Get us out of this mess…

I’ve been in Japan today, speaking at ‘Reforming International Institutions – Meeting the Challenges of the 21st Century’,  a seminar organized by the United Nations University and the British Embassy in Japan.

You can download my talk here (with pictures, references etc) – or the text only is available below the jump. There’s a webcast too.


  • It’s going to be a tough year. The financial meltdown has a long way to go, and the downturn is risking turning into a global depression.
  • Trade is a bell wether. Protectionist pressures are already on the rise. If they gain traction, take that as a warning of a wider loss of confidence in global institutions.
  • The unravelling of global economic imbalances could prove corrosive to the international order. If countries start to devalue to protect exports, expect a tit-for-tat dynamic to kick in.
  • Scarcity issues (energy, water, land, food, atmospheric space for emissions) remain the key medium term driver of global change. Commodity prices will spike again as soon as there’s recovery.
  • The downturn has stemmed the uncontrolled growth of emissions, but also lessened the chance of a robust global deal on climate.
  • Economic bad times could well drive increased conflict. A major new security threat might be the fabled black swan – hitting just when the global immune system is already overloaded.
  • If we experience a long crisis (or a chain of interlinked crises), we are likely to see either a significant loss of trust in the system (globalization retreats), or a significant increase in trust (interdependence increases). 
  • You need to stretch time horizons to get the latter – shared awareness (joint analysis of risks and challenges), as a basis for shared platforms (loose coalitions of leaders), which can lobby for a shared operating system (a new international institutional architecture).
  • 2009 sets a challenging agenda for the G20 (financial reform and economic recovery – but framed by a broader vision on climate, resources, security etc.)…
  • …the G8 (caucus of rich countries able to tee up Copenhagen and kick start development assistance if developing countries begin to teeter)…
  • …the UN (especially Ban Ki-Moon’s proposed high level ‘friend’s group’ on climate, but also as a fora for getting to grips with scarcity issues)…
  • and the Bretton Woods institutions and the WTO (first of all ensuring they keep their heads above water, then looking to ‘save globalization from itself’).
  • Oh and be ready for the backlash – people are angry and rightfully so, but that may well lead us down some populist blind alleys.

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Mark Abell – from Mumbai (updated x4)

Yesterday morning, many of us here in the UK heard from Mark Abell, a British lawyer, who spoke to British radio from the Oberoi in Mumbai, where he was barricaded in his room. Abell was extraordinarily calm – remarkably collected despite the danger he faced.

This morning it was a relief to hear that he’d been rescued, after long long hours in his room, communicating with others in the hotel using his Blackberry, and latterly with the British Council, who appear to have played some role in keeping in touch with UK hostages.

Abell is devastated by the experience – not so much by what happened to him, as by the fate suffered by others. In particular, he talks movingly of the death of the waitress who served him in the restaurant just before he went to his room, and of a Japanese businessman who he’d been chatting to (in Japanese) just before the attacks.

If you didn’t hear his interview with the Today programme, then make sure you listen. He’s a great guy.

We spent 48 hours, all but, with no food and little water, surrounded by explosions, gun shots, people running up and down the corridor screaming. It was grim, very grim…

The people here have been fantastic… the Indian authorities, the hotel people, they’ve just been incredibly good and kind…

The lobby was carnage. There was blood and guts everywhere. It was very very upsetting. Just before I went to my room, I had dinner in the Kandahar restaurant. I’ve now just found out that that was one of the places it started. Unfortunately…[he breaks down] the waitress who served me was one of the first to get shot….

It’s been a picnic for me. It’s all these other brave people who need acknowledgement and praise. 

Update: I just wanted to underline my gratitude for the role played by British Council staff, and by staff from the British embassy and consulates in emergencies such as these. They tend to see some dreadful things, but do their best under immense pressure.

Update II: More heroics from hotel staff:

[Prashant] Mangeshikar, 52, told Reuters that he had been in the foyer with his wife and daughter when the attackers arrived and started firing. Hotel workers ushered guests into an upstairs service area to escape, but they then came across another gunman.”He looked young and did not speak to us. He just fired. We were in sort of a single file,” said the Mumbai gynaecologist. “The man in front of my wife shielded us. He was a maintenance staff. He took the bullets.”

Mangeshikar added that the guests managed to take shelter inside a room, dragging the injured staff member, identified only as Mr Rajan, in with them. For the next 12 hours they attempted to stop the bleeding from his stomach wound. Rajan was eventually evacuated, but it is not known whether he survived.

“I’m going out today to the hospital to find out what happened to him,” Mangeshikar said. “I owe it to that brave man.”

Update III: Apparently members of the some people visiting the British Council were caught in the Taj restaurant – but have now been freed, while another British Council staff member visitor was shot in another incident at the hotel. Adrian Bregazzi speaks to the BBC World Service:

He was shot at close range by what appears to have been a teenager with an AK-47. He was left for dead, luckily for him, and managed to crawl into some bushes. He’s suffered from a huge blood loss, but is in surgery now.

[I have clarified the above – as it seems that those injured were visiting the BC – probably from the UK (and probably to promote British education] – not staff members]

Update IV – Great quote from Mark Abell as he arrived back in the UK: “Without food, information became our sustenance.”

Labour Conference keynotes in times of meltdown

Listening to Gordon Brown’s speech today, Philip Stephens notes that “Mr Brown kept his audience in its comfort zone”:

Though he set out the challenges Britain faces in a period of tumultuous global upheaval, Mr Brown did little to challenge his audience’s preconception that the present mess was all the fault of greedy capitalists.

Reading that brought to mind another Labour Conference speech in times of global upheaval: Tony Blair’s back in 2001.  Remember this?

This is a moment to seize. The kaleidoscope has been shaken. The pieces are in flux. Soon they will settle again. Before they do, let us re-order this world around us.

I re-read the whole thing this afternoon, and was struck by a) its brilliance, b) its insight, c) how it soars compared to Brown’s speech today and d) the extent to which – in retrospect, with all that’s happened since – it shines with an eerie messianic fervour.  It’s well worth another look: full text below the jump.

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Stop panting, British intelligence will remain

The Telegraph has another “EU-is-taking-over” story today about how moves to create a European intelligence service will jeopardise the work of British spies.

Improving intelligence cooperation and information-sharing inside the EU is important both to help combat terrorism and to provide the necessary intelligence for ESDP missions, such as the EULEX mission in Kosovo.
A first step towards improving intelligence-sharing was the establishment of the Joint Situation Center (SITCEN) for intelligence analysis within the Council Secretariat. One of its goals is to bring together experts from both the intelligence and security services.

For a while federalist-minded politicians have tried to push the idea further. In 2004, Finnish and Austrian politicians proposed to take this further, creating an EU intelligence service.

But this has gone – and will go – nowhere. Nor is it even clear how such a service would function. Creating trained and experienced staff, investing in technology, networks, agents etc is beyond what the EU can do.

Whilst EU-level bodies may develop their analytical functions, creating a cadre of analysts that may even sit in EC Delegations, no serious analyst believes that the member states will loose full control of operational decisions, information gatheredm their network of sources etc.

But don’t let that stop a story like the one the Telegraph is running.

Globalisation and the death of the hot pot

Having just returned home to the U.S. after a long trip to Britain, I am naturally consoling myself with frequent readings of the expat section of the Daily Telegraph website.  This appears to be designed to lull far-off anglo-nostalgists into believing that the UK is still a green and pleasant land, give or (preferably) take the odd immigrant.  But all is not well: classic British dishes are dying out.

Traditional British dinners are being replaced by ‘foreign quick fixes’ as they take too long to cook. Classic dishes such as toad in the hole, bubble and squeak and hot pots are dying out are diasppearing from the family dinner table, a survey shows.

Researchers found almost one in three people now opt for pizza or spaghetti bolognese at the majority of meal times. And more than a quarter of adults polled named Italian as their favourite type of food.

However, not all British classics are disappearing as the research found that roast dinners and jacket potatoes are still firm favourites.

Kathryn Race from The Potato Council, which carried out the poll, said:

“It’s a shame to see that some of our country’s best loved foods are no longer seen on UK dinner tables – they are our heritage and something we need to keep. We are travelling the world more than ever now, and it seems we are trying to recreate the dishes we sample abroad once we get back home. Foreign foods and the ingredients needed to make those dishes are readily available in supermarkets making it far easier to cook them back at home, although this is, it seems, at a price.”

Zimbabwe veto says as much about US and UK as Russia

The Russian and Chinese veto of UNSC sanctions against Zimbabwe may in hindsight have been predicable, even inevitable, but on day of the vote they came as a clear surprise to many, not least British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who only days earlier told the House the tougher sanctions were in the bag.

Leaving aside whether you believe sanctions are a good idea – I certainly do – what happened? Had Russian President Dmitri Medvedev not signed up to sanctions only days before at the G8 Summit in Japan? Did the Prime Minister simply not take “Njet” for an answer? Bit by bit, the run-up to the vote is emerging. 

It now seems the issue was driven not by No. 10, but from the 7th floor of the U.S State Department, where Jendayi Frazer, U.S Assistant Secretary of State, sits. Even though no U.S interests are at stake, Ms Frazer, an academic colleague of Condi Rice’s from her Stanford days, has focused intently on Zimbabwe, apparently raising the issue whenever she meets African leaders.

Ms. Frazer – who is known to abhor her British opposite number Lord Malloch Brown from his UN days – apparently was in the driving seat on Zimbabwe policy, after having waited in vain for a UK lead. With the US Ambassador to the UN, Zal Khalizaid, she apparently pushed hard for a tough resolution. Better to make a stand, the argument went.

But after the G8 meeting, British diplomats apparently thought that the Russians would balk and became nervous. In fairness, Brown – who had been micro-managing the issue – thought he’d gotten Medvedev on board. But either little thought was given to whether the Russian president could in fact deliver – especially after the British Prime Minister harangued him at his first summit – or the issue was not deemed important enough to merit a Russian rejection.

To be on the safe side, however, the Foreign Office apparently asked Bush to call Medvedev and Rice to raise the issue with her Russian counterpart. None of this happened and things began to fall apart. The Chinese, who diplomats believe would probably have abstained if the Russians had not decided to veto, moved to veto as well.

By then the Prime Minister had already sounded confident in his post-G8 address to the House during PMQs. As a last-ditch effort, diplomats considered tabling a weaker resolution, giving South Africa more time to find a solution and thus putting the onus back on Tabo Mbeki and, ultimately, Robert Mugabe. But the U.S – who chaired the UN Security Council – decided to go for broke, tabled the old text and the rest, as they say, is history.

In the aftermath of the no-vote, the U.S government has been quick to point out that the Russian veto shows Russian cannot be seen as a reliable partner. Russian officials have reacted angrily at this, saying Medvedev never promised support for U.N. sanctions.

But what does the episode say about U.S and UK foreign policy?  That even on an issue of such totemic importance to Britain – and where the Prime Minster has taken a personal interest – the U.S remains in the lead, yet unable or unwilling to do the necessary due diligence to ensure more than declaratory success. 

Still saving global Europe

As European foreign ministers settle down to what must be one of their most uncomfortable meetings this year, my colleague Ulrike Guerot and I try to remind people why the Lisbon Treaty was proposed in the first place. No, not an evil scheme to vanquish long-held British liberties. That role, if you believe the critics , is Gordon Brown’s . But rather, they did it to help deal with Europe’s decline.

If uncorrected, what does this mean in the long-term: a greater diffusion of power and decreased support for a rules-based multilateral system and international norms, such as human rights, at a time when the world is moving to a no-polar set-up.

In the article, we suggest two options are available: a minimalist and a maximalist one.

Minimally, European leaders should think about ways of improving the Union’s foreign policy instruments. Many of the changes could probably be created without a Treaty and through Council and Commission decisions.

But a more maximalist option would be to push ahead with a multi-speed Europe. Multi-speed not in the sense of fast/middle/slow; rather, multi-speed in the sense of overlapping ellipses of cooperation. This is not the same as consigning Europe to fragments – because the key ellipses (e.g. euro, Schengen) expand over time until they come to cover all European countries.