Japan's Hunt For Whaling Rights

Is Tokyo buying support for its right to catch whales?

Whale sushi, anyone? Click through here for an FP Photo Essay.

Last month, a working group of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) -- the organization set up to regulate the global whaling industry recommended that the body condone a limited amount of commercial whaling. If the commission follows the panel's recommendation, it would be a major victory for the world's whaling nations -- Japan, Iceland and Norway -- and thanks in no small part to the years of work Japan has put into cultivating allies in the commission.

Anti-whaling countries and NGOs have frequently accused Japan of using foreign aid to bribe generally disinterested countries such as Nauru and Togo to join the IWC and vote in accordance with Japan's interests. Meanwhile, anti-whaling states, Britain in particular, have also openly lobbied countries to join the IWC and vote against whaling. 

It might seem somewhat counterintuitive at first that Japan would devote aid dollars to this purpose. After all, it could in principle just leave the IWC and be no longer bound by its rules. But there is evidence suggesting that the threat of economic sanctions, in particular limiting access to other countries' fishing waters, is sufficient for Japan to prefer remaining within the framework of international diplomacy. Vote-buying may then be the most cost-effective way for Japan to make its voice heard.

Concrete answers to these questions have remained elusive despite much attention from political scientists and economists. To date, the only clear-cut evidence of the use of foreign aid for vote-buying in international organizations is in the case of the U.N. Security Council. A 2006 study found strong effects of Security Council membership on bilateral foreign aid from the United States. Other researchers have found evidence that U.S. influence also leads to an increase of World Bank and IMF sponsored projects.

There are two features of the IWC that make it an even more clear-cut case for identifying vote buying through foreign aid. First, it is a single-issue organization -- all of its important proposals revolve around restrictions on commercial whale catching -- and it is characterized by an extreme ideological divide between the major aid donors. Japan and a host of small developing countries (plus Norway and Iceland) are on the "pro-whaling" side and the rest of the OECD and some of the emerging economies are on the "anti-whaling" side.

Second, though there has been lots of movement among aid-recipient countries, which have joined, exited, and switched voting blocs in the IWC throughout the last 20 years, the positions of the major players have remained entirely unchanged over the same period.

Here's what I've found: Those countries that have joined the IWC recently and voted with Japan have also been more likely to see increases in Japanese bilateral aid receipts. For instance, Antigua & Barbuda and St. Kitts & Nevis, both of which were on the panel behind last month's decision, have received around $40 more in per capita aid from Japan since joining the IWC.

But two sides can play at this game. As it turns out, IWC membership is an even more powerful predictor of decreases in British aid receipts and the combined aid receipts from France, Germany, and the United States. Even more strikingly, the net effect of becoming a pro-whaler on total turns out to be negative. In other words, punishments from the anti-whaling donors are larger than rewards from Japan.

This raises the question of why countries do join Japan's side. There are many untestable explanations such as additional unobserved side payments. However, the foreign-aid data itself also offers a partial explanation. Foreign aid can be divided into loans that need to be paid back and grants that do not. Japanese foreign aid increases are almost entirely in grant form, which developing countries prefer, while the aid reductions from anti-whalers come almost entirely from loans.  It is hard to know what the effects on recipient-country welfare might be.

An additional interesting question is which countries are most likely to be susceptible to the lure of foreign aid dollars. It is clear in the data that in the case of the IWC, most of the bribing and punishment occurs over a set of small Caribbean and Polynesian island nations. My research also implies that at the same cost, bribing members to switch blocs is more attractive than bribing nonmembers to join. It might be that small island nations get bribed the most because many of them were in the IWC to begin with. Nonetheless, if evidence mounts that small nations are willing to sell their votes in international organizations, this might give credence to the view that country-votes should be population-weighted, giving more voting power to countries representing more people.

There is no reason to fear that commercial whaling is going to make a large-scale comeback anytime soon. Even if no countries were to join the anti-whaling bloc in the future, Japan would have to add another 30 countries to its coalition to overturn the moratorium on whaling, that requires a two-thirds majority. But in another sense Japan's efforts have been successful. The very last proposal in the data set under study was a resolution to make a statement that the moratorium was "no longer necessary." Thanks to six Caribbean islands, this resolution was passed by one vote. Japan might not be able to change the laws, but it can use the Whaling Commission to make its opinions known.

Junko Kimura/Getty Images


Iraq's Elected Criminals

Some of the very people involved in kidnapping my father from his home three years ago might be elected to office on Sunday. Iraq can do better.

Three years ago, after a day of work at the Ministry of Health, my father, Ammar al-Saffar, was kidnapped from his childhood home in Iraq. Armed militiamen took him in front of my 89-year-old grandmother -- who, to this day, lives in hope of his return.

At the time of his kidnapping, my father was the deputy minister of health and a highly regarded advisor to members of the political elite, including current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari. But unlike many of Baghdad's political class, he refused to hole up in the Green Zone, arguing that doing so would disconnect him from the plight of ordinary Iraqis. Instead, he chose to live in his mother's house in Adhamiya, one of the most hostile districts of Baghdad -- without a security detail, blast barriers, or any of the other protections favored by Iraqi politicians. He lived that way until the day he was kidnapped.

My father was targeted during an investigation he was conducting into corruption in the Ministry of Health, which had become a fiefdom for the followers of Moqtada al-Sadr. He was on the verge of exposing explosive evidence that funds earmarked to improve Iraq's health sector were being diverted to sectarian militias, helping them carry on the fight against their opponents. Those directly implicated include his fellow deputy minister, Hakim al-Zamili, who took such exception to the threatened public disclosure of his association with violent militias that, I believe, he responded by having my father kidnapped.

Zamili was arrested in 2007, and an Iraqi court leveled the same charges against him that my father had made: that he had been responsible for the murder of hundreds of Sunnis who had arrived at the hospitals run by the Ministry of Health. After a two-day trial that featured widespread accusations of witness intimidation and many irregularities, Zamili was freed. In a morbid reversal of justice, Zamili has quoted Gandhi in describing his arrest and claims that it was actually a boon for his political career. He is now a leading candidate for parliament in Iraq's March 7 election, and his candidacy has been spotlighted on the front page of the New York Times.

Although I always believed Zamili was involved in the killing of my father, it was confirmed for me on March 12, 2007, in a conversation with one of my father's oldest and dearest friends, former prime minister Jaafari. At his home in London, Jaafari told me, in unambiguous terms, that he had evidence of Zamili's involvement in my father's kidnapping, saying that he had received phone calls from prominent Sadrists confirming that Zamili was in fact behind the kidnapping.

It therefore came as quite a shock to learn that Jaafari has recently mended fences with Zamili, in an apparent effort to resurrect his political career. Jaafari's Islaah Party will run in Iraq's parliamentary election on Sunday as part of the Iraqi National Alliance (INA) -- a coalition which also includes the Sadrists among its members. Zamili is 15th on the INA's Baghdad electoral list, just a few names below that of his former accuser, Jaafari.

When I attempted to get in touch with Islaah Party representatives in London four months ago to hear an explanation for this shift, I received no answer and was stonewalled by members of his office. Today, the official line coming from Jaafari's office is that because the court has cleared Zamili, he considers the matter of his alleged involvement in my father's kidnapping closed.

This abrupt and nauseating about-face is not just distressing for my family, but also holds an important lesson about the sad reality of Iraqi politics today. The 2009 provincial elections showed tangible and encouraging signs of a shift in the Iraqi political dynamic. Cross-confessional national alliances trounced the ethnosectarian parties that had been so popular in 2004 and 2005. Unfortunately, it seems that nonsectarian Iraqi politicians have had difficulty capitalizing on the gains made early last year. In the run-up to the coming election, many Iraqi leaders are cynically cultivating these old fissures in an effort to win votes.

The INA, in particular, has based much of its attraction on precisely this kind of reversion to sectarianism. It is composed of a number of political parties with no common political ideology, vision, or beliefs, held together only by a noxious mix of sectarianism and an unquenchable thirst for power.

Appreciating that there is little appetite for a return to the bloodshed that overwhelmed the country from 2005 to 2007, the INA has instead raised the issue of de-Baathification as a means to marginalize its Sunni opponents. INA leaders believe, rightly, that this issue still resonates deeply with a large segment of Iraqi society traumatized by the rule of Saddam Hussein. By employing slogans such as "Withholding your vote will lead to a Baathist comeback," they have generated a climate of fear that has stirred up animosity toward Iraq's mainstream Sunni leadership. By actively seeking to heighten sectarian tensions in the hopes of profiting from the fallout, the INA's Machiavellian maneuver threatens to tear apart Iraq's fragile social fabric.

Some of the key figures within Iraq's current Shiite political leadership, who grew close during their years of exile from Saddam's regime, have been lifelong family friends. Yet many of them -- not just Jaafari -- have joined ranks with the man who tore my family apart. I find it hard to believe that these people will exhibit better principles if entrusted with the leadership of Iraq: If they are willing to betray my father, their friend and colleague, what chance do the normal, patronless Iraqis have of seeing their rights defended and their concerns addressed?

Iraq's political elites have become accustomed to lecturing Iraqis on proper ethical behavior, such as what one can eat, drink, and wear -- while at the same time perpetrating outrages against basic concepts of justice by sponsoring sectarian murders, corruption, and kidnapping. Sunday's election is a chance to break this cycle of hypocrisy; the myriad independent, principled candidates and slates will hopefully gain ground on the established parties that have been so disappointing.

Iraq is a country that is endowed with tremendous human resources. There is an abundance of bright minds and competent technocrats. Electing criminals to the Council of Representatives does not do the country justice. It is a travesty of the highest order that the future of Iraq could be entrusted to Hakim al-Zamili and his ilk.