By Thomas W. Welch, J.D., American International Regulatory Coherence Institute
“If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”
James Madison – The Federalist Papers, 1788
International legal scholars are now debating Russia’s compliance with previous international agreements, including the UN Charter, and the Budapest Memorandum whereby Ukraine (probably regrettably) gave up many of its nuclear weapons. At the same time, there is Syria’s reported refusal to abide by UN Security Council resolutions, and its reported failure to tender most of its chemical weapons to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) as required by the (1997) U.N. Chemical Weapons Convention. There is, of course, much more that lurks beneath the surface.
Old legal regimes must constantly evolve and adapt, but in my view, there are too many essentially unenforceable agreements, and too many enforcement actions that are actually compromised in secret. Certainly, deliberations and negotiations require a reasonable period of non-public investigation and confidentiality. Political accountability, however, requires that everyone expect that those activities will eventually come to light– in time for some public accountability.
The Political Exploitation of Vietnam
A few notorious examples from past American history are, perhaps, instructive. For example, we now know that millions died in Vietnam and Cambodia for mostly political reasons. As explained by Wikipedia:
In May 1961, U.S. Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson visited Saigon and enthusiastically declared [Vietnamese President] Diệm the “Winston Churchill of Asia.” Asked why he had made the comment, Johnson replied, “Diệm’s the only boy we got out there.” Johnson assured Diệm of more aid in molding a fighting force that could resist the communists….
[Only two years later] …U.S. officials began discussing the possibility of a regime change during the middle of 1963. The United States Department of State was generally in favor of encouraging a coup, while the Defense Department favored Diệm. … This proposal was conveyed to the U.S. embassy in Saigon in Cable 243...The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was in contact with generals planning to remove Diệm. They were told that the United States would not oppose such a move nor punish the generals by cutting off aid. President Diệm was overthrown and executed, along with his brother, on 2 November 1963. When he was informed, Maxwell Taylor remembered that Kennedy “rushed from the room with a look of shock and dismay on his face.”
The Cuban[/Turkish] Missile Crisis
Astoundingly, even Americans only recently learned that, in the interveening 1962 Cuban (and Turkey) missile crisis, Attorney General Robert Kennedy ultimately notified Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin that U.S. missiles in Turkey would be withdrawn within months of withdrawal of Soviet missiles from Cuba, but it was imperative, for domestic American political reasons that the linkage of the withdrawals not be announced.
Upper: President John Kennedy signs the Proclamation for Interdiction of the Delivery of Offensive Weapons to Cuba. White House, Oval Office, 23 October 1962, and lower: Robert Kennedy speaking to a civil rights crowd in front of the Justice Department on June 14, 1963. Source: Wikipedia Commons.
Curiously, there is still incomplete knowledge about even the Cuban Missile Crisis, because many of Robert Kennedy’s files still have not been released over 52 years later! [Also remarkable is that some that lauded President Kennedy's extension of the so-called, "Monroe Doctrine", apparently (hypocritically) criticize Russia now for essentially exercising the same policy.] Both Kennedys were later assassinated under mysterious circumstances.
The Gulf of Tonkin Ruse
Shortly thereafter, many now contend that the American government secretly withheld evidence that the Vietnam conflict was later escalated by President Johnson under false pretenses:
…On 2 August 1964, the USS Maddox, on an intelligence mission along North Vietnam’s coast, allegedly fired upon and damaged several torpedo boats that had been stalking it in the Gulf of Tonkin. A second attack was reported two days later on the USS Turner Joy and Maddox in the same area. The circumstances of the attack were murky. Lyndon Johnson commented to Undersecretary of State George Ball that “those sailors out there may have been shooting at flying fish.” The second attack led to retaliatory air strikes, prompted Congress to approve the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution on 7 August 1964, signed by Johnson, and gave the president power to conduct military operations in Southeast Asia without declaring war.
White house tapes released in 2003, and later admissions by those involved, suggest that the attacks were also staged for political reasons, to influence the upcoming presidential election in November, 1964. This same tactic was purportedly implemented in 1968 by President Nixon via the secret sabotage of the Vietnam peace talks, but many contemporaneous records are still unavailable.
Today’s Transparency and Accountability Issues
On the fundamental conflicts between transparency and confidentiality, as discussed in this blog before, the development of balanced and verifiable international standards is needed. The recent cell-phone conversation and other revelations by Victoria Nuland, for example, exemplify how difficult it is to timely inform the taxpayers’ domestic representatives without also potentially informing the world. Because of this, bureaucrats and autocrats the world over hide too much. Just as Kennedy’s staff and family withheld, and are still withholding, information from the American electorate, we are unlikely to learn the full interplay and “horse-trading” that is constantly transpiring behind the Government scenes today– especially in those many Governments around the world that remain essentially opaque. While some confidentiality is necessary to protect strategies, deliberations and negotiations, confidentiality is also often exploited to hide corruption and suppress political opposition; particularly where there is no reliable whistleblower protections, nor peer review, and no third-party auditing or verification system yet in place. Where public accountability is absent for as much as 50 years, after most of the actors have died, a government cannot effectively control itself.
In fact, there are also (at least) 4, contentious, international transparency negotiations between the larger, space, nuclear, chemical and biological powers that merit particular note and attention, but aren’t being covered in most journals or the press. Each of these efforts essentially concern consensus standards and rapidly evolving technologies that could be also be detrimental to international and regional security and stability. Is it possible that they have been retarded because they also threaten very powerful, opposing vested interests?
First, one must always ‘follow the money.’ The recent G8 Open Data Charter, if actually implemented by the Russian Federation and other powers, would be a decent step forward in more direct transparency to the electorate. However, there are also long awaited taxpayer information exchange proposals via OECD, the G20, and cooperating financial regulators proposed for this year. Has Russia really committed to the last G8 proposal to seek tax transparency on tax havens? The WTO and WCO have also just proposed to increase customs data exchanges and rules on government procurements. Will the sources of billionaire oligarchs’ money now be effectively followed by foreign authorities? Could hidden autocrat and crony money, stashed in still opaque tax havens away from the prying eyes of political opponents, potentially be the real problem?
Internet freedom is also fundamental to this new, proposed transparency, and the luminaries from the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos are reportedly trying to avoid a possible “balkanization” of a number of pesky, Internet-related topics, including big data, privacy, consent, the right to anonymity, and trans-border access and storage of data.
The (colorful and still evolving) history of ‘Balkanization’ from 1800-2008 from Wikipedia Commons
In January, the WEF announced an ”independent” new Commission named the Global Commission on Internet Governance, chaired by Mr. Carl Bildt, Sweden’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, which seeks to resolve the many issues raised in the “Dubai 2012” World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) round. Why isn’t the world press covering that work?
Concurrently, many countries’ government authorities are negotiating agreements that could also impact their exchanges of regulatory data via the internet. In fact, the EU and many other countries are negotiating a complex array of bilateral and plurilateral trade agreements that could directly affect the exchange of all kinds of regulatory data, including financial and procurement transactions, insider trading and tax compliance. Conversely, the EU Parliament has just voted to greatly restrict the data that can be obtained and used, especially by foreign governments.
Last, but certainly not least, there are the attempts to control hard and soft weapons, and many old defense treaties (such as the Chemical and Biological Weapons Conventions [mysteriously originated by President Nixon in 1969]) with old inspection regimes that have become essentially unenforceable in most of the world. The Wassenaar Arrangement, for example, is a group of only 41 countries focused on export controls for conventional arms and dual-use goods and technology. Those countries reportedly agreed at its Dec. 3-4 annual plenary meeting in Austria on new export controls on cybersecurity technologies that “…under certain conditions may be detrimental to international and regional security and stability. One area subject to the controls (which must be implemented by each WA member country, including the U.S.) is surveillance and law enforcement/intelligence gathering tools, which Privacy International states includes malware and rootkits that governments can use to avoid security features on electronic devices and extract data from and take control of them.”
Without more transparency, all a voter has now is questions: Why didn’t the press report on all the nonfunctioning treaties? Why hasn’t the White House or Congress been discussing foreign transparencies? When must these negotiations and enforcement deficits be ultimately disclosed? Will nonmembers be inclined to join, or will secret gaming continue to imperil the lives of innocent bystanders to hidden economic and political agendas? The threats of dysfunctional global governance are still very real.