Philippine Pull-out in the Coalition Forces in Iraq to Save Angelo de la Cruz

by Juan “Jed” E. Dayang, Jr.

The Australian National University

 

The last of the Australian contingent to the war effort ended when seventeen soldiers returned home from Iraq on August 6, 2011. It was a year after President Barack Obama withdrew  U.S.combat troops from Iraq that ended the 7 ½ year war which President George W. Bush started on March 20, 2003 through the  U.S.-led multinational coalition. The casus belli was the belief that Saddam Hussein had a stockpile of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) that threatened the West.  Based on evidence, the world knows  that Iraq did not have an arsenal of WMD and that the war, which left 4,415 American soldiers and more than a hundred thousand Iraqis dead, was aimed at regime change in Iraq.

The  Philippines was also part of the U.S. led “coalition of the willing.” However, compared with other coalition members, the Philippines  pulled-out its 51- man  humanitarian contingent in Iraq in July 2004,  days ahead of schedule  in a last-ditch effort to save the life of Filipino truck driver Angelo dela Cruz who was threatened with beheading by the so-called Iraqi Islamic Army-Khaled bin Al-Weleed Corps if the government did pay ransom and did not pull-out its troops from Iraq.

Foreign Secretary Delia Albert announced the early pull-out of the Filipino troops from Iraq.  Undersecretary Rafael Seguis, a veteran career diplomat, who also negotiated the release of another OFW Robert Tarongoy from his Iraqi kidnappers in 2005, led the Iraq Crisis Team. The government decision angered the U.S. and its allies. Australian Prime Minister John Howard said  that  “I don’t want to be harsh on a friend, but it is a mistake and it won’t buy them immunity”.

Pulling out from the US-led “Coalition of the willing[1]

In the Philippines, foreign policy emanates from the President. The case of Dela Cruz is noteworthy because of the decision of President Gloria M. Arroyo to withdraw from the coalition was seen as the Philippine abnegation of its commitment with a long-time ally, the United States which it shares a common history being a former colonial master. The Philippine relations with the U.S. was at its peak because it was one the first countries who supported the U.S. in its decision to go to war in Iraq. It warmed the relations of the nations whose relationship cooled after the Philippine Senate decided not to renew the Philippine-U.S. Bases Agreement in 1991.

The Philippine government was torn between saving Dela Cruz or keeping with its commitments with the coalition. The hostage taking of Dela Cruz gripped the nation with distress by the impending beheading of Dela Cruz by his captors. The government was reminded of the public furor  when a Filipina maid, Flor Contemplacion, was hanged in 1995 raising the people’s awareness of the sufferings of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) without government’s full  support. Again, as in the case of previous people power revolts in the Philippines that toppled the dictatorial rule of Ferdinand Marcos in 1996 and the presidency of Joseph Estrada in 2001, the government  was again brought down to its knees by a potential people power demonstrations.

President  Arroyo defended her position from criticisms from coalition forces Iraq by affirming that saving lives of OFWs was more important to her than international acclaim and affirmed that the country’s “foreign policy is to defend national interests, including the safety of OFWs.”[2]  She said that she made the force to agree with the kidnappers to prevent Filipinos abroad, particularly the large numbers of OFWs in the Middle East, from being the targets of terrorism or held hostage by insurgents. Arroyo’s first State of the Nation Address (SONA)  in July 2004 came on the heels Dela Cruz’s release and return to the Philippines. She used the SONA as an opportunity to announce a new policy direction she called“mamamayan muna” or “people first”.

The President’s decision calmed down the Filipino public. There were sectors, particularly members of the coalition, who were angered by her decision. In the Philippines, many welcomed it. For example, in a forum organised by the University of the Philippines on 12 August 2004 titled “Hostaged? Philippine Foreign Policy after Angelo de la Cruz”, retired Ambassador Nelson Lavina who wrote a paper entitled “Angelo and Philippine Foreign Policy–A Post-Mortem”, said:

  “the recent announcement by the Department of Foreign Affairs that protection of contract workers is now the third pillar of Philippine foreign policy is very much welcome. It is only now, during the term of Foreign Affairs Secretary Delia Albert that the foreign policy postulating protection of Filipino contract workers is in effect.”[3]

In the same forum, Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Gilbert Asuque defended the President’s decision saying that:

“The President was guided on deciding this issue by existing policies of the Philippine government, which is the Constitution. The Constitution says that the president, the government, is bound to protect the Filipino people. The Department of Foreign Affairs and, of course, the government will have to assist Filipinos in distress. So, the President of the Philippines was in fact implementing such policy.”[4]

Travel Ban and OFWs in Iraq

As a result of the kidnapping of OFW Angelo dela Cruz, the Philippine travel and deployment ban to Iraq became compulsory in July 2004.  Owing to the long-term unstable security in Iraq, the Philippine government has maintained the deployment ban in Iraq.[5]   Until 2010, there were still about 6,000 OFWs working for US Contractors despite the ongoing ban.[6]   Today, there are calls from OFWs, including Dela Cruz, who have returned to his native province Pampanga, for the government to lift the ban after President Obama’s promise of U.S. pull-out after the March presidential election and infrastructure development taking place in Iraq that would open up jobs for OFWs.[7]

Conclusion

The Philippine decision to pull-out its troops  to save a Filipino life is highly contentious and does not lend itself to easy answers. Many of what critics have said are also worthy of examination. What was clear in the Dela Cruz hostage case was that   Presidential decisions in the Philippines were constrained by the high political demands of the Filipino public to protect OFWs, which number to more than 5 million all over the world.  The choice between pulling-out its troops from the U.S. coalition and saving a human life was a turning point in the Philippine government’s direction to enforce its mandate to protect OFWs.


[1] For a discussion on  Philippine foreign policy after the release of Angelo dela Cruz and the  withdrawal of the Philippines from its membership in the “coalition of the willing” read “Proceedings”, (paper presented at the A Public Forum: Hostaged? Philippine Foreign Policy After Angelo dela Cruz

University of the Philippines, 2004 ).

[2] “Summary: President Arroyo’s State of the Nation Address from 2001-2008,” GMA News, http://www.gmanews.tv/100days/story/168440/summary-president-arroyos-state-of-the-nation-address-from-2001-2008.

[3] “Proceedings.” p.136.

[4] Ibid. p.138.

[5] The Migrant Workers Act (R.A. 8042 of 1995 as amended by R.A. 10022 of 2010) mandates that the government hold fast to stringent guidelines in allowing the employment of OFWs to other countries, and impose heavy penalties on government officials who agree to deploy migrant workers without guarantees required by law.[5]

[6] The travel ban imposed by the Philippine government was supported by the US when US Air Force Colonel Richard Nolan of Central Command’s Contracting Command stated in a memorandum dated July 20, 2010 that contractors who employed people from countries which prohibits work and travel to Iraq, including about 6,000 from the Philippines, must return them home. See  Veronica Uy, “US orders pullout of OFWs in Iraq by August 9,” Philippine Daily Inquirer, July 27,2010 2010.

[7] Roli Talampas, “Angelo dela Cruz: ‘It’s time to lift the Iraq ban’,” Philippine Daily Inquirer, June 7, 2011.

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Proposed Single-Destination Passport in Indonesia: A Misguided Protection Policy?

by Firtriana Nur*

Despite its good intentions, the government may be considering a misguided policy after Jumhur Hidayat, head of the National Board for the Placement and Protection of Indonesian Overseas Workers, recently announced a proposal to issue single-destination passports to migrant workers, restricting them from traveling anywhere except their intended destination.
The board, also known as the BNP2TKI, says this will be an effective way to prevent trafficking in persons. It says trafficking syndicates and rogue placement agencies move victims — using official channels — from one country to another and, once there, they are trafficked. The single-destination passport is supposed to prevent migrant workers being “sold” to other countries.

In trying to get a grip on the logic here, let us first look at the United Nations’ definition of human trafficking. A trafficking case should have three elements: The movement (recruitment, transportation, harboring and reception of a person); the means (deception, fraud, coercion, abduction, abuse of power or abuse of vulnerability); and the purpose (labor exploitation, sex exploitation, forced labor, removal of organs, etc.).

It is important to understand the purpose of trafficking: The exploitation of human beings. The movement of victims only serves as a means. Thus, a single-destination passport does not guarantee any real prevention.

When I was in Jordan in February, I visited the Indonesian Embassy in Amman. I met about 200 Indonesian women, mostly domestic workers, who were housed inside the compound for protection. Most of them did not have passports with them because they were either taken away by recruitment agents or employers. A few that I spoke with said they had gone to Jordan for work but ended up being trafficked. According to the embassy, about five domestic workers a day show up seeking protection from abusive employers or agents. Imagine if there was no embassy nearby and the only way of seeking protection would be to flee to a neighboring country. What protection would the single-destination passport provide in that case?

While the goal of protecting migrant workers is laudable, and creating a unique migrant worker passport similar to what was once used for the hajj may offer benefits, this current quick-fix proposal reveals a fundamental misunderstanding about trafficking and the realities facing migrant workers abroad.

The policy would criminalize the movement side of trafficking, but fail to address the main problem. The real peril facing migrant workers is exploitation. Even if the government decides that migrant workers can only work, say, in Malaysia, they can still be exploited there. Fundamentally, the exploitation occurs because migrant workers are treated as a commodity by recruitment agencies, they are not well prepared before departure, employers feel they can abuse them and the government rarely punishes recruitment agencies who commit trafficking offenses.

The worry is that while limiting the movement of workers with a single-destination passport may prevent some trafficking, it may also limit legitimate travel — what if employers need to take their domestic workers overseas, which is common practice?

Combating trafficking in persons is not easy, especially when trafficking crosses borders. Policies to address these problems require comprehensive action to combat the push and pull factors behind exploitation. Policies also require sincere cooperation with destination countries, since trafficking cannot be addressed by one country alone.

Measures to combat labor exploitation should explore prevention of trafficking, protection of victims and prosecution of traffickers. We need policies that ensure only truly qualified and well trained migrant workers are recruited, workers who are empowered and educated about safe migration and what to expect from destination countries. In addition, we should work only with countries that have protection mechanisms in place for migrants and should increase our consular presence to handle trafficking cases. Finally, only countries that consider human trafficking a crime should be allowed to employ our workers.

The single-destination passport runs the risk of appearing to offer protection but falling short. It is not unlike the memorandum of understanding signed between Indonesia and Malaysia in May 2006 that authorized employers to keep the passports of migrant domestic workers. That policy failed to protect migrant workers from abuse because it actually increased their vulnerability.

Government should take a holistic approach to protecting migrant workers. A passport’s function is for identification while abroad. It is not a suit of armor.

Note:
Fitriana Nur is a recipient of the 2010 Australian Leadership Award from Indonesia. Ana is currently completing  a Master of Public Policy and Management at the University of Melbourne in December 2011.  Previously, she worked for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Indonesia. This op-ed piece was originally published in Jakarta Globe and has Ana’s permission to be re-posted on Reflective Diplomat. See: (http://www.thejakartaglobe.com/opinion/single-destination-passport-a-misguided-protection-policy/456651)

Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs): New Heroes

OFW: New Heroes

by Juan “Jed” E.  Dayang, Jr.

The Australian National University

 

 

As of 2010, there is an estimated 8,579,378 Filipinos overseas.[1]   The number of temporary migrant workers or Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) is estimated at 4,522,438.[2]  With its decades long of experience in labour migration, the Philippines has become the leading labor sending country in East Asia.  The country has also become the principal source of seafarers in the international maritime business.

The economic contribution of overseas Filipinos is substantial. Their remittances sustain their families and contribute to poverty reduction. Although, the remittances may not have a wider contribution to national economic growth, it has definitely improved the lives of many families who benefit from the money flows from their family members who are working overseas. In 2010 their remittance flow was US$18.8M which grew by 8% compared to the previous year. It represented close to 10% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product.[3] For their contribution to the economy, they have been lauded as “modern-day heroes” by the government and by the Philippine media.

Waves of Migration

Migration of Filipino workers has been recorded as early as the Spanish colonization.[4] Early accounts of emigration from the Philippines points to a native who worked in the ship of Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan when he first circumnavigated the world and discovered the Philippines for Spain in the 16th century.  However, the first group of Filipino workers who were recorded to work overseas were those who were forced by Spanish colonizers to man ships during the Manila-Acapulco galleon trade between 1565 to 1815 that brought goods from the Orient to the “new world” and vice versa.[5]  During the Spanish colonial period that ended in 1898, there were Filipinos who went to Spain as students, including national hero Jose Rizal.

First Wave

The 20th century saw more Filipinos leaving for the US as a result of the colonial linkage between the Philippines and the United States which started in after the Philippine-American war (1899-1902) until the Philippine declaration of independence in 1946.   The first wave[6] of emigration of Filipinos was between 1900 to early 1940s to the United States. The first two decades after the US annexation of the Philippines in 1898, many of the Filipinos who went to the US were college and university students who were trained in US universities to spread democracy and take leadership roles in the Philippines.[7]

Second Wave

The second wave to the US began after World War II till the end of the war in Vietnam. It was also during the same period when   the Philippines gained its independence from the US on July 4, 1946.  The number of Filipinos in the US grew because of the naturalization quota of 100 per year which was approved by the US Congress and announced by President Harry Truman on July 4. The quota, which lasted for two decades was not based on ethnic considerations but based on the occupational needs of the US and if the Filipino had relatives in the United States.[8]  At that time, there were many Filipino WWII veterans who were given special US citizenship privileges. The US also accepted skilled workers– doctors, nurses, accountants, engineers and other professions. When the US Congress passed the new Immigration Reform Act in 1965, it allowed family members to reunite with their American based relatives. This again led to the surge of American immigration of Filipinos.

In the 1950s and the 1960s, there were Filipinos in non-professional labour contracts that went to East Asia as barbers, artists, and musicians. There were also Filipinos who went as loggers to Indochina. The Korean and Vietnam War also created overseas jobs for Filipinos particularly in civilian and military operations in Japan, Guam, Thailand, Wake Island and Vietnam. There were also nurses who went to Canada and Australia. The third wave, which is more widely known and most persistent, was during the mid-1970s to 1990s.

Third Wave

It was in the 1970s when the government started sending migrant workers to curb unemployment and to shore up the country’s foreign currency reserves of the government. It was during this period that the labour migration program by the Philippine government was institutionalized.[9] The economic decline due to the higher world prices of crude oil created massive unemployment in the country. In the Middle East, however, the members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) were making so much profit. As a result of the oil-export boom, there was a  high demand for labour to support its fresh enterprise.  Former President Ferdinand Marcos  was quick to tap this opportunity to  promote Filipino contract workers to alleviate unemployment that created a huge labour surplus.   The foreign policy that Marcos adopted was called  “Development Diplomacy,” which  was aimed at exporting excess labour supply. By 1980, the Department of Labor and Employment’s (DOLE) deployment of overseas contract workers has jumped by 75% compared to previous year.[10] This time, the Department of Foreign Affairs has made protection of migrant workers as a third pillar of the country’s foreign policy which is of equal significance to the promotion of the political and economic interests of the Philippines overseas.

Conclusion

The Philippines has become the leading labor sending country in East Asia with 10% of its population living and working  in more than 190 countries overseas.  The emigration flows can be summed up in three waves of migration: the first wave from 1900s-1940,  the second from 1940s-1960s  and the most pervasive was during the third wave from 1970s to 1990s. The economic contribution of Overseas Filipino Workers or OFWs have reduced poverty incidence and increased the welfare of their families in the Philippines. The remittance flow also shore up the foreign currency reserves of the country. For the country and their family members, OFWs are real-life heroes.  The Philippine government has made protection of OFWs as a key pillar of its foreign policy agenda.


[1] “Stock Estimate of Overseas Filipinos,” ed. Commission on Filipinos Overseas (Manila: Office of the President, 2010).

[2] Ibid.

[3] “2010 OF Remittances Surpass 8% Growth Projection; Full-Year Level Reaches US$18.8 Billion,”  http://www.bsp.gov.ph/publications/media.asp?id=2515.

[4] read Filomeno V. Aguilar Jr., ed. At Home in the World: Filipinos in Global Migrations (Quezon City: Philippine Migration Research Network and Philippine Social Science Council, 2002).and Joaquin L. Gonzales, Philippine Labour Migration  (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS), 1998).

[5] ———, Philippine Labour Migration.

[6]Ibid.

[7] For an earlier work on Filipino migrants to the Unites States see H. Brett Melendy, “Filipinos in the United States,” Pacific Historical Review University of California Press 43, no. 4 (1974).

[8] Ibid.

[9] Gonzales, Philippine Labour Migration.

[10] Graziano Battistella, Philippine labor migration : impact and policy (Quezon City Scalabrini Migration Center, 1992).

US Diplomacy in COP15 and Challenges to Multilateral Climate Change Negotiation

2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference

2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference

by Michelle Leonardo*

(Last of 2 parts)

US Diplomacy in COP15: A cop-out?

The historic election of Barack Obama to the US presidency in 2008 had a profound impact on the expectations of the international community as regards the future of climate diplomacy. Indeed, the change in leadership in the White House after eight years under George W. Bush contributed to a ‘renewed sense of optimism’ in the international community about finally reaching substantive agreement on a new global climate treaty by the end of 2009 at the COP15 in Copenhagen (Falkner 2010).

Obama essentially overturned the previous administration’s obstructive stance on the climate change crisis and committed the US to playing a more active and constructive role in multilaterally inclined foreign and climate policies (Falkner 2010, Purvis & Stevenson 2010). Obama also made his desires known to ultimately cap US emissions, and this alone brought much goodwill to the US, as it is historically the world’s biggest emitter of GHG. In this light, there are few who would disagree with the opinion that with Obama at the helm, the US has finally firmly re-engaged in climate diplomacy. This contributed to the high hopes pinned on the Copenhagen conference, where the US was expected to play a pivotal role in negotiations (Falkner 2010).

With the benefit of  hindsight, the US most certainly played a pivotal role in the COP15 – albeit, not in the general direction that most of the international community had anticipated. While public expectation was for the US to take the lead (alongside the EU) in securing a global agreement that would safeguard against the predicted consequences of climate change, the US proved to have acted in such a way as to stymie substantive negotiations on addressing the crisis (Carrington 2010). While the US, and specifically Obama was widely portrayed by the media as having rescued failing negotiations at Copenhagen (Christoff 2010), leaked diplomatic cables later revealed that the US had actually formed a secret alliance and had been in secret collusion with China to prevent reaching an international agreement that would legally bind the US and other industrialized countries to drastically reduce their emissions (Traufetter 2010).

The collaboration between the two countries began under the Bush administration, when the US’s senior climate negotiator engaged in backroom talks with China to work out a 10-year ‘framework of cooperation’ on energy and the environment between them. This dialogue was continued by the Obama administration throughout 2009, and the two countries secretly agreed to ensure that the outcome of negotiations in Copenhagen would be favorable to both Washington and Beijing. In essence, reports reveal that the US had advised China of the EU’s intent to strongly lobby for a legally binding global agreement, and that in response, China should simply assert that they and other large developing countries would ‘work hard to reduce emissions’ (Traufetter 2010). In addition, the leaked cables also show that the US had sought intelligence regarding the negotiating positions of Parties on the Copenhagen conference, including evidence of ‘UN environmental treaty circumvention’ and deals between countries (Carrington 2010). In this light, the US had also been accused of bribing poor countries with development aid in order to garner support for the Copenhagen Accord (Traufetter 2010, Newman 2010).

Challenges to Multilateral Climate Change Negotiation

Based on the above accounts, there are at least two crucial observations to be made on US diplomatic practice during the Copenhagen conference. The first is that the United States may in principle commit to combating climate change – however, it might not engage in significant action towards that end. The second is that in this regard, the US can and did make full use of the decision-making rules governing the UNFCCC to disrupt substantive negotiations on climate change.

  1. Domestic Constraints to US Diplomatic Practice

Putnam (1988) asserts that domestic and international politics are more often than not entangled in one another. To this end, Putnam (1988) proposes that the dynamics of many international negotiations can usefully be thought of as a ‘two-level game’. On the one hand, decision-makers play at the domestic level, where local lobby groups pursue their interests by pressuring government to adopt specific policies that will be favorable to them. In this regard, decision-makers seek and retain power by meeting those demands and building coalitions among those groups. On the other hand, decision-makers also play at the international level, where governments ‘seek to maximize their own ability to satisfy domestic pressures, while minimizing the adverse consequences of foreign developments’ (Putnam 1988). Decision-makers can ignore neither of the two games, which are played simultaneously, for as long as countries remain sovereign yet mutually dependent on each other. Further adding to the complexity of this two-level game is that moves (or decisions) that are rational for a player at one board – for example, the international level – may be ‘impolitic’ for the same player at the other board – that is, the domestic level (Putnam 1988). This could not be truer than for the US during the Copenhagen conference.

For example, many commentators on the ongoing climate talks would agree that there is no doubt that Obama, in his capacity as the US head of state, sincerely wants to move towards a clean energy economy. However, it also cannot be denied that for him, the domestic political path forward would be long and fraught with obstacles – indeed, getting the US Congress to support and ratify any commitments he makes internationally is not the least of them (Purvis & Stevenson 2010, Christoff 2010).

With regard to the Copenhagen conference, the US officially holds the position that it would be ‘interested in a legally binding agreement, provided that it was legally binding for both developed countries and major developing countries alike’ (Todd 2009, cited in Houser 2010). The US, in essence, is opposed to the binary distinction made by the UNFCCC, and especially the Kyoto Protocol, between developed and developing countries. The US argues that an ‘equitable, politically acceptable and environmentally effective treaty would need to allow for graduation as countries get richer and have greater capability to reduce emissions’ (Houser 2010). This view is one that is formally supported by Congress, and therefore guides and constrains the US bargaining position at the COP15.

One can hazard the guess, of course, that the true motive behind this position is the desire to preserve global economic dominance, especially with respect to emerging powers such as China. Though regardless of the underlying motivation, the above gives explanation for the US’s decision to engage in backroom negotiations with China. By asking China to take on the hard bargaining position at the COP15 and appearing adamant about the US commitment to pursuing a strong climate change response, the US was able to satisfy domestic pressures on its back while at the same time preserving its international reputation.

  1. Loopholes in the UNFCCC Decision-Making Rules

The Copenhagen conference also brought to the forefront one of the weaknesses of the UNFCCC’s decision-making rules, specifically its reliance on consensus building, which means that all countries must approve a particular decision before it can be officially adopted (Christoff 2010, Dimitrov 2010). This rule can be thought of as a double-edged sword – on the one hand, the positive implication of this is that each country has an effective veto and even a single country’s opposition can prevent the formal uptake of policy decisions. This rule also ‘promotes sovereign equality of nations and provides a valuable safeguard against powerful countries imposing decisions on the small and weak ones’, allowing the latter to assert their needs against the pragmatism of stronger countries (Dimitrov 2010, Christoff 2010). This is evident in the Copenhagen conference where the adoption of the Copenhagen accord was, for all intents and purposes, prevented by the resistance of only seven relatively small and/or weak countries (that is, Tuvalu, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Cuba, Venezuela, Sudan, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia). At the same time, however, consensus building lowers the probability of a strong global climate change response. As was mentioned earlier, almost any legally binding climate agreement would have considerable and differing geopolitical and/or socioeconomic impacts, so opposition by at least some countries is almost certain (Dimitrov 2010).

In this regard, it can be seen that the UNFCCC’s decision-making rules ‘almost encourage the collapse of negotiations into [simple] procedural games’  (Christoff 2010). This paper argues that the US, in colluding with China to oppose any proposal for a legally binding agreement, took advantage of the UNFCCC’s procedural rules to better block any outcomes that may not be acceptable to Washington. Indeed, at the opening of the COP15, a proposal was put forward by Papua New Guinea to implement a three-fourths majority voting rule in cases where consensus proved impossible. This was recommended on the justification that ‘consensus means that any agreement [achieved in Copenhagen] can only aspire to the lowest common denominator amongst [the Parties]. In the face of this growing whirlwind of disaster, making decisions based only upon the lowest common denominator is beyond irresponsible, it’s gravely negligent’. Unsurprisingly, the proposal was overwhelmingly rejected (Dimitrov 2010).

A Note on the Way Forward

In this regard, this paper suggests that the climate change crisis may be better addressed through either or both of the following: (1) supplementing the UNFCCC as a multilateral platform with bilateral or regional climate change forums, and (2) seeking a revision to the UNFCCC decision-making rules. Indeed, the emerging literature on the Copenhagen conference reveals that Parties to the UNFCCC are already recognizing the limits of the UNFCCC as the primary forum for climate negotiations – with proposals to convene in smaller country blocs or coalitions to break political stalemates (for example, Friends of the Chair) and to change the conference’s voting structure (as just described above).

 

Conclusion

In conclusion, this paper presented an overview of the controversial issues surrounding the debate on global climate change response. It described the roots of the Copenhagen conference and identified at which particular points in the negotiations Parties reached a deadlock. The paper also provides an account of how negotiations were recovered . This paper placed particular focus on the US diplomatic practice during the conference to assess the effectiveness of multilateralism as a diplomatic tool for addressing the climate change crisis. In summary, this paper argued that multilateralism as institutionalized in UNFCCC processes is inefficient as a means for addressing the crisis because: (1) effective climate change response requires collective action at the international level, but commitments by states to that collective action are largely constrained by their domestic geopolitical and/or socioeconomic interests, and (2) the decision-making rules that govern the UNFCCC are susceptible to being taken advantage of that reduce substantive negotiations into simple procedural games.

Note:

*Michelle Leonardo recently graduated with a dual  Master of Diplomacy/Master of Environmental Management and Development  at the Australia National University. She received  the James Ingram prize for excellence in the 2011 Master’s class at the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy (APCD) as well as the Elspeth young prize for social contribution at Crawford School of Economics and Government. She is also  a recipient of the 2009 Australia Leadership Award (ALA) scholarship grant.  Michelle is a guest blogger of the Reflective Diplomat.

References

Carrington, D 2010, ‘Wikileaks cables reveal how US manipulated climate accord’, The Guardian, 03 December 2010, viewed 20 May 2011,
<http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/dec/03/wikileaks-us-manipulated-climate-accord>

Christoff, P 2010, ‘Cold climate in Copenhagen: China and the United States at COP15’, Environmental Politics, vol. 19, no. 4, pp. 637-656.

Dimitrov, RS 2010, ‘Inside UN climate change negotiations: the Copenhagen conference’, Review of Policy Research, vol. 27, no. 6, pp. 795-821.

Falkner, R 2010, ‘Getting a deal on climate change: Obama’s flexible multilateralism’, in N. Kitchen (ed.) Obama Nation? US Foreign Policy One Year On, LSE Ideas Special Report, LSE Ideas, London, UK, pp. 37-41.

Houser, T 2010, ‘Copenhagen, the accord, and the way forward’, Peterson Institute for International Economics Policy Brief, viewed 25 May 2011,
<http://www.iie.com/publications/pb/pb10-05.pdf>

Newman, A 2010, ‘Wikileaks reveal US and EU climate bullying, bribery, espionage’, The New American, 06 Dec 2010, viewed 20 May 2011,
<http://thenewamerican.com/index.php/usnews/foreign-policy/5398-wikileaks-reveals-us-a-eu-climate-bullying-bribery-espionage>

Purvis, N & Stevenson, A 2010, ‘Rethinking climate diplomacy: new ideas for transatlantic cooperation post-Copenhagen’, Brussels Forum Paper Series, The German Marshall Fund of the United States, viewed 18 May 2011,
<http://www.gmfus.org/brusselsforum/2010/docs/BF2010-Paper-Purvis-Stevenson.pdf>

Spak, B 2010, ‘The success of the Copenhagen accord and the failure of the Copenhagen conference’, American University Washington, viewed 18 May 2011,
<http://www.american.edu/sis/gep/upload/Brian-Spak-SRP-Copenhagen-Success-and-Failure.pdf>

Traufetter, G 2010, ‘The US and China joined forces against Europe’, Spiegel Online International, 08 Dec 2010, viewed 20 May 2011,
<http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,733630,00.html>

 

Multilateralism as a diplomatic tool for addressing climate change: Case of US diplomatic practice

logo of the United Nations Framework for Climate Change

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

 by Michelle Leonardo*

Multilateralism as a diplomatic tool for addressing climate change:  US diplomatic practice in the 2009 COP15 during the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC)  in Copenhagen

(Part 1 of 2 parts)

Abstract

The global response to climate change is, for the most part, negotiated through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This paper considers US diplomatic practice during the 15th Conference of Parties (COP15) held in Copenhagen in December 2009, to make an assessment of the challenges to multilateralism as a diplomatic tool for addressing climate change. In particular, this paper argues that multilateralism as institutionalized in UNFCCC processes is inefficient as a means for addressing the crisis because: (1) effective climate change response requires collective action at the international level, yet commitments by states to that collective action are largely constrained by their domestic geopolitical and/or socioeconomic interests, and (2) the decision-making rules that govern the UNFCCC can be taken advantage of to reduce substantive negotiations into simple procedural games.

 

 Introduction

Climate change is arguably the most difficult political problem the world has ever had to face (The Economist 2009, cited in Spak 2010). For one, it is the only global crisis to date from which grave consequences are predicted to occur on a planetary scale and are expected to adversely impact the security and well-being of all human populations. For another, and perhaps more importantly, the policy solutions required to address this crisis has highly divisive consequences. The necessary policy solutions are divisive not only because it challenges the current global geopolitical and/or socioeconomic landscape – for example, scientifically recommended climate change policies are likely to prompt a ‘fundamental transformation of modern societies toward low-carbon development based on new energy production and consumption’ (Dimitrov 2010) – but also because the resulting process of transformation is perceived as highly inequitable.

For instance, while large developed countries such as the United States are primarily responsible for most greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that currently exist in the atmosphere, it is small developing countries that will be most affected by impending climate change. Large developing countries such as China and  India, though not (yet) liable for the largest share of emissions in the atmosphere, will also be required to drastically reduce their future emissions in order to avoid the dire consequences predicted of climate change. This is particularly controversial as high per-capita GDP is strongly correlated with high per-capita emissions, and no large country has ever experienced sustained economic growth without increasing its GHG emissions at the same time – hence, the objection of emergent emitters such as China and India is that scientifically recommended climate change policies will inhibit their continued economic development. Finally, the spatial and temporal dimensions of climate change response also contribute to the challenge of addressing the issue. For example, while the costs of climate change adaptation and mitigation are incurred at the national and/or community levels, the benefits arising from such are accrued globally. Similarly, while it is the present global population that will bear the costs of climate change adaptation and mitigation, it is largely future generations who stand to gain the most from such activities (The Economist 2009, cited in Spak 2010). Clearly then, it can be seen that climate change negotiation represents the most ambitious pursuit of collective action ever undertaken on a global scale. 

The global response to climate change is, for the most part, negotiated through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). In this regard, it is useful to reflect on the effectiveness of the UNFCCC as a multilateral platform mandated with crafting, deliberating, and enforcing a timely and appropriate response to climate change. To this end, this paper considers USdiplomatic practice during the 15th Conference of Parties (COP15) held in Copenhagen in December 2009, to make an assessment of the challenges to multilateralism as a diplomatic tool for addressing climate change. In particular, this paper argues that multilateralism as institutionalized in UNFCCC processes is inefficient as a means for addressing the crisis because: (1) effective climate change response requires collective action at the international level, yet commitments by states to that collective action are largely constrained by their domestic geopolitical and/or socioeconomic interests, and (2) the decision-making rules that govern the UNFCCC can be taken advantage of to reduce substantive negotiations into simple procedural games.

The Copenhagen Conference

The beginnings of the Copenhagen conference can be traced back to the 13th Conference of Parties (COP13) held in Bali in December 2007. During this negotiation round, Parties to the UNFCCC agreed to a ‘loose mandate’ for continuing climate talks, and committed to settle by the end of 2009 – (1) a ‘shared vision of long-term cooperative action, including a long-term global goal for emission reductions’, and (2) ‘enhanced action on climate change adaptation, mitigation, technology cooperation and international financing’ (Purvis & Stevenson 2010). However, the Bali agreement did not expressly define the intended nature of the shared long-term vision, what types of actions are desirable for nations to undertake, whether or not these actions should be legally binding, or the types of international institutions that would be needed to facilitate these interactions (Purvis & Stevenson 2010). Instead, theBali conference set up two ad hoc working groups (AWG) to work toward these goals: the AWG for Long-Term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA), and an analogous AWG that consisted only of members of the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP) (Christoff 2010).

Unfortunately, neither ad hoc working group made much headway in formal climate negotiations during the two years between the Bali and Copenhagen conferences – the COP15 opened with Parties still in wide disagreement not only as regards the broader goal of the conference, but also about its specific targets. For example, despite high public expectations for Copenhagen to produce a strong enforceable outcome in the form of a global climate treaty, Parties to the conference, in fact, still had divergent views on whether or not the negotiation round should produce a legally binding agreement that would extend the mandate of the Kyoto Protocol, whose provisions end in 2012 (Christoff 2010). Further, Parties were also in disagreement as regards what constitutes an effective global stabilization goal. For instance, China, India, and Brazil, along with most Western countries, support limiting the average increase in global temperature to 2°C above 1900 levels, and lowering the current concentration of atmospheric carbon to 450 parts per million (ppm). Meanwhile, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) maintain that temperature rise must be limited to 1.5°C at most, and that the concentration of atmospheric carbon must be brought to less than 350 ppm. Finally, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (or the ALBA group of countries) prefer an even lower upper limit of 1°C to temperature rise (Christoff 2010, Dimitrov 2010, Purvis & Stevenson 2010). According to a plenary statement by Grenada, more than half of the UN membership supported the AOSIS goal (Dimitrov 2010).

Also, as earlier indicated, other points of contention that remained unresolved at the beginning (and indeed, throughout the duration of the COP15) include: (1) the division of ‘labor’ in climate change adaptation and mitigation, or who should be involved in climate change response, (2) financing and technology transfer for climate change adaptation and mitigation, or who should finance climate change response, and (3) the legal framework for climate change adaptation and mitigation, or how should climate change response be enforced (Christoff 2010, Dimitrov 2010). In so much as any particular response to climate change would necessarily impact on other geopolitical and/or socioeconomic interests of Parties to the UNFCCC, the COP15 is rightly seen as a critical moment in climate change diplomacy. This is undeniably reflected in the scale of high-level political engagement at the Copenhagen conference, where more than 120 heads of state and government physically attended the negotiation round.

The Unraveling of the Negotiation Process

Despite the COP15 Parties’ differing views on what constitutes the appropriate climate change response, the international community was hopeful of a finalizing a global deal to address the crisis. The months preceding the Copenhagen conference saw a flood of positive developments with one country after another pledging domestic action on climate change, thus giving the public the impression that agreement on a global climate treaty might actually be possible (Spak 2010). Inside negotiators, on the other hand, did not see this as a practicable option. Citing ‘political expedience and time constraints,’ the AWG-LCA instead proposed to target a ‘comprehensive core decision’ inCopenhagenand to continue negotiations in 2010. To this end, the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC petitioned the EU and other major players to pursue and settle for a COP decision containing ‘substantive policy elements, [that will] eventually [be] nonbinding in nature’. The EU and other countries looking for a strong treaty arrangement reluctantly agreed (Christoff 2010, Dimitrov 2010).

Yet, this concession notwithstanding, positions of the COP15 Parties on other issues, including those enumerated earlier, still proved to be irreconcilable. In particular, disagreement over the next steps to the Kyoto Protocol resulted in an impasse in negotiations on the second day of the conference. On the one hand, developing countries put forward the strict ultimatum that a follow-up to the Kyoto Protocol must be negotiated at Copenhagen. They contended that a discontinuation of Kyoto would be a ‘deal breaker’, and gave a clear indication that they would block any Copenhagen agreement without a second commitment period for the protocol. Meanwhile, countries like Canada, Japan and Russia were very much against a second run of Kyoto, and instead wanted to work on a brand new global agreement. The US was also in favor of just a single agreement, but without any domestic policy commitments yet confirmed by its Congress, it was in a weak bargaining position. The EU was prepared to consent to a continuation of Kyoto, but on the condition that the US,China,India and Brazil also participate in the second agreement (Dimitrov 2010, Purvis & Stevenson 2010).

Complicating negotiations further, the developing country coalition fell apart on the third day. The AOSIS, along with a few Latin American countries, drastically changed its position and instead demanded a new global legally binding ‘Copenhagen Protocol’ based on a proposal formally submitted by Tuvalu earlier in the year. The proposal gives obligation to large developing countries such as China and India, as well as to developed countries like the US, to keep global average temperature rise to 1.5°C and concentrations of atmospheric carbon to 350 ppm.Tuvaluinsisted on formal negotiations on this text in  Copenhagen, but while several small countries supported the proposal, their repeated motions to negotiate on the basis of the submitted text were not acknowledged by either other delegations or the presiding chairpersons (Dimitrov 2010).

Finally, the matter of financing voluntary climate change actions by developing countries also represented another deadlock. Western countries eventually offered to partially subsidize such activities, putting forward a collective amount of at least USD 25 billion on the table. However, while the provision of real money was one of the few substantive offers made in Copenhagen, it is worth noting that the ‘money trump card’ seemed to have had no definitive impact on negotiations – Grenada, seconded by many other AOSIS countries, stated strongly that their primary concern was that of survival and not financial aid.China,Venezuela and other countries also responded frankly that money was not what they wanted, but none offered any other policy alternatives, again bringing negotiations to a standstill (Dimitrov 2010, Spak 2010).

Arriving at the Copenhagen Accord

Faced with impasse of the sort described above, along with several others not presented in this paper, the Copenhagen conference faced the very real possibility that negotiations would fail. In this regard, the priority of the conference shifted from reaching a COP decision containing ‘substantive policy elements’, to simply reaching a COP decision. There was no text to be formally adopted when heads of state arrived in the second week to officially close the negotiation round. To this end, the hosts of the conference pushed for the creation of a small ‘Friends of the Chair’ group of countries to break the political stalemate (Christoff 2010, Dimitrov 2010). The decision was ‘made for political convenience and dictated by the necessity for problem solving’ (Dimitrov 2010).

The intention was to establish a group of key countries representing all global regions that would consult broadly with one another and ensure that everyone’s concerns are properly taken into account. While initially met with vehement opposition, almost all Parties later agreed that major political hurdles could only be addressed in smaller forums. To this end, the ‘Friends of the Chair’ group was created on the last day of the conference, consisting of the following 25 countries: the US, the UK, Sweden, Spain, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Norway, Mexico, the Maldives, Lesotho, South Africa, Bangladesh, Algeria, Denmark, Germany, France, India, Ethiopia, Colombia, Korea, China, and Brazil (Dimitrov 2010). Heads of these states then proceeded to draft a text by themselves, in and of itself representing a rare and remarkable occurrence in the practice of diplomacy (Spak 2010).

The heads of state of the US,China,India and Brazil also convened a small private meeting on the last Friday of the conference to discuss aspects of the anticipated climate negotiations in 2010. While what exactly transpired during this meeting remains undisclosed, it seems apparent that at least one of its important outcomes was the deletion of any references to ‘legally binding’ outcomes for future climate negotiations. In other words, the four great and emerging powers decided that future negotiations on climate change do not need to produce a legally binding treaty. When the draft text was finally printed and circulated, many delegates were in disbelief that the ‘legally binding’ reference had been stricken out. The EU in particular had been sidelined and only grudgingly accepted the arrangement (Dimitrov 2010).

The Copenhagen Accord

In the end, the COP15 produced the Copenhagen Accord, which includes provisions on emission reduction commitments, transparent international review of the implementation of said commitments, and financing for climate change adaptation and mitigation in developing countries (Spak 2010). The Accord basically provides a framework for countries to pledge their own domestic mitigation targets and actions, supports the establishment of a new system for monitoring, reporting, and verifying these actions, and contains new commitments from developed countries to fund climate change adaptation and mitigation activities in developing countries. But as the COP failed to reach consensus and merely ‘noted’ rather than adopted the text, the Accord is essentially a ‘political agreement without legal standing under the UNFCCC and is not legally binding even on its supporters’ (Christoff 2010).

to be continued…

Note:

*Michelle Leonardo recently graduated with a dual  Master of Diplomacy/Master of Environmental Management and Development  at the Australia National University. She received  the James Ingram prize for excellence in the 2011 Master’s class at the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy (APCD) as well as the Elspeth young prize for social contribution at Crawford School of Economics and Government. She is also  a recipient of the 2009 Australia Leadership Award (ALA) scholarship grant.  Michelle is a guest blogger of the Reflective Diplomat.

References

Carrington, D 2010, ‘Wikileaks cables reveal how US manipulated climate accord’, The Guardian, 03 December 2010, viewed 20 May 2011,
<http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/dec/03/wikileaks-us-manipulated-climate-accord>

Christoff, P 2010, ‘Cold climate in Copenhagen: China and the United States at COP15’, Environmental Politics, vol. 19, no. 4, pp. 637-656.

Dimitrov, RS 2010, ‘Inside UN climate change negotiations: the Copenhagenconference’, Review of Policy Research, vol. 27, no. 6, pp. 795-821.

Falkner, R 2010, ‘Getting a deal on climate change: Obama’s flexible multilateralism’, in N. Kitchen (ed.) Obama Nation? US Foreign Policy One Year On, LSE Ideas Special Report, LSE Ideas,London,UK, pp. 37-41.

Houser, T 2010, ‘Copenhagen, the accord, and the way forward’, Peterson Institute for International Economics Policy Brief, viewed 25 May 2011,
<http://www.iie.com/publications/pb/pb10-05.pdf>

Newman, A 2010, ‘Wikileaks reveal US and EU climate bullying, bribery, espionage’, The New American, 06 Dec 2010, viewed 20 May 2011,
<http://thenewamerican.com/index.php/usnews/foreign-policy/5398-wikileaks-reveals-us-a-eu-climate-bullying-bribery-espionage>

Purvis, N & Stevenson, A 2010, ‘Rethinking climate diplomacy: new ideas for transatlantic cooperation post-Copenhagen’, Brussels Forum Paper Series, The German Marshall Fund of the United States, viewed 18 May 2011,
<http://www.gmfus.org/brusselsforum/2010/docs/BF2010-Paper-Purvis-Stevenson.pdf>

Spak, B 2010, ‘The success of the Copenhagen accord and the failure of the Copenhagenconference’, American University Washington, viewed 18 May 2011,
<http://www.american.edu/sis/gep/upload/Brian-Spak-SRP-Copenhagen-Success-and-Failure.pdf>

Traufetter, G 2010, ‘The US and China joined forces against Europe’, Spiegel Online International, 08 Dec 2010, viewed 20 May 2011,
<http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,733630,00.html>

Why Consular Service Matters for Citizens

by Juan “Jed” E. Dayang, Jr.

The Australian National University

 

 

In a Facebook page of the US Department of State’s Careers in Foreign Affairs, there was a topic on the Discussion Board which asked:  Why is the consular cone one of the last sought after career tracks?

  It leads the reader to think or perceive that consular service is unpopular compared with other career tracks in the US State Department which include economic affairs, management affairs, political affairs and public diplomacy.

If diplomats are “front-line professionals” representing their countries abroad to serve the interest of their country and to protect their citizens, then why are there few Americans who want to take the consular track?

According to some studies by The Hague Journal of Diplomacy, one of the reasons why foreign service officers avoid consular work is because some diplomats consider it as subordinate to diplomatic work which primarily deals with political affairs. For many who have higher degrees before entering the service, consular work is not the real work of diplomats.   Based on the the replies of those who responded in the FB forum, there those who view consular work as routine.  The work can also have potential risks.  A wrong decision could hurt one’s career and reputation. However, those views are changing. In today’s diplomacy, handling political issues is just one of the many facets of new diplomacy.  Contemporary global challenges ran a gamut from economic and trade to environment, human rights and migration issues. It is also far from being routine. Everyday, a consular officer can assist citizens with different cases and circumstances.  The job also provides one of the best ways to serve the public and can be morally rewarding.

Importance of Consular Service

The function of consuls is to represent the state abroad to promote trade interest and protect its citizens. Consular representation predates the modern state and certainly the Vienna Convention of Consular Relations of 1963.  Many are familiar with high-profile cases concerning citizens in trouble overseas such as the victims of the 9/11 World Trade Center bombings in New York City and  the Bali bombings that killed many people.  In the last few months, we have seen governments providing assistance to their citizens who are caught in harm’s way either in natural calamities or in conflict zones. These are often very severe cases and highly charged. But the immensity of consular work is rarely recognized widely. And a few people know how broad and a complex consular affair is.

In the next section, I will cite examples of consular services of Australia, the Philippines and Mexico.

Australia

Australia is a nation of travelers. More than 3.5 million Australians – almost 20 per cent of the population – travel abroad each year. The majority of Australians do not need to go to an embassy or consulate for help. But despite adequate preparation, some Australians may suffer difficulties when overseas. Some of the programs of theAustralia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade are the Smart Traveler where Australians can check travel advisories and register their contact details when going overseas, the 24-hour consular hotline, and the crisis response team led by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Philippines and Mexico

The Philippines and Mexico are nations of emigrants. At least a 10th of their population are overseas, many if not the majority are migrant workers.  There are about 9 Million Filipinos living and working abroad and more than 60% of them are temporary migrant workers who can be found in all continents of the world.  Mexican emigrants on the other hand are concentrated in the Unite States.  Mexico is unique for having 51 consular offices in the United States alone to serve around 10 million immigrants to the United States.

The consular services of these two countries are robust. They assist their nationals and protect them from human rights abuses as well as assist victims of human trafficking.  Apart from the traditional consular services of assisting distressed citizens, both countries have established innovative services to their citizen’s abroad. For example, Filipino diplomats provide reintegration programs such as skills training and educational programs in Filipino Migrant Workers Centers in order to prepare Filipino migrant workers in their return home. Mexican Consulates run Plazas Comunitarias where Mexicans can learn English, be given health care advice, and learn personal financial skills.

There are limits to any government’s capacity to assist its citizens beyond their national borders, and in other legal jurisdictions. Therefore, citizens have the shared responsibility to take precaution when they travel overseas. The risks related with travel can always be reduced by being more careful of those risks.  That is why it is also important for travelers to research the likelihood of risks as well as the laws of their destination Citizens are also advised to contact their family and friends of their travel plans, whereabouts, and condition. This is where the travel advisories of ministries of foreign affairs are particularly useful.  Travel insurance for tourists and similar insurance provided by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) for temporary migrant workers are also handy.

Conclusion

As people continue to move in a globalized and “flatter” world, there will be increasing need for consular service.   As more complex issues arise in travel and migration, more complex and responsive consular services are vital.  Consular service is emerging as an important task of foreign ministries due to international migration and the increase in the travel activities of citizens.  Consular service appeals to those who have strong commitment to public service, enjoys challenge, and are highly motivated.  So for those contemplating of becoming a foreign service officer, the consular service may provide a most rewarding experience.

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Consular assistance goes cyber

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Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Building

by Juan  “Jed” E.  Dayang, Jr.*

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade‘s (DFAT)  use of  Information and Communication Technology as a consular tool is worth emulation. Apart from the “Smart Traveller” section in their website,  they use Facebook and Twitter for their travel warnings ( half of Mindanao’s travel warning was recently downgraded) in the effort to protect their citizens overseas.

According to William Maley of the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy of the Australian National University, travel advisories “points to a new form of consular activity that was not specifically contemplated by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 1963”.

An Australian citizen could register their details online for easy tracking in case of a crisis situation. The “Smart Traveller” has helped in “chasing” or locating  Aussies in distant shores caught in natural disasters such as the tsunamis in Thailand, earthquake in New Zealand and Japan as well as in areas of conflict and attacks such as the Bali Bombing in Indonesia,  and in the recent political crisis in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

Australia’s DFAT is ready to act at any given emergency.  Having the lead role in emergency situations overseas, DFAT is well-organised and well-oiled to respond to emergency situations overseas.  To put deeds into words, able DFAT personnel are formed in cadres (pronounced by Aussies as kader) of about 10 DFAT officers and staff.

These élite cadres are ready to act at a moment’s notice. The team, headed by a team leader,  works either in the morning or in night shifts. One cadre works five days in a row and a new team takes over for another five days.  Those who are  part of the consular response team  are given additional compensation.

As an incentive, a team member gets additional allowance per year as a token for their additional work load. The team members are selected and are trained from a pool of personnel. Once there is a crisis, a team member assumes his duty and leaves his usual assignment in the Department.  This goes to show the priority given by the DFAT in providing emergency assistance to its citizens in distress.

The  policy is backed up by financial resources worth $12M  over a ten-year period. The budget allocation is invested in technology, staffing requirements, and new ways to improve the system. DFAT’s consular emergency unit is well equipped. It has a conference room with numerous video screens and computers hooked to the internet and cable TV to monitor the crisis. The Consular unit could hold an inter-agency meeting at DFAT and  tele-conference with Ambassadors who are stationed in crisis areas for updates and instructions.  Apart from the conference room, there is also a dedicated area with more than 10 telephones hooked to computers which mimics a call centre agency. These consular hotline phones are made available for  incoming calls during crisis.    Even without a crisis, there are two people who are in charge of taking care of monitoring emergencies. For example, if the officer-in-charge becomes aware of a plane crash overseas, he immediately informs the relevant Embassy or Consulate to act by verifying any Australian casualty. The press office is alerted and is provided with talking points.  Such readiness includes  a gamut of assistance from “chasing” Australian tourists who may be missing after surfing in a beach resort in Southeast Asia or providing legal advice to Australians who may have an encounter with the law.

(On the diplomatic side, the Australian government cooperates with other nations  through bilateral agreements in holiday-work programs , health care portability, and transfer of sentence persons.)

Word has it that DFAT is now exploring mobile phone apps to prepare for  the near future when Australians will use more smart phones instead of  desktops to check information.

In the era of  cyber age and globalization, citizens are more mobile. The increase in travel and migration of nationals also increases the need for more consular activities. As citizens become more empowered and informed due to ICT, they would require faster and more efficient services from their governments. When overseas, the Embassies and Consulates becomes their city halls.

The use of information technology to improve services of government agencies, including Ministries of Foreign Affairs, particular in consular affairs of both developed and developing countries,  is not only timely but necessary.

*the author paid a visit to the consular affairs section of DFAT for his research on consular diplomacy. He was given  a tour of the consular emergency unit of DFAT by the Assistant Secretary  and was treated to a cuppa a latte. (12 July 2011)

For a more scholarly study on travel warnings read William Maley, ‘Risk, Populism, and the Evolution of Consular Responsibilities’, in Jan Melissen and Ana Mar Hernandez (eds), Consular Affairs and Diplomacy (Leiden: Nijhoff Publishers, 2011), pp. 43-62.

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