Sunday, June 18, 2006

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

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

"What's your favorite international governmental organization?"
OK, that never actually happens -- we're not that geeky, and most IR types I know are oenophiles rather than whiskey-drinkers, and on the whole we can't afford good port.

This is too bad, because I have an answer -- the International Whaling Commission.

The IWC has a fun history. Originally set up by countries with active whaling industries, powerful members shifted policies once environmentalists became a more influential domestic lobby than whalers. By 1986, the IWC had institued a ban on all commercial whaling.

At present, the United States supports a ban on the commercial hunting of all whales to protect the endangered species. Because of their politically powerful whaling industries – and consumer preferences for whale meat – Japan and several Scandinavian countries prefer reversing the ban. Japan has tried to circumvent this rule by authorizing the hunting of more than 500 whales in the North Pacific, ostensibly for scientific research – but much of the whale meat harvested from these scientific hunts has found its way into commercial restaurants.

In an effort to alter the status quo, Japan has attempted to pack the IWC membership with loyal votes, paying membership dues so microstates such as Dominica, Grenada, and the Solomon Islands can join. These countries have consistently supported Japan’s position in return for large dollops of official development assistance, preventing the creation of new sanctuaries for whales in the South Pacific.

This, by the way, is why I love the IWC -- it's not that there isn't vote-buying in other venues (including the UN Security Council), it's just that the bribery at the IWC is so wonderfully blatant.

This leads us to today's plenary meering. Let's start with the Independent's rather hyperbolic coverage:

The environment movement suffered one of its greatest reverses late last night when pro-whaling countries, led by Japan, gained control of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and immediately began undermining the 20-year-old international whaling moratorium.

In a stunning diplomatic coup, Japan and its allies, including Norway and Iceland, won a voting majority in the IWC for the first time, as a result of a remorseless 10-year Japanese campaign to secure the votes of small African and Caribbean countries in exchange for multimillion-dollar foreign aid packages.

At the IWC meeting at St Kitts and Nevis in the West Indies, the pro-whalers scraped home on a catch-all resolution that condemned the moratorium as invalid, blamed whales for depleting the fish stocks of poor countries, and attacked environmental pressure groups campaigning against whaling such as Greenpeace.

The vote on the so-called "St Kitts and Nevis Declaration" was won by 33 votes to 32, with one nation - China - abstaining. The Japanese had been widely expected to achieve a majority in the meeting after bringing three new states into the IWC this year to vote on their side - Cambodia, the Marshall Islands and Guatemala - but they had lost four earlier votes by narrow margins.

Yet that does not matter now. The simple 51 per cent majority they have now secured will not allow them to scrap the moratorium directly - for that they need a majority of 75 per cent. But for them it is an enormous moral victory, and its significance was immediately realised by opponents and supporters of whaling alike.

I think the Independent is hyperventilating just a bit (click here for the more buttoned-down AP report). Here's why.

First, the pro-whaling coalition still needs to get another 25% of the membership on their side.

Second, the pro-whaling coalition has a point -- there are some species of whales which are not endangered. The Economist (subscription required) points out that not even Japan is proposing hunting blue whales or other endangered species right now. UPDATE: This Joshua Kurlantzick piece from 2004 in The New Republic makes the policy and gastronomic case for why the whaling ban should be partially lifted.

Third, the United States and other anti-whaling countries have not begun to bribe (though they have in the past). I therefore predict a vast expansion of the IWC's membership over the next few years, as both pro and and anti-whaling countries sponsor members.

Which leads to the question at the top of this post.

posted by Dan on 06.18.06 at 11:38 PM


OOOhhhhwho oooohieayAAAYa Whoooohuuuuuuauauauw.

posted by: Shamu on 06.18.06 at 11:38 PM [permalink]

Joe: Do you know eskimos eat whale fat and blubber?

Blow: Well you would, too, if you ate whale fat.

posted by: Willy on 06.18.06 at 11:38 PM [permalink]

Port isn't that expensive. YOu can get pretty good late bottled vintage port for

posted by: erg on 06.18.06 at 11:38 PM [permalink]

This story is ripe for 60 minutes

posted by: cg on 06.18.06 at 11:38 PM [permalink]

Actually the vote-buying and vote-packing is not all on one side. Take a look at the anti-whaling votes. Such maritime giants as San Marino, Monaco, Luxemburg, Slovakia and Hungary.

posted by: Martin Adamson on 06.18.06 at 11:38 PM [permalink]

My bride and I have visited St K and N twice. It is an idyllic place. In addition to Japan's largesse, they also receive a LOT of money from Kuwait.

posted by: Citizen Deux on 06.18.06 at 11:38 PM [permalink]

From what I've read, there isn't actually that much consumer demand for whale meat. It seems that it's more about power and control than anyone actually wanting to eat the stuff. By all accounts it's not even that nice...

posted by: Stu on 06.18.06 at 11:38 PM [permalink]

It should be a rule that no landlock country can be on the IWC.

posted by: JohnAnnArbor on 06.18.06 at 11:38 PM [permalink]

I ate whale meat once, many years ago when it was still acceptable. (It was in Boston, an old whaling town. Bona-fide cultural attribute and all that, which also explains why Norwegians in Minnesota eat lutefisk.)

The meat tasted like some kind of compromise between fish and liver. Still better than lutefisk, mind you ...

Dr. Ellen

posted by: Ellen on 06.18.06 at 11:38 PM [permalink]

The Japanese may well want to restore whaling for gustatory reasons, but I don't think that's so for Iceland. Fishing is a huge industry for Iceland and a rebounding whale population competes for fishing stock with Iceland's fleet. Iceland's marine commission assigns quotas in order to ensure the health and stability of fishing stocks. More whales equals lower quota. With respect to non-endagered whale species, i think Iceland's point is that it is like telling a farmer he can't kill pests who eat his crops.

posted by: Ben_H on 06.18.06 at 11:38 PM [permalink]

Taste like a cross between California Condor and Tiger

posted by: Kostoglotov on 06.18.06 at 11:38 PM [permalink]

Seeing as whales eat microscopic sea life (as opposed to fish) I think you're a bit off on your post.

In otherwords, Whales don't eat fish.

posted by: bmasso on 06.18.06 at 11:38 PM [permalink]


While certain species do exist solely off of plankton, there are several species of toothed whales (sperm, beluga, and narwhal come directly to mind) that do eat fish. And seals. And anything else that can't swim fast enough to get away from them. Or kill them first.

And all three of those are on the endangered lists, so they wouldn't come under the expanded hunting protocols anyways.

But you have to wonder if the protocols will cover non-endangered species of dolphin...

posted by: Off Colfax on 06.18.06 at 11:38 PM [permalink]

There is no need whatever for us to kill whales. The stuff about fish stocks is hogwash. The countries that claim this are simply trying to hang on to their traditional hunting preferences. Dolphins are slaughtered wholesale in the south Pacific, BTW.

posted by: Dave F on 06.18.06 at 11:38 PM [permalink]

These people are trying to destroy the Earth, but thankfully Cpt. Kirk can travel back in time, grab a couple of whales and head back to the Future with them, there by saving the Earth.

posted by: James Stephenson on 06.18.06 at 11:38 PM [permalink]

Seeing as whales eat microscopic sea life (as opposed to fish) I think you're a bit off on your post.

Kinda depends on the kind of whale under discussion, as Off Colfax mentions. Orcas will eat whatever they can catch- up to and including sharks and other whales.

posted by: rosignol on 06.18.06 at 11:38 PM [permalink]

A friend who visited Norway not too long ago presented me with some whale meat jerky and I have to say, it wasn't really all that good; it was almost completely black, had a horrible texture and the taste left many things to be desired.

posted by: Nillion on 06.18.06 at 11:38 PM [permalink]

So, if whaling passes the "global test" will Democrats support it?

posted by: chairman me on 06.18.06 at 11:38 PM [permalink]

The small sample above shows that Europeans just dont like whale meat and by extension, abhor those eating it. The Japanese are making an heroic effort to preserve their traditional culture. Is it fair to force them to feed on American beef hamburgers? Let them eat their beloved raw fish and whale meat with seaweed.

Nota Bene: Hungary is a traditional maritime power. Admiral Horthy was its regent not long ago. Some of the Salomon Islands were discovered by the Hungarian Navy and named after Hungarian royalty. The Trianon treaty, unjustly, left it - temporarily - a sealess chunk of a country. Nem, nem, soha!

posted by: jaimito on 06.18.06 at 11:38 PM [permalink]

Whale sashimi is mediocre--really heavy and you cannot get over the thought of the possible serious parasitic infection. Cooked, Minke whale would probably be something close to beef liver in appearance and texture. My daughter, who has had it in her school lunches, says it is delicious.

Sperm whale meat would probably be inedible, unless the whales have a way of neutralizing the ammonia in their primary prey, giant squid.

Orcas are in no way endangered--but eating their flesh would probably lead to neurological damage. As the predator at the absolute top of the food chain, orcas are absolutely dripping with mercury.

The Economist got the facts wrong: Japanese whalers hunted humpbacks off Australia this year for the first time. Whether they caught any is unclear.

IWC negotiations are the only substantial negotiations still handled by Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries bureaucrats alone. It is their one chance to "defend Japan's honor" without interference from METI or MOFA. Stuck as they are in an increasingly irrelevant ministry, MAFF bureaucrats love driving the regular diplomatic corps of METI and MOFA into despair.

Nothing gives MAFF bureaucrats bigger hard-ons (MAFF bureaucrats are always men), however, than provoking anti-whaling protestors. Though smug recitations of transparent lies and hyperbolic language (one of the more masterful MAFF negotiators called Minke whales "the cockroaches of the sea") they push the anti-whaling crown into responding with bigoted, anti-Japanese screeds.

The regular diplomatic corps hates the damage the MAFF does to Japan's image. They also hate doling out the ODA giveaways to IWC freeloaders. Buying IWC votes wastes resources that could be better deployed in countering Chinese influence in Asia, Africa or Latin America. IWC vote buying also pisses off English-speaking Pacific countries and non-Scandinavian Europeans.

posted by: MTC on 06.18.06 at 11:38 PM [permalink]

With respect, I give no weight to an American´s opinion on whalemeat shushimi. Whalemeat has no taste in itself, one's genetic makeup and cultural milieu makes it great or abominable. And hunger, who is the best cook. BTW, was it Reagan or Carter that vomited in a Japanese State banquet?

This whale issue is overdone, like the fried puppy the Koreans served to indignant European visitors. My Asian hosts always politely accept that my religion forbids me to eat their food.

That brings me to the point that we are not only forbidding Japanese to give up their beloved whalemeat, but we are forcing down their throats our beef burgers that make them sick and milk products that they cannot digest (the lack the enzime for it). Japan has lifted today its ban on U.S. beef imports. It had banned American beef in 2003 after the first case of mad-cow disease was reported, but imports resumed briefly before being halted again after a shipment of veal that contained backbone -- which is considered high-risk. The easing of the ban will give U.S. ranchers access to what was once their most lucrative foreign market

posted by: jaimito on 06.18.06 at 11:38 PM [permalink]

jaimito - I can't see how lifting a trade ban is equivalent to forcing anything down people's throats. Well, I am only an economist.

posted by: puzzled on 06.18.06 at 11:38 PM [permalink]

jaimito -

Bush Senior fell ill at a banquet in Tokyo in 1992.

Milk, cheese and beef are all consumed in vast quantities in Japan. Much of it is imported; much of it is not.

The American "beef" is that the Japanese government banned imports from the gigantic beef industry of the United States, where there have been two confirmed cases of BSE, while not banning the consumption of beef coming out of the tiny Japanese industry, where there have been 26 confirmed cases.

The ban on beef from the U.S. has led to classic replacement strategies. Beef imports from the United States have been replaced with beef imports from Australia and other Pacific producers. Dishes that used to contain beef are being produced--temporarily, the restaurants insist--with pork, much of it imported from Mexico.

As for your dismissal of my tastebuds on the basis of my passport, you are a throwback to the 19th century. Welcome to the 21st.

posted by: MTC on 06.18.06 at 11:38 PM [permalink]

No one is dismissing Mr MTC´s honorable taste buds, but the Japanese are adapted to feed on farm and sea products, while pastoral peoples have been selected to thrive on beef and milk. In fact, Japanese much prefer fish to beef, and milk gives them stomach ache.

Regarding protecting weak local industry against foreign competition, it is very unjust. And so real world.

Waging a campaign to discourage the consumption of whale meat by cutting its supply, and offering cheap and prestigious American substitutes ... what it is called by economists? A coincidence?

posted by: jaimito on 06.18.06 at 11:38 PM [permalink]

jaimito -

Adopting your fantabulist view that Japanese (a mixture of Polynesian and continental peoples) are adapted to eating farm and sea products (since one quarter of the pre-modern population was living in mountain and foothill villages with little access to sea products aside from salt, are their descendants not "real Japanese"?) we are nevertheless left with a conundrum--since whales are mammals and cows are mammals, their flesh more similar to each other than whale flesh is to fish flesh.

Where does seal eating fit into your reductionist schema?

posted by: MTC on 06.18.06 at 11:38 PM [permalink]


The issue here is the management of a shared resource, the problem of the commons. Does IWH a good job?

Japanese and Americans seem to be talking about different things. For the The Japanese, whales are tasty sea food, reproducing like cockroaches. For Americans, whales are decorative props in a marine theme park, sacred sea monsters.

posted by: jaimito on 06.18.06 at 11:38 PM [permalink]


The issue here is the management of a shared resource, the problem of the commons. Does IWH a good job?

Japanese and Americans seem to be talking about different things. For the The Japanese, whales are tasty sea food, reproducing like cockroaches. For Americans, whales are decorative props in a marine theme park, sacred sea monsters.

posted by: jaimito on 06.18.06 at 11:38 PM [permalink]


The issue here is the management of a shared resource, the problem of the commons. Does IWH a good job?

Japanese and Americans seem to be talking about different things. For the The Japanese, whales are tasty sea food, reproducing like cockroaches. For Americans, whales are decorative props in a marine theme park, sacred sea monsters.

posted by: jaimito on 06.18.06 at 11:38 PM [permalink]

qurg jlca jerfnciv yevpxz eusi upbxeazv edryvufo

posted by: yghemlr hrzf on 06.18.06 at 11:38 PM [permalink]

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