The Week in Multilateralism
Friday, December 3, 2021
A New Pandemics Treaty?
With news about the omicron variant reverberating worldwide, diplomats took a tentative step toward a new legal architecture for preventing and responding to pandemics. For months, several dozen countries have advocated launching negotiations, and that process now appears to be in train. The World Health Assembly, which is the World Health Organization’s main decisionmaking body, met this week and endorsed the start of negotiations:
The W.H.O. director-general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, a strong advocate of a legally binding treaty, hailed the decision as historic, calling it “a once-in-a-generation opportunity to strengthen the global health architecture to protect and promote the well-being of all people.”
Tedros is sailing toward a second term at the helm of the organization and is therefore in a position to play a key role in shepherding negotiations. But whether the discussions will actually produce a treaty or any other binding instrument is far from clear; advocates have been vague about what they want, and several major countries are lukewarm about the need for a new legal instrument.
As with almost all multilateral negotiations, a particularly sensitive question will be whether international authorities (either the WHO secretariat or some subset of WHO member states) should have the power to ensure compliance with international rules (in this case, the International Health Regulations). Some advocates hope a new treaty might facilitate the sharing of vaccine and therapeutic technology, but moves in that direction could easily entangle the WHO effort with parallel negotiations at the World Trade Organization regarding waivers of intellectual property rights. The WTO’s struggles on that issue offer little hope that a WHO-led effort will produce success.
Toward the Summit for Democracy
The Biden administration’s long-awaited Summit for Democracy will take place next week, albeit virtually rather than in person. After weeks of rumors about which countries were in and which were out, the State Department finalized the invitation list. Some notable decisions:
Taiwan received an invitation, although Taipei will be represented by several ambassadors rather than its president. That compromise notwithstanding, the invitation prompted an immediate broadside from China and a riposte from Taiwan.
Pakistan and the Philippines both got the nod despite serious questions about their democratic credentials.
In the Balkans, Croatia, North Macedonia, and Serbia received invitations while troubled Bosnia and Herzegovina did not.
Hungary was not invited, making it the only EU member to be excluded. Hungarian officials responded by attempting to block EU participation in the event.
As the summit approached, Chinese and Russian officials derided the initiative on a variety of grounds. Opinion about the value of the summit is split even among those who believe that democracy promotion should be a central element of foreign policy. Writing in the Japan Times, Joshua Kurlantzick made the case for skepticism based on what he views as an overly generous invite list and diminished U.S. credibility.
Climate Change at the Security Council
Predictions about the security implications of climate change have become progressively more dire. But the international body with the clearest authority to manage peace and security—the UN Security Council—has thus far been mostly a bit player (for a good synthesis of Council efforts on climate, see this analysis).
There were hints of change this week. Two elected Council members, Niger and Ireland, advanced a draft resolution that would give the Council a more regular role on climate. As Richard Gowan and Pyotr Kurzin note, however, the draft faces some weighty opposition:
China and Russia have voiced doubts about the proposal. India, an elected member of the council, has also been dismissive. The three skeptics say that there is still not enough evidence of the links between climate change and conflict to warrant a Security Council resolution. They also argue that the council risks trespassing on topics that other multilateral bodies, such as the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCC, should handle.
In asserting that the Council is the wrong place to handle climate, the three goliaths likely have support in many smaller capitals, where there is nervousness about the Council using its powers to commandeer an issue better suited to broad-based negotiation. As this newsletter went to press, the fate of the draft resolution was unclear.
An International Top Cop, with Baggage
Interpol, the international coordinating body for national law enforcement agencies, has a new president, General Ahmed Nasser al-Raisi of the United Arab Emirates. Raisi comes with controversy, as the BBC reported:
Gen Raisi was elected Interpol’s president after three rounds of voting by member states at the agency's general assembly in Istanbul, Turkey.
His duties will include chairing meetings of the executive committee, which supervises the work of Secretary General Jürgen Stock. Mr Stock is a full-time official who oversees the day-to-day running of Interpol.
As the story indicates, Raisi’s role in most Interpol functions should be limited. But the selection underscores the dilemma the organization faces in dealing with authoritarian governments with a penchant for abuse. Interpol’s system of “red notices,” which alert governments to international fugitives, has been a particular concern. Activists have worried that the system can become a vehicle for repressive governments to harass political opponents across the globe.
A group of World Trade Organization members struck a deal relating to the trade in services. The agreement is a modest fillip for the beleaguered organization, whose members have struggled to reach agreement on multiple issues (including how to resuscitate the WTO’s dispute resolution system).
With tension in Ukraine mounting, Russia’s Vladimir Putin reportedly wants guarantees that NATO will not expand further eastward.
The UN Credentials Committee decided not to decide who represents Afghanistan and Myanmar at the organization, an outcome that leaves the Taliban and Myanmar’s military government without any official status at the world body.
The member states of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty are gearing up for a January meeting.
The World Bank is close to approving the transfer of nearly $300 million for use in Afghanistan (although not directly by the Taliban, it appears).
A report suggests that the United States will seek to convene an in-person summit between President Biden and ASEAN leaders in January.
A UN special rapporteur traveled to Croatia recently to talk about the country’s wartime past.
In the latest twist in a long-running saga, Argentine officials will reportedly travel to Washington to meet with officials from the International Monetary Fund.
Human rights groups produced evidence that Israel failed to adequately probe shootings at the Gaza border. The groups argued that Israel’s unwillingness bolsters the case for the International Criminal Court to investigate the events.
New and Notable:
In the latest edition of International Affairs, Leonard August Schuette analyzes the role that NATO secretary general Jen Stoltenberg played during the Trump administration. “Stoltenberg played a decisive role in managing the critical summit of 2018, where President Trump was on the verge of announcing a US withdrawal from NATO over burden-sharing dispute,” Shuette argues, and the secretary general “was also critical in persuading Trump that allies were heeding his calls to increase their defence spending, even though those increases fell short of Trump’s demands.”
Writing in Foreign Affairs, Barbara F. Walter, Lise Morjé Howard, and V. Page Fortna contend that UN peacekeeping deserves a much better reputation than it has: “Decades of academic research has demonstrated that peacekeeping not only works at stopping conflicts but works better than anything else experts know. Peacekeeping is effective at resolving civil wars, reducing violence during wars, preventing wars from recurring, and rebuilding state institutions.”