Part VII Structure and Operations, Ch.40 High-Level Panels
Edited By: Jacob Katz Cogan, Ian Hurd, Ian Johnstone
- Membership of international organizations — International organizations, practice and procedure — Resolutions of international organizations
Several contemporary international relationships are distinctive to the world of international organizations, groups/actors which have added greatly to the institutional congestion and complexity of international relations. In previous centuries war and peace were the mainstay of interstate relations as symbolized by the ambassador and the general. Today, alongside the horde of diplomats and soldiers, multinational merchants, international financiers, World Bank technocrats, World Health Organization (WHO) medical experts, United Nations (UN) peacekeepers, the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors, ‘Eurocrats’ and officials of other regional organizations, humanitarian workers, and global sports administrators—not to mention international terrorists, human and drug traffickers, gun runners, and money launderers—jostle for space on the increasingly crowded international stage.
This chapter proceeds in four parts. First, it situates international organizations in the context of the changing nature of international diplomacy, including in particular summits and conferences as modes of contemporary diplomacy. It then describes the proliferating number and types of high-level panels as instances of commission diplomacy. Third, it describes the ideational, normative, institutional, and operational impacts of panels. Finally, it provides a menu of the ingredients for successful commission diplomacy, including the different types of norm actors.
International organizations are not merely sites of global governance but, in some limited yet important respects and the principal–agent problem notwithstanding, actors in their own right as well.1 There has also been a spurt in the number of regional organizations and direct relations among them.2 There has been exponential growth in the number of civil society actors and the volume of transnational networks in which they are embedded.3 They bridge the ‘disconnect between the political geography of the state on the one side and the new geography of economic and social relations on the other’.4 UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted that nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are not merely ‘disseminators of information or providers of services but also … shapers of policy’ in security, development, and humanitarian affairs.5
The role, activities, and impact of international organizations reflect and in turn shape the conduct of modern diplomacy. The world of international relations has changed substantially since World War I. New diplomatic procedures consolidated and initiated by the League of Nations included multilateral diplomacy, public debates, international parliamentary procedures, and collective decision-making. Today’s global environment is vastly more challenging, complex, and demanding than the worlds of 1919 and 1945 when the League of Nations and the UN were created. The subject matter of diplomacy has expanded commensurately, from the high politics of war and peace to health, environment, development, science and technology, education, law, and the arts.
Mark Malloch-Brown, the former UN Deputy Secretary-General and then a Foreign Office minister in the UK, has written that ‘Diplomacy has been multilateralised’: Britain’s power to influence events depends ‘on our ability to orchestrate action in Washington, the UN, the European Union or corporate boards’.6 (p. 861) Multilateral diplomacy has also brought in its wake new forms of diplomatic activity like public debates, extensive committee work, parliamentary procedures that back in the home country are the provenance of politicians, diplomatic caucusing akin to political caucusing in national parliaments, and forging coalitions and alliances. Many UN agencies, especially in the human rights, humanitarian, and development fields, prefer to work directly with NGOs than governments in service delivery.
International organizations give form, content, and meaning to multilateral diplomacy, described by the distinguished Singaporean diplomat-scholar Kishore Mahbubani as ‘a sunrise industry’.7 The UN system constitutes the core of the multilateral order, enjoying a unique legitimacy derived from universal membership. UN multilateral diplomacy differs from traditional interstate diplomacy in some important respects.8 Guided by Charter principles, it partially offsets the unfavourable position of the weaker party. It aims to establish a just peace as well as a stable balance of power. And it takes into account the interests of member states collectively as well as the disputants. Thus international organizations have tempered the dictum handed down to posterity by Thucydides that ‘the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must’.9 Multilateral diplomacy also expanded the tool-kit of both peaceful and coercive instruments, spelt out in Chapters VI and VII of the UN Charter, to resolve conflicts and punish rule-breaking or norm-deviating states. Annan remarked that ‘diplomacy has expanded its remit, moving far beyond bilateral political relations between states into a multilateral, multi-faceted enterprise encompassing almost every realm of human endeavour’.10
The international calendar is surprisingly crowded for the leaders of most countries who are expected to attend the regularly scheduled gatherings of the UN, regional and sub-regional organizations, and informal groupings like the G8, G20, and BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa),11 giving rise to summit diplomacy as a distinctive feature of the current global order.12 International References(p. 862) finance and trade, pandemics and terrorism, climate change and biodiversity, and nuclear security spill across national boundaries and defy local treatment. They are ‘problems without passports’13 in search of solutions without passports. Some summits offer little beyond symbolism, some can make genuine progress on shared global challenges and problems like nuclear security, but in any case summits with their alphabet soup of acronyms are an inescapable feature of the contemporary diplomatic topography. With broad, overarching responsibilities, leaders, and only leaders, can best weigh priorities and seek to balance interests across competing goals, sectors, national, and international objectives, and between the immediate, medium, and long terms.14 Summits should make the most difference in those problem areas where leadership commitment is the critical variable (‘the pay grade test’15), the primary obstacle to identifying policy overlap and convergence and to reaching consensus is the unavailability or inadequacy of an appropriate forum, and speedy resolution is essential.
The UN too sometimes hosts and organizes special summits, for example the 2000 Summit which produced the Millennium Development Goals and the world summit in 2005 which unanimously endorsed the responsibility to protect (R2P) as a new normative principle.16 A more frequent UN activity is conference diplomacy on designated topics, for example environmental conferences in Stockholm and Rio de Janeiro in 1972 and 1992. Universal membership and international legitimacy give the UN unmatched convening and mobilizing power that has been used to organize a large number of global conferences on a diverse range of topics from women to human rights, population, social development, and environmental conservation. While the intergovernmental conferences are the sites for the growth of treaty law—for example, the UN Conference on the Law of the Sea (1973–82)—the global conferences have been prime sites for the evolution of norms and ‘soft law’ which over time begins to exert a binding effect in the form of customary international law. UN conferences have been crucial agents of change, of norms if not behaviour, policy, and action. Their global and long-term impact often lies in raising a new issue, reframing an existing issue, or even simply focusing more international References(p. 863) attention on an issue, so that the existing consensus is shifted and the boundaries of possible national and international action are expanded.17
International summits and global conferences are useful to greater and lesser degrees as occasions for mediating divergent interests and national policy perspectives in order to forge common collective policy priorities on particular global challenges. In addition, as the UN Intellectual History Project has so brilliantly documented in several volumes, the UN system has been remarkably productive and effective in channelling ideas into global policy. The impact of ideas on global governance is a largely neglected area of study, with scholars focusing more on international institutions—the ‘body of global governance’—than on the ideas—the ‘mind of global governance’—that drive them.18 High-level panels and international commissions are a useful means of leveraging emerging ideas into new global norms and converting them into policy.19 Their composition, remits, and reports are wonderful representations of the ‘three UNs’: the world of UN member states who are the principals of the organization; of international civil servants who are its staff; and of personnel from government, academe, and civil society who interact actively and regularly with the UN system.20
Gareth Evans—who in various capacities has set up, been a member of, and co-chaired half a dozen commissions—has tabulated almost three dozen international commissions looking at global challenges in security, development, environmental, social policy, and governance.21 Their distinguishing features are that they address policy problems of global scope. They may be created or convened by international organizations, national governments, or private foundations, but their recommendations are always directed to the international community overall. Their members (p. 864) are expected to think and make decisions in their personal capacity and not advance any official agenda. And they are of finite duration (with open-ended and ongoing panels better described as organizations).
Examples of high-level panels include the UN Panel on Peace Operations chaired by Lakhdar Brahimi (report published in 2000) and the High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change (2004), both of which were set up by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Some of the better-known international commissions include the Pearson (1969), Brandt (1980), Palme (1982), Brundtland (1987), Global Governance (1995), Canberra (1996), and Kosovo (2000) Commissions, and the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS, 2001). Between them, they have shaped and influenced the global discourse on a wide range of international policy issues:22 development, the global economic order and North–South inequalities; international security and the disutility of nuclear weapons; resource conservation, environmental protection, and economic development; and the legality and legitimacy of the use of military force to protect civilians trapped inside sovereign jurisdictions. One of the most recent such bodies, the High-Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, acknowledging that the years since the millennium had seen the fastest poverty reduction in history, identified a two-step goal: elimination, not mere reduction, of extreme poverty in all its forms and putting in place the building blocks of sustained prosperity for all.23
Other panels look to address regional issues and problems, for example the Zedillo–Pickering Partnership for the Americas Commission (2008) and the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy (2009). Some high-level panels are convened to investigate specific past failures to prevent atrocities, or allegations of complicity in the perpetration of atrocities, by state and international actors. For example, a high-level panel, chaired by Sir Quett Ketumile Joni Masire, the former President of Botswana, was convened by the Organization of African Unity (OAU) to investigate the multiple failures with respect to the 1994 Rwanda genocide, and submitted its report to the OAU summit in Lomé, Togo in 2000.24 The Carlsson Report,25 commissioned by the UN itself, had restricted its analysis of the Rwandan genocide largely to the role of the UN. The OAU panel looked much more closely and critically at the roles of several African and European states, the United States, (p. 865) the OAU, and the UN. A second good example is the Goldstone Panel, chaired by the eminent international jurist Richard Goldstone, which marshalled evidence of wrongdoing by Hamas and Israel during the three-week 2008–9 Gaza war and, in its 2009 report, called on both to conduct good-faith investigations in conformity with international standards.26 However, because these panels are specific to individual events and look to clarify facts and apportion blame, they are not the primary focus of this chapter which is more interested in panels that seek to improve global governance in the future.
High-level panels are a means of collating state-of-the-art knowledge on particular problems and converting it into policy recommendations for improving the collective management of world affairs; that is, for making the world a better and safer place for all its peoples. Owing to historical inertia, path dependence, and the often stable equilibrium of accumulated interests around the status quo, their reports rarely produce dramatic policy shifts. Sometimes their legacies can be more subtle and nuanced, but are nonetheless real. For example, the Brandt Commission’s report did not produce any major reform of the international economic order but it exercised an enduring influence on the development discourse.27
What then counts as success? Ideational impact is shown in the generation of new ideas that reshape the existing discourse on the topic. Normative success would come by promoting a new standard of behaviour. Operational success would be indicated by setting new action agendas and changing the prevailing patterns of behaviour. Institutional success would be shown by the creation of new institutions or the reconfiguration of existing ones. Must a panel demonstrate impact on all these measures, or will one alone suffice to consider it to have been successful? And how much time-lag is permissible in attributing results to commission recommendations? It is worth emphasizing that independent bodies, precisely because they (p. 866) are not official, are advisory only and lack executive decision-making authority. In addition, unless their contributions are openly acknowledged, it may be difficult to trace their lineage in the creation of new norms, practices, and institutions.
It is as rare for any panel to be a total failure as for it to be wholly successful in adding to the world’s body of knowledge, creating new norms, producing demonstrable and measurable shifts in policy, embedding the new norms and behaviour expectations in purpose-built institutions, and generating effective compliance mechanisms; that is, going further on the journey of global governance by filling the five core knowledge, normative, policy, institutional, and compliance gaps.28 It is helpful to divide the impacts into ideational, normative, operational, and institutional.
One of the most notable contributions that high-level panels can make is to generate potentially game-changing ideas: new ways of addressing long-standing and intractable problems that have defeated policy-makers. Ideas matter and institutions matter as conduits for ideas.29 In the broad sweep of history, empires rise and fall, kings and queens come and go. They are remembered positively only if they leave behind ideas, embedded in institutions or practices, for improved governance or quality of life. Ideas are influential if they have strong theoretical foundations and clear policy application. The support of powerful rulers and countries helps. The Palme Commission turned the logic of Cold War nuclear deterrence on its head by highlighting the interdependence of everyone’s security; the Brundtland Commission broke major conceptual ground by bridging the previously irreconcilable pro-growth and environmental protection camps. The three central insights of the Canberra Commission—as long as any country has nuclear weapons, others will want them too; as long as they exist, they will be used again someday by design, accident, or miscalculation; and a nuclear war anywhere will be globally catastrophic—has informed strategic discourse ever since. The Palme, Brandt, and Canberra Commissions proved to be ahead of their time, but their ideational legacy was kept alive by activists and intellectuals until such time as the context was more hospitable to their message. Panels can also contribute directly to the store of existing knowledge by commissioning cutting-edge papers and publishing substantial volumes of authoritative data and analysis. For example, ICISS published a (p. 867) 400-page supplementary volume in addition to its main report and the Carnegie Commission generated no fewer than ten books and over thirty other publications.
Ideas are value-neutral. A norm is a socially validated and community sanctioned standard of appropriate or prescribed behaviour. The idea that climate change is real and caused by human activity has produced the norm that the resulting rise on global temperature must be kept to within 20 centigrade relative to pre-industrial levels, but also produced controversy on the best suite of policies (mitigation, adaptation, climate engineering, financial and technology transfers) in order to comply with the norm. Three particularly useful commissions to illustrate normative impacts are the Pearson panel, the Brundtland Commission, and ICISS. With respect to the first, the globally endorsed norm of the developed countries denominating 0.7 per cent of their GDP as official development assistance (ODA) is rarely met yet cannot be formally abandoned because of the stigma that would attach to walking away from it.
The Brundtland Commission introduced the concept of ‘sustainable development’—meeting the development needs of the present without destroying the environment and thus compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Its report Our Common Future was memorable for its opening sentence: ‘The Earth is one but the world is not.’30 This singular UN achievement has framed the dominant approach to development ever since. For many in the development community, ‘sustainable development’ is the most consequential normative shift since 1945. The continuing frictions between the North and the South with respect to the responsibility for having caused and for ameliorating the effects of climate change suggest that efforts to combat climate change will have to be integrated into the broader context of sustainable social and economic development.
Much as their counterparts in development view sustainable development, many in the security field consider R2P to be one of the most significant normative advances in decades, if not centuries.31 It is the normative instrument of choice for converting a shocked international conscience into decisive collective action—for channelling selective moral indignation into collective policy remedies—to prevent and stop atrocities. It strikes a balance between unilateral interference rooted in the arrogance of power and institutionalized indifference that dislocates the Other (p. 868) from the Self. In the vacuum of responsibility for the safety of the marginalized, stigmatized, and dehumanized out-groups subject to mass atrocities, R2P provides an entry point for the international community to step in and take up the moral and military slack. It does so by redefining sovereignty as a responsibility, locating that responsibility primarily in the state concerned and a fall-back responsibility in the international community to protect people from the atrocity crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing.
R2P is closely related, conceptually as well as chronologically, to the norm of protection of civilians (POC).32 The Brahimi Panel did not introduce the POC norm as such, since the first Security Council resolution on POC was adopted in 1999, a year before the Brahimi Report. But the latter did help to consolidate the POC norm by questioning the long-established assumptions of neutrality and impartiality as they applied to civilian victims of violence perpetrated by armed challengers to UN peace operations. ‘Peacekeeping’ is a word that famously cannot be found in the UN Charter; the concept did not exist in 1945. Yet it has been the most visible symbol of the UN role in international peace and security. The Brahimi Report on UN peace operations was unusual in the candour of its analysis and recommendations.33 It came to the overall sound conclusion that ‘when the United Nations does send its forces to uphold the peace, they must be prepared to confront the lingering forces of war and violence with the ability and determination to defeat them’. For in the final analysis, ‘no amount of good intentions can substitute for the fundamental ability to project credible force if complex peacekeeping, in particular, is to succeed’.34 The need for impartial peacekeeping should not translate automatically into moral equivalence among the conflict parties on the ground: in some cases local parties consist not of moral equals but obvious aggressors and victims.35 The analysis and recommendations have had an unmistakable impact in the consolidation and evolution of the twin R2P and POC norms.
An institutional channel for the transmission of the recommendations of the Brahimi Panel and ICISS was the High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges, and Change set up by Annan which submitted its report in late 2004.36 Its four major conceptual-cum-normative advancements were the interconnectedness of today’s threats; legitimacy criteria for the use of military force; an agreed-upon definition of terrorism; and the need to extend normative constraints to non-state actors. It References(p. 869) identified the major threats as war and violence among and within states; the use and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; terrorism; transnational organized crime; and poverty, infectious disease, and environmental degradation. The threats can come from state and non-state actors and endanger human as well as national security. Collective security is necessary because today’s threats cannot be contained within national boundaries, are interconnected and have to be addressed simultaneously at all levels.
Following the Brahimi Report, the staff complement of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) in New York was increased to provide better support to field missions, and the latter now has its own additional Under-Secretary-General. The officers of the military and police advisers were bolstered. The old and not so well-regarded lessons-learned unit was restructured into a best-practices unit. DPKO’s logistics base in Brindisi (Italy) received funding to acquire strategic deployment stocks. The reorganized UN Standby Arrangements System provides for forces to be made available within thirty to ninety days of a new operation. The Report also recommended the establishment of an Information and Strategic Analysis Secretariat.37 For reasons of political sensitivity towards any intelligence-gathering capacity by the UN, however, this proved still-born. ICISS did not recommend it, but its report was most likely the trigger to the creation down the line of the UN Joint Office of Genocide Prevention and R2P. Similarly, the 2004 Cardoso Panel’s recommendations on structuring the UN’s relations with civil society have been quite influential.
The 2004 High-Level Panel published a raft of recommendations on institutional restructuring. It called for the formal disbanding of the Trusteeship Council and the abolition of the Military Staff Committee.38 But it shied away from recommending the abolition of the Economic and Social Council, even though the body ‘is perceived nearly universally as ineffective, poorly structured, and not up to the task of taking decisive action’.39 The 2005 summit agreed to wind up the obsolete Trusteeship Council, but with regard to the equally anachronistic Military Staff Committee, it merely asked the Security Council to consider the Committee’s composition, mandate, and working methods.40 The most critical section dealt with the (p. 870) Security Council. The call for reforming it is justified by the need for greater credibility, legitimacy, representation, and effectiveness. The panel noted that a decision on Security Council enlargement ‘is now a necessity’.41 But, unable to agree between them, the panellists outlined two models, inviting the question: if sixteen distinguished world citizens acting as individuals cannot choose between the two models, can 191 separate governments do so? The answer from the 2005 summit was a resounding ‘No’. The world leaders merely committed to continue the efforts to achieve a decision.42 That is, after a decade of talks, they agreed to talk some more.
The panel recommended the establishment of a new Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) under Security Council authority to identify countries sliding towards state collapse, institute measures to halt the slide, and plan for and assist in the transition from war and conflict to peace and post-conflict peace-building.43 The 2005 summit agreed to establish a PBC as an intergovernmental advisory body with a dedicated Peace-Building Support Office in the UN Secretariat. But the PBC’s authority was weakened by not placing it under the Security Council and instead tasking it to report annually to the General Assembly.44
The most optimistic had hoped for ‘a San Francisco moment’ in New York in September 2005, one no less decisive and momentous than the signing of the UN Charter sixty years earlier in the City by the Bay. The most critical concluded that instead the UN had an Albert Einstein moment, recalling his famous description of madness as doing something over and over again and expecting a different result each time. One could interpret the 2005 outcome document generously and, gathering rosebuds of consolation, note that it could have been worse. Some of the achievements were genuine enough. But Gareth Evans, one of the HLP members, expressed his disappointment at the outcome in characteristically colourful language. Speaking at a conference in Paris in October 2005, he said that the UN was ‘still the piranha pool of diplomats enjoying tearing flesh off each other, to the total exclusion of any enthusiasm for high principle or effectiveness of the organisation’.45
The primary goal of policy-focused high-level panels is to change state practice. Often states may be prepared to commit to adopting a new principle or norm but be reluctant to operationalize it in their international policy. Thus the norm of allocating 0.7 per cent of GDP as ODA, as recommended by the Pearson panel, remains widely accepted. However, with the exception of Northern European countries, References(p. 871) few others have come close to approaching the target in practice. The Brundtland Commission can be traced as the ‘intellectual godfather’ of the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, the 1997 Kyoto Agreements on climate, the Biodiversity Convention and Agenda 21, as well as numerous other ongoing international, regional, national, and local initiatives. With ‘sustainable development’, in most cases the environmental movement has achieved modest successes in changing official policy and citizen practices in the developed countries, but most developing countries still prioritize rapid and sustained economic growth over resource conservation and environmental protection. The concept of ‘governance’ became common currency only after publication of the Commission on Global Governance’s report in 1995,46 and that was also the year in which the first issue of the journal Global Governance appeared.47 The Commission’s recommendations stimulated much debate, but one of its very few to have had an operational impact concerned the responsibility of business to promote good global governance. This found expression ultimately in the UN’s ‘Global Compact’.48 The recommendations of the Cardoso Panel on multi-constituency processes and partnerships were accepted by Annan and implemented remarkably quickly in response to the Indian Ocean tsunami the same year.49
The POC agenda has had a considerable operational impact on UN peacekeeping missions. R2P was applied in its preventive dimension by former Secretary-General Annan in Kenya and coercive military force was authorized in Security Council Resolution 1973 (17 March 2011) in Libya. But this turned out to be contested and controversial. On the one hand, Libya in 2011 best showcased the mobilizing power of the R2P norm that led to China and Russia abstaining from instead of voting against and thereby vetoing Resolution 1973. The initial response to the crisis was a textbook example of R2P Pillar Three military intervention.50 But the NATO operation very quickly showed up several critical gaps in communications, expectations, and accountability between those who authorized and those who implemented Resolution 1973. In addition to the R2P controversy, the post-Gaddafi References(p. 872) turmoil and volatility in Libya further complicated international responses to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Syria. Other examples, such as the long-running crisis in Darfur, disaster relief in Myanmar, the fate of civilians under foreign occupation in Fallujah and Palestine, and civilians caught in the middle of a brutal civil war in Sri Lanka, also highlight the persistence of major civilian protection gaps when it comes to implementing the normative advances of the Brahimi Panel and ICISS alike.51
Many high-level panels and blue ribbon commissions end up forgotten, little remembered, and even less implemented. Some have made a difference. Factors that help to explain success include independence, inclusive composition, permissive or prohibitive context, widely consultative process, product quality, innovation, sharp product differentiation, luck-dependent timing, and follow-up.
The Three ‘I’s’: Independent, International, Inclusive
The successful commissions tend to be genuinely independent, regardless of who established and funded them. It is not always easy for sponsoring governments and foundations to provide the organizational and financial support yet not get involved in the commissioners’ deliberation and decisions. But if they do, or are seen as controlling and manipulating the analysis and recommendations, the final product will lack credibility in the policy community and civil society. Japan’s political culture, for example, seems to militate against sponsoring a genuinely independent commission. This can also be a troublesome requirement for panels created by major powers that have too many interests entwined in international controversies and the military muscle and economic clout to get their own way. Conversely, it might be one likely explanation for why international commissions seem to be a fruitful area of niche diplomacy by so-called middle powers. Unlike the major powers, they are compelled to rely on the power of persuasion and the force of creative ideas.
The members of a high-level global panel must be genuinely international, inclusive, and diverse with regard to professional backgrounds (former heads of state (p. 873) and cabinet ministers, UN officials, generals, scholars, journalists), continents-cum-civilizations, industrialized and developing country perspectives, and initial starting positions on the topic to hand. To the extent that the major global schism has metamorphosed from the East–West rivalry of the Cold War to a North–South divide since,52 a deliberate effort must be made to bring in Southern voices and give them a respectful hearing. There is not much point in assembling a group of like-minded people who agree amicably among themselves but never actually engage others with different world-views and priorities. One of the major flaws of the Canberra Commission, for example, was that its composition included members from every Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) nuclear weapons state (NWS: the target audience for recommendations on nuclear disarmament), and nationals of many NPT non-NWS, but not a single citizen of any of the non-NPT threshold NWS—the target audience for recommendations on nuclear non-proliferation. India and Pakistan—two threshold NWS—tested nuclear weapons within two years of its report.
The requirement for a balanced composition begins with the chair. To report on policy issues which do divide along a North–South polarity, it has become a popular formula to have co-chairs from the North and the South. ICISS was fortunate in its co-chairs, Mohamed Sahnoun and Gareth Evans, who represented diverse continents, backgrounds, experiences, yet were equally passionate, skilled, and committed humanitarian multilateralists. Their example shows the importance of chairs who are simultaneously active, patient, and diplomatic. A commission will falter if the chairs dominate and bully. Everyone who wants to articulate a point of view should be given voice and vote in the commission. At the same time, deliberations cannot go on interminably and the process must be kept moving forward to forestall loss of momentum with a judicious harmonization of differences of opinion. In addition to facilitating this by skilful chairing of panel meetings, chairs also have the primary responsibility for ensuring that the final report is crisp, the analysis sharp, and the writing elegant yet accessible. Part of this includes the ability and the willingness to find common ground and language without fudging the issue or retreating into lowest common denominator default positions. Chairs are also crucial to promoting the product after publication of the report to the relevant constituencies and audiences. A household name in the form of a celebrity former president or prime minister might help garner initial attention but is no guarantee of a successful References(p. 874) post-product marketing. Capability and competence will trump celebrity status every time.
The selection of the commissioners is just as crucial. The willingness of commissioners to listen to one another and adapt and evolve their thinking, without necessarily giving up bottom lines, enabled ICISS to come up with a unanimous report that was more than a collection of clichés and platitudes. But not all commissioners contribute equally. Some are worth having for giving the enterprise credibility in diverse global and sectoral constituencies. Others willingly do the heavy lifting in internal debates, research, and even writing, as well as post-publication selling of the product and its message, which ‘can make up for a certain elegant lassitude at the top’.53 Homogeneity of backgrounds, experience, and political outlook can facilitate cohesion, but only at the cost of legitimacy and impact. It is important also to include representatives from the worlds of practices and of ideas. The last group is not always included. Yet as already noted, ideas are the key drivers of history and a panel that does not include them will have a short shelf life. This deficiency was notable in the 2004 panel on UN reforms. Its composition was initially ridiculed for its average age (around 70) when the task was to look to the future: ‘Alzheimer’s commission’,54 ‘relics trying to reform a relic’,55 and ‘a cross between déjà vu and amnesia’56 were among the choice descriptions.57
The calls for inclusiveness, representativeness, and diversity can collide with the demands for efficiency and timeliness of the final product. Panels become more and more unwieldy beyond a good working size of twelve to fifteen members. If it is accepted that a compact size makes for more efficient functioning, it makes it all the more urgent to avoid multiple names from the ‘old boys’ club’: Brahimi, Brundtland, Cardoso, Evans, Ogata, Zedillo, et al. To be sure, there is merit in continuity, institutional memory, and cross-pollination, but the optics of lasting cynicism have to be assessed against those of instant credibility. Of course, many of them can still be brought into the process through membership of international advisory boards and other consultative mechanisms.
Panels do not fail or succeed simply on the strength of their ideas or the quality of their chairs and commissioners. Matters of organization, structure, resources (funding package and professional support personnel), process, and outreach can be just as crucial. The workload for the panel, research staff, and secretariat must be manageable and the deadlines have to balance being realistic and yet timely. Consultations with stakeholder constituencies provide an opportunity for listening to what the ‘market’ is saying and can bear, for ‘road-testing’ ideas and recommendations as they emerge and develop, and for enhancing the legitimacy of the final product and encouraging broad buy-in.58 The pattern of international composition, high-profile leadership, contracted research, site visits to many countries for consultations with governments and civil society, and a dedicated professional secretariat, was well established by the Brandt, Palme, and Brundtland Commissions in the 1980s.
ICISS meetings and roundtables were held in almost all continents and major capitals, involving continent-wide representatives, over 200 in total, from all sectors and cross-section of views.59 The Report reflected a genuine effort to incorporate many of the views that were expressed in Cairo, New Delhi, and Santiago as well as Beijing, London, Paris, and Washington. The views presented during the outreach exercise were sometimes used as tie-breakers during deadlocked discussions in the Commission. In retrospect, as a final contextual comment, the one-year time frame was probably a very useful discipline. This meant the momentum never flagged, ICISS worked to a tight deadline, and participants remembered where they had got to at the previous meeting and the progress that had already been made. Even for panels with more ambitious mandates like the High-Level Panel on UN Reforms, a two-year mandate should be adequate for the required research, consultations, production, and post-publication marketing of a report.
To have traction and impact in the real world of policy, a panel’s report and recommendations must strive for several right balances: between a document that is (p. 876) comprehensive, substantial, and intellectually weighty, and one that is readable in terms of brevity, succinctness, and accessible writing style; between pushing the envelope by testing the limits of politics with adventurous ideas and moving too far ahead of what is realistically possible within political and institutional constraints; and between staying focused on the specific mandate of the panel and not ignoring the wider context in which the particular proposals must be nested. In short, a balance between that which is ideally conceivable and desirable and that which is practically achievable and implementable.
The Brandt Commission suffered because its social-democratic vision of development was closely aligned to the ‘UN paradigm’ of social justice and development and too far removed from the neo-liberal leanings of the Bretton Woods institutions that soon became dominant.60 The Commission on Global Governance had just too many recommendations, several of them too diffuse to attract the attention of the policy community or even the support of the intended beneficiaries in civil society. Similarly, Evans notes that the Blix Commission—of which he was a member—of like-minded members ended up with a wish-list, whereas the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (ICNND)—which he co-chaired—converted the same goals into more sharply prioritized action agendas for the immediate, medium, and long terms to a generally more favourable reception.61
The final product should be innovative and exciting. A bumper-sticker phrase that encapsulates the complex innovation and captures policy attention and popular imagination is enormously helpful. Among the two best examples are sustainable development and R2P. Phrases like ‘our global neighbourhood’ (Carlsson–Ramphal) and ‘a culture of prevention’ (Carnegie) have lacked similar resonance, while ‘human security’ (Ogata–Sen) had been popularized already by the UN Development Programme a decade earlier. Packaging is also important. The publication should be visually attractive, and contain a succinct executive summary and a good index.
Panels that have something to say on everything are unlikely to be remembered for anything. ICISS stuck narrowly to its core mandate. It resisted the temptation to recast its report in light of the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, concluding that horrific and urgent as the latter was, self-defence is conceptually and operationally distinct from the protection of at-risk foreign populations. Nor did it urge amendments to the Security Council structure. If a panel’s mandated mission is too broad and fuzzy, the other details cannot compensate and the final result will be unhappy. (p. 877) Sponsoring governments and organizations should pay close attention therefore to the nature and importance of the problem to be addressed, whether a high-level panel is the best instrument for addressing the problem, the clarity of the terms of reference for the panel in tackling the problem, the primary and secondary target audiences, and the chairs and panel members likely to have credibility in the target audiences.
Timing and Luck
Sometimes panels may prove to have been ahead of their times and their ideational and normative impact may still exercise considerable influence years or decades later. The Palme Commission’s analysis and recommendations for advancing our common security was presented to a particularly inauspicious environment at the height of the Cold War in 1982 while, as already noted, the Brandt Commission’s attempt to redefine North–South relations fell victim to the ascendancy of the neo-liberal consensus on the dominance of market principles. But their ideas regained circulation with the end of the Cold War, the heightened concern with international terrorism and nuclear security, and the growing consciousness of North–South inequity—exacerbated by the process of globalization—and the links between poverty and security.
Luck can prove critical with respect to the timing and outcome of elections and the movement of commission chairs and members into and out of government. The Canberra Commission delivered an excellent product but by then the Labor government had lost office and its successor had little interest in promoting its predecessor’s product. Without active government backing and advocacy, the report languished in the policy world, although it continued to attract considerable attention in civil society. The Brundtland Commission was fortunate in that its chair returned to Norway’s prime ministership and was able to harness the added profile and prestige of the office to the cause of selling the message. ICISS fell between these two extremes. The foreign and prime ministers changed but the Liberal Party stayed in power through the 2005 UN world summit. Prime Minister Paul Martin’s engaged advocacy was crucial to the inclusion of R2P in the summit’s outcome document. The change of government to the Conservatives in 2006 marked a retreat of Canada from visible ownership and active sponsorship of the norm.
Timing was important to ICISS in two other respects as well. First, the series of humanitarian atrocities committed in Africa (Rwanda), Europe (the Balkans), and Asia (East Timor) in the 1990s, and the contrasting outcomes of a lack of intervention in Rwanda, unilateral intervention in Kosovo, and UN-authorized but fitful intervention in East Timor, meant that ICISS was grappling with very much a major current controversy. Then, well into its process and just three months before its (p. 878) report was published the international agenda took a dramatic right-turn to deal with the consequences of the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. It took the highly controversial and widely opposed US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 to rekindle passionate interest in a new global consensus on the circumstances in which the use of force to deal with humanitarian atrocities and serial atrocity perpetrators is both lawful and legitimate.62
Follow Through, Follow Up, and Norm Entrepreneurs, Brokers, Champions, Carriers, Spoilers
A panel commissions and gathers research, deliberates, decides, writes, and then publishes its report. Sustained engagement and advocacy by key actors remains critical to success in the post-report phase. The messages have to be communicated to multiple audiences around the world in policy and civil society settings. In addition to good communication skills, this also requires resources, organization, and champions. The report is neither the start nor the end of the process but the mid-point. For it to have impact, it must be followed with a range of activities in key capitals, international forums, and other target audiences so that the story can be told of why the report matters, how its recommendations will address and solve the problem to hand, and what is the best way forward in implementing the recommendations.
If the core problem was a gap in the normative architecture, as with the protection of atrocity victims, then the actors involved from start to finish might be divided into norm entrepreneurs, brokers, champions, carriers, and spoilers.
An entrepreneur is someone who spots or identifies a gap or need in the market and organizes an enterprise to produce the missing good and sell it to potential buyers. In the case of R2P, the norm entrepreneurs, in this author’s judgement, were Kofi Annan who first most visibly and powerfully identified the normative gap that needed filling in his famous challenge of humanitarian intervention; Lloyd Axworthy who as foreign minister of Canada spotted the market opportunity to ‘organize the production’ of the missing norm; and co-chairs Evans and Sahnoun. In addition, Francis Deng had earlier done yeoman’s work in reconceptualizing sovereignty as responsibility with respect to internally displaced persons.63
A broker is someone who bridges the needs and brings together the selling and purchasing price of the two parties involved in a transactional exchange, sometimes as an agent of one of the two parties. In an important sense this is the role that the (p. 879) Brundtland Commission and ICISS played in bridging development and conservation, and sovereignty and intervention, through their formulations of ‘sustainable development’ and the ‘responsibility to protect’ respectively. ICISS brought together a number of disparate trends over several decades—the change from inter-state warfare by uniformed armies using tanks and battleships to international and transnational armed conflict fought with small arms; the deliberate targeting of civilians; the rise of an internationalized human conscience; the expansion of international humanitarian and human rights laws; the advances in technology that brought the horrors of atrocities into living rooms in real time—in an innovative and coherent conceptual framework. ICISS put words to decades of deeds signifying international executive authority by the UN.64
A champion is someone who supports a cause and is prepared to defend it and fight for it. The role of a state champion is especially important. Had Labor not lost power in 1996, Evans would have ensured that Australia remained a state champion of the report of the Canberra Commission and its implementation fate might well have been different. Having Canada as a champion meant that the R2P principle had the necessary resources, organization, platform, and powerful voices advocating on behalf of it and seeing it through to unanimous endorsement in 2005. With individuals, in the Canberra Commission, this role was assumed by a previous sceptic on the cause of nuclear abolition, General Lee Butler, the former commander of the US Strategic Air Command.65 Once ICISS had published its report, the role of champion was taken on by Annan, Evans, Sahnoun, and Martin in the 2005 world summit process. Since 2007 Annan’s successor Ban Ki-moon has been an equally committed champion of R2P, helping to crystallize, consolidate, and build broader consensus behind the norm.
A carrier is someone who conveys a product from one place, person, or entity to another without claiming ownership of it at any time in the process. Civil society organizations—in particular, the Global Centre for R2P and the International Coalition for R2P in New York, and the Asia–Pacific Centre for R2P in Brisbane, working with their own global and regional networks—have helped to disseminate, transmit, and clarify the norm to a broad global audience. The national focal points for R2P can also be described as norm carriers as can also, if in a more qualified sense, the various research centres and dedicated journals and book series devoted to R2P. Similarly, the Centre for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament based at the Australian National University is a carrier of the report of ICNND which had recommended the establishment of such a centre in order to (p. 880) monitor the implementation of authoritative outcomes and recommendations by the relevant states.66
A spoiler is someone opposed to the activity, agenda, or norm being introduced and organizes, either overtly or behind the scenes, to frustrate its implementation, and who must be co-opted or neutralized. The overt state-level spoilers who have consistently opposed R2P are just a handful: Cuba, Nicaragua, Sudan, and Venezuela. In more recent times, since the NATO operation in Libya in wake of Security Council Resolution 1973, and particularly with respect to Syria in the 2011–13 period, China and Russia also fall into the category of norm spoilers, at least in so far as R2P’s implementation is concerned.
Attributes and factors that condition and determine the success and failure of high-level panels include their structural and operational features; the quality of leadership provided by their chairs; the breadth, depth, and diversity of expertise of their members; the organization of adequate financial and personnel resources to enable the necessary research and consultations to be undertaken; mission clarity and focus; and the full range of follow-up dissemination, advocacy, and championing of the recommendations. While their operational impact can be diffuse, uncertain, and spread thinly over considerable periods of time, they can be important agents of change in global governance for projecting the power of ideas and processing them into new and improved policy, normative, institutional, and operational outcomes. For that reason, high-level international panels and commissions will continue to be set up as instruments for improving deficient governance norms, arrangements, and practices to tackle important and urgent problems. At the same time, history suggests that fewer rather than more will succeed, and even the successful will depend on fortune smiling on them with respect to some matters that are beyond control. That said, they can improve their prospects of success by learning, no less than those in charge of national diplomacy, to operate as networks rather than clubs.67
1 Ramesh Thakur, “Multilateral Diplomacy and the United Nations: Global Governance Venue or Actor?,” in The New Dynamics of Multilateralism: Diplomacy, International Organizations, and Global Governance, ed. James P. Muldoon et al. (Boulder: Westview, 2011), 249–65; Ramesh Thakur and Thomas G. Weiss, “United Nations ‘Policy’: An Argument with Three Illustrations,” International Studies Perspectives 10/1 (January–April 2009): 18–35.
4 Thorsten Benner, Wolfgang H. Reinecke, and Jan Martin Witte, Shaping Globalization: The Role of Global Public Policy Networks (2002), 4, http://www.globalpublicpolicy.net/.
8 Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, “The Role of the UN Secretary-General,” in United Nations, Divided World: The UN’s Role in International Relations, ed. Adam Roberts and Benedict Kingsbury (Oxford: Clarendon, 1988), 67–9.
10 “Address by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the American Academy of Diplomacy upon receiving the Academy’s ‘Excellence in Diplomacy’ Award in Washington, DC, on 28 November,” UN Press Release, 30 November 2001.
11 See Andrew F. Cooper and Ramesh Thakur, “The BRICS in the New Global Economic Geography,” in International Organization and Global Governance, ed. Thomas G. Weiss and Rorden Wilkinson (London: Routledge, 2014), 265–78.
12 This paragraph draws in particular on Andrew F. Cooper and Rmesh Thakur, The Group of Twenty (G20) (London: Routledge, 2013); and Richard Feinberg, “Institutionalized Summitry,” in The Oxford Handbook of Modern Diplomacy, ed. Andrew F. Cooper, Jorge Heine, and Ramesh Thakur (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 303–18.
13 Kofi A. Annan, “Problems without Passports,” Foreign Policy (9 November 2009), http://foreignpolicy.com/2009/11/09/problems-without-passports/.
14 For elaboration of a balance of interests as an alternative analytical construct to the national interest, see Ramesh Thakur, “A Balance of Interests,” in The Oxford Handbook of Modern Diplomacy, ed. Andrew F. Cooper, Jorge Heine, and Ramesh Thakur (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 70–87.
16 Gareth Evans, The Responsibility to Protect: Ending Mass Atrocities Once and For All (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2008); Alex. J. Bellamy, Responsibility to Protect (Cambridge: Polity, 2009); Ramesh Thakur, The Responsibility to Protect: Norms, Laws and the Use of Force in International Politics (London: Routledge, 2011); and Thomas G. Weiss, Humanitarian Intervention: Ideas in Action, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Polity, 2011).
18 Andrew F. Cooper and John English, “International Commissions and the Mind of Global Governance,” in International Commissions and the Power of Ideas, ed. Ramesh Thakur, Andrew F. Cooper, and John English (Tokyo: United Nations University Press, 2005), 1–26.
23 A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies through Sustainable Development, Report of the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda (New York, 2013).
24 Rwanda: The Preventable Genocide, Report of the International Panel of Eminent Personalities, http://www.peaceau.org/uploads/report-rowanda-genocide.pdf.
25 Report of the Independent Inquiry into the Actions of the United Nations during the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda, UN Doc. S/1999/1257, 15 December 1999, http://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/POC%20S19991257.pdf.
26 Human Rights in Palestine and Other Occupied Arab Territories: Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, UN Human Rights Council, A/HRC/12/48, 15 September 2009, http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/12session/A-HRC-12-48.pdf. For a discussion on the report, see commentaries by Tom Farer, Dinah PoKempner, Ed Morgan, Richard Falk, and Nigel S. Rodley, in Global Governance 16/2 (2010): 139–207.
27 Jean-Philippe Therien, “The Brandt Commission: The End of an Era in North–South Politics,” in International Commissions and the Power of Ideas, ed. Ramesh Thakur, Andrew F. Cooper, and John English (Tokyo: United Nations University Press, 2005), 27–45.
31 See, e.g., Anne Orford, International Authority and the Responsibility to Protect (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 41; Martin Gilbert, “The Terrible 20th Century,” Globe and Mail (Toronto), 31 January 2007.
32 See Hugh Breakey et al., Enhancing Protection Capacity: A Policy Guide to the Responsibility to Protect and the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflicts (Brisbane: Institute for Ethics, Governance and Law, 2012), http://www.griffith.edu.au/criminology-law/institute-ethics-governance-law/research/responsibility-to-protect-protection-of-civilians-policy-guide.
38 HLP, A More Secure World, paras. 298–300.
39 Capturing the 21st Century Security Agenda: Prospects for Collective Responses (Muscatine, IO: Stanley Foundation, 2004), 50. This is the report of the discussions of a high-level group of UN hands.
41 HLP, A More Secure World, para. 250.
43 HLP, A More Secure World, paras. 261–9.
48 W. Andy Knight, “The Commission on Global Governance,” in International Commissions and the Power of Ideas, ed. Ramesh Thakur, Andrew F. Cooper, and John English (Tokyo: United Nations University Press, 2005), 113–14; John Ruggie, Just Business: Multinational Corporations and Human Rights (New York: W. W. Norton, 2013).
50 In his first special report on R2P in 2009, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reframed R2P in the metaphor of three pillars: first, the responsibility of each sovereign state itself to protect (including prevention) its own populations from the atrocity crimes in question; second, the responsibility of other states to assist it to do so; and third, the responsibility of the wider international community to respond in a “timely and decisive” fashion and by all appropriate means, not excluding coercive military action. Ban Ki-moon, Implementing the Responsibility to Protect, UN Doc. A/63/677, 12 January 2009. It has become obvious in successive annual General Assembly debates in and since 2009 that this three-pillar frame of reference is now overwhelmingly accepted by the UN community.
53 Evans, “Commission Diplomacy,” 291.
58 The ICISS effort “to engage a broad range of scholars and NGOs from a wide range of countries … was an attempt to establish legitimacy by means other than simply depending on the reputation of the core members of the commission”: Jon Pedersen, “Ideas, Think-Tanks, Commissions, and Global Politics,” in International Commissions and the Power of Ideas, ed. Ramesh Thakur, Andrew F. Cooper, and John English (Tokyo: United Nations University Press, 2005), 274.
59 Commission meetings were held in Ottawa (November 2000), Maputo (March 2001), New Delhi (June 2001), Wakefield, Canada (August 2000), and Brussels (September 2001). Roundtables and consultative meetings were held, in chronological order, in Ottawa, Geneva, London, Maputo, Washington DC, Santiago, Cairo, Paris, New Delhi, Beijing, and St Petersburg.
60 Therien, “Brandt Commission,” 28–9.
61 Evans, “Commission Diplomacy,” 295–6.
65 Marianne Hanson, “Regulating the Possession and Use of Nuclear Weapons,” in International Commissions and the Power of Ideas, ed. Ramesh Thakur, Andrew F. Cooper, and John English (Tokyo: United Nations University Press, 2005), 138; Evans, “Commission Diplomacy,” 297.