Thursday, September 2, 2010

Thoughtful Thursday: Foreign Policy and International Organizations

Robert A. Dahl, "Can International Organizations be Democratic? A Skeptic's View" and James Tobin's comments that follow (pages 19 to 40).

in Democracy's Edges edited by Ian Shapiro and Casiano Hacker-Cordon

A familiar theme is the public does not have knowledge to exercise a meaningful vote on a plebiscite. These errors in understanding the factual basis for foreign policy issues goes back to the 1930's--and they are not unique to America. The Economist complained that Europeans were not prepared to discuss the European Monetary Union meaningfully when that was coming in.

Ceding sovereignty is an issue for countries with natural resources. Mexico's Constitution does not allow foreign companies to extract oil. At the age of eight, Mexico's children learned about the 1938 decision not to allow foreigners to extract oil. Mexico's oil field production is declining and it is not possible to have foreign invest on a joint-production basis. And it is a political hot potatoes. Could the people vote to approve a joint venture agreement. And in order to keep greedy politicians from restricting the agenda, any foreign oil company can submit a proposal to the populace for approval. (1) But other deeloping countries have had problems with ceding resources. (2) Paul Romer proposed to Madagascar, and others, a Hanseatic league Charter City modelled after Lubeck. A swath of land would be open to investors on an investor-friendly (low-taxes, rule-of-law, etc.) administration. But Madagascar populace was annoyed at leasing land and the president was deposed in a riots and a Fiji lesed mahogany forests to a British non-profit--and a demagogue ceized up against this, even though he supported a rival proposal.

Jimmy Carter, in an autobiographical book Keeping Faith, pointed out the treaty that returned the Panama Canal Zone to Panama at the turn of the Century. He praised the Senators who approved the treaty in spite of American public sentiment against it. He said bad things would have happened had we not been so gracious. As I recall the turnover--I watched discussions of it in 1999 on CSPAN--it passed uneventfully and without riots in the streets :-)

European countries used referenda in sovereignty issues--should all countries do so?

In an international organization, issue is how to weigh the votes. Many international organizations have one vote per country. Others argue that each countries vote should be weighted by population. China and India should have more of a voice in a world-organization than Nauru and Tonga. And Professor Yunker suggested a federal system for the world where one chamber has votes proportional to population as does the United States of America house of Representatives and with the other chamber proportional to wealth or GDP. He also proposed that countries should have the right to exit whenever they want as does Dr. Tobin.

What is the role of participatory democracy in respecting treaty obligations? Most countries do generally keep to their treaty, but dictators certainly have thrown them to the ground and trampled them under their feet. Should the demos be able to vote to abrogate a treaty with a 50.0001% vote, and just rely on people's natural desire to keep their word, or at least recognize the consequences of being unreliable?

Obviously, there are intercultural issues in negotiation between nations. He suggested that negotiators be trained to put themselves in the other shoes and not expect other countrie's negotiators to want to act And I read the, probably familiar, comments that the United States is oriented towards business, the literal content of letters and phone calls, and want to get things done quickly and not take time for socialization. While other nations want more of a time for the business people or negotiators to establish a personal relationship. How would this affect two sortition juries meeting to discuss a proposal to be brought to a plebiscite in both countries, or a sortition jury. Could Paul Kimmel better train a sortition jury than a top negotiator. The latter would have more background and experience and be "better educated." The randomly sselected citizens might be less arrogant and willing to learn.


  1. Adam Thomson, "National Attitudes Put Break on Reforms" Financial Times London (UK) September 23, 2009, page four and The Economist "The Americas: How many Mexicans does it take to drill an oil well? Mexico's troubled Oil Industry
  2. Atlantic Magazine July August 2010 "The Politically Incorrect Guide to Ending Poverty" by Sebastian Mallaby
  3. Paul B. Kimmel "Cultural Perspectives on International Negotiations" Journal of Social Issues Volume 50 Number One 994 pae 179 to 196.

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