Latest Developments, April 16

In the latest news and analysis…

Inner City Press’s Matthew Russell Lee writes that France has drafted “its own blank check” for the UN peacekeeping mission – to be called MINUSMA – it hopes to have on the ground in Mali by July 1:

“To some it seems strange that France would be the country to draft the Security Council’s resolution on Mali, and that its draft would have the Council ‘welcoming the action of the French forces.’
But the French draft, which Inner City Press has put online here, would also authorize French forces to use ‘all necessary means’ to intervene.

Having a [UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations] chief independent from France would be one way to counter-act the danger of letting France drafts its own mandate in Mali.” [Editor’s note: The last four heads of UN peacekeeping have all been French citizens.]

Hungry for dignity
Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel, a Guantanamo Bay detainee since 2002, discusses his participation in the widespread hunger strike underway the US military prison:

“One man here weighs just 77 pounds. Another, 98. Last thing I knew, I weighed 132, but that was a month ago.
I’ve been on a hunger strike since Feb. 10 and have lost well over 30 pounds. I will not eat until they restore my dignity.

When they come to force me into the chair [for forced feedings], if I refuse to be tied up, they call the [Extreme Reaction Force] team. So I have a choice. Either I can exercise my right to protest my detention, and be beaten up, or I can submit to painful force-feeding.
The only reason I am still here is that President Obama refuses to send any detainees back to Yemen. This makes no sense. I am a human being, not a passport, and I deserve to be treated like one.”

The truth about global poverty
Jason Hickel of the London School of Economics argues that discussions about aid draw attention away from the international economic policies that cost poor countries $500 billion a year:

“The point here is that corporate power regularly transcends national sovereignty. We have to face the fact that the democratic institutions we worked so hard to shore up during the 20th century are no longer sufficient to protect us in this brave new world.
We need to change the rules, and we need to do it quickly. Given that real power is now routinely wielded at the supra-national level, we need to start building global democratic capacity that can keep rampant greed and profiteering in check.
This might mean a global corporate minimum tax that will put an end to trade mispricing and tax havens. It might mean a global minimum wage that will put a floor on the ‘race to the bottom’ for labour. It will certainly mean wresting control of international trade laws from the hands of IMF bankers and WTO technocrats and placing it under new institutions that are transparent and democratic.
If we are going to have a global economy, we need to have global democratic oversight.”

Outsourcing pollution
The Guardian’s George Monbiot argues that the UK’s much touted reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is “an artefact of accountancy”:

“When nations negotiate global cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, they are held responsible only for the gases produced within their own borders. Partly as a result of this convention, these tend to be the only ones that countries count. When these ‘territorial emissions’ fall, they congratulate themselves on reducing their carbon footprints. But as markets of all kinds have been globalised, and as manufacturing migrates from rich nations to poorer ones, territorial accounting bears ever less relationship to our real impacts.

When our ‘consumption emissions’, rather than territorial emissions, are taken into account, our proud record turns into a story of dismal failure.

By considering only our territorial emissions, we make the impacts of our escalating consumption disappear in a puff of black smoke: we have offshored the problem, and our perceptions of it.”

War machine
The Transnational Institute’s Frank Slijper argues that European countries are under pressure to maintain military spending that contributed substantially to the region’s debt crisis:

“While countries like Germany have insisted on the harshest cuts of social budgets by crisis countries to pay back debts, they have been much less supportive of cuts in military spending that would threaten arms sales. France and Germany have pressured the Greek government not to reduce defence spending. France is currently arranging a lease deal with Greece for two of Europe’s most expensive frigates; the surprising move is said to be largely ‘driven by political considerations, rather than an initiative of the armed forces’. In 2010 the Dutch government granted export licences worth €53 million to equip the Greek navy.
As an aide to former Greek prime minister Papandreou noted: ‘No one is saying “Buy our warships or we won’t bail you out.” But the clear implication is that they will be more supportive if we do’.”

Corporate personhood
Rutgers University’s James Livingston suggests that, since US corporations have been granted the right to free speech, they should also pay taxes like “natural persons”:

“The now-familiar objection to a tax increase on corporate profits is that it will discourage private investment and thus dampen job creation. The retort is just as obvious: since when have tax cuts on corporate profits led to increased investment, faster job creation and higher per capita consumption out of rising real wages? It didn’t happen after the Reagan Revolution, it didn’t happen during the Clinton boom of the 1990s, and it sure didn’t happen under George W. Bush.

The other well-worn objection to an increase of corporate income taxes is that it would encourage companies to invest and hire overseas, where tax rates are presumably lower. Here, too, the retort is obvious: the tax code already works exactly this way by postponing taxes until profits from investment overseas are repatriated. American companies routinely avoid taxation by moving their idle cash offshore.”

Selective images
Author Binyavanga Wainaina tells Al Jazeera that Western governments promote self-serving and ultimately damaging depictions of Africa and their involvement in the continent’s affairs:

“ ‘If you look at the website in Kenya of any western embassy, they talk about partnership for development and then you see a lot of school children suffering and then being helped by the ambassador. But they don’t list the companies that are operating here. So it is the question of: What is the full picture?’ Wainaina says.”

The Aid Distraction

The focus of Beyond Aid has, from the outset, been the ideas and actions of others. But this week is a special one, at least for high-level international talks, as both the Busan aid effectiveness summit and the Durban climate change conference kick off. So to mark these dual events (and because I am a little under the weather), here is an analysis piece I wrote for the Broker Online in early October. It was written with Busan in mind, but I believe its point regarding global democracy applies equally to Durban.

Talk is cheap. Results are what matter. That is the apparent consensus ahead of next month’s aid effectiveness summit in Busan, whose organizers promise “a clear focus on development results,”  while sceptics worry about a lot of rhetoric and little concrete follow-through.

Unfortunately, the most important and most difficult conversation has barely begun.

There are certainly some positive noises in the lead-up to Busan: recognition that aid is just one aspect of development, talk of mutual accountability and commitment to sustainable development. But if these promises are to become more than talking points, greater efficiency and more reliable data will not be enough. In order to create the kind of massive global change they profess to desire, the leaders of the world’s wealthy countries will have to follow their rhetoric to its logical conclusion.

To say that development is more than aid is an understatement. Donors should begin by acknowledging that aid is a potentially useful but relatively insignificant component of development. As things stand, member states of the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee – the driving force behind Busan – contribute just over 0.3 percent of their combined gross national income to development assistance. Even if they all made good on their decades-old promise to increase that amount to 0.7 percent and on their more recent pledge to give recipient countries ownership of the development process, 99.3 percent of their wealth would still be devoted to economic activities that sometimes clash with the interests of the world’s poor.

The mutual accountability being promised must demand more from donor countries than ODA transparency (though that would be nice too); it has to mean a serious analysis of the impacts their self-interest has on those who do not belong to their electorate. Yale philosopher Thomas Pogge argues citizens of wealthy countries, as well as elites around the world, benefit from “a transnational scheme of social institutions under which some persons are regularly, predictably and avoidably denied secure access to the objects of their human rights.” (Thomas Pogge (2002) World Poverty and Human Rights, Polity Press, Cambridge, p. 227.) In his view, these privileged people have a negative duty not to harm the world’s poor that is greater than the positive duty to provide them with aid. Certainly, such thinking is in line with legal codes around the world that punish crimes but do not reward good deeds. Moreover, Pogge believes the time is right for a rethink of the global system, with the financial crisis providing “a great opportunity to showcase and propagate both causal and moral institutional analysis.”

Transfer pricing by OECD-based transnational corporations costing poor countries billions in lost tax revenues each year; the Canadian government refusing to investigate (or withdraw financial and diplomatic support from) Canadian mining companies accused of serious rights abuses overseas; European and American trade negotiators lobbying hard to prevent loosening of intellectual property rules that impede the fight against non-communicable diseases in poor countries… The list is long and there is a whiff of blaming the victim to the claim that poor countries are responsible for their own development. Certainly, their agency is essential; improved conditions are unlikely without sound local and national policies, which have often been lacking in the past. At the same time, poor countries neither have the jurisdiction nor the political influence to rein in transfer pricing or change the international intellectual property regime. As for the role or indifference of host-country governments regarding extractive industry abuses, factors may include asymmetrical diplomatic relations and incentives built into international rules that grant ownership of natural resources to countries, even though a better case could probably be made for local or global ownership.

The point here is not that poor countries are good and rich ones are bad. But foreign policy accountable only to the voters of the home country has extremely limited democratic legitimacy, and the current global system – one that over the last few centuries has been determined to a great extent by countries that today are OECD members – is in many ways bad for those who are poor. While micro-lending or support for institution building may help, they cannot address bigger systemic problems. And yet, the vast majority of the intellectual and practical effort expended on development over the last 60+ years has focused on changing the way people – from farmers to presidents – in poor countries behave and think.

It is time to look at the second half of the equation without losing sight of the first half. It is time for the established, wealthy countries to accept their share of responsibility for poverty in distant lands and to begin handing over their global control. Not to China, India and Brazil but to the 7 billion people of the world.

Of course, ushering in an era of global democracy would be a lengthy undertaking, far exceeding the scope of a three-day summit, however high-level it might be. But Busan does have the power to significantly change development thinking, and the recognition of negative duties would be a huge step in questioning a global order that leaves billions with virtually no voice.

Sound unrealistic? Maybe. Surely though, it is no more so than suggesting competing entities, whether they be corporations or national governments, will spontaneously prioritize cooperation over their own short-term interests. Or maintaining that by giving away a tiny fraction of their wealth, they can counteract the negative impacts of their core activities and a global system designed to further their goals.

Depressingly, sustainable development would be even tougher to achieve than global democracy, as it would also require counteracting generational selfishness. Is it possible to extend democracy in time as well as space?

Difficult, no doubt. And unless we shift the conversation, impossible.