Canada moves to join the AIIB

By David Bosco

Canada is joining an increasingly long list of U.S. allies making peace with the Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB):

Canada will apply to join the China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), the bank’s president Jin Liqun said on Wednesday, making it the latest ally of the United States to join the new international development bank.

The multilateral institution, seen as a rival to the Western-dominated World Bank and Asian Development Bank, was initially opposed by the United States but attracted many U.S. allies including Britain, Germany, Australia and South Korea as founding members.

In announcing its desire to join the AIIB, Canadian officials have lavished praise on the fledgling institution. Canadian Finance Minister Bill Moreau lauded its “lean, clean and green” mandate and predicted that it will be “a highly effective multilateral institution.”

Canada announced its plans just as an AIIB vice president vacated his post because of allegations of mismanagement in a previous position. As the Financial Times notes, that move leaves an opening that new members might be keen to have their nationals fill:

The AIIB’s five vice-president slots were highly sought after by its 57 member countries. The bank’s remaining vice-presidents hail from Germany, India, Indonesia and the UK.

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How Brexit could weaken France at the Security Council

By David Bosco

Alongside the cascade of commentary on Brexit’s implications for Britain and the European Union, a few observers are asking what it will mean for the United Nations, and particularly for the Security Council. The consensus view seems to be that Brexit will weaken London’s claim to a permanent Council seat. Foreign Policy‘s Colum Lynch makes the case that the UK’s EU exit will weaken British diplomats on the Council:

Over time, European governments are expected to grow less willing to submit to London’s leadership role at the United Nations in crises from Libya to Somalia, where British diplomacy is backed up by European muscle and euros. That will greatly enhance the influence and prestige of France, which will become the sole remaining representative of the European Union, among the council’s big power caucus. Great Britain, meanwhile, may suddenly find itself as “the runt of the Security Council,” quipped Richard Gowan, a U.N. specialist at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

There’s a strong logic to this argument, but I wonder if Brexit might in the long run make the French hold on a Council seat even more tenuous. With Britain in the EU, the two European powers have been able to jointly resist calls for a consolidation of their seats into an EU seat. With the UK on its own, France will bear the full brunt of that pressure, which could increase in a post-Brexit Europe. An EU without Britain’s skepticism might accelerate its integration on foreign policy and security matters. If and when Germany finally acknowledges that its own prospects of acquiring a permanent seat are hopeless, it may make the creation of an EU seat a diplomatic priority. And at that point, France may have trouble resisting the logic of an EU seat at the Security Council table.

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Can regional organizations save democracy?

By David Bosco

Scholars have examined whether a country’s membership in regional organizations can impact its domestic politics. Jon Pevehouse’s 2005 book Democracy from Above made the case that regional groupings, in certain contexts, can help shape domestic politics and solidify transitions to democracy.

Two unfolding political crises will be notable further tests for the thesis. In Poland, the European Union is struggling to keep the Polish government of Jaroslaw Kaczynski from straying into authoritarianism. The European Commission last week expressed concern about the government’s moves to limit the power of Poland’s highest court:

Recent events in Poland concerning in particular the Constitutional Court have led the European Commission to open a dialogue with the Polish Government in order to ensure the full respect of the rule of law. The Commission considers it necessary that Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal is able to fully ensure an effective constitutional review of legislative acts.

The Commission’s criticism met with derision:

A day after the European Commission slammed some of the conservative government’s moves, which have paralyzed the country’s Constitutional Tribunal and triggered international censure and domestic opposition against the ruling Law and Justice party, Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski poured scorn on the EU assessment.

“What right the Commission has to judge anything?” Waszczykowski said on state radio, just hours before meeting with EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini. “It is not binding for us. We treat this document that has arrived as an opinion, as a suggestion.”

A similar dynamic is unfolding between the Organization of American States (OAS) and Venezuela, a member state. Last week, the OAS triggered steps to debate that country’s worsening political and economic plight:

By invoking its Democratic Charter the organization effectively began a process of debate that could eventually lead to Venezuela’s suspension. But analysts say the more likely avenue initially will be a series of discussions to break the political stalemate between Mr. Maduro and his opponents who control the National Assembly.

As in Poland, the regional group’s criticism provoked an angry response from the Venezuelan government and its backers in the region. But these pyrotechnics are likely just early salvos in an extended struggle between these faltering democracies and the overwhelmingly democratic clubs to which they belong.

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Human Rights Council tempers its focus on Israel

By David Bosco

One of the most persistent criticisms of the UN’s Human Rights Council is that it has focused disproportionately–almost obsessively–on the Israel-Palestine dispute. The Obama administration has argued that its engagement with the Council has helped to improve that situation. And a new Brookings Institution report by Theodore Piccone and Naomi McMillen provides some empirical support for that claim:

An analysis of the Human Rights Council’s behavior toward country-specific issues since 2006 also demonstrates that while Israel/Palestine continues to dominate country-specific human rights issues at the Human Rights Council, recently – especially since 2011 – states have begun to more seriously address human rights situations in other countries and regions. For instance, in the early years of the Council, commissions of inquiry disproportionately dealt with the human rights situation in Israel/Palestine, but in the last four years new COIs have been established for a wide range of countries, including the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea, Eritrea and Sri Lanka. Additionally, special sessions have been convened in the last three years regarding the situations in the Central African Republic, Iraq, and Nigeria (Boko Haram). While Israel/Palestine continues to occupy a significant amount of the Council’s agenda, states are clearly starting to expand their attention to include a more diverse array of country-specific human rights issues around the world.

The report, which is chock full of data and insightful analysis, also notes that state participation with Council’s special rapporteurs and with the new Universal Periodic Review process has improved.

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Erdogan blasts Security Council structure

By David Bosco

Speaking in Uganda, Turkish president Recep Erdogan made pointed comments about the structure of the UN Security Council:

Criticising the veto power of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), Erdogan said, “The world cannot be given up to five permanent members’ initiative.”

The speech kicked off his four-day official tour of East Africa, in which he will also visit Kenya.

In his speech he said there are no Muslim or African countries among the five permanent members of the UNSC.

“What kind of justice is this? What kind of law is this?” he asked.

Turkey has developed a somewhat idiosyncratic position on Council reform in recent years. Erdogan has harshly criticized the Council’s performance in Syria and has critiqued Russia’s use of the veto in particular. Rather than seeking to join the bloc of countries seen as likely new permanent members (Brazil, Germany, India, and Japan), Turkey has insisted that new permanent seats would make the Council less democratic and less effective. Erdogan himself reportedly argued that permanent seats should be abolished and that the Council should feature twenty rotating seats.

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Ending reappointment for WTO judges?

By David Bosco

I wrote last week about the controversy surrounding U.S. opposition to reappointing a member of the WTO’s appellate body. Yesterday, a collection of former appellate body members released a letter expressing concern about the episode’s impact on the impartiality of the body. In so doing, they suggest getting rid of the reappointment process altogether:

Should WTO Members conclude now that they would like to do still more to help ensure the impartial independence of the Appellate Body, we suggest that the current system of reappointment be abolished. Instead of one four-year term, with the possibility of a second four-year term, we recommend a single, longer term for all Members of the Appellate Body.

Practice regarding reappointment is mixed in other international judicial bodies. The International Court of Justice permits reappointment while the International Criminal Court does not (unless the judge has served less than a third of a full term). At the regional level, the European Court of Justice allows reappointment, but the European Court of Human Rights gives judges nonrenewable nine-year terms. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has six-year judicial terms and allows judges to be reappointed only once.

In the academic literature, a number of scholars–and a few former practitioners–have attempted to understand how states use appointment and reappointment processes to manage and influence international courts. For insightful articles, see here and here.

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The lonely U.S. bid to unseat a WTO judge

By David Bosco

Given its power, the World Trade Organization’s appellate body receives very little attention. Its seven members generally toil in obscurity even as they issue rulings on trade disputes with huge economic implications. But a U.S. campaign to unseat one appellate body member has brought the WTO’s judicial arm unusual attention.

The dispute emerged earlier this month at a session of the Dispute Settlement Body (DSB), a WTO committee that includes all members. The United States opposed what would normally be the routine reappointment of appellate body member Seung Wha Chang, a South Korean national. In the International Trade Daily, Bryce Baschuk provides context:

The U.S. opposition comes during a precarious time for the WTO dispute settlement system, which is overburdened by a heavy workload of complex dispute cases and a growing shortage of senior dispute settlement judges.

More than two-dozen WTO members—including Brazil, the European Union, Japan, and South Korea—commented on the U.S. decision and many said it posed a serious threat to the independence and impartiality of the appellate body.

Unless the U.S. withdraws its opposition, Chang’s term will end on May 31 and open a second vacancy on the seven-member panel.

International trade expert Gregory Shaffer sees in the U.S. move a serious threat to the WTO’s integrity:

[The U.S. Trade Representative’s] hubris could be explained if this were Putin’s Russia. Or perhaps Trump’s America. But the Obama administration? Has this fallen outside the President’s radar? It is a high-risk strategy for an administration that professes to be internationalist. The core reason for building a global trade regime is to create a third party institution that helps manage conflicts that could ultimately endanger international welfare, peace, and security.

Even if Shaffer is overstating matters, U.S. isolation on this issue is striking; the summary of the DSB session indicates very little support for the American position. It is conceivable that there is broader dissatisfaction with Chang and that the United States is taking the hit for others (it wouldn’t be the first time). But the episode may also represent a new instance of hamfisted diplomacy in the international economic realm (with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank imbroglio being the most notable recent example).

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