Latest Developments, September 11

In the latest news and analysis…

Buying time
The Associated Press reports that US President Barack Obama, in a nationally televised speech on Syria, said the military strikes he has been pushing for might not be necessary:

“Citing the new diplomatic efforts, Obama said in his speech Tuesday night that he had asked congressional leaders to postpone a vote on legislation he has been seeking to authorize the use of military force against Syria — a vote he was in danger of losing.
Obama’s move gives crucial time for negotiations on a Russian proposal for international inspectors to seize and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile as efforts to avert retaliatory U.S. missile strikes shift from Washington to the United Nations.

Obama said the Russian initiative ‘has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force, particularly because Russia is one of Assad’s strongest allies.’
But the 16-minute speech generally made the case for military action.”

Less welcoming
Reuters reports that the “trickiest task” facing Norway’s newly elected Conservatives will be integrating an “anti-immigration, anti-tax” party into the new government:

“Although Progress has toned down its rhetoric, it is seen by some as too radical for government, and once had among its members Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 people in 2011 in a gun and bomb attack targeting Labour.

Bringing Progress into government could force [Conservative leader Erna] Solberg to make concessions on spending, taxes and perhaps even make a symbolic gesture on immigration. But any shift is likely to be mild, analysts said.
In immigration, Norway’s hands are tied by international treaties, which limit its room to maneuver. And the economy desperately needs new workers as unemployment is under 3 percent and a steady influx of workers keeps the labour market from overheating.”

Nothing to see here
The BBC reports on British Prime Minister David Cameron’s claim that no UK territory is a tax haven anymore, now that some of the world’s most notorious offshore financial centres, such as Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, have promised to become more transparent:

“In the House of Commons on Monday David Cameron said he no longer considered it ‘fair’ to use the label, after recent efforts to ensure transparency.

The three Crown dependencies [The Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey] all refer to themselves as International Finance Centres, which mean they are in the business of tax avoidance which is legal, as opposed to tax evasion, which is illegal.
‘It is very important that our focus should now shift to those territories and countries that really are tax havens,’ continued Mr Cameron.”

Contested values
The Globe and Mail reports that Canada’s federal government has suggested it will fight Quebec’s proposed “charter of values” if the province’s lawmakers vote to adopt it:

“ ‘We would challenge any law that we deem unconstitutional, that violates the fundamental constitutional guarantees to freedom of religion,’ Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney told reporters in Ottawa. ‘Freedom of religion is a fundamental, universal value inscribed in our own Constitution, and this government will defend it vigorously.’
Mr. Kenney said he is ‘very concerned about proposal that would discriminate unfairly against people based on their religion, based on their deepest convictions.’

Polls in Quebec suggest that a majority of the residents of that province support what the [Parti Québécois] is trying to do. ”

Dutch diversions
The Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations has released a new report suggesting that the Netherlands is the “biggest tax sink” for companies from crisis/austerity-stricken Portugal:

“The large financial flows from Portugal to the Netherlands and back again, show that investments from and to Portugal are not real ‘investments’ but rather ‘round-trip’ investments, in which Dutch letterbox companies are used to avoid paying taxes in Portugal. In the SOMO report a case study is used to show how the Portuguese energy company EDP uses ‘The Dutch Connection’ to pay considerably less taxes in its home country.”

Euro coal
350.org’s Tim Ratcliffe and Bankwatch’s Fidanka McGrath urge the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to stop its “retrograde” financing of overseas coal plants:

“Between 2006 and 2011, while the current energy policy was in place, 48% of the EBRD’s $8.9bn (£5.6bn) energy portfolio went to fossil fuels. Support for coal actually increased in this period, from €60m (£50m) to €262m.

In July, the EBRD released a draft of its new energy sector strategy, a roadmap for the next five years for investment and policy initiatives. Although the strategy claims, ‘the bank will promote the transition to a low-carbon model throughout the energy sector’, the document would keep the bank on course with fossil fuel development, providing no significant restrictions on the development of oil, gas, or coal mining and far too few constraints on coal power plants. The policy would also open the door for other controversial, dirty energy sources such as shale gas.”

Unintended consequences
Bloomberg reports on the warnings of “the world’s largest political risk consultancy” regarding the International Criminal Court trials of Kenya’s top two politicians:

“ ‘The start of President [Uhuru] Kenyatta’s and Deputy President [William] Ruto’s trials could slow the legislative agenda, potentially pushing petroleum and mining code revisions into the first half of next year,’ Clare Allenson, an Africa associate with Eurasia Group, said in an e-mailed note on Sept. 5. Delays to policy making may be caused by ‘weeks long’ absences by the accused and while lawmakers who support the pair travel to the court to show their political loyalty, Allenson said.

‘Members of parliament risk raising local tensions over the allegations as the witness testimony on human rights violations comes to light,’ Allenson said. ‘Further politicization of the cases could cause low level unrest in areas most impacted by the violence, particularly the southern Rift Valley and the outskirts of Nairobi.’ ”

RWP revisited
Former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans argues that the current Syria crisis has made the concept of “responsibility while protecting” more appealing than ever:

“The reality is that if an un-vetoed majority vote is ever going to be secured again for tough action in a hard mass atrocity case—even action falling considerably short of military action—then the issues at the heart of the backlash that has accompanied the implementation of the Libyan mandate, and the concerns of the BRICS states in particular, simply have to be taken seriously. Those issues and concerns reflect the views of a much wider swathe of the developing world.”

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Latest Developments, March 29

In the latest news and analysis…

Treaty postponed
Carol Giacomo of the New York Times calls on America’s president and lawmakers to resist opposition from domestic heavyweights and sign/ratify a proposed international arms trade treaty, assuming it receives majority approval at the UN General Assembly after failing to obtain consensus support from member countries:

“The opposition included the conservative Heritage Foundation and the National Gun Rifle Association. As usual they ginned up dark visions of how any limits on conventional arms sales would deprive Americans of their weapons, which is totally false: The Obama administration bent over backwards to make sure the treaty excluded domestic sales and, in any event, as the American Bar Association affirmed, the treaty did not and could not infringe on Americans’ constitutionally-guaranteed Second Amendment Rights.

The world is awash in conventional weapons with a market valued at upward of $70 billion a year. These arms are fueling conflicts and killing innocents in Syria, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and beyond. But while trade in virtually every major commodity, from oil to bananas, is subject to strong international agreements, conventional arms, absurdly, are not. The treaty would require states to review all cross-border arms contracts, establish national control systems and deny exports to purchasers who might use the weapons for terrorism or violations of humanitarian law.”

Not going anywhere
The Associated Press reports that French troops will remain in Mali “at least through the end of this year”:

“[French President François] Hollande said on France-2 television Thursday night that the first of France’s more than 4,000 troops in Mali will pull out in late April.
By July, he said about 2,000 French soldiers will still be in the former French colony, and at the end of the year ‘1,000 French soldiers will remain.’ He said the French troops would likely be part of a U.N. peacekeeping operation that France is pushing for.”

International corporate liability
Global Diligence reports that International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda recently stressed her commitment to investigating “business institutions” that contribute to war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity:

“She said that it had always been the [Office of the Prosecutor’s] strategy to investigate the link between international crimes and business. Conflicts are driven either by financial enrichment or ideology: a thorough investigation of the finances behind a conflict therefore helps to identify suspects and develop a more complete picture of responsibility.
‘We need to look beyond the structures that commit the actual atrocities … to the broader network around the criminal organization,’ Bensouda said. In other words, examining who is responsible for arming, supplying and equipping the troops committing the atrocities. Prosecutors should also scrutinise the exploitation of trade and natural resources, such as the minerals used in communications and technology devices, in order to trace the direct and indirect financial influence on the course of a conflict.”

Lawyering up
Reuters reports that the government of Guinea has assembled a stable of international lawyers to “help review and, if need be, renegotiate” mining contracts signed before the country’s first democratic elections were held in 2010:

“The review, pledged by President Alpha Conde after he came to power in 2010, will scrutinise contracts with companies such as BHP Billiton, Vale, Rio Tinto, RUSAL and BSGR to ensure the mineral-rich but impoverished West African nation is benefiting sufficiently from deals.
‘Our objective is to point out to our partners areas in their contracts where the country is at a flagrant disadvantage, and discuss openly with them,’ [review head] Nava Toure told Reuters.”

Coast to coast
The Associated Press reports the US is considering applying anti-piracy tactics used in Somalia to the Gulf of Guinea off Africa’s west coast:

“No final decisions have been made on how counter-piracy operations could be increased in that region, and budget restrictions could hamper that effort, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk about emerging discussions between senior U.S. military commanders and other international leaders.

After repeated urgings from military commanders and other officials, shipping companies increased the use of armed guards and took steps to better avoid and deter pirates [off Somalia’s coast].”

Military non-intervention
Le Figaro’s Alain Barluet argues the French decision to send only a few hundred troops to the Central African Republic during recent violence is an example of France’s new policy of “non-interference” in Africa:

“French military engagement was limited to sending 300 troops to Bangui over the weekend, as reinforcements for the 250 soldiers already on the ground, to protect French, European and American citizens.

With the Central African crisis, we see an example of the policy outlined last October in Dakar by [French President] François Hollande who had announced, once again, the end of ‘Françafrique’. [Deposed CAR President] François Bozizé ‘did not receive our military support, any more than any other African president will from now on,’ according to a source close to Hollande.
But these same sources insist non-interference is not the same as indifference. The head of state is ‘involved’, he had phone conversations with a number of African presidents, including two with South Africa’s Jacob Zuma, according to an Élysée source.” [Translated from the French.]

The Future of R2P
Mount Holyoke College’s Jon Western and American University’s Joshua Goldstein argue the international community must “decouple” regime change from the responsibility to protect:

“The [R2P] doctrine will lose legitimacy if it is seen purely as an instrument of neoimperial adventurism. In an effort to prevent such misuse, Brazil, in 2011, introduced the concept of Responsibility While Protecting (RWP), which calls for increased UN Security Council monitoring and review of R2P actions. Brazil’s proposal was initially met with a tepid response by the United States, France, and the United Kingdom, who feared it would lead to slower international responses to mass atrocities. But the concept is now gaining support; Ban endorsed it in a July 2012 report. Mitigating concerns that R2P will be misused, RWP might help the international community strike the right balance between maintaining the support of the UN Security Council and effectively responding to mass atrocities in a timely manner.”

Cyber limits
Al Jazeera explores America’s policies on and alleged commission of attacks on computer networks:

“Now a 300-page manual commissioned by NATO and written by legal scholars and military lawyers from member countries suggests the [Stuxnet] attack was an act of force prohibited under the United Nations charter.
After months of the US national security establishment sounding the alarm on the need to defend against potential cyber threats, questions are again being raised about how far the US itself is pioneering offensive cyber policy.”

Latest Developments, January 27

In the latest news and analysis…

Arms sale loophole
Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin reports that, following congressional opposition to a proposed sale of US arms to Bahrain due to human rights concerns, the Obama administration is moving ahead with a repackaged sale without formally informing Congress or the public.
“Our congressional sources said that State is using a legal loophole to avoid formally notifying Congress and the public about the new arms sale. The administration can sell anything to anyone without formal notification if the sale is under $1 million. If the total package is over $1 million, State can treat each item as an individual sale, creating multiple sales of less than $1 million and avoiding the burden of notification, which would allow Congress to object and possibly block the deal.
We’re further told that State is keeping the exact items in the sale secret, but is claiming they are for Bahrain’s “external defense” and therefore couldn’t be used against protesters. Of course, that’s the same argument that State made about the first arms package, which was undercut by videos showing the Bahraini military using Humvees to suppress civilian protesters.”

Responsibility while protecting
Former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans surveys the extent of the damage done to the “responsibility to protect” principle by disagreements over how NATO handled its Libyan intervention.
“The better news is that a way forward has opened up. In November, Brazil circulated a paper arguing that the R2P concept, as it has evolved so far, needs to be supplemented by a new set of principles and procedures on the theme of “responsibility while protecting” (already being labeled “RWP”). Its two key proposals are a set of criteria (including last resort, proportionality, and balance of consequences) to be taken into account before the Security Council mandates any use of military force, and a monitoring-and-review mechanism to ensure that such mandates’ implementation is seriously debated.”

WEF women
The Guardian’s Jane Martinson argues the World Economic Forum in Davos “has a woman problem.”
“Although the days are long gone when one female delegate was asked to leave an event because security assumed she must be a spouse without the required permit, the majority of the women in Davos are not there as participants. Only newcomers to Davos seem to consider this fact remarkable, with the odd feminist exception such as Helen Clark. The former prime minister of New Zealand turned administrator of the United Nations Development Programme called the female participation rate ‘pathetic’. The leader who appointed so many senior women to her cabinet that Benetton ran an airport advertising campaign welcoming visitors to the ‘women’s republic of New Zealand’ called for organisers to commit to the millennium development goal of 30% female participation by 2015. ‘Or why not next year? They should just go and look for the women. In one stroke, participation would go up.’ ”

Forgetting about poverty
Time’s Roya Wolverson argues that, with all the talk about inequality, absolute poverty seems to have dropped of the World Economic Forum’s radar.
“What’s missing in the WEF discussions is the perspective of the poor.  Unfair trade practices and poor working conditions in the developing world, issues that made it onto the WEF agenda a decade ago and keep rearing their ugly head, haven’t been raised at all. Instead, the conversation is acutely focused on the plight of the Western worker and his dwindling pension plan.”

Bad medicine
Intellectual Property Watch reports that the World Health Organization’s executive board has come up with a proposal for an international mechanism that would deal with  “counterfeit and substandard medical products” medicines without taking on thorny IP and trade issues.
“A contentious issue around counterfeits has been the suspicion on the part of some developing countries that concerns about counterfeit and substandard medicines are being purposely confused with trade in legitimate generic medicines from those countries. Removing intellectual property and trade from WHO discussions likely minimises the possibility of confusion.”

Bad money
Reuters reports on how difficult it is for financial regulators to overcome the client privacy provisions of Western banks in order to take action against “undesirable assets and clients.”
“ ‘Our current arrangements for the creation of trusts and the setting up of companies anonymously have created an environment which is permitting kleptocrats to move their loot around (and commit) tax evasion on a monstrous scale,’ said Anthea Lawson, head of the Banks and Corruption Campaign at Global Witness, a non-government organisation which campaigns against money laundering and corruption.
Those determined to hide money have numerous devices at their disposal: for example it is possible to establish an offshore company which belongs to an offshore trust behind which may be another trust, all spread across multiple jurisdictions and set up by an associate of a person on a sanctions list.”

War on finance
The Economist says that François Hollande, the French Socialist Party’s presidential candidate, has “declared war on global finance.”
“The financial industry, he said, had grown into a nameless, faceless empire that has seized control of the economy and society. To tackle the enemy and restore the French dream, Mr Hollande wants to separate banks’ ‘speculative’ activities from their lending arms. He would outlaw ‘toxic’ financial products, keep banks out of tax havens and ban stock options for all companies except start-ups.”

Tackling inequality
British Labour leader Ed Miliband lays out some proposals for a fairer economy.
“I support proposals for a financial transactions tax levied equally on the major trading centers from Hong Kong and Singapore to Wall Street and the City of London. The British government needs to show more leadership on this issue in Europe — and all members of G-20 need to help make it happen.
Britain loses billions of pounds in revenues because of outdated rules that allow our richest citizens to keep their money in off-shore tax havens. Tax authorities need to know about income and wealth hidden behind front companies, trusts and other complex financial products. If these rules cannot be changed by international agreement, progressive governments should go ahead and do it themselves.”