Monday, November 29, 2010

Getting to agreement

Today is the start of COP16/CMP6 - the 16th edition of Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP) and the 6th Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP) - the follow-up to Copenhagen, 2009 that is taking place in Cancun , Mexico from November 29th through December 10th.

According to news reports President Obama will not be attending the deliberations... At first blush this might seem to be somewhat of a surprise given the stakes. And what are the stakes? Well, the answer to the question regarding the importance of the Cancun conference depends on one's point of view, and opinions range along a continuum:
  • At one end of the continuum, at the very least it is important because decisions might be made there that could have profound effects on both the world and U.S. economies, and,
  • At the other end of the continuum it is thought to potentially be crucial to the future existence of mankind as we know it.
With so many countries, NGOs, etc. attending, each with their own baggage and multiple, differing opinions regarding what needs to be done, surely this would be a great opportunity for the great uniter to pull another rabbit out of his hat? After all he did it at Copenhagen... as he miraculously achieved unanimous agreement at the NPT Review Conference... as he managed to get the New START agreement... as he got unanimous agreement for UNSC 1887... as he bridged the differences in Honduras with the "Tegucigalpa/San Jose Agreement." Would it not be a good idea to have present that ability to get agreement between parties that have totally opposing positions?

This blogger would argue 'no', that it is better that the President not attend, that it would be preferable to have lower level representation that can work to achieve more limited agreements... And why should this be? Because in this blogger's estimation that would be a superior outcome, and it is preferable to achieve a "more limited", albeit fairly concrete agreement, as opposed to the sweeping "historic" agreements a la Obama, that are more hyperbole-filled than "real."

This blogger's thesis is that the achievement of these "historic" agreements by President Obama has been more due to the artful crafting and composition of documents that the various parties can "agree" to without their having to actually change their positions substantively... That in all the cases cited, President Obama did not somehow convince the various parties to come to a common understanding by the force of his intellect and/or argument, but by devising agreements that contained sufficient ambiguity that the various parties could "agree" to them.

With that in mind let us examine the record highlighted above, starting with Copenhagen 2009.

OK, the first example, Copenhagen 2009, was more nuanced and not universally agreed to be a "win." Opinions on the outcome ranged from a "... meaningful and unprecedented agreement..." (per President Obama), to a "... historic failure that will live in infamy..." (Greenpeace activist), to a "reset" and possibly "... the beginning of a game changer in how the world looks at ending carbon pollution..." (Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress), all the way to the "... end of a long day, start of a long road..." (350.0rg founder). Reactions were definitely mixed across the entire spectrum.

A certain inevitable amount of "spinning" went on after the fact, after all this did include a large number of heads of state from around the globe. 'White House tells amazing inside story of how the Copenhagen Accord was reached' and 'Inside details on Obama's climate change meeting with Wen, Lula, Singh and Zuma' more or less gave the administration's version of how they saved the day, via a briefing given by a "senior administration official" to reporters on the flight back to the United States. Presumably this was supposed to give an account of how President Obama 'saved the day' at Copenhagen... This blogger did not find it persuasive, and in fact it revealed an incredible level of incoherence. One would expect that the President's attendance at this gathering of world leaders would be well planned, but one apparently would be wrong. For example:
  • During the meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao the U.S. "... had given some transparency language to them..." to discuss. A follow-up question revealed that this was handed over at the meeting between Obama and Wen, a meeting at the end of the last day of the conference! Apparently the earlier arrival of Secretary of State Clinton had not result in any preparation for the President's arrival... Why? It's not as if China's issues with "transparency" suddenly showed up when the President arrived!
  • OK, so the above was concerning but not a huge deal. However, as the narrative by the "senior administration official" goes on, it looks like the most powerful man on the planet flew all the way to Copenhagen for an issue that might concern the fate of the entire planet, and did this all by the seat of his pants. "The President also says to staff, we should meet in a group of three with Lula of Brazil, Singh of India, and Zuma of South Africa..." Unfortunately it looked like this meeting would not occur, because "... Brazil tells us that they don't know if they can come because they want the Indians to come..." and "... we were told Singh was at the airport..." So, if this narrative was true, it would seem that the President didn't have a meeting already scheduled with these worthies! That he suddenly got the bright idea that this might be a good idea... And that it looked like it wasn't going to be possible because some of them were already leaving the conference!
  • Then, apparently, as they were going to the follow-up meeting with Wen they found him with the three (Brazil's Lula, India's Singh, and South Africa's Zuma)!! Hmm. so perhaps credit for saving the conference should have gone to Wen and not to Obama, since according to the "senior administration official" it was Wen that managed to pull together the group after the U.S, had failed to do so!
OK, so this all sounds incredibly amateurish, even putting aside the insinuations that the others might have been engaged in some sort of secret meeting; that the "at the airport" story was possibly a ploy; etc. The entire narrative doesn't make much sense, from the small details (the seating) to the larger narrative (above). Even the silly "seating" story makes no sense! Although, supposedly, "... there aren't any seats, right, I mean, I think if you've seen some of the pictures, there were basically no chairs..." it turns out that "... the President says, "No, no, don't worry, I'm going to go sit by my friend Lula," and says, "Hey, Lula." Walks over, moves a chair, sits down next to Lula. The Secretary of State sits down next to him..." So, if no chairs where were they sitting? On the floor? That would make a good picture, the President and Secretary of State both sitting cross-legged on the floor!

This blogger was not sure what to make of this entire narrative. Even if you believed every word, did the unnamed "senior administration official" somehow feel that the story reflected positively on the President? Presumably the intent of this briefing was to portray the President as having pulled a rabbit out of his hat; however, this blogger would argue that it was more evidence of ineptness than of brilliant maneuvering! And if it's not an exact rendering of what happened, why would they have come up with such a silly story?

Next, let us move back in time to an event that was universally proclaimed as a success, the 2010 NPT Review Conference earlier this year...

At the end of May 2010, the month-long NPT Review Conference wrapped up, adopting a consensus final document, "... the first one achieved... in ten years...". Significant achievement, or...? With the "non-aligned' countries led by Egypt pushing for concrete steps towards a WMD-free zone in the Middle East (MEZFWMD), and other countries pushing for concrete steps towards nuclear disarmament by the "nuclear haves", how exactly did this "agreement" happen? Well, by the process of artful "compromise."

Regarding the timetable for disarmament, the nuclear "haves' managed to make sure that no actual date was set for disarmament, agreeing instead to work towards that goal and to report back on their progress. Regarding the MEZFWMD, the agreed-upon final statement "... calls for holding a conference in 2012 "to be attended by all states of the Middle East, leading to the establishment¨ of such a zone. It also mentions ¨the importance of Israel's accession to the treaty and the placement of all its nuclear facilities under comprehensive IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) safeguards...¨

So President Obama achieved an "agreement' between multiple parties "without any of them actually having to change their positions to come to a commonality of understanding and purpose!" The U.S. got much of what it wanted (a strengthening of the nonproliferation regime; a reinforcement of the IAEA; calls for strengthening export controls; tightening the requirements around treaty withdrawal; and many other provisions), while at the same time the U.S. ignored the parts of the agreement it didn't like (mainly the MEZHWMD), as demonstrated by:
  • The Department of State web page recapping the NPT Review Conference final document, while providing information on the main provisions made no mention of the MEZHWMD at all.
  • As reported, administration officials characterized the conference to be held in 2012 as "a modest step", and said that the U.S. would not pressure any government (read Israel) to attend the conference.
  • The President's statement on the final document then included: "We strongly oppose efforts to single out Israel, and will oppose actions that jeopardize Israel's national security." U.S. National Security Adviser General James Jones characterized this as a "gratuitous" attempt to single out Israel, and indicated that it is the U.S. view "... that a comprehensive and durable peace in the region and full compliance by all regional states with their arms control and nonproliferation obligations are essential precursors for its establishment..." i.e. full peace in the Middle East before a MEZHWMD!
The bottom line? A final document that could be accepted unanimously by the various parties. However, no "real" agreement, since each of the opposing camps focused on the part of the agreement that was palatable to them. The U.S. led the way in selectively picking and choosing the parts of the document that it liked, thereby vitiating the final document...

Next, let us briefly mention the New START agreement.

This blogger's impressions of New START are to be found in detail at the March 28th blog entry "Yawn." In the context of this argument, this "historic" agreement also fits the bill - besides grossly over-stating the very modest cuts that have been achieved, it also contained language that was "agreed" to by both parties without them coming to a common understanding e.g. the language on missile defense, where the U.S. position is that the agreement "... does not contain any constraints on testing, development or deployment of current or planned U.S. missile defense programs...", while the Russians disagree strenuously on this point...

Next, on to United Nations Security Council Resolution 1887.

In September 2009 the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1887. This was immediately hailed as "historic" by President Obama, who chaired the session. The resolution "expresses the Council’s grave concern about the threat of nuclear proliferation and the need for international action to prevent it. It reaffirms that the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery are threats to international peace and security and shows agreement on a broad range of actions to address nuclear proliferation and disarmament and the threat of nuclear terrorism" (see 'Fact Sheet on the UN Security Council Summit on Nuclear Nonproliferation and Nuclear Disarmament UNSC Resolution 1887').

Reactions ranged from those lauding President Obama for achieving a signal victory, to others accusing him of having demonstrated "weakness." President Sarkozy of France managed to strongly push for the resolution, even while "sticking it" to the President. An example of a laudatory reaction, "... Obama has consolidated global support behind the vision and the plan. He has laid the legal and diplomatic basis for enforcing tougher penalties for those that cheat on nuclear treaties. He has gotten all the nuclear nations to agree to new steps to get rid of the weapons they now hold in staggering numbers. It is remarkable progress..."

How did President Obama get the unanimous agreement of countries with very different agendas for a common understanding? Well, that was both an artefact of the how the resolution was written - with sufficient ambiguity to allow states with differing viewpoints to agree on the formulation - as well as the fact that the document did not seriously bind the permanent members to change their existing actions or positions. A few examples to consider:

Section 4 "calls upon all States that are not Parties to the NPT to accede to the Treaty as non-nuclear-weapon States so as to achieve its universality at an early date, and pending their accession to the Treaty, to adhere to its terms;" Seems rather cut and dried, a strong push to bring all companies under the aegis of the NPT. Or was it? As soon as the resolution passed India immediately registered its objections to this, and was promptly reassured by the U.S. Additionally, barely a week earlier many of those who voted for 1887 (and presumably agreed with the need for all non-signatories to accede to the NPT) had voted against a n IAEA resolution urging Israel to accede to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and to place all their atomic sites under UN inspections... (note: the vote passed despite this...)

Section 5 "Calls upon the Parties to the NPT, pursuant to Article VI of the Treaty, to undertake to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to nuclear arms reduction and disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control, and calls on all other States to join in this endeavour;" Although the nuclear powers agreed here to work towards "complete (nuclear) disarmament", who can doubt that this "long and arduous" journey will not be their major focus, and will most certainly be subordinated to the incomparably more important (ahem) issue of nonproliferation? The nuclear "haves" made sure to include no dates for achieving "this endeavor."

Section 7 "Calls upon all States to refrain from conducting a nuclear test explosion and to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), thereby bringing the treaty into force at an early date;" A long-standing goal of the nuclear "have nots," the "haves" here agreed to achieve this "at an early date." However, there is no evidence of current moves towards achieving this goal any time soon. Both China and the United States have signed but not ratified the CTBT (U.S. - signed by President Clinton in 1996, rejected by the Senate in 1999). The language in 1887 appears to reflect President-elect Obama's commitment to taking the CTBT to the Senate for ratification "at the earliest practical date." At present, however, it is very unlikely that the Senate would ratify the CTBT, even if strongly supported by the President...

Section 9 "Recalls the statements by each of the five nuclear-weapon States, noted by resolution 984 (1995), in which they give security assurances against the use of nuclear weapons to non-nuclear-weapon State Parties to the NPT, and affirms that such security assurances strengthen the nuclear non-proliferation regime;" Here, the nuclear "haves" would appear to have reconfirmed an assurance that they will not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states. Apparently fairly cut and dried. But how do we square this with the standard "we won't take any options off the table" formulation that has been brandished against various states, including but not limited to (non-nuclear) Iraq and Iran?

Section 19 "Encourages States to consider whether a recipient State has signed and ratified an additional protocol based on the model additional protocol in making nuclear export decisions;" Note the use of "encourages." By using this "softer" term ("encourages" rather than, say, "requires") Russia can both agree to the resolution and still have the latitude to proceed with supporting Iran's reactor at Bushehr... Similarly, Section 8 which covers the negotiation of a treaty to ban the production of fissile material, "requests all Member States to cooperate in guiding the Conference to an early commencement of Substantive work" (note "requests.")

Bottom line: yet another example of President Obama facilitating the achievement of unanimity, that on closer view reveals its 'success' to be more due to its artful composition than to President Obama somehow having convinced by force of argument Russia, China, etc. to change or moderate their positions...

Next, on to Honduras and the "Tegucigalpa/San Jose" agreement.

As a final example, let us look back to October 2009, when Honduran President Zelaya was bundled out of the country in his pajamas. On October 30th, 2009 the Honduran de facto (Micheletti) government and ousted President Manual Zelaya ostensibly came to an agreement regarding how to resolve the stand-off that had been in place since Zelaya was arrested by the Honduran military and exiled from the country (June 28th.) The U.S. which had been involved in the negotiations and had facilitated the "agreement" swiftly claimed a "breakthrough in negotiations in Honduras," and a "historic agreement." Zelaya also claimed victory and vindication, saying "This signifies my return to power in the coming days, and peace for Honduras." Even Hugo Chavez chimed in enthusiastically...

However, reading between the headlines and perusing a myriad of articles hailing the agreement, it was clear that things didn't seem to add up! Yes, there was an article that covered the formation of a national unity government, and it even provided a deadline (November 5th) for this to happen; however, Zelaya was only to be reinstated upon approval by the country's parliament, and no deadline was provided for that article of the agreement. Given that a large majority of the Honduran Congress had supported his removal and that the de facto government leaders continued to insist that he would never return (for example, Marcia Facusse de Villeda, an aide to Micheletti said, "Zelaya won’t be restored.”), it did not seem likely that Zelaya would be reinstated. Given the 180-degree difference between the expectations of the two sides of who had signed this "historic agreement," it seemed that nothing good would be forthcoming...

Fast forward a week and, sure enough, it began to fall apart - the Honduran Congress was not called out of recess to reinstate Zelaya, and the de facto government had named a unity government, claiming that Zelaya's side had not set forth its members. For his part, Zelaya issued a statement withdrawing from the “Tegucigalpa/San Jose Agreement,” and pre-declared the November 29th election as a fraud - "... we announce that we will completely ignore this electoral process and the results of the aforementioned evils, elections under a dictatorship are a fraud for the people..."

So, it was back to the status quo ante - the de facto government went along with the new elections and chose a new President, while Zelaya's side rejected the entire process as a sham. The U.S. government, which had midwifed the "historic agreement" backed the newly-elected President, to all intents and purposes acquiescing in Zelaya's ouster...

OK, so overall there seems to be a common thread here... "Historic" agreements between parties that have very different positions; "agreements" that do not require the coming to of a common understanding; a "papering over" of differences that ultimately will likely reassert themselves.... In short, strong on symbolism and short on substance. Cancun is too important to get the "historic" treatment!

NPT Review Conference:
NPT on Debategraph
Two Cheers for Multilateralism
Progress on Nukes at the UN?
Iran narrowly wins UN nuclear battle
NPT RevCon ends with a consensus Final Document
A Surprising Consensus on Nuclear Nonproliferation
Understanding the 2010 NPT Review Conference
Post-NPT RevCon Review of the Goal for a NWFZ in the Middle East …And why this goal is so important
Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference Final Document (U.S. State Dept.)
NPT RevCon Produces Consensus Final Document
NPT Rev-Con achieves consensus document
ACA Welcomes NPT Review Consensus
Obama hails 'balanced' non-proliferation accord
Nuke session approves early steps to disarm
U.N. Nuke Meet Ends with Good Intentions and Empty Promises
NPT Review Adopts Outcome Document at Last Moment
Success of NPT Review Conference great news
Commitment to WMD-free Middle East in doubt as NPT conference ends
In NPT, US sacrifices its own policy goals to serve as Israel’s lawyer
Jones: NPT review a "gratuitous" attack on Israel
A Middle East Zone Free of Weapons OF Mass Destruction
Yossi Melman: U.S. sacrificed Israel for success of NPT conference

New START agreement:
Some Preliminary Thoughts on the New START agreement
The Start of a New Obama Narrative
New U.S.-Russian Arms Control Deal Set for Signing
Questions Abound as "New START" Agreement is Completed
US-Russia nuclear pact to be Obama victory
Getting A New START On The Road To Nuclear Arms Reductions
U.S., Russia agree to nuclear arms control treaty

UNSC 1887:
UN Security Council adopts resolution on nuclear safeguards
White House Fact Sheet on UN Security Council Resolution 1887
Text of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1887
India strongly reacts to UNSC resolution on NPT.
U.S.: UN resolution on NPT not directed against India
Ouch! French President Sarkozy slams ‘naive’ Obama for living in 'virtual world’ on Iran
Obama's Nuclear Victory
Building a world without nukes
IAEA urges Israel to allow nuclear inspection

Honduras and the "Tegucigalpa/San Jose" agreement:
Pact to restore ousted Honduran leader in Congress (Oct 30th)
Breakthrough in Honduras (Oct 30th)
Honduran Congress Leader Says Accord Won’t Restore Zelaya (Oct 30th)
Honduras deal a boost for US influence in Latin America (Oct 30th)
Fin de crisis apoya política multilateral de EUA (Oct 30th)
Credit where credit is due (Oct 31st)
Troubles for a Deal — and for Obama — in Honduras (Nov 6th)
Pres. Zelaya: Elections Under a Dictatorship are a Fraud, Micheletti’s Failure to Comply (Nov 7th)

Final note: This blog entry pulls together and incorporates a number of prior individual blog entries to help make the central point...

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