Tag: united nations

The United Nations Migration Compact - In Context

Some member states of the United Nations just adopted the “Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.”  The compact is a legally non-binding statement of principles regarding the treatment of non-humanitarian immigrants, the sharing of information, support for the rule of law in adjudicating immigration matters, and international cooperation.  Practically, this compact does not amount to much as it is legally non-binding and doesn’t change any laws.  However, the compact has garnered a lot of international attention since the United States, Austria, Australia, Chile, the Czech Republic, Italy, Hungary, Poland, Latvia, Slovakia, and the Dominican Republic pulled out of the drafting and negotiation process. 


The obvious context of the contentious debate over the compact is the rise of anti-immigration politics in much of the world – especially in the countries that dropped out of drafting the compact.  Additional context comes from the United Nations World Population Policies Database, which was last updated in 2015.  It designated the legal immigration policies of countries in the recent past.  The broad policies are to maintain current levels of immigration, raise them, lower them, no intervention, and no official legal immigration policy.  The database is constructed of answers to multiple choice questions about legal immigration policy by bureaucrats in national immigration departments and bureaus that implement immigration policy. 


Of the ten countries that dropped out of the migration compact, seven had a government policy to maintain levels of legal immigration, two had a policy to raise legal immigration, and one had no official policy on the matter as of 2015.  Over the following three years, all ten of these countries dropped out of the migration compact.  Dropping out doesn’t matter for actual policy today as the migration compact doesn’t change any laws, but it does signal how rapidly national policy positions can change in just a short time.  The 2017 responses to these questions have not been released yet, but I suspect that bureaucrats in those countries will have very different answers from what they gave in 2015.


Globally, 61 percent of governments in the world had a policy to maintain their current levels of immigration as of 2015 (Figure 1).  Twelve percent had policies to raise their levels of immigration and 13 percent to lower them.  In 1996, 30 percent of governments had policies to maintain levels of immigration, 4 percent had policies to raise the level of immigration, and 40 percent sought to lower the levels.  Worldwide immigration policies changed dramatically from 1996 to 2015 and they are likely to be shifting back somewhat. 


Figure 1: National Immigration Policies


Figure 2 shows national immigration policies in 2015 controlling for population.  Fifty-five percent of the world’s population lived in a country with a policy to maintain the level of legal immigration in 2015, compared to 29 percent who lived in a country with a policy of raising it, and 10 percent with a country that wanted to lower it.  The results here are quite different relative to Figure 1 where each country is weighted equally.  Many more people lived in countries with policies to raise levels of immigration than in countries to lower them. 


Over time, the difference is even starker.  In 1996, 59 percent of people in the world lived in countries with a policy to maintain current levels of legal immigration, 30 percent lived in countries with a policy to lower immigration, and only 0.4 percent lived in countries with a policy to increase legal immigration.  As a percentage of the world population, 74 times as many people lived in countries with more open immigration policies in 2015 than in 1996.


Figure 2: National Immigration Policies, Controlled for Population


The ten countries that dropped out of the Global Migration Compact show that many governments in the world are turning against legal immigration in symbolic ways.  Their individual national policies have likely shifted in a more restrictive direction as well.  However, countries in the world had much more open immigration policies in 2015 than in 1996.  Although the current global trend is worrying, it would be very difficult to roll back all the global gains over the last several decades. 


Overwhelming Resistance to Trump’s Plan to Scuttle the Iran Deal

This has not been a good week for President Trump’s Iran policy. As the president has indicated, he plans in mid-October to decertify Iranian compliance with the nuclear deal, or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), negotiated and signed in 2015, which rolled back Iran’s nuclear program, placed severe restrictions on it for the foreseeable future, and imposed the world’s most intrusive inspections regime on what remained.

Leaving aside for now the various and profoundly negative ramifications of Trump’s stated intention to declare Iran in violation of the agreement, the most immediate problem for the president has always been that Iran is, in fact, not in violation of the deal. As attested to by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and all other signatories to the agreement – including Germany, France, the United Kingdom, China, and Russia – Iran is fully compliant with its obligations under the JCPOA.

But this week brought significant pushback to Trump’s plan. Following the president’s speech to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, world leaders and diplomats reportedly pressured the president and members of his administration in numerous meetings to reconsider his plan to scuttle the JCPOA. Allies publicly criticized him. “Renouncing [the Iran deal] would be a grave error, not respecting it would be irresponsible,” said the French president Emmanuel Macron, suggesting further that decertification could create another nuclear crisis like North Korea.

In a press conference following a meeting with representatives from every signatory country, Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union, said that if the United States walks out of the deal, Europe would make sure it remains in place anyways. She further indicated, “The international community cannot afford dismantling an agreement that is working and delivering…Iran is complying.”

Mogherini confirmed that all of the parties to the JCPOA, including the United States, agreed in the closed-door meeting that “there is no violation.” This prompted questions for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who had to sheepishly admit that “from a technical standpoint, the IAEA reports continue to indicate and confirm that Iran is in technical compliance of the agreement.”

Foreign Policy reported that the Trump administration’s ploy to use the threat of decertification to reopen negotiations on the JCPOA and squeeze more concessions out of Iran “collapsed on Wednesday as key European powers persevered in their effort to rescue the deal from an American walkout, and Iran’s president made clear his government wouldn’t revisit the terms of the pact.” The New York Times reported that Trump’s repudiation of the international consensus and his brash denunciation of the JCPOA was unintentionally generating global sympathy for Iran, while damaging U.S. credibility and trust.

Even members of Trump’s own party began to break ranks. On Tuesday, Rep. Ed Royce, Republican Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told CNN that Trump should not withdraw from the Iran deal, but rather continue to “enforce the hell out of it.” Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), who opposed the deal when it was signed in 2015, told reporters, “if [Iran is] complying with it, I think we should stay in it.”

Then, on Wednesday afternoon, the Commander of U.S. Strategic Command, General John Hyten, in a speech at the Hudson Institute, said, “The facts are that Iran is operating under the agreement that we signed up for under JCPOA… We have an agreement that our nation has signed and I believe that if the United States of America signs an agreement, it’s our job to live up to the terms of that agreement, it’s our job to enforce that.”

It’s not clear that this overwhelming resistance to decertification will dissuade President Trump. But the American people should know that if Trump goes through with it, he’ll be doing it in defiance of the facts, the international community, much of his own cabinet, and at least some prominent members of his own party.

This may soon become Congress’s responsibility. According to legislation passed subsequent to the signing of the JCPOA, that requires the president to certify Iranian compliance every 90-days, decertification triggers a 60-day clock for Congress to decide by majority vote whether to re-impose nuclear-related sanctions on Iran. A decision to do so and join President Trump in his misbegotten scheme to unravel the Iran deal would be dangerous and irresponsible.

Cynical Hawks Exploit North Korea Crisis to Torpedo Iran Agreement

Donald Trump’s speech to the UN General Assembly underscored his intention to adopt highly confrontational policies toward both North Korea and Iran.  He threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea in the event of war and re-emphasized Washington’s long-standing determination to compel Pyongyang to renounce its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The president scorned Iran as “an economically depleted rogue state” and described the current multilateral nuclear agreement with Tehran as “an embarrassment” to the United States. If Trump is not merely engaging in bombast, Washington appears to be ginning-up two major foreign policy crises simultaneously.

As I discuss in a new article in the National Interest Online, administration officials and hawks throughout the U.S. foreign policy community increasingly link the issues involving the two countries. Specifically, they seek to use the surge of tensions surrounding Pyongyang’s behavior to scuttle the P5+1 agreement, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), that President Obama and other international leaders negotiated to place limits on Tehran’s nuclear activities.

Hawks contend that their goal is to “renegotiate” the JCPOA and produce a new agreement that would put greater restraints on Iran. However, statements past and present from leading neoconservative militants such as former U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton, Foreign Policy Institute scholar Joshua Muravchik, and Colonel Ralph Peters, the former commander of U.S. forces in Okinawa, intensify suspicions that the real goal is forcible regime change. Those individuals and their ideological allies were in the forefront of the campaign that lured the United States into the disastrous regime-change war in Iraq, and apparently they want a second crusade against a Middle East regime.

The attack on the JCPOA suffers from one embarrassing difficulty: despite the allegations of UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and other Trump administration officials, the bulk of the evidence indicates that Iran has complied with its obligations under the agreement. President Trump and his advisers must resort to expressing complaints that Tehran is violating “the spirit” of the accord. That is an extremely lame argument. A key reason why nations spell out the binding aspects of an agreement through written provisions rather than relying on oral comments and handshakes is that disagreements about the spirit or intentions could be endless.

An increasingly popular line of argument among proponents of a militant policy toward Tehran is that North Korea’s behavior is a harbinger of what the United States will face regarding Iran, if Washington does not harden its approach. Hawks openly excoriate Bill Clinton for concluding the 1994 nuclear agreement with North Korea. Clinton’s naïve decision, they argue, enabled Pyongyang to flout the so-called restraints on its nuclear program, and we now face a much worse situation than we did two decades ago. They emphasize that U.S. leaders must not make the same error by adhering to a similar, fatally flawed, agreement with Iran.

Using North Korea’s conduct as an excuse to trash the nuclear agreement with Iran is dangerous ploy. The alternative to the JCPOA is not “a better agreement.” Both Tehran and the other members of the P5+1 (Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China) have all made it clear that they vehemently oppose reopening negotiations. The United States stands alone in taking the contrary stance. The real alternatives to the JCPOA are a renewed Iranian nuclear-weapons program and a subsequent U.S. war against Iran. The former would be distressing, the latter would be catastrophic.

Even venturing down that path underscores the broader problem with U.S. policy toward Iran. North Korea is an obnoxious little state, and its nuclear ambitions are worrisome, but the country has little significance beyond its immediate neighborhood. Matters are quite different with Iran. Like it or not, that country is a major diplomatic, military, and economic player throughout the Middle East and even into Central and Southwest Asia. As the principal representative of Islam’s Shia branch, Tehran exercises considerable influence in such countries as Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen. Trying to isolate Iran has been—and will continue to be—an exercise in futility. And launching a military attack on that country would trigger another disastrous war in the Middle East with far-reaching and entirely negative consequences. The Trump administration needs to ignore the hawks and adopt a more sensible policy.

Nikki Haley’s Alternative Facts on Iran

In an address at the American Enterprise Institute today, Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, laid out an assertive and fundamentally misleading case against continuing U.S. participation in the Iranian nuclear deal.

Though Haley was careful to note that she was not calling for the United States to actively withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), she offered a selection of ‘alternative facts’ and carefully phrased arguments clearly aimed at justifying President Trump’s desire to do just that.  

Haley’s arguments carefully skirted around the actual facts. The key problem for the Trump administration’s desire to withdraw from the JCPOA is simple: Iran is actually adhering to the terms of the deal. Rather than attacking the deal head on, therefore, Haley instead argued that the United States should consider factors outside the legal scope of the deal when deciding its future.

Indeed, though she cited many different reasons to take a harder line against Iran - including a litany of Iran’s past bad behaviors, the regime’s actions in Syria and elsewhere, and its missile testing – none of these are actually covered by the nuclear deal. Haley even suggested that Iran could have hundreds of covert nuclear sites which cannot be inspected under the deal, but offered no evidence for her assertion.

Her portrayal of the nuclear agreement was also misleading. As she described it: “the deal he [President Obama] struck wasn’t supposed to just be about nuclear weapons. It was meant to be an opening with Iran; a welcoming back into the community of nations.” In Haley’s account, these broad goals justify the use of a broader lens in deciding whether to stick with the deal or not. 

There’s just one problem: the Obama administration was always clear to stress that the JCPOA was first and foremost a nonproliferation agreement, focused on preventing an Iranian bomb, not on fixing every problem in the U.S.-Iranian relationship. Though she never stated it so bluntly, Haley’s remarks amount to an argument that these broader issues are worth jettisoning even a successful nonproliferation agreement that is preventing an Iranian nuclear weapon. 

Perhaps the most misleading statement in the Ambassador’s remarks was her assertion that Trump’s choice to decertify the deal would not actually amount to U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA, but would merely allow congress to debate the issue. Yet it would also result in a congressional vote on re-imposing nuclear related sanctions on Iran, potentially withdrawing the United States from the deal and splitting us from European allies.

Unusually for this administration, Nikki Haley’s arguments today were well-crafted, clearly delivered and plausible-sounding. But listeners should not be fooled: they nonetheless embraced the Trump administration’s universe of ‘alternative facts.’

U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA could easily set Iran back on the path to a nuclear weapon, and re-open the debate over military action which occurred prior to the finalization of the nuclear deal. By ignoring the risks and eliding basic facts, Haley’s arguments are likely only to undermine U.S. foreign policy.


Confusion at the U.N.

This week, the United Nations’ special rapporteur for housing presented a new report in Geneva. In it, she condemns the evils of “deregulation of housing markets,” “capital investment in housing,” “excess global capital,” and even takes neo-liberalism to task twice over its “requirement that private actors ‘do no harm’” and “do not violate the rights of others.” Who knew that respecting individual rights was controversial? 

Included in the report are superstitious allusions to banks, investors, and money. Throughout, the U.N.’s special rapporteur trains her angst on markets, and concludes that markets are “undermining the realization of housing as a human right.”

However, in spite of burdensome regulation, worldwide markets are becoming better at providing housing to the poor. For evidence, just look at the data: the percentage of the urban population that is living in slums (houses with inadequate space, sanitation, water, durability, or security) has fallen consistently over the past twenty-five years. 

chart 1a

No Mr. President, Mexico Is Not “Absorbing a Great Number of Refugees”

On Tuesday, President Obama delivered a short address to the Leaders Summit on Refugees at the United Nations.  He went out of his way to praise the Mexican government by stating:“Mexico … is absorbing a great number of refugees from Central America.” 

In reality, the Mexican government has done very little to absorb refugees.  From 2013 to 2015, Mexico only recognized 720 refugees from Honduras, 721 from El Salvador, and 62 from Guatemala.  During the time period, Mexico granted asylum to 129 Hondurans, 82 Salvadorans, and 17 Guatemalans.  That’s a total of 1,731 refugees and asylum seekers from those countries.  Only 83 of them were children. 

In 2015 alone, Mexico deported 175,136 people to Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador - more than 100 times as many as were accepted by the humanitarian visa programs from 2013 to 2015.    

Instead, President Obama should have thanked the Mexican government for enforcing American immigration laws in a way that shields his administration from criticism.  Mexico has improved its immigration laws in recent years but refugee and asylum laws are one area still in desperate need of reform.  Let’s not let flowery speeches obscure the reality.

Thanks to Bryan Johnson for bringing this to my attention and Guillermina Sutter Schneider for her translation of Mexican government documents. 

You Ought to Have a Look: Paris Climate Agreement

You Ought to Have a Look is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science posted by Patrick J. Michaels and Paul C. (“Chip”) Knappenberger.  While this section will feature all of the areas of interest that we are emphasizing, the prominence of the climate issue is driving a tremendous amount of web traffic.  Here we post a few of the best in recent days, along with our color commentary.

With Earth Day and the grand signing ceremony for the Paris Climate Agreement just around the corner, we thought it apt to highlight some relevant stories from around the web, particularly those critical of the central climate control enterprise.

Recall that we have pointed out the Paris Climate Agreement represents little more than a business-as-usual approach that has been spun to suggest that it represents a collective, international effort in response to a climate change “concern.” Increasing opportunities for riding your bike (etc.) now have been rebranded as efforts to save the world. Right.

We’ve shown that the U.S. pledge under the Paris “Don’t Call It a Treaty” Agreement, while a bit more aggressive than many, turns out to basically be impossible. Putting our name on such pledge seems a bit disingenuous, to put it mildly.

On top of all this comes a new economic analysis from the Heritage Foundation that basically shows that the U.S. intension under the Agreement would be mucho bad news. Here are the Key Points from the report “Consequences of Paris Protocol: Devastating Economic Costs, Essentially Zero Environmental Benefits”: