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Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith are professors in NYU's Department of Politics. Their most recent book is The Dictator's Handbook.
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James Walston is professor of international relations at the American University of Rome and blogs on Italian politics.
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Olli Heinonen is senior fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School. Previously he was deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
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Mira Kamdar is a senior fellow at the World Policy Institute and an award-winning author. She lives in Paris and writes for Courrier International and Le Monde Diplomatique.
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Aziz Huq is an assistant professor of law at the University of Chicago. In 2002 and 2003, he worked in Afghanistan as an analyst for the International Crisis Group (ICG) and has since worked in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Nepal for ICG.
Its detractors should note: the L'Aquila conference did move vital climate change legislation forward.
By Andrew Light
If you believe recent media reports, the two international climate change meetings held last week in L'Aquila, Italy, at best failed to do anything and at worst signal that no serious progress will be made on a global climate agreement this year.
If true, this is bad news. According to the byzantine rules of the Kyoto Protocol, set to expire in 2012, a successor to that treaty must be decided this December at the U.N. climate summit in Copenhagen.
The good news is that many of the assessments of these meetings are incomplete, if not inaccurate. A New York Times editorial on Friday, for instance, based its argument in language from a draft of a declaration -- not from the document itself. The Times described the recognition by the world's major carbon emitters that temperatures should not increase more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels as an "aspirational" goal. They concluded that "with global climate talks in Copenhagen only five months away, aspirational goals won't carry things very far." But this weakened, "aspirational" language was struck in the final version of the document, rendering this claim obsolete.
All in all, the twin declarations emerging from the G-8 and the Major Economies Forum (MEF) indicate that progress has been made on the road to Copenhagen. So why the rush to publish such dour reports from Italy, whether accurate or not? It's simple: Invested parties had unrealistic expectations of meetings, which have no binding impact on the upcoming U.N. summit.
There were, of course, disappointments. Developed countries in the G-8 failed to agree on the medium-term goal of reducing reductions targets by 2020. Developing nations, especially China and India, refused to embrace the long-term goal of halving global emissions by 2050, a cap most of the world's leading scientists believe is essential to avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.
But if we only focus on what did not happen, we miss seeing the achievements made in a very short amount of time. When the United States rejoined the global discussion on a new climate treaty in January, it triggered an 11-month countdown to solve the most complicated problem humanity has ever faced. For the 16 countries responsible for 80 percent of carbon emissions to recognize even one marker of failure -- a rise in temperature over 2 degrees Celcius -- is fantastically impressive. A week before the Italy meetings, negotiators doubted that this language would make the final cut.
Some will argue that it's easy to agree on an abstract target like limiting planetary warming. But the G-8 struck an appropriate balance in creating objectives that are both ambitious and achievable. Industrialized countries finally determined their fair share of long-term emissions cuts: 80 percent by 2050. Plus, U.S. President Barack Obama prudently hedged on setting a 2020 emissions target. The Markey-Waxman climate change bill, which includes emissions cuts, is working its way through Congress. While it does, the president should not signal that he will preempt or undercut the legislature.
What about China and India's apparent intransigence to halving emissions by 2050? The fact is that the United States cannot criticize their behavior. If a Chinese leader had promised to join the world eight years ago in reducing carbon dioxide emissions, and then reversed course -- as former President George W. Bush did in 2001 -- the United States would hardly agree to his demands now. So it is with China and India. It will take incentives, diplomacy, and, most of all, time to bring about world-saving targets from them.
Ultimately, the most promising parts of last week's agreements received only marginal coverage. The MEF announced that developed countries will double clean-energy funding for developing nations -- putting pressure on those countries to commit to emissions reductions in exchange, as agreed upon at the Bali summit in 2007. Additionally, the participating countries agreed to determine how they will finance their plans by the G-20 meeting in September.
The countries assembled last week didn't get everything settled on the first go around. But in light of their accomplishments, we should hold off on our rush to proclaim failure.
Andrew Light is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C., and director of the Center for Global Ethics at George Mason University.
Photo: Flickr user AmiCalmant
How the U.S. economic meltdown helped create a crisis in Honduras.
By Fernando Carrera Castro
The coup d'état in Honduras has received due international attention for its political implications -- and its potential to erode democracy across Latin America. Unfortunately, that's only half the story. Equally important are the economic factors that both catalyzed discontent and could now exacerbate the country's internal crisis.
Honduras is the most open economy of Central America and the one that most depends on its relationship with the United States. Exports to the United States accounted for almost a quarter of Honduras's GDP in 2007 (the second highest in Central America, after Nicaragua), according to figures collected by the Central American Institute for Fiscal Studies. Remittances from migrants amounted to 21 percent of GDP in 2008 and are expected to remain about the same this year. Meanwhile, U.S. direct investment in Honduras is among the highest in Central America. All told, Honduras's links to the U.S. economy represented close to 60 percent of the country's GDP in 2007.
Such a remarkable dependence was a blessing from 2003 to early 2008, while markets were booming and U.S. consumption was at an all-time high. But it turned out to be a major problem with the first signs of economic downturn, and since the last quarter of 2008, the situation has become a nightmare. The impact on exports, foreign direct investment, and tourism has resonated across Honduras. Businesses have gone belly up, consumer expenditure is down, unemployment and poverty are rising, and the government's coffers are running dry.
The downturn might have played well for ousted President Manuel Zelaya's increasingly populist rhetoric. But it also presented Zelaya with an awkward reality: Despite his nationalist rhetoric, Honduras would desperately need help from the United States and the international community to keep his government afloat. Calculations made in the early months of 2009 indicated that a fifth of the fiscal budget was expected to be financed with international loans and donations. By June, with the worsening economic situation and fallen fiscal revenue, this figure might have reached 35 percent. It is clear, then, that the government was not going to be able to pay its employees' salaries this year without external financial support. And this was the situation before the coup.
The current political crisis can only make matters worse (if such a situation is even possible). Any Honduran government will depend on the international community's financial support to survive in the coming year. The poorest citizens in Honduras, with one of the highest malnutrition and infant mortality rates in Latin America, might even need international humanitarian assistance if things continue on their current path.
Given this daunting situation, it is rather impressive that anyone wants to be president of Honduras at all. But if you are not poor, and your future is not threatened by the current economic crisis, you might find the presidency a very attractive job. One could ask Manuel Zelaya and Roberto Micheletti about that.
Fernando Carrera Castro is executive director of the Central American Institute for Fiscal Studies (Instituto Centroamericano de Estudios Fiscales).
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It doesn't work.
By Jason McLure
As Islamist militants tighten their grip over southern Somalia, the international community is searching in vain for ways to keep the country's weak, U.N.-backed government from collapsing. The latest plan: sanctions for nearby Eritrea, which has channeled weapons to Somalia's Shabab and other Islamist militias. At the recent African Union summit in Libya, the continent's leaders reiterated their call for the U.N. Security Council to take action; condemnation of Eritrea has resonated from every corner of the globe.
There's no doubt that Eritrea has an awful government (Human Rights Watch recently labeled the country a "giant prison"). As gratifying as it may be to punish bad behavior, however, the question here is different: Would sanctions actually change this tiny dictatorial state or its delinquent behavior? It's a quandary that has plagued policymakers for decades -- from Cuba to North Korea to Burma. And despite sanctions' status as a go-to foreign-policy gadget, the answer is often no. When used on already-isolated regimes, sanctions may even be counterproductive. The Eritrean example shows us why.
Sanctions are made to cut countries off from vital international exchange. The trouble is, Eritrea already trades less with the outside world than any country in Africa and places 210th out of all 226 countries and islands for global commerce. The country's president, Isaias Afewerki, isn't interested in being a globe-trotting statesman. He regularly skips African Union summits and meetings of East African leaders. And anyway, sanctions won't deter his few, less savory allies in Libya, Sudan, and Iran who provide Eritrea with aid and diplomatic support. Sanctions will only drive the Eritrean government further into the arms of its dubious allies.
Nor will sanctioning Eritrea choke off the flow of arms and money heading toward Somalia's militants. There has been an arms embargo on Somalia for more than a decade, and it has been about as effective as a chastity belt on Silvio Berlusconi. The country has a 3,000-km coastline that the world has struggled to patrol for pirates -- let alone under-the-radar arms shipments. On land, Mogadishu is home to a dizzying array of traditional money-transfer services that keep Somalia's economy from further collapse -- and its Islamists propped up with foreign funds. Besides, as the United Nations has pointed out, both African Union peacekeepers and Ethiopian troops have apparently sold arms and equipment in Mogadishu to their ostensible enemies.
Aside from being ineffective, sanctions on Eritrea could carry a rather debilitating liability for the international community. Sanctioning Eritrea would dangerously border on taking sides in Eritrea's frozen conflict with Ethiopia, one that has stretched on in one form or another for nearly a decade. Following the two countries' border 1998-2000 war, Ethiopia refused to give back land that a U.N.-backed border commission awarded to Eritrea. So both sides took their struggle to Somalia, where Eritrea backs Islamist militias and Ethiopia props up a flailing government. Eritrea has behaved badly, true, but both countries have been arming Somali militias in a proxy war for years. The United Nations and the United States would do better to mediate the Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict rather than taking sides.
These lessons apply to sanctions on dictators more broadly. How do you punish North Korea with sanctions when its trading partners are already limited to a handful of countries -- none of which are likely to pay heed to a harsher set of rules? How do you choke Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe when his strongest rationale for staying in power is to save his country from the hands of countries who would (and do) impose sanctions? Perhaps it's no wonder that such countries' leaders not only survive sanctions, but use them to justify bad behavior.
After 18 years of civil war, it's possible there's nothing outsiders can do to fix Somalia. Certainly, sanctions on Eritrea are not the answer. Trying to get Ethiopia and Eritrea to stop using the country as a proxy battleground would be worth a shot.
Jason McLure is a journalist based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. His reporting has appeared in Newsweek, The Economist, and Bloomberg News.
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