Global Watercooler: A More Robust UN?

Global Watercooler

 Around the watercooler today: UN acts in Ivory Coast; China outbids Australia for a Canadian copper mining company; and Germany chooses a new path.

UN Watch:  Taking Sides in a Regime Change

Strip out all the diplomatic niceties, and what we’re watching in the Ivory Coast is this: the United Nations is enforcing with military force the electoral results of four months ago that it had endorsed. This is the stuff of history, and its success may encourage more international resolve in Libya. Everything is connected in our new world.

UN peace keepers and French forces launched military operations yesterday against the incumbent military leader Laurent Gbagbo and his loyalists. It was an escalation of the fighting that essentially had the UN taking sides in a civil war with the former French colonial power. In all likelihood, that move will be decisive, and far more quickly than the UN Security Council decision to “protect civilians” in Libya will remove Muammar Gaddafi.

Some reports on the ground are that Gbagbo has begun negotiations to ensure his safe departure with his electoral opponent , Allesane Outtara, who most countries in the world and the UN view as the winner of the country’s presidential elections last November.  Gbagbao protests otherwise, but it appears that his end is near – prompted by increased UN decisiveness.

Could this be a precedent? After many weeks of trying to nudge the country toward the right outcome, the UN and the French are facilitating by force a broadly recognized democratic electoral result.  With all the understandable global attention to Libya, watch the Ivory Coast in the coming days as a less ambiguous test of whether the international community can ensure that electorally defeated tyrants step down from power.

China Watch: Minmetals Takeover Bid

This is the further stuff of our new world: The Chinese state-owned Minmetals Resources has just launched the biggest unsolicited takeover bid by a Chinese mining company.  However, expect many more to follow – both because of China’s deep pockets, when compared to those of its competitors, its resource hunger and its national focus.  The story raises again questions of state capitalism and the built-in advantages state-owned Chinese companies have when launching such bids, given Beijing’s ability to harness easier, longer term credit facilities and equity investment.

China already accounts for some 40% of the world copper market, so the logic for the bid is clear. The Chinese competitor is an Australian-Canadian copper mining company, Equinox Minerals and the target is Lundlin Mining of Vancouver.  Watch to see how this one plays out.  If shareholders decide, it is hard to see how the Chinese won’t prevail with their ability to provide a healthy premium to whatever Equinox may offer.

But will Canada and Australia handle this purely as a commercial matter?  Watch this space.

Germany Watch: Concerns in Washington

Obama administration officials aren’t expressing their concerns publicly yet, but long-time Germany watchers are alarmed by the country’s recent political course, most particularly regarding its abstention at the United Nations when it came to support for the Libyan intervention.

For the first time in recent memory, Germany failed to vote in lock step on a crucial matter with its allies France, Britain and the United States. That put it closer politically to China, Russia, Brazil and India – who also abstained – than to its closest NATO partners.  Worse yet, says one U.S. official, word reached Washington that Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle would have preferred voting against the approval of a no-fly zone to protect Libyan civilians.

There was some Schadenfreude in Washington on Sunday, when recent electoral setbacks forced Westerwelle to step down as head of his Free Democratic Party, who are in coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats.  (At the moment, Westerwelle still hopes to hang on as foreign minister – but public opinion is against him.)

Yet the real question is what does this all day about Germany’s underlying domestic politics. On matters regarding the Eurozone’s debt crisis, the Germans will no longer pony up support if they don’t see the national interest is served. In regard to any new NATO missions abroad, Germany may be more willing to indulge its pacifist streak than play the role of loyal ally.

For both the EU and NATO, Germany’s role is in flux.

Fred Kempe is president and CEO of the Atlantic Council. His latest book, Berlin 1961, will be available May 10.

Image: global-watercooler.jpg