• Major Power Coordination: Global Governance at the Group of 7 Summit

    The Group of 7 Summit taking place in Japan is an interesting part of global governance. In one sense it is an old, somewhat outdated organization. Having been born out of the need to coordinate the broad policies of the Western Block during the Cold War, the Group of 7 is a club for rich social democratic states. The members of the G7 are the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom.

    The G7 is an interesting example of informal global governance. The members meet annually and discuss matters of international concern. There is no treaty, no secretariat, no formal organization to support the actions of the group. In spite of this, the G7 meetings have power, the power of the accumulated economic might of the members and their joint political will to make the organization work.

    Informal governance was the norm for global governance before the First World War, but informal governance proved insufficient to keep the global peace and prevent the outbreak of major war. Since the end of the Second World War, emphasis has been placed on formal organizations with treaties and sets of institutions.

    The G7 works in part because of the strong shared interests of the members, but it also works by keeping its goals limited. The G7 focuses on coordinating the efforts of the industrial democracies in the larger global governance architecture.

    Concerns about the global economy and rising tensions are part of this year’s G7 Summit. One of the most prominent agreements at the summit is over the resolution of disputes over maritime borders. In a decision aimed squarely at China, the G7 leaders agreed that peaceful, legal means were the best way to resolve any disputes over maritime borders. China is currently embroiled in several separate conflicts over disputed borders at sea.

    Other issues range from the threat to stability posed by North Korea to the need to maintain international trade deals in the face of growing populist opposition in many of the G7 member states.

    Overall, the G7 summit represents the ability of like-minded states to act collectively in international relations even without a formal institutional framework. When there is sufficient shared interest, cooperation can proceed relatively easily. The challenge is how to manage when shared interests diverge. That is what doomed informal governance in the past, and the potential remains for such problems among the G7.



    1. What are the advantages of an informal governance mechanism? Under what conditions might that form of governance be better than a formal organization?
    2. The G7 depends on its member states to follow through on their commitments, but it has no way of actually binding them to do what they have committed to. In the absence of any enforcement power or even an accountability mechanism, can the G7 continue to provide global governance over the longer term?
    3. The G7 is basically a club for large, rich, social democracies. Does this help or hinder its ability to reach common agreement on global governance? Does this narrow criteria matter in how effective the organization can be?
  • A Bolt from the Blue: A US drone strike kills another Taliban leader

    On the 21stof May, the United States launched a drone strike that killed the leader of the Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor. Mansoor had been elevated to the top position in the Taliban in 2015 after it was revealed that the former leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar had died in 2013. The US airstrikes continue to take a heavy toll on the Taliban leadership, but with fighting in Afghanistan on pace to be the violent since the ouster of the Taliban in 2002, it remains unclear if this latest death will have an impact on conditions on the ground.

    US drone strikes remain controversial, with arguments raging over their utility and legality. In a world where asymmetric conflict and wars against non-state actors have become the norm of international conflict, there is a great deal of room for controversy.

    Written for a world in which nation states battle nation states for dominance of the international system, international laws regarding armed conflict have a tough time fitting into the current circumstances. Some argue that drones are a wholly new type of weapon. Others argue that they are just a longer range, more lethal extension of the sniper with a rifle. In the absence of an international body that can adjudicate these issues and enforce its rulings, the legal debates continue to rage more than a decade and a half after President Bush began using drone strikes on a regular basis. The large increase in the targeted assassination of America’s enemies under President Obama has made the issue more salient in countries that are frequently targeted, but has made no practical impact on the resolution of the legal issues.

    In a world of sovereign nation states, there is no clear authority to determine an answer to these questions. Nation states operate in a world of their own authority and in such a world, the United States can choose to deploy its drones until another nation chooses to intervene to stop them. Given the military disparities and the general revulsion towards terrorism, it is unlikely that any state will act decisively to oppose American drone strikes.

    The practical utility of these strikes is only slightly less difficult to address. The United States has killed just over 6,000 people in drone strikes since the program began. A significant proportion (estimates vary as to just how many) of these deaths are non-combatants. In spite of the high death toll, the battlefield impact of drones is unclear. The Taliban is resurgent in 2016, controlling more territory than at any time since 2001 and the fighting season seemed poised to be the most violent in a decade. Strikes elsewhere (Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, etc.) have also had only limited impact on conditions on the ground. At the same time, the drone strikes have made it much more likely that the leaders of these non-state combatant organizations will be killed as part of the conflict. Dead leaders disrupt command and control systems and force organizations to reorganize and adapt.

    At the end of the day, the legal and practical impact of targeted assassinations using drones are likely to remain the subject of much debate. In an anarchic world in which no state may impose its interpretation on others, the strong states remain free to act until another strong state or a coalition of states forces them to stop.



    1. A great deal of ink has been spilled arguing the relative legality of drone strikes. If there is not adjudicative body that can make and enforce a definitive ruling, why do legal scholars, diplomats, and human rights groups spend so much time trying to make these arguments? Do these arguments actually matter?
    2. The laws of war are unclear on many elements of how to fight wars against non-state actors. Does this mean that we need to write new laws of war? Would non-state actors be bound by international laws that were set forth by treaties between states?
    3. The United States has killed more than 6,000 people in drone strikes. Do these killings across more than a dozen countries set a precedent for other states who are developing drone technology and who may decide to use it to kill the leaders of enemy organizations in future conflicts? Would the use of drones to assassinate leaders of states engaged in war be something that should worry political leaders?

  • Fighting the Complex Problem of Corruption in a Global Political Economy: The London Summit of 2016

    Corruption is bad. Most people agree on that, but agreement on what to do about it fades as soon as anyone starts to tackle specific issues. Tackling the problem of corruption is the task of the London Anti-Corruption Summit of 2016. The Summit is meant to tackle issues related to graft and corruption across the world.

    The summit seeks to tackle the supply and demand of corrupt practices and to address the complex network of ties that make corruption possible in a globalized economy. From bribes paid by transnational corporations to get access to developing country markets, to the laundering of ill-gotten gains to purchase property in cities like London, the impact of corruption flows across the globe. A great irony of this summit is that it takes place within easy walking distance of London property thought to be owned by the very corrupt leaders that the summit seeks to reign in.

    Corruption is a complex problem and globalization makes it a difficult problem to address without international cooperation. The lack of cooperation across countries and different levels of commitment to anti-corruption programs within countries makes it difficult to make headway in the fight against corrupt practices. While this is often discussed in terms of countries like Nigeria, where corruption is widespread, the use of financial centers like London and New York to hide the proceeds of corruption is just as important in the process.

    The London Summit seeks to advance global rules on anti-corruption efforts and to address some of the problems of global governance in these areas. Among the proposals discussed is the need for transparency of corporate ownership in developed countries and greater cooperation among international financial centers in tracking who actually owns the companies that are moving money around the world. The Panama Papers placed a spotlight on the world of secret money transfers and showed how secrecy can be misused by corrupt political leaders across the world.

    While there are some areas of general agreement at the summit, it remains a challenge to overcome corruption in many countries. Countries where corruption is part of the general practice of government must undertake complex, sustained efforts in order to make changes in established practice. These governments must have the support of the international community to ensure that corrupt officials cannot hide their ill-gotten gains in the global financial system. Only time can tell whether or not these efforts will succeed, but the attempts at global coordination represent part of the gradual evolution of the global governance process.



    1. There is no global corruption organization that has oversight over national policies. There are non-governmental organizations that track corruption. There are programs within the United Nations, the World Bank, and elsewhere, but no dedicated organization that stands on its own. Would the creation of such an organization make a difference in the battle against corruption? Would a more formal solution to the global governance problem have greater success that then the current, informal efforts?
    2. Corruption often becomes embedded in countries that have poor governance systems. The lack of good governance and the development of corrupt practices can often reinforce each other. Can the international community better manage development programs in such a way that they reduce the benefits of corrupt practice? What would such a program look like?
    3. Is corruption really an international problem? Can it be solved with international solutions? In most cases, the actual activity takes place at the domestic level. In the absence of strong domestic opposition to corruption, can any international effort really matter?
  • Never Again, or Maybe Just One More Time: Fears of violence in Burundi raise specter of genocides past

    Never again. These words were a mantra repeated after the Holocaust was revealed to the world at the end of the Second World War. The Genocide Convention became one of the most potent pieces of international law, one of the few documents that not only allows for violations of sovereignty, but requires it in order to stop genocide.

    Unfortunately, those words are also repeated every so often as new genocides have come every few years in spite of the Genocide Convention and its requirements for intervention by the international community. Seeing the increasing violence in Burundi, some international observers have begun to fear that we may be in the early stages of mass violence that may turn into genocide. Burundi is especially painful as it was the site of one of the worst genocides in the post-Cold War era, experiencing genocidal violence at the same time as its neighbor, Rwanda, did in 1993 and 1994. The Burundian genocide is less well known, but only because the Rwandan genocide took place at the same time and was slightly worse in terms of the percentage of the population who were killed or displaced.

    After that genocide, the inaction of the world community, and most notably the paralysis at the United Nations (UN) was widely criticized. Reports from the UN and the Organization of African Unity (the predecessor of the African Union) both cited numerous failings of the international community’s response in the run-up to the genocide. At numerous points, the international community failed to act to prevent the genocide from starting. Once it began, the UN dithered for months while hundreds of thousands died. There was a strong desire for reform to prevent a repeat of these failures. And much repeating of the mantra, “Never Again.”

    Several cases of genocidal violence had occurred since then, but none of the size and scope of the Rwandan and Burundian genocides of 1993/4.

    Now we see the potential for a third Burundian genocide (the first was in 1972) and the international community watches as violence in the country continues. While most of the violence has been political thus far, the month of April saw a change in rhetoric, with a return of dehumanizing language deployed along ethnic lines by powerful figures in government. The army was purged along ethnic lines, and young men are being rounded up and disappeared by rival groups operating increasingly in monoethnic organizations. Political violence seems to be metastasizing into ethnic violence.

    We have been here before. Scholars who study genocide have seen the typical moves to focus thoughts in terms of ethnicity and to dehumanize people from other ethnic groups. The moves to organize paramilitary groups along ethnic lines is also familiar. Most chilling is the rhetoric of “cockroaches” in need of extermination that sound right out of the exhortations to genocidal violence in 1993.

    The current situation in Burundi is a major challenge for the international community. Thus far the violence has been political. While horrible, that does not require international intervention. In fact, sovereignty would mitigate against interventions in purely political violence. But when that turns to the murder or displacement along ethnic lines, that becomes genocide, and intervention is an obligations of all of the signatories of the Genocide Convention. But just when does violence cross that line? This is a grey area that the international community can hide in for a very long time. It is easy to tell from hindsight, but much harder to tell in the moment.

    In practice, few states have the capacity to intervene with significant force. And most of these are major powers like the United States. In an election year dominated by isolationist rhetoric it is unlikely that the US will send troops in any real numbers. The African Union is stretched thin with conflicts in many of its members, including in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi’s neighbor and a state with significant problems of its own.

    For now, we can only watch and wait, hoping that history will not repeat itself. If it does, and hundreds of thousands of people die, we can at least be confident that we will hear, once again, the words “Never Again” repeated. At least until the time after next.



    1. Almost everyone agrees that genocide is terrible. But to actually intervene requires time, money, and the risk of dead peacekeepers. Does the horror of genocide require that the international community be willing to pay such a price? In practice, what would be required to stage such an intervention?
    2. If the international community has failed to intervene effectively in so many genocides, why do we keep the Genocide Convention? It requires intervention, but we rarely intervene until after the killings end. If there is no will to enforce the Convention, why don’t we get rid of it?
    3. Ad-hoc tribunals have punished the perpetrators of genocide in the past and the ICC exists to punish them now. Does a permanent court and the chance of prosecution after the fact seem likely to deter potential perpetrators? Will the existence of the ICC help to prevent Burundi from sliding into genocide again?