The Week in Multilateralism
October 29, 2021
Coups and Countermeasures
News of a military takeover in Sudan this week stirred activity on several multilateral fronts, and early signs suggested more or less unified opposition to the coup. The African Union condemned the military’s moves and suspended Sudan’s membership. For his part, the head of the Arab League expressed “deep concern” and urged all parties to abide by the power-sharing agreement.
In New York, the United Nations Security Council convened to consider developments and released a statement calling on the military to release civilian leaders. While several rungs down from a formal resolution, the press statement nonetheless reflected a degree of consensus that has often eluded the Council recently.
For his part, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres condemned the military takeover, which he described as part of a broader “epidemic of coups.” UN human rights chief Michele Bachelet echoed that criticism, warning that “it would be disastrous if Sudan goes backwards after finally bringing an end to decades of repressive dictatorship.” (The advocacy group Human Rights Watch called for the convening of a special session of the UN’s Human Rights Council.)
In the financial realm, the World Bank froze the disbursement of funds for active projects in Sudan. Across 19th Street, the International Monetary Fund was more circumspect, noting that it was monitoring developments closely. In June, the boards of the Bank and the IMF had cleared Sudan to participate in debt relief programs. Sudan’s further participation in that program now appears uncertain at best.
Tedros, Take Two
Despite continuing controversy about the organization’s performance, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is cruising toward a second term. The organization reported yesterday that he was the only nominee put forward by the member states. In a curious twist, however, Tedros’s home country of Ethiopia did not formally support his reappointment; the former health minister angered the Ethiopian authorities when he criticized their policies in the Tigray region.
Without backing from home, a diverse group of 28 other countries came together to put his name forward. The United States was not one of the countries that nominated Tedros, but it appears that Washington has become convinced that he is a viable leader for the organization. (Tedros’s willingness to criticize the organization’s initial investigation of the coronavirus origins may have helped sway the Biden administration.)
Formal voting for the reappointment will take place in May, and Tedros would begin a fresh five-year term in August.
On the Cusp of the COP
With climate change negotiations set to begin in Glasgow, Scotland, the British member of parliament spearheading the effort, Alok Sharma, sought to restrain expectations. He described the conference as significantly more challenging than the version held in Paris five years ago.
China’s apparent unwillingness to agree to more significant emissions cuts and the failure of Chinese president Xi Jinping to participate in person are contributing to the sense of relative gloom surrounding the session, as Lily Kuo wrote in the Washington Post:
Expectations have dimmed ahead of the conference, where China is critical to any deal on steeper emissions cuts. Beijing has positioned itself as a leader on fighting climate change: In 2019, Xi pledged that his country would achieve carbon neutrality by 2060, after reaching peak emissions before 2030. But for years, China had argued that it didn’t bear the same responsibility as developed countries, and it was accused of derailing U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen in 2009.
Now, facing energy shortages, concerns about growth and employment, and a fractious relationship with the world’s other key polluter, the United States, China is likely to be constrained in negotiations at the Conference of Parties, known as COP26, which starts Sunday.
A Looming Crisis in the Balkans?
The decades-long multilateral effort to preserve a unitary Bosnian state is facing one of its most severe tests to date. The prime minister of the Serb entity within Bosnia, Milorad Dodik, has repeatedly signaled a desire to pull the Republika Srpska out of joint institutions and perhaps even to develop an independent armed force. Those declarations set off alarm bells in the West, and EU and U.S. officials scrambled to reduce tensions.
The multinational military presence in Bosnia has dwindled significantly from the high levels of the late-1990s. In 2004, NATO handed primary responsibility for peacekeeping in the country to the European Union. Since then, the EU has led Operation Althea (named after the Greek goddess of healing). The EU effort is focused on training the country’s armed forces, however, and the force currently comprises just 600 soldiers. It would have difficulty forcibly opposing any Serb move to abandon Bosnia’s political structure.
More Controversy for Georgieva
According to reporting from Bloomberg, almost 200 members of the International Monetary Fund’s staff asked managing director Kristalina Georgieva to explain changes to the language of a recent IMF report on Brazil. It is alleged that Georgieva intervened to soften the report’s wording on climate change:
Such petitions are rare in the fund’s recent history, according to people familiar with the fund’s operations who asked not to be identified.
The movement comes after Bloomberg News reported Oct. 8 that fund officials including Georgieva, who’s made climate change a signature issue, tempered the message about Brazil after President Jair Bolsonaro’s government objected to the language.
The basic allegation—that Georgieva has tweaked ostensibly independent and technocratic reports at the request of powerful states—mirrors accusations in the ongoing controversy over the World Bank’s Doing Business report. In that case (which occurred when Georgieva was a senior Bank official), it was China that allegedly requested changes to the Bank’s rankings. The IMF executive board met recently to consider Georgieva’s role in that earlier controversy but ultimately declined to take any action.
The G20 began its first in-person summit since the outbreak of the pandemic.
The European Court of Justice ordered Poland to pay fines of €1 million per day for its failure to comply with orders on judicial reform.
The representatives of the UN Security Council visited Mali this week and urged the country’s leaders to prepare for successful elections.
The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, concluded his office’s long-running examination of the situation in Colombia.
An ASEAN summit declared Myanmar to be “part of the ASEAN family” even as the bloc’s leaders rebuffed the country’s military rulers.
A group of Latin American countries warned that the International Seabed Authority is not yet ready to regulate mining of the seafloor.
U.S. officials are exploring several multilateral measures designed to punish the Nicaraguan government for its upcoming “sham” election.
The Biden administration has nominated a new representative to the UN Human Rights Council and a new ambassador for global criminal justice.
Could the International Court of Justice issue a ruling on climate change?