Voice

So much being written about such feeble global governance structures

My post last week on the dubious legitimacy/effectiveness of the G-20 has prompted a few responses.  Let's take them in order, shall we? 

Colin Bradford responds by arguing that I'm judging the G-20 strictly by its summitry, which is unfair:

The G-20 is not just a summit meeting of leaders. The G-20 has a very active track, which has been in existence since the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s, of at least biannual meetings of finance ministers and central bank presidents. In addition, G-20 deputies and G-20 sherpas often meet to advance the agenda for the leaders. More than that, as a result of the activities in the finance ministers/central bank presidents track, there is now a network of senior officials continuously active not only in preparation for G-20 meetings, but also in dealing with crises and unexpected challenges.

What this means is that the new, more inclusive configuration of major economies from every region of the world that constitutes the G-20 is a process -- communicating, consulting, and even, on good days, coordinating among 20 countries, not eight. The G-20, in other words, is not an event.

Lest this sound too pie-in-the-sky, it should be pointed out that even former Bush administration sherapas are echoing Bradford's point. 

As someone who worked on both G-20 and G-7 policy coordinaion while at the Treasury, I've experienced Bradford's point about the value of process first-hand.  The thing is, the value-added of said process does require the occasional concrete outcome -- and the last 18 months have been underwhelming on that score.  Bradford makes a valid point in observing that the kinds of policy coordination under debate in the G-20 are much more intrusive than anything that was talked about in the old G-7.  Still, at some point you want to see some outcomes, and based on what happened over the weekend, I'm fairly confident in my pessimism. 

CIGI's The Munk School of Global Affairs' Alan Alexandroff thinks I'm being too pessimistic because I'm relying on the international press coverage:

I and others have pointed out... the persistently negative international financial press – read this as the WSJ, the NYT and the FT at least. Differences are always played up; and agreements are generally characterized as inadequate.  And it is here that Dan and I differ.  

Fair enough, but I will say that my astringent evaluation of the G-20's recent activities are not only informed by press coverage, but also by off-the-record conversations I've had with both developed and developing-country participants in the G-20 process.  [Oh!!  Snap! Boom!!--ed.  Yeah, that's right, I'm going all insider-y sources on you!]  I'll be happy to hear feedback from those sherpas who think the process is working better than my "dead forum walking" characterization. 

Art Stein argues that these blog exchanges are missing the key point:

The core issue, then, is whether for the G8 or the G20 disagreement and divergence over policy options are preferable to agreement, coordination, and a concerted response.  There is a small literature among economists about whether macroeconomic policy coordination makes things better or worse.  Implicit in Bradford’s argument is that disagreement and its policy consequences are not so bad and, implicitly, to be preferred to agreement between a less diverse set of actors.  Perhaps.  But what is the evidence?  Is that true for every policy?

This is an excellent point, and one I made in All Politics Is Global -- sometimes noncooperation is actually the most efficient outcome.  On macroeconomic policy coordination in particular, sometimes successful cooperation has brought about underwhelming policy consequences (see:  Maastricht criteria). 

That said, one could argue that part of the reason for the Great Recession was the absence of any serious effort to rein in mcroeconomic imbalances five years ago.  Furthermore, Bretton Woods II is still persisting in the global economy.  So, yes, I do think coordination in this case would be a good thing, and for a variety of excellebnt domesticf political reasons in the United States, China and Europe, it ain't happening. 

Am I missing anything?

Daniel W. Drezner

How can the Ivory Coast inform us on Libya?

With all the press leaks about covert operatives, high-level defections, and behind-the-scenes negotiations with top Khaddafi aides, I think it's safe to say that the United States is running quite the little psy-ops campaign on the Libyan dictator [Are you trying to spell his name a different way in each frakkin' post?!--ed.  Er, yes.  Oh.  Ok, then--ed.]  That's not to say that these things are only being done to psych out Khaddafi, but I'm assuming that's a large component of what's going on. 

In many ways, however, I think the news coming out of the Ivory Coast might be the most effective psychological pressure on the Libyan strongman.  The Financial Times' William Wallis reports on the current state of play:

The battle for Ivory Coast’s presidency has reached a critical phase as forces allied to Alassane Ouattara, president-elect, have advanced into the commercial capital Abidjan after a lightning offensive from the north designed to oust incumbent Laurent Gbagbo.

Mr Gbagbo, who refuses to concede defeat in last November’s polls despite near universal recognition of his rival’s victory, looks increasingly isolated as the noose tightens around the city of 4m people.

Reuters quoted a military source in Mr Gbagbo’s camp on Friday confirming an attack overnight on Mr Gbagbo’s residence in Abidjan but said that pro-Gbagbo forces were still putting up resistance at state broadcaster, RTI....

South Africa’s foreign ministry reported that Mr Gbagbo’s army commander and personal friend, General Phillippe Mangou, had fled with his family to the residence of the South African ambassador. In another blow, the head of the gendarmerie reportedly defected to the president’s rival.

Choi Young-jin, the UN envoy to the country, said the police had defected as well. Reuters reported early on Friday that Mr Ouattara’s forces had taken control of the state television station, which then ceased broadcasting, and were attacking Mr Gbagbo’s residence.

There are many ways in which the Ivory Coast is not like Libya, but there are some striking similarities.  Like Libya, the Ivory Coast is a single-commodity export economy, making sanctions relatively easy to implement.  Like Khaddafi, Gbagbo became an international pariah after rejecting the November election results (well, a pariah to everyone but Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma).  The UN and the relevant regional bodies acted swiftly to put Gbagbo under mulilateral economic sanctions.  Gbagbo, like Khaddafi, refused to see the handwriting on the wall and took every coercive action possible to maintain his hold on power. 

If these reports are accurate, then Gbagbo is on his way out, and the end will not be pretty.  That will likely spook those loyal to Khaddafi.  True, the Libyan leader controls greater resources, but then again, the Ivory Coast doesn't have NATO getting up in its grill. 

This is not the best outcome for the Ivory Coast -- obviously, it would have been better if Gbagbo had acknowledged the election results and set an example for the rest of Africa.  Given how things played out, however, Gbagbo's departure from power will be an affirmation of the ways in which multilateral pressure can affect change.  

The Ivory Coast is also a reminder that multilateral efforts at coercion -- whether military or economic -- often look ineffective or flawed right up until the moment that they actually work.  Which is to say, for all the carping, whinging, bitching and moaning going on about how the Obama administration is handling Libya, none of it will matter if Khaddafi eventually leaves.  And the fall of Gbagbo will be one more data point to freak him and his supporters out.