US President Obama Picks new Head of World Bank

This week POLI 1140 will be focused on the international political economy (IPE). As we’ll learn, much of the international institutional infrastructure for the current global economy was set up at a meeting in July 1944 in the New Hampshire mountain resort town of Bretton Woods. At the meeting, which the ailing economist John Maynard Keynes attended, created the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). (The International Trade Organization, which was planned, never came to fruition, and the General Agreement on Trades and Tariffs (GATT), would later be formed, which has been morphed into the World Trade Organization (WTO). These three institutions–World Bank, IMF, WTO–support the liberal (neoliberal) economic order, each of which provides a different main function.

Yesterday, US President Barack Obama named an academic–Dartmouth College president Jim Yong Kim–as his nominee to head the World Bank. Convention dictates that the USA be given the power to select the World Bank president while European states are given the right to select the head of the IMF.

This definitely counts as an “outside-the-box” pick for Obama. First, Dr. Kim is a global health expert, and not an economist. This may signal a change in direction and philosophy at the World Bank.The New York Times reports:

Highly respected among global health experts, Dr. Kim is an anthropologist and a physician who co-founded the nonprofit Partners in Health and a former director of the department of H.I.V./AIDS at the World Health Organization.

“The leader of the World Bank should have a deep understanding of both the role that development plays in the world and the importance of creating conditions where assistance is no longer needed,” President Obama said Friday. “It’s time for a development professional to lead the world’s largest development agency.”

This move bears watching in the future. It also signals one of the major differences between Democratic and Republican presidents. It is highly doubtful that any of the Republican candidates for president would name somebody with a similar resume as the head of the World Bank.

For a quick video of the creating of the Bretton Woods system, see the video below (the relevant excerpt begins at 36:36).

Development and Underdevelopment–the Commanding Heights

We addressed the topic of development and underdevelopment in POLI 1100 this week. Amongst the many issues covered, we started to explore some of the alleged causes of economic growth and development. Why is there still such disparity in income and economic growth around the world, not only between countries, but within? Why have countries in the global “South” lagged behind, for the most part, their counterparts in the global “North”? There are various answers to this question and we addressed a couple of them in class. I showed clips from a fantastic documentary series put together by PBS, called (and based on the book of the same name) The Commanding Heights. All the information you’ll need is at the PBS website. Fortunately, each of the three 2-hour episodes has also been uploaded (in its entirety) to the Internet. From the narration at the beginning of the first episode, we learn that

This is the story of how the new global economy was born. A century-long battle as to which would control the commanding heights of the world’s economies–governments or markets.

I encourage you to watch all three episodes.


Has Poverty in India Really Dropped?

In POLI 1100 yesterday, we analyzed the topic of development and underdevelopment and noted that, according to some estimates, the world has become less unequal (more equal) over the last 10 years or so, primarily (we noted) as the result of the economic rise of China and India. Given that these two countries contain more than 1/3 of the world’s total population, what happens to them (and their citizens) has dramatic global impact. So, if incomes (and wealth) in India and China are rising, then it’s not surprising that the world is becoming a wealthier (and more equal) place. Take a look at the chart below. You’ll notice differences in the two trend lines, which can be accounted for by the rise in income in China and India.

While there have been rumours for many years that official Chinese economic statistics may not be the most reliable, a recent story in the New York Times asks the somewhat surprising question “Has Poverty Really Dropped in India?” It turns out that the answer is most likely yes, though it appears, on the surface, that some of sleight was at work. However, in the end the drop in poverty seems legitimate:

Remember when the public was outraged at the idea that the poverty line should be 32 rupees, or 63 cents, a day in urban areas?

We’ve now learned it should really be 29 rupees. And believe it or not, this is no sleight of hand to show a drop in poverty.

The Planning Commission’s latest poverty estimates, [click on this link for the statistics, which are grouped by caste, religion, and other demographic indicators] released Monday evening, show a 7 percentage-point drop in India’s poor, the largest fall since the figure was first calculated in 1962.

Some critics say the Planning Commission has reduced an already controversially low poverty line even further, using the new thresholds to create the appearance of a large drop in absolute numbers.

By the way, how much is 29 rupees–the poverty threshold in urban areas? About 57 Canadian cents, at today’s exchange rates! So according, to the Indian government, an Indian living in an urban area can earn only 58% of the one dollar/day threshold and still not be considered as officially living in poverty!! Yikes!

Ghosts of Rwanda

In POLI 1140, we have read an excerpt from Rwanda section of Samantha Power’s prize-winning book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, in which Power assesses the reasons for the lack of response by the Clinton administration in the spring of 1994 to the developing genocide in Rwanda. Power makes many points but one of the most trenchant is that despite the apparently early decision by Clinton that he would not send US troops to Rwanda (fearful that another Somalia could ensue), many other actions–short of sending troops-could have been taken by the US government and military. Something as simple as sending planes with the capability to jam radio frequencies may have slowed down the killing and saved countless lives.

Here is a compelling and very informative documentary by PBS’ Frontline series on the events surrounding the Rwandan genocide, paying special attention to the lack of action on the part of the United Nations and the United States. Many of the ideas in Power’s book are addressed here.

Universal Jurisdiction

Today in POLI 1140, we discussed and debated the topic of universal jurisdiction. What is universal jurisdiction? Universal jurisdiction is

a legal concept that permits states to claim legal authority beyond their national territory for the purpose of punishing a particularly heinous criminal that violates the laws of all states or protecting human rights. Mingst and Arreguin-Toft (222)

The most celebrated case in this relatively new area of international jurisprudence is that of former Chilean military dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet, about whom the New York Times editorial board wrote in 2004:

Thanks to a Chilean court ruling on Monday, the day at last seems to be approaching when Gen. Augusto Pinochet, the former military dictator, will go on trial for crimes committed decades ago. General Pinochet is now a very old man, but normal feelings of sympathy would be misplaced. This trial should have begun years ago.

The long delay is entirely the result of General Pinochet’s effort to evade legal accountability. The charges concern one of the most chilling crimes of his nearly 17-year rule, an international conspiracy to hunt down and murder opponents of Latin America’s military dictatorships in the 1970’s. That plot got under way in the days when Henry Kissinger was running American foreign policy for Richard Nixon, and the the United States did too little to discourage it, even though one of the resulting murders was carried out on the streets of Washington.

Gen.Pinochet would die (at age 91) before facing his accusers.

What has prompted the recent emergence, and codification into both international–for example, Article 49 of the First Geneva Convention–and domestic–Canada’s Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act–law, of the concept of universal jurisdiction? According to one of the world’s leading human rights NGOs–Amnesty International–it is because

As genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture, extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances are crimes under international law, all states should investigate and prosecute the crimes before their national courts.

Recognizing that impunity exists mainly when the national authorities of countries affected by the crimes fail to act, it is important that the national criminal and civil justice systems of all countries can step in to prosecute the crimes on behalf of the international community and award reparations to victims.

Of course, there are many detractors to the use of the concept of universal jurisdiction. The aforementioned Henry Kissinger has argued the concept not only risks “judicial tyranny” and cases like that of Gen. Pinochet set a “dangerous precedent” (though Kissinger is certainly less than a disinterested figure in this case!), but that

The danger [in pushing for universal jurisdiction] lies in pushing the effort to extremes that risk substituting the tyranny of judges for that of governments; historically, the dictatorship of the virtuous has often led to inquisitions and even witch-hunts.

In class, we viewed the first ten minutes of the video below in which advocates and opponents of the concept of universal jurisdiction debated the relative merits of the idea with respect to the potential arrest of Israeli diplomats on visits to Great Britain for alleged war crimes in Israel/the Occupied Territories.

In the video, Professor Dan Scheuftan, of the University of Haifa notes

[although] International Relations is political…[the increasing use of universal jurisdiction will] politicize the legal system as well. again by radicals, usually from the extreme left using it [universal jurisdiction] as a propaganda ploy.

What do you think? Is the concept a valid tool in the fight to bring perpetrators of heinous human rights abuses and war crimes to justice, or is it more likely to be abused (than used) in the politicization and propagandization (is that a word?) of international justice?


Global Debt Crisis and Relief

The issue of the global debt crisis–and particularly the onerous debt levels of developing world (“Southern”) countries–was a topic that we covered in POLI 1100 today. It will allow me to combine two class topics–issues pertaining development and underdevelopment, and interest groups (NGOs)–into one blog post. The interest group, Global Issues, is dedicated to analyzing “social, political, economic, and environmental issues that affect us all” and has a section on debt relief for the developing world. Here are some facts and figures related to the scale of the debt crisis in the developing world:

Consider the following:

  • In 1970, the world’s poorest countries (roughly 60 countries classified as low-income by the World Bank), owed $25 billion in debt.
  • By 2002, this was $523 billion
  • For Africa,
    • In 1970, it was just under $11 billion
    • By 2002, that was over half, to $295 billion
  • Debts owed to the multilateral institutions such as the IMF and World Bank is currently around $153 billion
  • For the poorest countries debts to multilateral institutions is around $70 billion.

$550 billion has been paid in both principal and interest over the last three decades, on $540bn of loans, and yet there is still a $523 billion dollar debt burden.

Here are some remarks by Professor Susan George on how to tackle the debt crisis. Money quote:

…there is no level of human suffering, which in and of itself, is going to change policy. The only way policy changes is because people demand it, and in this case, it has to be the people of the North, because the people of the South have very little political clout.

Thomas Lubanga First Person Convicted by ICC

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012 will stand as a watershed moment in international relations and in international law, specifically. Thomas Lubanga, former militia leader in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is the first person ever convicted by the recently formed International Criminal Court (ICC). Though there have been dozens of convictions of war crimes suspects from the wars in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, these cases were process by temporary courts–the ICTY and the ICTR, respectively–and not the ICC. Lubanga was accused of conscripting, enlisting, and using child soldiers in the conflict in the Ituri region of the DRC. Rather than playing a role in the post-war political process, (which he had hoped) Lubanga was arrested in March 2005 and extradited to the ICC one year later. It is only now, seven years after his arrest, that a verdict on this case has come down.

Lubanga’s conviction is the end of a multi=year trial process, the legitimacy of which was undermined at times by the lack of prosecutorial professionalism, and other issues. For more about the trial, go here, and watch the videos below.