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Great Powers and Syria, again

UNITED NATIONS — Russia on Tuesday cast its seventh veto to protect the Syrian government from United Nations Security Council action, blocking a bid by Western powers to impose sanctions over accusations of chemical weapons attacks during the six-year Syrian conflict.

China backed Russia and cast its sixth veto on Syria. Russia had said the vote on the resolution, drafted by France, Britain and the United States, would harm U.N.-led peace talks between the warring Syrian parties in Geneva, which began last week.

Nine council members voted in favor, Bolivia voted against, while Egypt, Ethiopia and Kazakhstan abstained. A resolution needs nine votes in favor and no vetoes by the United States, France, Russia, Britain or China to be adopted.

Russian President Vladimir Putin described the draft resolution on Tuesday as “totally inappropriate.”

“For my friends in Russia, this resolution is very appropriate,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told the council after the vote.

“It is a sad day on the Security Council when members start making excuses for other member states killing their own people. The world is definitely a more dangerous place,” she said.

The vote was one of the first confrontations at the United Nations between Russia and the United States since U.S. President Donald Trump took office in January, pledging to build closer ties with Moscow.

Russia’s Deputy U.N. Ambassador Vladimir Safronkov described the statements made against Moscow in the Security Council as “outrageous” and declared that “God will judge you.”

“Today’s clash or confrontation is not a result of our negative vote. It is a result of the fact that you decided on provocation while you knew well ahead of time our position,” said Safronkov.

Western powers put forward the resolution in response to the results of an investigation by the U.N. and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

The international inquiry found Syrian government forces were responsible for three chlorine gas attacks and that Islamic State militants had used mustard gas.

British U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft told the council before the vote: “This is about taking a stand when children are poisoned. It’s that simple. It’s about taking a stand when civilians are maimed and murdered with toxic weapons.”

Chlorine’s use as a weapon is banned under the Chemical Weapons Convention, which Syria joined in 2013. If inhaled, chlorine gas turns to hydrochloric acid in the lungs and can kill by burning lungs and drowning victims in body fluids.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government has denied its forces have used chemical weapons. Russia has questioned the results of the U.N./OPCW inquiry and long said there was not enough proof for the Security Council to take any action.

French U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre said the failure by the council to act would “send a message of impunity.”

China’s U.N. Ambassador Liu Jieyi said it was too early to act because the international investigation was still ongoing.

“We oppose the use of chemical weapons,” he said.

The draft resolution would have banned the sale or supply of helicopters to the Syrian government because the U.N./OPCW inquiry found Syrian government forces had used helicopters to drop barrel bombs containing chlorine gas.

It also proposed targeted sanctions – a travel ban and asset freeze – on 11 Syrian military commanders and officials, as well as on 10 government and related entities.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by James Dalgleish)

UNITED NATIONS — Russia and the Trump administration clashed in a vote at the United Nations Security Council for the first time on Tuesday, as the Kremlin vetoed a measure backed by the Americans to punish Syria for using chemical weapons.

While the Russians had long signaled their intent to block the resolution, which was supported by dozens of countries, including the United States, the clash offered insights into the big divides that remain between the Kremlin and President Trump, who has vowed to improve ties.

The vote in the 15-member council was nine in favor and three against. Opponents included Russia and China, two of the five veto-wielding permanent members of the Council, and Bolivia, a nonpermanent member. Three nonpermanent members — Egypt, Ethiopia and Kazakhstan — abstained.

It was the Kremlin’s seventh Security Council veto in defense of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria over the war that has been convulsing his country for nearly six years.

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The American ambassador, Nikki R. Haley, who has called chemical weapons attacks in Syria “barbaric,” accused Russia and China of putting “their friends in the Assad regime ahead of our global security” in her blunt rebuke of the vetoes.

“It’s a sad day for the Security Council when members make excuses for other member states killing their own people,” she said in the Council chambers.

The resolution, proposed by Britain and France months ago and endorsed by the United States last week, would have imposed sanctions on a handful of Syrian military officials and entities for having dropped chlorine-filled barrel bombs on opposition-held areas on at least three occasions in 2014 and 2015, according to a United Nations panel.

Russia’s envoy, Vladimir Safronkov, defended the veto, calling the resolution “politically biased” and asserting that Russia’s concerns about the draft language had not been addressed. “This is railroading the draft by the Western troika,” he said.

China’s ambassador, Liu Jieyi, recalling the now-discredited American warnings of Iraq’s “so-called W.M.D.s” in 2003, criticized the resolution as an example of “hypocrisy” by the Western powers. “It was forced through to a vote while Council members still have differences,” he said. “This is in no way helpful to finding a solution.”

Chlorine is banned as a weapon under an international treaty that Mr. Assad’s government signed in 2013.

The arguments and vote over the resolution were important because they provided new insight into how Mr. Trump, who has made clear his intent to improve ties with Russia, would deal with the Kremlin over the Syria war. Russia is Mr. Assad’s most important foreign ally.

The conflict over the resolution was in sharp contrast to a Russian-American consensus on the need to contain Syria’s use of chemical weapons. After a sarin gas attack on a suburb of Damascus in August 2013, Moscow and Washington struck a deal to force Mr. Assad to sign the chemical weapons treaty and dismantle his stockpile of the poisonous munitions under international supervision.

The Syrian government, though, violated the deal, according to a United Nations panel set up by the Security Council, known as the Joint Investigative Mechanism. It found that the government had used chemical weapons at least three times.

Russia helped to create the panel but questioned its findings when it implicated the Syrian government. The panel also found that Islamic State militants in Syria used mustard gas in August 2015.

Moscow made clear last week that it would defeat the draft measure to impose sanctions on the Syrian government, calling it unbalanced. The Russian veto signaled how far Russia was willing to go to shield its ally in Damascus.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia reinforced his opposition on Tuesday, adding that any Security Council penalties on the Syrian government would complicate diplomatic efforts underway in Geneva aimed at halting the war.

“As for sanctions against the Syrian leadership, I think the move is totally inappropriate now,” he told a news conference while visiting Kyrgyzstan. “It does not help, would not help the negotiation process. It would only hurt or undermine confidence during the process.”

Human Rights Watch concluded in a recent report that the Syrian military had not only violated its promises not to use chemical weapons but had systematically dropped chlorine bombs in the final weeks of the battle to take the northern city of Aleppo last fall.

Mr. Trump repeatedly has expressed admiration for Mr. Putin and said he wanted to strike a deal with him to stop the war in Syria and focus on fighting terrorism. But disagreements within Mr. Trump’s administration appear to have complicated that goal.

Ms. Haley has taken a hard line against Russia. She condemned what she called Russia’s “aggressive actions” in eastern Ukraine, vowed to maintain sanctions related to the Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and in her Senate confirmation hearing, went as far as saying that Russia was guilty of war crimes in Syria.

Her comments on Russia, often directly contradicting her boss, echo the talking points of the previous administration of Barack Obama, but they also reflect the concerns of Republicans in Congress, who distrust the Kremlin.

Ms. Haley was in Washington on Monday for meetings at the White House. A former governor of South Carolina, she has by her own admission limited foreign policy experience.

She has so far kept her comments limited to a handful of foreign policy issues that plainly deliver political dividends at home. She has maintained a tough line on Russia and Iran, pledged to defend Israel, and promised more oversight into how American funding for the United Nations is spent.

She has said nothing about the Trump administration’s travel ban on refugees and visa applicants from seven predominantly Muslim countries, which the United Nations secretary general, António Guterres, has criticized.

Ms. Haley, an American of Indian descent who grew up in a small South Carolina town, also has been silent on the attack on two Indian engineers in Kansas last week, which was suspected to be a hate crime and which threatens to cloud Indian-American relations.

#Discussion on World Order# Martin Wolf: The long and painful journey to world disorder

In a long commentary on the Financial Times, Martin Wolf argues that we are now living “in an era of strident nationalism and xenophobia”.  The world does not look hopeful with the rise of nationalist strongmen leaders such as Trump, Le Pen, Putin and Xi Jinping.  If anything can be learned from history,

The contemporary global economic and political system originated as a reaction against the disasters of the first half of the 20th century. The latter, in turn, were caused by the unprecedented, but highly uneven, economic progress of the 19th century.

The transformational forces unleashed by industrialisation stimulated class conflict, nationalism and imperialism. Between 1914 and 1918, industrialised warfare and the Bolshevik revolution ensued. The attempted restoration of the pre-first world war liberal order in the 1920s ended with the Great Depression, the triumph of Adolf Hitler and the Japanese militarism of the 1930s. This then created the conditions for the catastrophic slaughter of the second world war, to be followed by the communist revolution in China. In the aftermath of the second world war, the world was divided between two camps: liberal democracy and communism. The US, the world’s dominant economic power, led the former and the Soviet Union the latter. With US encouragement, the empires controlled by enfeebled European states disintegrated, creating a host of new countries in what was called the “third world”.

Contemplating the ruins of European civilisation and the threat from communist totalitarianism, the US, the world’s most prosperous economy and militarily powerful country, used not only its wealth but also its example of democratic self-government, to create, inspire and underpin a transatlantic west. In so doing, its leaders consciously learnt from the disastrous political and economic mistakes their predecessors made after its entry into the first world war in 1917. Domestically, the countries of this new west emerged from the second world war with a commitment to full employment and some form of welfare state. Internationally, a new set of institutions — the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (ancestor of today’s World Trade Organisation) and the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation (the instrument of the Marshall Plan, later renamed the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) — oversaw the reconstruction of Europe and promoted global economic development. Nato, the core of the western security system, was founded in 1949. The Treaty of Rome, which established the European Economic Community, forefather of the EU, was signed in 1957. This creative activity came partly in response to immediate pressures, notably the postwar European economic misery and the threat from Stalin’s Soviet Union. But it also reflected a vision of a more co-operative world.


Donald Trump and the New Economic Order


Photo of Michael Spence

Michael Spence, a Nobel laureate in economics, is Professor of Economics at NYU’s Stern School of Business, Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, Academic Board Chairman of the Asia Global Institute in Hong Kong, and Chair of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on New Growth Models. He was the chairman of the independent Commission on Growth and Development, an international body that from 2006-2010 analyzed opportunities for global economic growth, and is the author of The Next Convergence – The Future of Economic Growth in a Multispeed World.

Donald Trump and the New Economic Order

HONG KONG – Since the end of World War II, the hierarchy of economic priorities has been relatively clear. At the top was creating an open, innovative, and dynamic market-driven global economy, in which all countries can (in principal) thrive and grow. Coming in second – one might even say a distant second – was generating vigorous, sustainable, and inclusive national growth patterns. No more.

In fact, a reversal seems to be underway. Achieving strong inclusive national-level growth to revive a declining middle class, kick-start stagnant incomes, and curtail high youth unemployment is now taking precedence. Mutually beneficial international arrangements governing flows of goods, capital, technology, and people (the four key flows in the global economy) are appropriate only when they reinforce – or, at least, don’t undermine – progress on meeting the highest priority.

This reversal became apparent in June, when Britons – including those who benefit significantly from the existing open economic and financial system – voted to leave the European Union, based on what might be called the sovereignty principle. EU institutions were perceived to be undermining Britain’s capacity to boost its own economy, regulate immigration, and control its destiny.

A similar view has been animating nationalist and populist political movements across Europe, many of which believe that supra-national arrangements should come second to domestic prosperity. The EU – which actually does, in its current configuration, leave its member governments short of policy tools to meet their citizens’ evolving needs – is an easy target.

But even without such institutional arrangements, there is a sense that emphasizing international markets and linkages can hamper a country’s capacity to advance its own interests. Donald Trump’s victory in the United States’ presidential election made that abundantly clear.

In keeping with Trump’s main campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” it was his “America first” comments that were most revealing. While Trump might pursue mutually beneficial bilateral agreements, one can expect that they will be subordinated to domestic priorities, especially distributional aims, and supported only insofar as they are consistent with these priorities.

Developed-country voters’ frustration with the old market-driven global economic architecture is not unfounded. That order did allow powerful forces, at times beyond the control of elected officials and policymakers, to shape national economies. It may be true that some of that order’s elites chose to ignore the adverse distributional and employment-related consequences of the old order, while reaping the benefits. But it is also true that the old order, taken as sacrosanct, hampered elites’ capacity to address such problems, even if they tried.

This was not always the case. In the wake of WWII, the US, motivated partly by the Cold War, helped to create the old order by facilitating economic recovery in the West and, over time, creating growth opportunities for developing countries. For 30 years or so, the distributional aspects of the global growth patterns that these efforts underpinned were positive, both for individual countries and for the world as a whole. Compared with anything that came before, the post-war order was a boon for inclusiveness.

But nothing lasts forever. As inequality across countries has declined, inequality within countries has surged – to the point that the reversal of priorities was probably inevitable. Now that the reversal has arrived, so have the consequences. While it is difficult to say precisely what those will be, some seem fairly clear.

For starters, the US will be more reluctant to absorb a disproportionate share of the cost of providing global public goods. While other countries will eventually pick up the slack, there will be a transition period of unknown duration, during which the supply of such goods may decline, potentially undermining stability. For example, the terms of engagement in NATO are likely to be renegotiated.

Multilateralism – long enabled by the same sort of asymmetric contribution, though typically proportionate to countries’ income and wealth – will also lose steam, as the trend toward bilateral and regional trade and investment agreements accelerates. Trump is likely to be a leading proponent of this tack; in fact, even regional trade deals may be ruled out, as his opposition to ratifying the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership suggests.

This creates an opportunity for China to lead the establishment of a trade pact for Asia – an opportunity that Chinese leaders are already set to seize. In conjunction with its “one belt, one road” strategy and its creation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, China’s influence in the region will expand significantly as a result.

Meanwhile, for developing countries that lack China’s economic might, the trend away from multilateralism could hurt. Whereas poor and less-developed countries found opportunities to grow and prosper under the old order, they will struggle to negotiate effectively on a bilateral basis. The hope is that the world will recognize its collective interest in keeping development pathways open for poorer countries, both for these countries’ benefit and for the sake of international peace and security.

Beyond trade, technology is another powerful global force that is likely to be treated differently in the new order, becoming subject to more national-level regulations. Cyber threats will all but require some regulations and will demand evolving policy interventions. But other threats – for example, the fake news that has proliferated in the West (and, in particular, in the US during the presidential campaign) – may also call for a more hands-on approach. And the adoption of work-displacing digital technologies may need to be paced, so that the economy’s structural adjustment can keep up.

The new emphasis on national interests clearly has costs and risks. But it may also bring important benefits. A global economic order sitting atop a crumbling foundation – in terms of democratic support and national political and social cohesion – is not stable. As long as people’s identities are mainly organized, as they are now, around citizenship in nation-states, a country-first approach may be the most effective. Like it or not, we are about to find out.

© 1995-2017 Project Syndicate


See also:

Brexit, Trump and a new economic order


Clinton opposes TPP

Hillary Clinton: I Oppose TPP Now, I’ll Oppose It as President

Hillary Clinton outlined her jobs plan and economic agenda in an address in Warren, Michigan, on Thursday. The Democratic nominee said she will stop trade deals that kill jobs, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

45 times Secretary Clinton pushed the trade bill she now opposes


Clinton calls for higher taxes, more regulations, new phase of Obamacare

Democratic nominee vows to kill Asia trade pact she helped negotiate


The WTO is talking about its public enemy no. 1, RTAs, again. If TPP dies, then the WTO might still have some hope.



27 June 2016


Several members back talks on impact of regional trade deals on global system

A discussion on the proliferation of regional trade agreements (RTAs) and their impact on the broader global trading system has drawn support from most WTO members, the chair of the Committee on RTAs said in a meeting on 27 June. He noted that some WTO members have suggested taking note of these deals’ provisions on e-commerce, rules of origin, technical barriers to trade, sanitary and phytosanitary standards, fisheries, and more.

Ministers had instructed the committee in the Nairobi ministerial declarationlast December to discuss the systemic implication of RTAs for the multilateral trading system and their relationship to WTO rules. Besides instructions for holding these discussions, the ministerial declaration also called on members to work towards the transformation of the provisional Transparency Mechanism, which is used to review RTAs, into a permanent one without prejudice to questions related to notification requirements.

Discussions on systemic implications of RTAs are more of a priority for most members than transforming the Transparency Mechanism into a permanent one, committee chair Ambassador Daniel Blockert (Sweden) said at the meeting, reporting on his previous consultations with around 25 members.

“This systemic discussion is high on the agenda for members with possibly one or two exceptions,” the chair said.

“In terms of substance, there are different suggestions with some based on specific themes: e-commerce, rules of origin, technical barriers to trade, and fisheries. The idea would be to exchange experiences,” Ambassador Blockert said. “One way is to have a few delegations provide information on their own free trade agreements and the Secretariat will supply background information,” he said.

The chair clarified that there are few  concrete ideas on how to hold the discussions. He called for written proposals and encouraged members to discuss ideas in groups ahead of the next committee meeting on 27-28 September, where he plans to take the matter up again.

Several delegations then took the floor. Australia reiterated its long-standing support for a discussion of the effects of RTAs on the multilateral system, encouraging the chair to start a process for interested members to construct a framework for the discussion. The US said if members wanted to discuss RTAs’ systemic effects, it was necessary to have transparency on all RTAs, including non-notified RTAs. The US added that it could not agree to a standing item on systemic issues on the committee’s agenda; if members wanted to submit a paper on any issue dealing with RTAs, they could request an agenda item. Japan, Chinese Taipei, Canada, China, and the European Union were supportive of such a discussion, with some drawing attention to the need to address transparency issues too. The EU said it would support presentations by members on specific topics backed by input from the Secretariat. Brazil and India repeated their view that the committee did not have sole competence to discuss RTAs as the Committee on Trade & Development also had a role. South Africa supported a systemic discussion as long as it did not lead to new rules or benchmarks.

The chair said he will continue consultations with delegations before September.

Consideration of three RTAs

Members also discussed three RTAs as part of the regular work of the committee:

  • Free Trade Agreement between the Republic of Korea and Australia, goods and services WT/REG359/1
  • Free Trade Agreement between Canada and Honduras, goods and servicesWT/REG364/1
  • Free Trade Agreement between the Russian Federation and Serbia, goodsWT/REG326/1

The EU said that the Korea-Australia FTA was one of the most comprehensive RTAs in Asia Pacific and contained several commitments beyond WTO agreements. Some questions were raised on all three RTAs and the parties agreed to provide responses in writing.

Consideration of such agreements is based on a factual presentation prepared by the WTO Secretariat as well as written questions and responses exchanged among WTO members in advance of the meeting.

Backlog in RTA notifications

Seventy-two RTAs that are currently in force have not been notified to the WTO, members were informed at the meeting WT/REG/W/104. Many of these RTAs involve members of the Latin American Integration Association (LAIA). LAIA members are of the view that the LAIA agreement itself has been notified to the WTO, and subsequent LAIA agreement notifications had been made in biennial/annual reports, thus such deals should thus be removed from the Secretariat’s list of non-notified RTAs. The US disagreed and reiterated that the LAIA as an entity was not a WTO member and that notification obligations rested with individual WTO members. The US also indicated it could not support the consensus to invite the LAIA to the next meeting of the committee as an ad hoc observer. Uruguay on behalf of LAIA had issued a communication ahead of the meeting, which the EU said was a good start to addressing the backlog and on which it requested a number of clarifications. The chair encouraged more consultations among members to find a way forward.

The Chairman also said he had continued consultations with those delegations for which the RTA factual consideration was delayed due to lack of comments from parties involved WT/REG/W/106. The chair further reported that end of implementation reports were due for 129 RTAs. A further 11 RTAs will see the end of their implementation this year, thus adding to the backlog. Only six implementation reports had been received to date.

Next meeting

The next committee meeting has been scheduled for September 27-28.