Daniel W. Drezner

Who’s the best briber at the International Whaling Commission?

At academic conferences, when the whiskey and the port run low, and all the international relations specialists bask in the warm glow of having power-schmoozed all day vigorously debating important scholarly and policy debates of the day, inevitably the question comes up: “What’s your favorite international governmental organization?” OK, that never actually happens — we’re ...

At academic conferences, when the whiskey and the port run low, and all the international relations specialists bask in the warm glow of having power-schmoozed all day vigorously debating important scholarly and policy debates of the day, inevitably the question comes up: "What's your favorite international governmental organization?" OK, that never actually happens -- we're not that geeky, and most IR types I know are oenophiles rather than whiskey-drinkers, and on the whole we can't afford good port. This is too bad, because I have an answer -- the International Whaling Commission. The IWC has a fun history. Originally set up by countries with active whaling industries, powerful members shifted policies once environmentalists became a more influential domestic lobby than whalers. By 1986, the IWC had institued a ban on all commercial whaling. At present, the United States supports a ban on the commercial hunting of all whales to protect the endangered species. Because of their politically powerful whaling industries ? and consumer preferences for whale meat ? Japan and several Scandinavian countries prefer reversing the ban. Japan has tried to circumvent this rule by authorizing the hunting of more than 500 whales in the North Pacific, ostensibly for scientific research ? but much of the whale meat harvested from these scientific hunts has found its way into commercial restaurants. In an effort to alter the status quo, Japan has attempted to pack the IWC membership with loyal votes, paying membership dues so microstates such as Dominica, Grenada, and the Solomon Islands can join. These countries have consistently supported Japan?s position in return for large dollops of official development assistance, preventing the creation of new sanctuaries for whales in the South Pacific. This, by the way, is why I love the IWC -- it's not that there isn't vote-buying in other venues (including the UN Security Council), it's just that the bribery at the IWC is so wonderfully blatant. This leads us to today's plenary meering. Let's start with the Independent's rather hyperbolic coverage: The environment movement suffered one of its greatest reverses late last night when pro-whaling countries, led by Japan, gained control of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and immediately began undermining the 20-year-old international whaling moratorium. In a stunning diplomatic coup, Japan and its allies, including Norway and Iceland, won a voting majority in the IWC for the first time, as a result of a remorseless 10-year Japanese campaign to secure the votes of small African and Caribbean countries in exchange for multimillion-dollar foreign aid packages. At the IWC meeting at St Kitts and Nevis in the West Indies, the pro-whalers scraped home on a catch-all resolution that condemned the moratorium as invalid, blamed whales for depleting the fish stocks of poor countries, and attacked environmental pressure groups campaigning against whaling such as Greenpeace. The vote on the so-called "St Kitts and Nevis Declaration" was won by 33 votes to 32, with one nation - China - abstaining. The Japanese had been widely expected to achieve a majority in the meeting after bringing three new states into the IWC this year to vote on their side - Cambodia, the Marshall Islands and Guatemala - but they had lost four earlier votes by narrow margins. Yet that does not matter now. The simple 51 per cent majority they have now secured will not allow them to scrap the moratorium directly - for that they need a majority of 75 per cent. But for them it is an enormous moral victory, and its significance was immediately realised by opponents and supporters of whaling alike. I think the Independent is hyperventilating just a bit (click here for the more buttoned-down AP report). Here's why. First, the pro-whaling coalition still needs to get another 25% of the membership on their side. Second, the pro-whaling coalition has a point -- there are some species of whales which are not endangered. The Economist (subscription required) points out that not even Japan is proposing hunting blue whales or other endangered species right now. UPDATE: This Joshua Kurlantzick piece from 2004 in The New Republic makes the policy and gastronomic case for why the whaling ban should be partially lifted. Third, the United States and other anti-whaling countries have not begun to bribe (though they have in the past). I therefore predict a vast expansion of the IWC's membership over the next few years, as both pro and and anti-whaling countries sponsor members. Which leads to the question at the top of this post.

At academic conferences, when the whiskey and the port run low, and all the international relations specialists bask in the warm glow of having power-schmoozed all day vigorously debating important scholarly and policy debates of the day, inevitably the question comes up:

“What’s your favorite international governmental organization?”

OK, that never actually happens — we’re not that geeky, and most IR types I know are oenophiles rather than whiskey-drinkers, and on the whole we can’t afford good port. This is too bad, because I have an answer — the International Whaling Commission. The IWC has a fun history. Originally set up by countries with active whaling industries, powerful members shifted policies once environmentalists became a more influential domestic lobby than whalers. By 1986, the IWC had institued a ban on all commercial whaling. At present, the United States supports a ban on the commercial hunting of all whales to protect the endangered species. Because of their politically powerful whaling industries ? and consumer preferences for whale meat ? Japan and several Scandinavian countries prefer reversing the ban. Japan has tried to circumvent this rule by authorizing the hunting of more than 500 whales in the North Pacific, ostensibly for scientific research ? but much of the whale meat harvested from these scientific hunts has found its way into commercial restaurants. In an effort to alter the status quo, Japan has attempted to pack the IWC membership with loyal votes, paying membership dues so microstates such as Dominica, Grenada, and the Solomon Islands can join. These countries have consistently supported Japan?s position in return for large dollops of official development assistance, preventing the creation of new sanctuaries for whales in the South Pacific. This, by the way, is why I love the IWC — it’s not that there isn’t vote-buying in other venues (including the UN Security Council), it’s just that the bribery at the IWC is so wonderfully blatant. This leads us to today’s plenary meering. Let’s start with the Independent‘s rather hyperbolic coverage:

The environment movement suffered one of its greatest reverses late last night when pro-whaling countries, led by Japan, gained control of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and immediately began undermining the 20-year-old international whaling moratorium. In a stunning diplomatic coup, Japan and its allies, including Norway and Iceland, won a voting majority in the IWC for the first time, as a result of a remorseless 10-year Japanese campaign to secure the votes of small African and Caribbean countries in exchange for multimillion-dollar foreign aid packages. At the IWC meeting at St Kitts and Nevis in the West Indies, the pro-whalers scraped home on a catch-all resolution that condemned the moratorium as invalid, blamed whales for depleting the fish stocks of poor countries, and attacked environmental pressure groups campaigning against whaling such as Greenpeace. The vote on the so-called “St Kitts and Nevis Declaration” was won by 33 votes to 32, with one nation – China – abstaining. The Japanese had been widely expected to achieve a majority in the meeting after bringing three new states into the IWC this year to vote on their side – Cambodia, the Marshall Islands and Guatemala – but they had lost four earlier votes by narrow margins. Yet that does not matter now. The simple 51 per cent majority they have now secured will not allow them to scrap the moratorium directly – for that they need a majority of 75 per cent. But for them it is an enormous moral victory, and its significance was immediately realised by opponents and supporters of whaling alike.

I think the Independent is hyperventilating just a bit (click here for the more buttoned-down AP report). Here’s why. First, the pro-whaling coalition still needs to get another 25% of the membership on their side. Second, the pro-whaling coalition has a point — there are some species of whales which are not endangered. The Economist (subscription required) points out that not even Japan is proposing hunting blue whales or other endangered species right now. UPDATE: This Joshua Kurlantzick piece from 2004 in The New Republic makes the policy and gastronomic case for why the whaling ban should be partially lifted. Third, the United States and other anti-whaling countries have not begun to bribe (though they have in the past). I therefore predict a vast expansion of the IWC’s membership over the next few years, as both pro and and anti-whaling countries sponsor members. Which leads to the question at the top of this post.

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at Tufts University’s Fletcher School. He blogged regularly for Foreign Policy from 2009 to 2014. Twitter: @dandrezner

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