During Labour’s last period in government we failed to make responding to illiberal powers one of the organising concepts of British foreign policy and paid the price in Copenhagen, Geneva, and New York. If we want to avoid repeating that mistake, we need to face up to the scale and nature of China’s power. Labour’s future China policy must combine the humility to recognise the UK’s diminished leverage and the confidence to believe the west’s collective capacity to shape the environment in which Beijing makes its choices has not been lost.
Debate about what new Goals should succeed the Millennium Development Goals after their 2015 deadline is now well underway. But there has so far been much less discussion of another key issue: a new Global Partnership to deliver them.
This is worrying – because although we won’t know the full list of new Goals for another two years, it already seems clear that we’re heading for a much more ambitious set of objectives than the Millennium Development Goals. There’s a real risk of a mismatch between the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of post-2015, if governments agree an ambitious, universal set of Goals, but fail to commit to a credible action plan for making them happen.
Against this backdrop, I’ve just finished a Center on International Cooperation report (full pdf available here, and 8 page policy brief here) that sets out to explore both what kind of a Global Partnership is needed, and which elements of it look feasible for agreement in the current political context.
The report starts with an assessment of which countries want what from post-2015, and of what sort of goals the new Global Partnership may have to deliver, before setting out analysis and policy options of two key areas: financing, in the broadest sense, and the wider sustainable development agenda (encompassing areas like trade, migration, sustainability, technology, data, and global governance reform).
It also sets out a 10 point ‘early harvest’ plan of measures that could – at a stretch – be agreed over the next two to three years, and which have the potential to act as confidence building measures that might, with luck, start to catalyse more momentum and trust in an agenda that badly needs more of both.
Academics and policy wonks are mainly mild-mannered folk. I know that I am. But occasionally it’s fun to cut loose and have a really nasty debate with an intellectual opponent. The New Internationalist gave Phil Leech of Liverpool University and me a chance to do just that by asking us to conduct a debate on abolishing the Security Council for their latest issue. Our debate quickly and entertainingly turned into the IR academic equivalent of professional wresting.
Phil started off by stating the case for the Council’s abolition:
The UN Security Council (UNSC), in its current form, represents an antiquated approach to international politics.
The original intention behind its creation was for it to be an executive arm of the UN, enforcing the will of the international community against rogue states, ensuring compliance with international norms and promoting world peace. However, in reality the Security Council has proven to be Western-centric, overly concerned with the rights and interests of states – rather than that of individual human beings or human societies – and incompatible with the very urgent need to address many of the key issues and challenges of the contemporary world.
I actually agree with a lot of that, but I wasn’t going to admit defeat so easily..
You are right: the Security Council, like life, is not fair. But it was never meant to be.
Time for me to ramp up the battle!
Let’s pursue your proposal: scrap the Council. What, if anything, would you replace it with? A forum for NGOs? Oxfam and Amnesty International would have more humane and edifying debates than China and the US, but what could they deliver? Perhaps we should select 15 entirely random individuals from around the world to debate war and peace in place of the Council’s current members.
Phil strikes back:
You seem to accept both the inherent unfairness of the system and its inefficacies –which, you concede, constitute the politicization of international norms, sometimes at great human cost – merely because of a poverty of creative thought. I am unconvinced.
Ouch! Me again:
I may not be thinking very creatively, but your alternative adds up to a couple of slogans.
If you want to find out what Phil had to say to that, read through the full multilateral wrestling-match here. Rest assured that we made up afterwards!
In the Guardian, Hugh Muir complains that the Daily Mail has “helped erode trust in the probity of the political establishment to the extent that politicians cannot now receive a fair hearing on anything.”
We don’t listen much to any of them these days, and sometimes that doesn’t matter, because we live quite happily day to day without ministerial interference. But when it comes to issues that affect the state and mood of the nation; the inability of even serious politicians to cut through becomes troubling.
This is spot on for climate change, as can be seen by a look at how Hugh’s own paper covered three stories in the run up to the Warsaw summit.
First, fossil fuel subsidies, where the Guardian gobbles up a global report from the Overseas Development Institute and presents it through a primarily national lens.
As I have explained, the Guardian’s framing is largely fallacious, but to pick up Hugh’s point, the government’s position is not reflected at all. No quotes. Nothing.
Only a tiny minority of readers would suspect that ministers deny Britain has any inefficient fossil fuel subsidies at all (or understand why). Nor would they realise that eliminating the ‘subsidy’ identified by ODI equates to quadrupling VAT on all domestic energy, whether it comes from fossil fuels or renewables. Continue reading
Hats off to DFID’s communications team for a classy graphical overview of the humanitarian assistance that the UK has sent to the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan.
There’s just one problem: the warship silhouettes. The top one is supposed to represent HMS Illustrious – but even I can tell the difference between the silhouette above and what Illustrious actually looks like (h/t Wikipedia):
So what is the silhouette in the DFID graphic? In fact, as is now being gleefully pointed out on Facebook by people who know what they’re talking about on matters maritime, it turns out that it’s… er… the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov. D’oh!
The London Review of Books has a nice piece by Lynn Visson, a former UN translator, on the secrets of her trade:
The most important language in most international organisations has no name: it is the institution’s own bureaucratese, its linguistic Esperanto. We never do something, we implement. We don’t repeat, we reiterate and underscore. We are never happy, we are gratified or satisfied. You are never doing a great job: you are performing your duties in the outstanding manner in which you have always discharged them. There is not heft or embezzlement, but rather failure to ensure compliance with proper accounting and auditing procedures in the handling of financial resources. This is a language the interpreter must master very early on.
But sometimes there are surprises…
Some colleagues play tic-tac-toe with each other out of sheer boredom. Delegates too sometimes get bored. Instead of beginning his speech with the usual ‘Thank you, Mr Chairman,’ a Russian delegate for whom I was interpreting launched in with ‘O my lost youth, my lost youth,’ and proceeded to reminisce about the mosaics in the main cathedral in Sofia, including one figure in the cupola that reminded him, as he put it, of ‘Christ in a space suit’. Several delegates turned towards the English booth with puzzled looks, undoubtedly wondering if I had gone mad.
…and sometimes things go horribly wrong:
One unfortunate freelancer announced to an entire room that a Spanish speech he had just finished translating was ‘the stupidest and most boring speech I have ever interpreted in my entire life’. I doubt that he was ever hired again.