to those outside America’s borders.

A cap-and-trade bill has a shot in the Senate – as long as the cap-and- trade part is removed. If Democrats dump that toxic measure and pursue a more modest climate and energy bill, they’ve actually got a shot at getting something done – and getting a few Republican votes to push them past 60.

Voinovich and Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) are working on a smaller-scale proposal that would limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. And moderate Democrats are pushing Senate leadership to drop the cap-and- trade provision in favor of an energy-only bill, which could include renewable fuels standard tax incentives for alternative energy…

“It is my assessment that we likely will not do a climate change bill this year, but we will do energy,” Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) said Tuesday. “I think it is more likely for us to turn to something that is bipartisan and will address the country’s energy interest and begin to address specific policies on climate change.”

The Voinovich-Lugar bill will do little to cap, let alone reduce, emissions. Voinovich is certainly no fan of action on climate change. He has been holding out for a new analysis of cap and trade from EPA – believing the agency is holding back information on the true costs.

His main priority is reduce America’s dependency on the Middle East, wanting the US to become the least dependent on imported oil of any country in the world. He’s thinks the US should go after “every drop” of its oil shale and should also invest heavily in using coal as a substitute for oil.

On climate itself, he thinks the 17% emissions reduction by 2020 on 2005 levels, which President Obama promised at Copenhagen, is much too ambitious. He sees little point in the US reducing its emissions if China and India don’t do the same.

If Voinovich is now the best hope for getting bipartisan support for US domestic legislation, then I think Copenhagen’s prospects are grim indeed. Expect it be starring in its own Monty Python sketch sometime around the time of the US mid-terms.

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Calling Colleen Graffy

Colleen Graffy - happy spinning Gitmo

I was once on the receiving end of Colleen Graffy’s attempts to spin conditions at Guantánamo. At the time, Graffy was the US’s Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy at the time – and she was on a PR offensive for the controversial prison camp. It was, she told a meeting I attended, a much nicer place to be than many British prisons.

It was a strangely undiplomatic line – strikingly cavalier about conditions at the base, while oddly rude about her British hosts. You can get a good idea of her position from this Guardian piece she wrote around the same time.

Graffy lives in London these days and landed at one of the capital’s airports five hours ago, after a long flight from California. Some journalist should call her up and get a comment on this story by Scott Horton, which alleges that three men who were said to have committed suicide at the base on June 9, 2006, were actually tortured to death.

I have no way of judging how robust Horton’s reporting is, but he certainly seems to have done his homework, with eye witness accounts from guards who were on duty that day and backing from this powerful analysis of the military’s cover story by Seton Hall University School of Law’s Center for Policy & Research.

Here’s an extract from Horton’s story – but please take the time to read the whole thing if you haven’t seen it already:

Military pathologists connected with the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology arranged immediate autopsies of the three dead prisoners, without securing the permission of the men’s families. The identities and findings of the pathologists remain shrouded in extraordinary secrecy, but the timing of the autopsies suggests that medical personnel stationed at Guantánamo may have undertaken the procedure without waiting for the arrival of an experienced medical examiner from the United States. Each of the heavily redacted autopsy reports states unequivocally that “the manner of death is suicide” and, more specifically, that the prisoner died of “hanging.” Each of the reports describes ligatures that were found wrapped around the prisoner’s neck, as well as circumferential dried abrasion furrows imprinted with the very fine weave pattern of the ligature fabric and forming an inverted “V” on the back of the head. This condition, the anonymous pathologists state, is consistent with that of a hanging victim.

The pathologists place the time of death “at least a couple of hours” before the bodies were discovered, which would be sometime before 10:30 p.m. on June 9. Additionally, the autopsy of Al-Salami states that his hyoid bone was broken, a phenomenon usually associated with manual strangulation, not hanging.

The report asserts that the hyoid was broken “during the removal of the neck organs.” An odd admission, given that these are the very body parts—the larynx, the hyoid bone, and the thyroid cartilage—that would have been essential to determining whether death occurred from hanging, from strangulation, or from choking. These parts remained missing when the men’s families finally received their bodies.

At the time, Graffy was heavily involved in the public affairs response to the alleged suicides. In an interview with the BBC, she acused the men of hanging themselves as “a tactic to further the jihadi cause.” Their suicide was “a good PR move to draw attention” by men who did not value their lives nor the lives of those around them.

Not so, says Horton. Two of the men (one just a boy really, Yasser Talal Al-Zahrani was just 17 years old when captured) were slated for release. The other could not be returned to Yemen, but analysts had apparently concluded that “there is no credible information to suggest [he] received terrorist related training or is a member of the Al Qaeda network.”

So, journos – now would be a good time to call Graffy for a quote. Has she read Horton’s story? Does she still believe the men committed suicide? And does she still maintain they killed themselves to get a juicy headline?

These are not simply gotcha questions. Maybe, she’s had a change of mind as the evidence about torture has continued to mount. It would be interesting to know…

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