Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Kosovo and its Implications

I will argue that the concept of “humanitarian intervention” can serve an important purpose for powerful states, one that is more strategic than moral in nature. The commonly formulated question raised by “humanitarian intervention” is that of “sovereignty versus human rights”. In my view, this paradigm of understanding can be used by powerful states to justify their dispensing with the normative and legal constraints of the international system even when taking military actions that are not of a moral character.

Since the 1999 NATO action against Serbia over Kosovo is seen as a definitive moment with regard to the question under discussion, I will examine this issue with particular reference to that conflict. I will do this in three stages. I will begin by critically examining the apparent presumption in the mainstream scholarly literature of the benign intent of the states carrying out this purported “humanitarian intervention”. I will cite contemporaneous examples of enforced population displacement and human rights abuses – in Turkey and East Timor - where the British and American involvement was markedly different to that seen in the case of Kosovo.

I will then examine the Kosovo action itself, firstly arguing that the war did not qualify as a “humanitarian intervention”; and, secondly, proposing some alternative reasons for why the action was undertaken.

Finally, I will turn to the above-mentioned question of “sovereignty versus human rights”, arguing that if humanitarianism was not the prime motive for the Kosovo intervention then, with this key assumption potentially discredited, the war’s implications for the international system as discussed in the scholarly literature will need to be comprehensively rethought. I will propose that the real issue at hand is not of “sovereignty versus human rights” but “sovereignty versus power”, where the concept of “humanitarianism” can be used by certain states to justify dispensing with elements of the legal and normative international system – e.g. sovereignty - that constrain their ability to project power.

The assumption of benign intent

The founding assumptions of debate

In examining the debate over the concept of “humanitarian intervention” we can learn as much by identifying points of consensus as we can by noting the points of contention. On this topic, there is some debate over whether “humanitarian interventions” are likely to meet with success, but less debate over whether the professed humanitarian impulses of the actors themselves are in fact genuine. Betts for example, whilst expressing strong reservations about the prospect that such endeavours will be successful, still characterises them as flowing from “the best of intentions” and “resonating with respect for the law and international co-operation” (Betts:1994:20-22).

These general scholarly assumptions apply to the case of the Kosovo war. Reviewing the literature on Kosovo and humanitarian intervention, David Chandler says that, “Apart from being seen as the first ‘humanitarian war’…the war over Kosovo has been generally recognised as a crucial point in the gradual evolution of a new set of international norms”. On this normative evolution, Chandler quotes Patrick Thornberry, who claims that “We are witnessing a sea-change in the relations between sovereignty and human rights”. Chandler says that “most commentators agree that, overall, this development is a progressive and desirable one”. (Chandler:2002:111).

It appears that for many commentators – whether they are in favour of “humanitarian intervention” or not – debate over the concept rests on the assumption that the relevant states’ professed concern for humanitarian values is genuine. Plainly this assumption is non-trivial. A “humanitarian intervention” that is not humanitarian is simply an intervention, a distinction that materially alters our conception of its character and legitimacy.

It is essential, then, to challenge this assumption of benign intent with possible countervailing evidence to see if it withstands scrutiny. At the outset of the Kosovo action Tony Blair spoke of “a new internationalism where the brutal repression of whole ethnic groups will no longer be tolerated” (quoted in Chomsky:2001:1). Was Blair’s government attempting to lead the world into the new era of the kind he described? There is evidence to suggest otherwise.

Countervailing examples- Turkey and the Kurds

The 1990s saw serious atrocities committed against the Kurdish population of Turkey as the government fought Kurdish nationalist guerrilla forces. Between 1994 and 1998 3,500 Kurdish villages were destroyed, at least 1.5 million people were made homeless and/or internally displaced, and many thousands were killed by Turkish security forces. To this day, widespread human rights abuses against the Kurds in Turkey are ongoing. The European Court of Justice accuses Turkey of subjecting the Kurds to house destruction, torture, ‘disappearances’ and extra-judicial executions.

Referring to Tony Blair’s statement that, under the “new internationalism” heralded by NATO action over Kosovo, “the brutal repression of whole ethnic groups will no longer be tolerated”, we might ask why the West has not intervened in this case.

In a sense, the West has intervened, but on the side of Turkey. During the mid-1990s British and American arms exports to Turkey increased sharply, in correlation with the increase in atrocities. British arms sales and training of Turkish security forces continued after the New Labour government came to power in 1997. In the years before the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Turkish forces were permitted to conduct operations in the US-UK-enforced ‘no-fly zone’ in northern Iraq. Turkish incursions sometimes lasted months, with villages burnt and atrocities committed (for all facts cited in this sub-section, see Curtis:2003:38-46).

Countervailing examples- Indonesia and East Timor

Also in the late nineties, another example of the brutal repression of an ethnic group, including population displacement and large scale atrocities, was unfolding in East Timor. Again, British and American involvement on the side of the repressor was long-established and remained apparently unaffected by the advent of the “new internationalism”.

Indonesia had invaded East Timor in 1975. In suppressing a popular insurgency and enforcing its rule it proceeded to kill an estimated 200,000 people, nearly one third of the East Timorese population. As in the case of Turkey’s repression of the Kurds during the 1990s, an increase in Western arms exports to Indonesia during the late 1970s correlated with the increase of atrocities carried out in East Timor.

A referendum on East Timorese independence in August 1999 was preceded by renewed abuses carried out by the Indonesian military and its proxies, commencing in November 1998. These were designed to intimidate the population in advance of the vote, and therefore qualify as a straightforward instance of terrorism. An estimated 3-5,000 people were killed (twice the death toll in Kosovo on both sides before the NATO bombing) and eighty-five per cent of the population were driven from their homes.

British and American arms sales to Indonesia continued throughout this period, including joint US-Indonesia military training exercises. Support was finally ended in September 1999 under massive public and international pressure, ten months after the new wave of atrocities had commenced, and also after the referendum that they had been aimed at influencing (though they had notably failed in this regard with the East Timorese voting in favour of independence). When Western support was withdrawn, the atrocities stopped almost instantaneously. Chomsky notes that this demonstrates the decisive nature of that support and strongly indicates that its withdrawal at any point over the previous quarter century could have saved many thousands of lives (for all facts cited in this sub-section, see Chomsky:2001:21-26).

Implications for US-UK humanitarianism

In both of the cases highlighted above the atrocities could have been ended, or at least mitigated, by the cessation of US-UK support for the repressor government. Even if one were to argue that the atrocities would have continued – ignoring the example of East Timor – the humanitarian policy choice would still surely have been to end complicity in “the brutal repression of whole ethnic groups”. Such a cessation of support would have carried relatively little cost, as compared to an armed invasion, but the humanitarian option was not taken.
That the US-UK did not adopt humanitarian policies in the above-mentioned cases does not logically preclude the possibility that they might have chosen such policies in the case of Kosovo. But it does enable us to say three things before proceeding further:

1. that intrinsic US-UK humanitarianism does not appear to exist and certainly cannot be casually assumed;
2. that claimed US-UK humanitarianism in the case of Kosovo should therefore be examined very closely; and
3. that if such an examination reveals the humanitarian credentials of the Kosovo action to be suspect, then this, coupled with the non-humanitarian approach taken in similar contemporaneous cases, must disprove the scholarly consensus that the “war over Kosovo [was] a crucial point in the gradual evolution of a new set of international norms” where henceforth “the brutal repression of whole ethnic groups will no longer be tolerated”.

It is therefore to Kosovo that we now turn.

Kosovo - a humanitarian intervention?

To assess whether or not the war over Kosovo qualifies as a “humanitarian intervention” we may ask three pertinent questions:

1. was it a war of last resort?
2. did it avert a humanitarian crisis? and
3. was it fought in accordance with humanitarian principles?

The account of the war set out by the historian Mark Curtis provides some revealing answers to these questions. Facts cited in this section are from his account of the conflict (Curtis:2003:134-157).

A war of last resort?

Curtis’ account of diplomatic activity in the run-up to the war strongly suggests that NATO avoided a peaceful settlement. It is hard to envisage any country accepting the demands it made of Serbia at the Rambouillet conference in March 1999; for example that NATO forces be given free right of movement throughout the Former Yugoslavia. Curtis quotes a senior US administration official who told the media at the conference, “we intentionally set the bar too high for the Serbs to comply. They need some bombing and that’s what they are going to get”.

During the war, German and French attempts to impose a peaceful settlement were also rejected. However, the final peace accord after the war dropped many of the most onerous demands put forward by NATO at Rambouillet, suggesting, as Curtis points out, that scope for a peaceful settlement had existed before military action was taken. Since these options were not explored we cannot say whether they would have been successful, but we can say that military action was not a last resort taken after all possible alternatives had been explored and exhausted.

Did war avert a humanitarian crisis?

Curtis cites authoritative sources indicating that, far from averting a humanitarian crisis, the war in fact precipitated one, and furthermore that this was a predicted consequence of military action being taken. For example, the OSCE’s account of the war noted that a “vast increase in lootings, killings, rape, kidnappings and pillage [took place] once the NATO air war began”. That Serbia would instigate full-scale ethnic cleansing in response to a NATO attack was expected by those prosecuting the war. NATO commander Wesley Clark said that “The military authorities fully anticipated the vicious approach that Milosevic would adopt”. The Guardian reported on 28 April 1999 that “MI6 is understood to have warned that bombing would accelerate ethnic cleansing”. In fact, four weeks after the bombing commenced Clark said the operation

“…was not designed as a means of blocking Serb ethnic cleansing. It was not designed as a means of waging war against the Serb forces in Kosovo. Not in any way. There was never any intent to do that. That was not the idea…”.

Was the war fought in accordance with humanitarian principles?

Again, the factual record does not suggest that humanitarian concerns were a priority for the war’s instigators. After the war, with NATO troops on the ground, the Kosovo Liberation Army instigated atrocities and ethnic cleansing against Serbs without serious interference from NATO. Furthermore, the conduct of NATO itself in the course of the war raises questions about its humanitarian credentials. Extensive use was made of cluster bombs during the war; in fact, half of all British bombs dropped during the campaign were of this variety. Cluster bombs are inherently indiscriminate and therefore pose particular dangers to civilians. In addition, direct attacks were carried out on non-military targets such as Serb radio and television.

Human rights groups condemned NATO’s prosecution of the war. Amnesty International said that “NATO forces [had] violated the laws of war leading to cases of unlawful killings of civilians”. Human Rights Watch said: “We are concerned that NATO bombed the civilian infrastructure …because its destruction would squeeze Serb civilians to put pressure on Milosevic to withdraw from Serbia”. This latter interpretation of NATO conduct, if accurate, would amount to a charge of terrorism.

If not humanitarianism, then what?

If military action over Kosovo was(a) not taken as a last resort; (b) taken with the expectation that it would precipitate a humanitarian crisis; and(c) if humanitarian principles were repeatedly violated in the course of it being fought, then the scholarly consensus that this was “the first ‘humanitarian war’” is seriously undermined. It also logically follows that the claimed reasons for fighting the war may not have been the real reasons, and that we should therefore consider this possibility together with any other potential reasons for why military action might have been taken.

Curtis notes that the other reason given by Tony Blair for going to war, aside from humanitarian concerns, was “credibility”. “To walk away now” said Blair on the eve of war, “would …destroy NATO’s credibility” (Curtis:2003:141). What is meant by credibility? Policymakers may describe military “credibility” as simply the establishment in the popular understanding of one’s willingness and capability to defend oneself and one’s allies against aggression. This was no doubt the case that Blair wanted to make. But unless we propose that states in general, and the US and UK in particular, only take military action for defensive reasons, we must recognise that credibility also has an offensive, proactive nature, i.e. the establishment in the popular understanding of one’s willingness and capability to proactively advance one’s own interests via military action, if such action is deemed necessary.

Michael Ledeen – a scholar close to the Bush administration – is reported to have made a statement that, though somewhat stark, effectively describes the essence of this latter meaning of credibility. "Every ten years or so” Ledeen reportedly said, “the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business." (Goldberg:2002). The NATO approach to the war set out in Curtis’ account suggests that we must consider the possibility that it was not the former, defensive form of credibility that was in the minds of NATO planners.

Curtis also points out another potential reason for NATO to take military action, namely that “Serbia posed the last real barrier to openly expressed British, EU and US aims in Eastern Europe”, i.e. the implementation of “Washington consensus” economic policies and the extension of NATO up to the borders of Russia. According to John Norris, “it was Yugoslavia’s resistance to the broader trends of political and economic reform – not the plight of the Kosovar Albanians – that best explains NATO’s war”. During the war Norris had been director of communications for Strobe Talbott, a Deputy US Secretary of State closely involved in the campaign. Talbott says that Norris’ account explains “how events looked and felt at the time to those of us that were involved” (Achcar & Chomsky:2006:253).

At this point it may be useful to ask what the NATO policy might have been if, in early 1999, Serbia had been an integrated part of the Western economic and military system. The support given to Turkey and Indonesia in the cases discussed above suggests a possible answer to that question.

If the war was fought for the reasons given by Norris, then this would be consistent with a demonstration of credibility of the kind described by Ledeen. This essentially Realist interpretation – of states acting in accordance with self-interest largely irrespective of ethical concerns – is also consistent with British and American policies toward their Turkish and Indonesian allies. This interpretive consistency contrasts with the difficult questions and inconsistencies raised by the claimed humanitarian motives, as discussed above.

Implications for the scholarly consensus and the international system

These conclusions have serious implications for the scholarly consensus described by Chandler. Thornberry said that Kosovo signalled “a sea-change in the relations between sovereignty and human rights”: a state’s sovereign impunity for events occurring within its borders could now be overridden by other states seeking to prevent human rights abuses being committed within those borders. But if humanitarianism was not an operative factor in US-UK decision making over Kosovo, then whilst we can say that a normative change may have occurred, we cannot say that it is the one described in the scholarly literature.

We are therefore forced to look at an alternative issue: not “sovereignty versus human rights” but “sovereignty versus power”. This is a very different proposition, which for example gives new meaning to Chandler’s observation that “the NATO powers asserted that the restriction on the use of force and presumption of equal rights of sovereignty [under the “Westphalian” system and the UN Charter] were a barrier to effective international regulation” (Chandler:2002:114).

Having failed to get Security Council approval for military action against Serbia, NATO did not attempt to gain UN General Assembly approval, in the expectation that the vote would be lost (Chandler:2002:112). The “new internationalism” described by Blair would therefore be inaugurated without the consent of the international community. Under the normative revolution that was actually taking place, “effective international regulation” was to be the task of certain states – necessarily the powerful ones.

This international opposition shows that the scholarly consensus on the significance of the Kosovo war as described by Chandler is not the universal consensus. In April 2000, the Group of 77 nations – comprising the governments of eighty per cent of the world’s population – stated that “We reject the so called right of ‘humanitarian intervention’”, viewing the new normative order as imperialism in a different guise (quoted in Chomsky:2001:4). The facts reviewed here indicate that this view has merit. We may indeed argue that, in this respect, the widely acknowledged unilateralist tendencies of the current White House administration have a parallel with the policies of its predecessor and its allies. Both administrations – perhaps attempting to take advantage of US global pre-eminence in the post Cold War era – challenged the “barrier to effective international regulation” presented by the international system. Under President Clinton, this was justified on the basis of “humanitarian intervention”, whereas under President Bush the justification is the “war on terror”.


My argument here has not been against humanitarian intervention. In fact I have lamented a lack of humanitarianism in US-UK foreign policy. Noam Chomsky has said of humanitarian intervention that “the proclaimed principle has merit, or would, if it were upheld in a way that honest people could take seriously”. I have shown here that an honest appraisal of US-UK foreign policy in general, the Kosovo war in particular and the implications of such actions for the international system are not encouraging for those concerned with humanitarianism in world affairs. If genuine “humanitarian interventions” are to be possible – as we must hope they are - then a critical appraisal of the credentials of the states proposing such interventions will be essential. This is particularly true when such actions have seminal implications for the international system. Otherwise we risk the concept of “humanitarianism” being put in service of far less enlightened ends than those for which we might hope.


Achcar. G., and Chomsky. N., (2006), “Perilous Power”, (London:Hamish Hamilton)

Betts. R.K., (1994), “The Delusion of Impartial Intervention”, Foreign Affairs 73(6): 20-33

Curtis. M., (2003), “Web of Deceit”, (London:Vintage)

Chomsky. N., (2001), “A New Generation Draws the Line”, (London:Verso)

Chandler. D., (2002), “Kosovo and the Remaking of International Relations”, Global Review of Ethnopolitics, 1(4):110-118

Goldberg. J., (23 April 2002), “Baghdad Delenda Est, Part Two”, National Review Online. Viewed online 7 March 2007

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Friday, May 18, 2007

The anti-capitalist IMF

Noam Chomsky makes an excellent point about the IMF:

"The IMF’s former U.S. executive director Karin Lissakers accurately described the Fund as the credit community’s enforcer. The IMF is very anti-capitalist. For example, suppose I lend you money. And I know that you’re a risky borrower, so I insist on a high-interest rate. Now, suppose that you can’t pay me back. In a capitalist system, it’s my problem. I made a risky loan. I got a lot of profit from the interest. You defaulted. It’s my problem.

That’s now what the IMF is about. What the IMF is saying, to put it in personal terms, is that your friends and neighbors have to pay off the loan. They didn’t borrow the money, but they have to pay it back. And my friends and neighbors have to pay me to make sure that I don’t lose any money. That’s essentially what the IMF is.

If Argentina takes out an IMF loan with huge interest rates because it’s risky and then they default, the IMF comes along and says the workers and peasants and other people in Argentina have to pay for that. They may not have borrowed it, it may have been borrowed by a military dictatorship, but they have to pay it back. That’s what structural adjustment is. And the IMF will ensure that western taxpayers pay off the bank. It’s radically anti-capitalist, whether you like that or not. The whole system has no legitimacy. In fact the whole debt system in the world, which is crushing much of the world, most of it is fake debt.

If Suharto, one of the biggest debtors in the world, borrows money and ends up the richest man in Indonesia or maybe the world, why is it the responsibility of the farmers in Indonesia to pay it off? They didn’t borrow it; they didn’t get anything from it. They were repressed, but they have to pay it off. And the IMF makes sure that the lenders don’t lose money on their risky loan after making a lot of profit from it. Why should the system even exist?"

Read the rest here.

See also from Chomsky, "Starving the Poor" and an audio talk on the rise of South America (talk begins at 16.17mins).

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Coup in Gaza?

At his indispensable blog "Rootless Cosmopolitan", Tony Karon gets to the core of what's happening in Gaza at the moment: a hard coup engineered in Washington and effected by Gaza's own Pinochet, Mohammed Dahlan.

An excerpt:

"only [a US] Administration as deluded about its ability to reorder Arab political realities in line with its own fantasies — and also, frankly, as utterly contemptuous of Arab life and of Arab democracy, empty sloganizing notwithstanding — as the current one has proved to be could imagine that the Palestinians could be starved, battered and manipulated into choosing a Washington-approved political leadership. Yet, that’s exactly what the U.S. has attempted to do ever since Hamas won the last Palestinian election, imposing a financial and economic chokehold on an already distressed population, pouring money and arms into the forces under Dahlan’s control, and eventually adapting itself to funnel monies only through Abbas, as if casting in him in the role of a kind of Quisling-provider would somehow burnish his appeal among Palestinian voters. (As I said, their contempt for Arab intelligence knows no bounds. )"

"But while the hapless Abbas is little more than a reluctant passenger in Washington’s strategy .... Mohammed Dahlan is its point man, the warlord who commands the troops and who has been spoiling for a fight with Hamas since they had the temerity to trounce his organization at the polls on home turf."

"Dahlan’s ambitions clearly coincided with plans drawn up by White House Middle East policy chief, Elliot Abrams — a veteran of the Reagan Administration’s Central American dirty wars — to arm and train Fatah loyalists to prepare them to topple the Hamas government..."

Read the rest here.

What we're witnessing now is not just civil war but also the attempted overthrow of a democratically elected Palestinian government, not four years since Blair and Bush announced their grand vision to spread democracy in the Middle East. The strangulation of Gaza, which I've written about previously, prepared the ground for this. The current violence may well turn out to be the culmination of that strategy.

More on this from Paul Woodward. And for the Palestinian perspective, see Rami Almeghari and Laila El-Haddad.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Notes on illiberal Liberalism

It is worth relating any political theory to the historical context in which they have gained most currency. This exercise often reveals a close correlation between what the dominant theory of the time tells us is right on philosophical grounds and what philosophical conclusions happen to suit those in power. Nowhere is this more applicable than in the case of political Liberalism. As the Athenians said of the Spartans in the Melian dialogue, western liberals "are most conspicuous for believing that what they like doing is honourable and what suits their interests is just".

Liberalism's central tenants are as follows:
1. Equality before the law and equal rights
2. State legitimacy derives from popular consent
3. Right to own property and productive forces
4. Primacy of the market as an organising force of societies material assets

The rise of Liberalism coincided with and was driven by the emergence of the new bourgouisie in the late C18th and early C19th, who adopted it as their defining philosophical creed. Under its flag came the creation of the new United States of America, the French Revolution and various socio-political and economic reforms in Britain. Overwhelmingly, these social changes benefitted this emerging economic class which, though non-aristocratic, was gaining wealth and commensurate socio-political power.

Of the four values highlighted above, it was the last two that were dominant (note in particular that point 3 accentuates a right that, in a different value system, could easily be slotted in with the rights to education, healthcare etc under point 1). Thus the new liberal United States maintained slavery for nearly a century after its inception in accordance with Liberal Article Of Faith number 3, if not Article number 1. For all the fine words of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, it was John Jay's remark that "the people who own the country ought to govern it" that best characterised the new Liberal order. This new order primarily liberalised the bourgouisie from the constraints that prevented them from extending their new found wealth and power, often at the cost of broader human values. Witness the general social trauma of the creation of the industrialised working class in C19th. Would their fate have improved if mass political organisation had not taken place among them, and Liberalism been left to its own devices?

Neo-Liberalism, in the field of international relations, must bear some of these same criticisms. It cites the Bretton Woods system, the United Nations and US hegemony over this institutional order in the post WWII era as being a generally benign manifestation of liberal values. However:

1. The Bretton Woods system has presided over grotesque levels of inequality, where widespread poverty abides alongside extraordinary wealth whose potential to all but end much of human economic suffering remains untroubled. Moreover, the "liberal" economic system liberalises only when in Western interests (e.g. manufactured goods) and remains restrictive when not (e.g. agriculture). Its imposition of aid conditionality on developing countries undermines democracy and its privitisation programs deny basic public services through charges (contra Article 1) and encourage corruption;

2. The United Nations entrenches great power privilege and ability to coerce smaller states; and

3. The US frequently overthrows democratic regimes, supports or commits human rights abuses, backs tyrants and launches wars of aggression, covert or overtly, directly or by proxy.

Contra Liberal Article Of Faith number 1, there are clear winners and losers in this system. The winners are a general transnational Executive Class and their companion state/institutional interests. The losers - from a small to a great extent - are just about everyone else. By privileging economic interests over the other purported liberal values of human welfare and equality, Liberalism - rathar than Marxism or Realism - has become the prime ideological force for imperialism in the modern age.

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Why is the WTO Facing a Legitimacy Crisis?


In this essay, I will argue that a major source of the WTO’s current legitimacy crisis is a failure on the part of the more powerful elements within that forum to secure the full consent of developing country governments to further multilateral trade liberalisation. This consent has not been fully secured for the simple reason that many developing countries currently do not see further liberalisation via the WTO as being in their interests.

Using Daniel Esty’s conception of ‘legitimacy’, augmented with Antonio Gramsci and Giovanni Arrighi’s use of the term ‘hegemony’, I will examine the current difficulties experienced by the WTO forum, and the interests that shape its agenda, to establish a global trading order whose legitimacy is commonly accepted. I will review the emerging developing country opposition to the policy direction taken by the WTO, and the probable reasons for that opposition.

I will not argue that this developing country opposition is the only reason that the WTO is facing a crisis of legitimacy. There are other factors that may challenge the WTO’s legitimacy. These include the input that activists and NGOs have had into the emerging popular understanding of globalisation; specifically their role in promoting the perception that WTO trade negotiations have not been offering a good deal for developing nations (Smith:2003). Another factor is the perception within the developed countries that trade liberalisation may be detrimental to certain domestic and/or cultural interests (Bhagwati:2001:19). Though these factors are relevant, I will limit the scope of this essay to an examination of the failure to secure sufficient developing country consent to WTO-managed liberalisation and the importance of this particular factor in the erosion of WTO legitimacy.

Although I will review the probable reasons for developing country opposition, I will not enter into the debate on whether this opposition is objectively justified. The thesis presented here is that the WTO faces a legitimacy crisis because developing nations increasingly fail to see further liberalisation under its auspices as being in their interests. For these purposes, the question of whether that perception is justified is, to an extent, peripheral. The point is that the perception exists and that there are substantive reasons for its existence.

Legitimacy and Hegemony

For Esty, a governing institution establishes its legitimacy either because it is representative (by being subject to elections, for example) or as a result of the “efficacy of the outcomes it generates” (Esty:2002:9). I will focus particularly on this second factor – the notion that “institutions also [in part] win legitimacy and authority because of their capacity to deliver good results..” (Esty:2002:16). Understanding of this particular source of legitimacy and how it relates to the global trading order can be enhanced by introducing the notion of ‘hegemony’, as it is used by Gramsci and Arrighi.

Gramsci noted that, at the national level, order does not necessarily establish itself through straightforward coercion by the dominant social group. Often, “the development and expansion of the particular group are conceived of, and presented, as being the motor force of a universal expansion, a development of all the ‘national’ energies” (quoted in Arrighi:1994:28).

This Gramsci describes as “hegemony”. Order is established not simply by coercion but by consent. The interests of the dominant group are widely accepted (correctly or not) as being consistent with the interests of society more broadly. In Arrighi’s words:

“Whereas dominance will be conceived of as resting primarily on coercion, hegemony will be understood as the additional power that accrues to a dominant group by virtue of its capacity to place all the issues around which conflict rages on a ‘universal’ plane” (Arrighi:1994:28 - emphasis in original)

Arrighi applies this concept of hegemony to the international sphere and the evolution of the global political economy. He identifies “three hegemonies” that have shaped the history of modern capitalism: the first was the post-Westphalia system of sovereign states whose prosperity was underwritten by Dutch economic and military power; the second was the British-managed free trade system of the late nineteenth century; and the third was that of the post World War II era, run under US auspices via multinational institutions and corporations.

What qualifies the Dutch, the British and the US as hegemons in their respective periods, for Arrighi, is their ability first to create a new system and secondly to secure broad consent amongst the subjects of that system. In the case of the WTO’s current legitimacy crisis, it is this second factor that concerns us. The global trading order that has evolved under the GATT and latterly under the WTO does not by itself constitute a global economic system on the Dutch, British or US model, but the principle of hegemony applies. A hegemonic global trading order can only be created and sustained by consent, and governments will only consent to multilateral trade liberalisation if the agenda of the WTO is placed on a “universal plane” – in other words, if they perceive it as being in their interests to participate in the WTO process. Here we return to Esty’s point about efficacy. The WTO’s hegemony over the global trading system can only be secured when its “capacity to deliver good results” is demonstrated to the satisfaction of member states. Its current crisis of legitimacy derives in part from its failure adequately to make that case.

Withdrawing consent

Concerns about the WTO process and who benefits from it have been present in the developing world for several years, as acknowledged even by supporters of the institution’s track record. Daniel Esty remarked in 2002 that the crisis of legitimacy that came to the fore at the time of the Seattle meeting of 1999 was partly due to the fact that “fears of special interest domination [of the WTO] are now prevalent. And these views are not limited to the public; many developing countries share the concern” (Esty:2002:11). What is relevant in terms of the question of legitimacy is not whether these perceptions were objectively correct – Esty felt that they were not – but rather the fact that they existed and affected the developing countries’ sense of the WTO’s legitimacy.

For reasons that will be discussed further below, many developing countries viewed the 1986-1994 “Uruguay Round” of trade talks as having been largely detrimental to their economic interests. At the turn of the century, there was little appetite amongst those countries for more of the same. In advance of the Seattle meeting in 1999 , the Group of 77 developing countries (“G77”), whilst declaring themselves fully in favour of international trade liberalisation in principle, nevertheless “noted with great concern…that the benefits of the existing multilateral trading system continue to elude developing countries”. They warned that these problems “could erode the confidence of developing countries in the multilateral trading system” and said that they “therefore attached utmost importance to addressing the issues and difficulties…that have arisen in the course of the implementation of the WTO multilateral trade agreements” (G77:1999:paragraphs 18-20). The Tanzanian Minister for Industry and Trade expressed these reservations more forcefully before the Doha conference in July 2001, saying that “most of us are not ready, psychologically, materially and technically, for a new round” (WDM:2006:11).

Against this backdrop, the EU Commissioner for Trade, Pascal Lamy, “a skilled negotiator and shrewd tactician, knew that something needed to be done to demonstrate that the EU ‘cared’ about poor countries” according to an NGO, the World Development Movement (“WDM”)(WDM:2006:11). It was Lamy that called the new round the “Doha Development Agenda”, with the WTO Secretariat arguably compromising its apolitical role by adopting this slogan as part of its Doha Round official logo (WDM:2006:13). Whether the expressed concern for development was genuine or a tactic, the adoption of this slogan strongly indicates that the developed nations and the WTO bureaucracy recognised the importance of presenting the WTO agenda as being on a “universal plane”, and specifically in the interests of the developing nations. Whether those nations would consent to a new round, and on what terms, was implicitly acknowledged to be in question.

Developing country concerns have persisted throughout the Doha “Development Round”, according to a WDM review (WDM:2006). These concerns have centred on the economic problems that the developing world perceived to have been caused by the “implementation of the WTO multilateral trade agreements”, as noted above in the G77 statement. The concerns were exacerbated by the fact that these “implementation issues” were often relegated in importance or ignored during WTO negotiations in favour of “new issues” – i.e. the further liberalisation of developing country economies - brought to the table by the developed nations and the national and multinational corporate interests that they arguably help to represent. The developed world demanded a quid pro quo for any concessions it made during the Doha round, but the developing countries felt that this would mean them having “to pay a second time with new liberalisation commitments in return for trying to rectify” the losses incurred from the last set of liberalisation commitments (WDM:2006:10,12).

Proposals from developing countries aimed at addressing their concerns were put forward in December 2001, April 2002, October 2002 and August 2003, only to be rebuffed by the developed world (WDM:2006:14). In advance of the Cancun meeting in 2003, 66 developing countries signed statements expressing their opposition to the “new issues” pressed on them by the developed world (WDM:2006:15). The collapse of the Cancun talks was in no small part due to the collective opposition of many developing nations to the emerging WTO policy agenda – which opposition stemmed from the perception that this agenda was not in their interests. As Dipak Patel, the Zambian Trade Minister, said:

“I am definitely sure that I would have been lynched by the private sector and civil society if I had returned home with a bad deal….No deal is better than a bad deal” (WDM:2006:16).

This last phrase was indicative of where the growing disillusionment amongst developing countries could lead.

By the Hong Kong meeting of December 2005 there were strong indications that this disillusionment had become widespread and entrenched. An opinion poll of African trade delegations, carried out by the development NGO Christian Aid, found that ninety per cent of respondents did not agree with the characterisation of Doha as a “development round”. Seventy per cent believed that their country’s economy would suffer a net loss if they accepted what the developed countries were proposing. And fifty-five per cent said that they were prepared to “block the consensus and stop negotiating” if the round failed to address their priorities (Christian Aid:December 2005). This disillusionment contributed towards continued co-ordinated opposition amongst developing countries at the Hong Kong meeting to the more excessive demands of the developed world (Rice & Talpur:2006).

Clearly the most powerful interests at the WTO – the developed nations and the private sector interests they arguably helped to represent – had failed to establish their agenda on a “universal plane”. The WTO’s legitimate hegemony over the global trading system was not being effectively secured because, quite simply, those whose consent was required to bring that hegemony into being had not had the WTO’s “capacity to deliver good results” in their interests demonstrated to their satisfaction. In order to deepen our understanding of this failure to secure developing country consent, it is necessary to look at the probable reasons for that consent being withheld.

The costs of liberalisation

According to a study produced by Christian Aid, drawing on data from the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, the United Nations and academic studies, trade liberalisation has cost sub-Saharan Africa US$272 billion over the past 20 years, which is

“..roughly what it has received in aid. Effectively, this aid did no more than compensate African countries for the losses they sustained [through trade liberalisation]. Had they not been forced to liberalise…sub-Saharan African countries would have had enough extra income to wipe out their debts and have sufficient left over to pay for every child to be vaccinated and go to school…..The negative effects of trade liberalisation are not confined to Africa. The average loss to the countries in Christian Aid’s study [which included developing nations in Latin America and South Asia] was about 11 per cent of total GDP over 20 years…The total loss for the 32 countries in the study was US$896 billion” (Christian Aid:June 2005:2-4)

The study pointed out that trade liberalisation often leads to harmful trade deficits, as increased imports squeeze local producers in developing countries by causing decline in local demand for their wares, while export opportunities do not increase to compensate (Christian Aid:June 2005:2-4).

Furthermore, both the WDM and Gallagher and Wise point out that the liberalisation that developing countries have undertaken under WTO auspices runs counter to what history tells us about the policies required to foster development. (WDM:2006:5 and Gallagher & Wise:2006:3-4) Development has traditionally involved countries not concentrating on an existing ‘comparative advantage’ in exporting primary products such as agricultural produce, but in creating a new specialisation in more profitable manufacturing industries. Both the “Asian Tiger” economies since World War II and the now developed Western nations before them retained and exercised their freedom to strategically deploy various kinds of trade barriers to protect their infant manufacturing industries. The WDM quotes the economist Erik Reinert, who says that

“Today the application of the rules of the Washington Consensus – essentially that the historically proven procedure of artificially creating a comparative advantage in manufacturing is no longer allowed – means that the road to development that has been followed by absolutely all industrialised countries up until now, is completely blocked for the Third World of today” (WDM:2006:5 – emphasis in original).

Both Christian Aid (Christian Aid:June 2005:6) and the WDM (WDM:2006:6) present statistics to show the correlation between trade liberalisation and increases in poverty. The WDM table, based on data from the United Nations Conference of Trade and Development, is reproduced below. It shows that, contrary to the policies adopted by developing countries under the WTO process, poverty is generally more likely to increase in the absence of moderate (though not stringent) trade protections.


Table 1

Column A - IMF trade restrictiveness index (1 = most open, 10 = most restricted)

Column B - Percentage change un US$1-a-day poverty level in LDCs (figures with every country treated the same, regardless of population)

Column C - Percentage change in US$1-a-day poverty level in LDCs (figures weighted to account for more populous countries)

1 +24 +16
2 +5 +5
3 +4 +2
4 +3 +8
5 -1 -3
6 -1 -1
7 -4 -4
8 -7 -10
9 0 0
10 +6 +5


The costs of liberalisation described by these studies will have been no secret to the developing country governments that suffered the losses in question. And as the Doha round continued it seems likely that many of those governments came to the conclusion that the lessons of history were likely to repeat themselves under the WTO process.

As noted above, pressure was put on the developing nations throughout the Doha round to further open up their economies – now particularly their service industries - to competition from the developed nations (WDM:2006:12, 16-19). The latter saw this as a quid pro quo for any concessions they made. However, not only did the developing nations feel that they had already “paid” significantly as a result of the liberalisation they had undertaken to date, but the concessions now offered by the rich world seemed unlikely to offset any potential further losses. For example, as Charlton and Stiglitz point out, the much trumpeted phasing out of export subsidies by 2013 agreed at Hong Kong represented a mere four per cent of the total support given to agriculture in OECD countries (Charlton & Stiglitz:2006). The developing countries were effectively being offered more of what had cost them so dearly in the past. It was hardly likely that this would assuage their concerns.


I began by noting Esty’s view that “institutions …. win legitimacy and authority because of their capacity to deliver good results..” (Esty:2002:16). I augmented this view of legitimacy with the notion of ‘hegemony’ as used by Gramsci and Arrighi, for whom the hegemony of a certain order was secured not by the sheer coercive dominance of the strongest social group but by the agenda of that order being placed on a “universal plane”. A translation of these principles to the case of the WTO tells us that, for the global trading order to maintain its legitimacy, it will not be sufficient for the wealthy nations and/or the private interests they arguably help to represent in that forum to simply dictate terms to the weaker actors. Those weaker actors – the governments of the developing world, would have to perceive it to be in their interests to grant their consent to this order. As we have seen, the developing countries do not have this perception, and for substantive reasons.

However, there are reasons to believe that the crisis need not be terminal. As mentioned above, the G77 countries had expressed their support in principle to continuing trade liberalisation under WTO auspices in advance of the Seattle meeting of 1999. This indicates that the subject of the crisis of legitimacy under discussion here is the process of WTO liberalisation as it is currently unfolding, rather than the notion of the WTO itself. Should the process continue to offer what, in the perception of many developing nations, are deals that run contrary to their interests, than the crisis will persist and may indeed become terminal. But if WTO trade negotiations can begin demonstrate “their capacity to deliver good results” for the developing world, there is every reason to believe that the forum’s legitimacy could be reasserted.


Arrighi, G., (1994), “The Long Twentieth Century: Money, Power, and the Origins of Our Times”, (London: Verso)

Bhagwati, J., (2001), “After Seattle: free trade and the WTO”, International Affairs, 77(1), 15-29.

Charlton, A. and Stiglitz, J., (2006), “The Doha Round After Hong Kong”, conference paper produced for “An Assessment of the Doha Round after Hong Kong”.

Christian Aid, (June 2005), “The Economics of Failure: The Real Cost of ‘Free’ Trade for Poor Countries”, (London).

Christian Aid, (December 2005), “Christian Aid warns of World Trade Organisation walk out”, (London).

Esty, D.C., (2002), “The World Trade Organisation’s Legitimacy Crisis”, World Trade Review, 1(1), 7-22.

Gallagher, K.P. and Wise, T.A., (2006), “Doha and the Developing Countries: Will the Doha Deal do More Harm Than Good?”, RIS Policy Briefs, 22, (Delhi).

Group of 77, (24 September 1999), “The Twenty-Third Annual Meeting of the Ministers for Foreign Affairs of the Group of 77: Ministerial Declaration”, (New York).

Rice, T. and Talpur, M., (2006), “A Development Analysis of the WTO Hong Kong Declaration”, Action Aid, (London).

Smith, J., (2003), “WTO Mood at Cancun Worsened by NGOs – EU’s Fischeler”, AlertNet. Viewed Online 17 March 2006

World Development Movement (“WDM”), (2006), “Missing Presumed Dead: Whatever happened to the Development Round?”, (London).

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Blair in numbers

Tony Blair has announced that he will step down as Prime Minister on 27 June 2007. Strong stomachs will be required over the next seven weeks as the political classes feed us a steady diet of nostalgia and hagiography. This should reveal, for anyone who doubted it, that something approaching a personality cult exists around Blair, as it did around Thatcher and Reagan before him.

A government memo describing the plans for Blair's departure was leaked last September. Its call for Blair to go "with the crowds wanting more" with the PM as "the star who won't even play that last encore" was the cause of much hilarity from the general commentariat. And yet, pathetically, that's exactly the send off that he is now getting. And more pathetically still, the wails of anguish from the punditocracy as the dear leader departs couldn't be more at odds with the views of the apparently irrelevant public.

So BBC political editor Nick Robinson tells us that "love him or loathe him...Blair will be missed" and will "leave Downing Street after a decade in office without being forced out, and with a smile on his face - a feat which no other modern prime minister has matched". Whilst the BBC's graph tracking Blair's approval rating throughout his time in office, show his support steadily declining from a post-97 election high of around 75 per cent to a current low of less than 25. There are highs and lows, but the trend line heads downwards inexorably. Hard to see what he's smiling about. And if he's not being forced from office, is that his achievement or our democracy's failing?

Then we have the headline on the front page of today's Guardian, which tells us that a "Poll shows [Blair] will leave with voters' respect". The framing of the poll results in question, both in that headline and in the article, are a masterclass in editorial spin. Someone has plainly decided that something positive needed to be said about Blair in this piece. One is almost forced to admire the valiant efforts of hapless writer Julian Glover to make completely contradictory facts support the preordained conclusion.

For instance:

"Despite Iraq and Labour's steep decline in public support, Mr Blair will be remembered as a force for change in Britain - although not necessarily for the better - by 60% of all voters and 70% of Labour ones"

Its hard to see exactly where the word "despite" comes in here, unless one had already decided to say that there were positives in the poll to offset Blair's recent disasters, and then had to find a way to present the facts so as to support this conclusion. As the article admits, being a "force for change" is neither a positive nor a negative, so where's the "on the one hand Iraq, but despite that...." angle here?

I'm sure many Iraqis see Blair as a "force for change".

"Asked to give their impressions of the prime minister, taking into account his entire decade in power, 80 per cent of Labour voters say that he was good for the country. Overall, 44 per cent of voters agree - a rating that stands well ahead of Labour's current position in the polls."

Blair then can at least say that most of the people who vote for his government think he's been good for the country. A mighty achievement. But that still leaves the 56 per cent of the general public who were not able to say the same.

"But despite the police investigation into cash for honours, 44 per cent of all voters and 73 per cent of Labour ones still say that they think Mr Blair was "an honest kind of guy"."

Another curious use of the word "despite". 56 per cent of the public can't say that Blair is honest. More than a quarter of people who actually vote for his government can't say that Blair's honest.

Perhaps I'm missing something, but I can't see anything in this poll that says that Blair "will leave with voters' respect".

Let's look at the results of another poll, which appeared in The Observer last month. See if you can find any of these conclusions fairly reflected in the political obituaries of Blair that appear in the coming weeks.

Respondents are asked to rate Blair from 0 to 10, where where 10 means strongly like, and 0 means strongly dislike. 48 per cent rate him 0, 1, 2 or 3. 24 per cent rate him at 0. 19 per cent rate him in the corresponding 4 places at the top of the scale (7, 8, 9 and 10). 3 per cent rate him at 10.

56 per cent of respondents say their view of Blair has deteriorated over 10 years. 5 per cent like him more.

55 per cent believe that Blair is too influenced by the rich.

57 per cent say Blair "has stayed in office too long". 9 per cent think not long enough.

6 per cent think Blair's performance in office has been very good. 20 think good. That leaves 71 per cent. Of these 42 are evenly split between poor and very poor.

Its unsurprising that 58 per cent think Iraq was Blair's biggest failure. But how many times will we see reflected in political coverage the fact that the next on the list was his presiding over an increase in the gap between rich and poor? That polled 10 per cent, well above the fuel tax (3), foxhunting (3) and Europe (1). Plainly the public and the punditocracy have different political priorities (and the claim of the rightwing tabloids to "speak for Britain" might need a review).

Finally, lets look at the big myth on Blair's popularity - Blair the electoral wizard. Geoffrey Wheatcroft nailed this myth in an article last August. As he points out:

"...that first landslide [1997] needs to be deconstructed. There were several factors at play... The Tory vote collapsed by an astonishing 4 million (not least because rightwing Europhobic parties picked up nearly a million votes)."

"Then the British learned the art of tactical voting for the first time since the 1920s, as demonstrated by the fact that the Lib Dems won more than twice as many seats in 1997 as five years earlier with substantially fewer votes, both absolutely and as a percentage. And finally, as Herbert Morrison put it, "When the British people say something they say it in italics," meaning that our electoral system distorts the result in favour of the winning party, in 1997 giving Blair 63% of parliamentary seats with only 44% of the popular vote."

"Since then it has been downhill all the way. When the desperate last-ditch Blairites talk about Tony's electoral flair, remember that in 1997 Blair and New Labour won fewer popular votes than John Major and the Tories in 1992; that in 2001, Blair won fewer popular votes than Neil Kinnock and Labour in 1992; and that in 2005 Labour won fewer popular votes than the Tories had in the 97 disaster."

"Over three elections under Blair, his party's vote has fallen from 13.5 million to 10.7 million to 9.6 million. And that .....is what statisticians call a trend line."

So Between 1997 and 2005, Labour lost nearly 4 million popular votes; the same amount the Tories lost during the living death of the Major years. And this in the face of no meaningful parliamentary opposition. Yet Major was a disaster and Blair is a magician. And this is the view, not just in the Guardian offices but across the political spectrum, even in Tory central office.

Worth keeping a few of these figures in mind when you're watching TV news or reading the papers over the next few weeks and wondering if you've missed something where Blair's alleged popularity and political skills are concerned.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Venezuela: myth and reality

With a little more time on my hands, and with events in the Middle East in a less ominous state, I would certainly devote more space here to a subject I'm very interested in and haven't written nearly enough about: Latin America in general and Venezuela in particular.
Venezuela has been undergoing some very interesting changes over the past ten years, with a popular government using the nation's oil wealth to combat the grinding levels of poverty that affect most of the population[pdf]. Venezuela has also been a prominent critic of the United States, whose foreign and economic policies devastated Latin America during the twentieth century [pdf]. Indeed, Venezuela has particular reason for taking exception to a Bush Administration that backed a failed coup attempt against the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in 2002.
Getting hold of useful information about Latin America and Venezuela is not straightforward. Mainstream news reporting passes through the standard ideological filters[pdf], with the corporate media unable to forgive Chavez for contradicting the Western script on good governance. This has resulted in some pretty unreliable coverage on the success of Venezuela's economic policies and the state of its democracy. Most bizarre amongst these criticisms are the increasingly desperate attempts to portray President Chavez as a quasi-dictator; though he has regularly contested and won elections that have been certified as free and fair by the most respected of international observers. These inconvenient facts have reduced Chavez's opponents to using dictator-substitute words such as "autocrat" and "strongman", even as the autocrat devolves democratic power to the local level, enlists public participation in writing a new democratic constitution, and removes power from the corrupt political-economic elite that, like their counterparts across Latin America, had ruled the country like a private plantation since the dawn of the Columbian era.
A good example of this sort of media coverage was a piece written by Rory Carroll for the Guardian in January this year. Carroll reported that Chavez had declared himself to be a Communist, which will have surprised many people since Chavez has never described himself in such terms before. The report contained no direct quote where Chavez said "I am a Communist" or words to that effect. I spoke to Carroll by email and, though he insisted that Chavez had indeed called himself a Communist, he wouldn't provide me with a direct quote despite my repeated requests.
Julia Buxton, a British academic expert on Venezuelan affairs, casts further doubt on Carroll's paraphrasing. Buxton told me that:
"Chavez has, as far as [I] know, absolutely never, ever said he was a communist. He has always been explicit in this - only ever a socialist and only ever a Venezuelan model of socialism. There can be Bolivarian socialism and Socialism of the C21st - but each socialism has to refect the historical and social experince of each country."

"Chavez has said he is a christian, a socialist, a democrat etc but always distant from communism - and what he calls the 'failed Marxist experiments of the C20th'" [her emphasis]
But as ever, one does not need to rely on the corporate media. More accurate information can be found on Venezeula if one knows where to look. Academic and former Guardian foreign correspondent Richard Gott is probably the UK's best known expert on the Chavez era. His book on the "Bolivarian Revolution" provides a solid introduction to the socio-economic conditions that gave rise to the current changes. Venezuelanalysis is a good one-stop shop for independent news and comment on Venezuelan affairs. And the Washington based Centre for Economic Policy Research produces detailed analysis of the Venezuelan economy on a fairly regular basis.
I would also highly recommend the work of the above-mentioned British academic Julia Buxton, who is particularly good at challenging mass media misreporting of the situation in Venezuela. Her most recent article "The deepening of Venezuela’s Bolivarian revolution: why most people don’t get it" sheds light on the most recent developments in Venezuela and debunks some of the official Western mythology on the subject.

Few occurences in politics are unambiguously good or bad, but recent events in Venezuela may be viewed with cautious optimisim. If Venezuela can demonstrate that it is possible to defy the dominance of international political-economic power, and chart its own independent path whilst retaining, even deepening its democracy and effectively attending to the needs of its most deprived citizens then it will stand as a source of enormous encouragement to countries across the developing world. Perhaps it is this prospect, the threat of a good example and a functioning challenge to Western power, that so offends Washington and its ideological allies.

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Bad Medicine: the bitter taste of the Anglo-Saxon model

My latest piece, Bad Medicine, on UK coverage of the French presidential election, is available now on the UK Watch blog.
An excerpt:
"In recent weeks, our political class has gleefully taken the French presidential election as a high profile opportunity to bang the drum for the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ economic model. For British commentators, the French malady of high unemployment and general inefficiency can have but one cure: the French must accept that we were right and they were wrong, and take their neo-liberal medicine.
In February this year, UNICEF produced a study of child welfare in the industrialised countries. British children were found to be the worst off out of those in twenty one developed economies. After nearly three decades of neoliberalism post-1979, child poverty had doubled. France may have only come sixteenth out of twenty one. But it came five places higher than the country whose model the UK commentariat are so keen for it to adopt. In fact, it was Holland, Sweden, Denmark and Finland – the countries operating the so called “Nordic” economic model – that came in first, second, third and fourth"
Read the rest here.
Also on the elections, gender in the Royal v Sarkozy debate and an interesting deconstruction of the Financial Times' take on the French economy.

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