#116 The G|O Briefing, November 3, 2022
Moving International Geneva to Ukraine | Brazil back on the world stage | UN human rights chief speaks, as does ILO boss | Happy Birthday G|O!
This is an onsite, slightly edited republication of the complete G|O Briefing newsletter
Today in The Geneva Observer: what if part of the aptly named Maison de la Paix in the heart of International Geneva were to relocate to war-torn Ukraine? It hosts three Swiss-funded centres of international reputation: the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining, and the Geneva Centre for Security Sector Reform. But remotely providing support to Ukraine from Geneva is insufficient for the monumental task at hand. A partial relocation of resources and expertise is called for, argues former Swiss Ambassador Theodor Winkler, one of the centres’ main initiators, in a thought-provoking guest essay for The G|O. Under some conditions, such a proposal, while carrying high risks, would be looked at favorably, the Swiss government tells The G|O.
Borrowing from the Joe Biden playbook, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva told his countrymen that “Brazil is back,” on the night of his election last Sunday (October 30). But what does this return mean—and how will it affect International Geneva, knowing that “the strengthening of the multilateral system and climate change will be at the heart of Brazil's foreign policy,” as Celso Amorin, Lula’s foreign policy advisor and a former Ambassador to the UN in Geneva told The G|O?
Jamil Chade gives us a preview of what Brazil’s priorities in Geneva will be. Brazil’s foreign policy ambitions go well beyond this city. They are truly global. In a way, the Bolsonaro years obfuscated Brazil’s historical presence on the world stage. Bolsonaro’s defeat represents more than Lula’s return, it allows for a rediscovery of the country’s ability to be a global player at a moment of great geopolitical tensions, with the multilateral system arguably at a point of possible paralysis.
Multilateralism and Multipolarity, a recent policy paper published in Portuguese and English by the Brazilian Center for International Relations (CEBRI), offers a sweeping historical and prospective analysis of Brazil’s renewed foreign policy ambitions. The paper is an absolute must-read to understand what role Brazil intends to play in the coming years within the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) and beyond.
With a geopolitical order increasingly conditioned by the US-China rivalry, the authors write: “To describe the contemporary geopolitical distribution of power as multipolar can represent not only an analytical perspective but also a political statement, inasmuch as it expresses a rejection of the idea that we are unavoidably marching towards a new bipolar world order. Multipolarity can be seen as multidimensional to the extent that global influence, whether military, economic or diplomatic, relies on a variety of geopolitical dynamics in which the main actors are not necessarily only Washington and Beijing. As a member of the G20 and a country that has a global diplomatic presence, it is possible to argue that Brazil—without claiming to be a major military power—wields international influence in at least the economic and diplomatic dimensions of this multipolarity.” “With its considerable economic strength and common values, Europe will play a central role […] in Brazil’s efforts to avoid the downward spiral of growing confrontation between Washington and Beijing,” Antonio Patriota, the paper’s editor, told me. Under Bolsonaro, Brazil considerably reduced its international footprint. When fighting its debt crisis and galloping inflation, the country concentrated its energy on economic diplomacy. “But Brazil,” Patriota—himself a former Foreign Minister in Lula's first government and a former Ambassador to the UN in New York—told me, “has had original ideas on human rights, on the environment, on peace and security. It is a country that can play all the instruments in the orchestra, it doesn’t have to concentrate only on the horns and violins.”
Also in today’s Briefing, two brief notes on a changing of the guard in Geneva, with Volker Turk’s first press briefing since becoming High Commissioner for Human Rights and the International Labour Organization’s new Director General, Gilbert Houngbo, facing the ILO’s governing body. Plus, for good measure, an anniversary celebration—ours! As usual, it is all below. Thank you for reading us!
RELOCATING PART OF INTERNATIONAL GENEVA TO UKRAINE: A BREAKTHROUGH IDEA
By Daniel Warner
The war in Ukraine has been raging since February 24, with no end in sight. There have been no direct negotiations between the adversaries toward any form of peace settlement. There have not even been pauses in the fighting. Thousands have died, millions have been displaced. Humanitarian interventions have been sporadic, with a cold winter approaching.
What can Switzerland do? As a small, neutral country, its possibilities are limited. It has already joined the European Union in enforcing sanctions, although a total freeze on Russian assets remains problematic.
In this context, Theodor Winkler’s initiative, published here, to relocate to Kyiv part of three Geneva-based centres with recognized expertise and operational potential is highly innovative. (Full disclosure: I have known and worked with Dr Winkler for a number of years until his retirement.)
A former Ambassador and high-level official in both the Swiss Defense and Foreign Ministries, Teddy—as he is affectionately known—has been at the forefront of numerous successful Swiss initiatives. One of his enduring convictions is that, based on the model of the Swiss force that provides trained dogs for rescue missions in disaster-struck areas, Switzerland should also have a rapid reaction force to respond to political, economic, and military disasters. If the war in Ukraine is not that, what is it?
Winkler’s proposal is innovative, but more importantly, it is pragmatic, immediately actionable, and financially affordable. It would be the ultimate validation of the centres’ vocation and raison d’être.
The Geneva Observer presents Dr Winkler’s guest essay in the hope that its widespread diffusion will encourage discussion and further help the Swiss Government and others to make useful contributions to alleviate suffering and to bring some form of conclusion to this terrible tragedy.
THE THREE GENEVA CENTRES WHICH SHOULD PLAY A MAJOR ROLE IN THE SWISS STRATEGY FOR SUPPORTING UKRAINE
By Theodor H. Winkler
Following the Lugano and Berlin conferences, Switzerland is in the process of defining its support for Ukraine over the coming years. The needs are enormous. First, there is the urgent need for modern weaponry, which poses a problem for Swiss neutrality. Second, there is Ukraine’s demand that the funds of the oligarchs are not only frozen but sequestered by the international financial markets. Switzerland will have little choice but to follow what the international community decides on the matter. And thirdly, there are the large sums of money that will be needed to rebuild the war-torn country. Estimates here range from 350 to 850 billion USD.
Given this huge pile of problems, Switzerland should—together with Ukraine—choose specific centres of gravity that provide the Swiss contribution with direction and give it a clear thrust. It seems to me that we would be well advised, if we take this approach, to focus on the fight against corruption and related issues, to establish the infrastructure for coping with the explosive remnants of war (mines, duds, cluster ammunitions, and booby traps), and to train the highly professional personnel Ukraine needs to strengthen its relations with the Western world.
These three issues belong to the core competencies of the three centres created by the Confederation in Geneva: The Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP), the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD), and the Geneva Centre for Security Sector Reform (DCAF)—all housed in the Maison de la Paix.
The GICHD is the world’s leading address in humanitarian demining. To rebuild the Ukrainian economy, the clearing of the vast explosive remnants of war will be an absolute precondition—as it will be also for a return of the refugees and internally displaced persons. The Centre should develop for the Ukrainians an “Integrated Management System for Mine Action” (as it has done in some 60 other countries) that would link all the data and information necessary into one system, rendering the mine clearing operation much more efficient—and therefore less costly in terms of victims and sacrifice. It should, furthermore, assist Ukraine in any other form needed in dealing with the problem, providing related Swiss projects to the Ukrainians.
DCAF, which has 22 years of cooperation with Ukraine to its record, should explore with Kyiv ways and means to assist Ukraine in fighting corruption—particularly in the security sector. President Zelensky once made that very topic a key theme in the TV series in which he played the fictional President. He is certainly aware of how critical the issue is. There are the related issues of the political control over the armed forces and of how to assure the total integrity of attorney general inquiries into war crimes. DCAF has already established the mutual trust with the Ukrainian authorities that is indispensable for such highly sensitive issues. There is no organization better qualified to help and engage in close assistance.
Finally, GCSP, under the directorship of ambassador Thomas Greminger—the former Secretary General of the OSCE, who knows Ukraine extremely well—is ideally positioned to offer the country all the necessary training and analytical support in international security policy and the preparation of diplomats, officers, and civil servants for postings abroad.
Critically, providing support remotely from Geneva is insufficient for the task at hand, and partial relocation of resources and expertise is called for. The three centres should, together with the Swiss Embassy, open in Kyiv an “Integrated Implementation Centre” to support their activities and to integrate them with other follow-up activities to Lugano.
The use of Geneva’s assets would facilitate the task of defining a clear strategy that can be communicated to the Swiss parliament and public, is fully compatible with any definition of neutrality, and would be highly cost-efficient. It would also encourage the Bern administration to make better use of the three world-class institutions they have created as part of international Geneva. There has been, in the last few years, a lack of such cooperation. On the contrary, an attitude has developed towards the centres in which the Foreign Ministry and the Defence Ministry have not integrated them into operational planning—they have looked at them not as a tool but as institutions.
It is clearly in Geneva’s—and Switzerland’s—strong interest that this changes. The Federal Council should use the opportunity of its Ukraine program to highlight institutions that are world-class, ready to go at short notice, trusted by Ukraine and our Western partners, and highly experienced in delicate fieldwork.
We should also put the necessary money where our mouth is. A major thrust by the three centres should be supported by 50 million CHF per year for an initial period of three years. We must avoid the instinctive reaction of the administration to do—and spend—as little as possible. We need results, international recognition, and, above all, strong support for Ukraine, the country under the brutal Russian onslaught.
Following a request for comment on Dr. Winkler’s proposal, this is what a spokesperson for the Swiss government emailed The Geneva Observer:
“Even though the war is raging, it is never too early to prepare a reconstruction process to give hope, clarify needs and responsibilities, and ensure the confidence necessary for the process to run smoothly. We must prepare all the available tools and be ready when the time comes. Mobilizing the expertise of the Geneva centres is perfectly in line with the inclusive principles of Lugano. Launching a project like that proposed by Mr. Winkler while the war is still raging is ambitious. It is not impossible, but it carries high risks. Under the present circumstances, such a project would have to be monitored very closely to consider the situation’s evolution. This would be a major challenge. The procedure must clearly respect the principle ‘form follows function follows needs.’ In other words, the centres must first determine, in collaboration with the Ukrainian authorities, the needs for the centres’ services. On the basis of these needs, a proposal for coordinated action could be developed. […] The development of the activities of the Geneva centres in Ukraine by prioritizing core contributions is an interesting idea. […] Such a project should be part of an overall strategic analysis of the needs of the Ukrainian authorities and population and the added value of the centres. Emanating from the centres and in close cooperation with the Ukrainian authorities, such a proposal would certainly be looked upon favorably.”
The Swiss government's response to The G|O has been edited for length and clarity. The translation from French to English is ours.
By Jamil Chade
“Brazil is back,” said Lula in his victory speech on Sunday, pledging to rejoin the international community, reminding the world that Brazil was “too big to be relegated to this sad role of pariah.” He inherits a divided country, with some of its institutions weakened. Brazil’s image abroad has undoubtedly been tarnished. Lula wasted no time in making sure his message had been heard. As soon as the results were declared, he received calls from Joe Biden, Emmanuel Macron, and Olaf Scholz, as well as a visit by Alberto Fernandez, from Argentina. In the first 24 hours, he had already spoken to over 20 leaders from every corner of the world.
There is more than mere symbolism in these calls. The signal couldn’t be clearer: Brazil sees Europe, Latin America, and other emerging countries as essential partners in preventing the creation of a bi-polar world defined by the US-China rivalry and in returning Brazil to its rightful place on the world stage. The new president will deliver his vision and message face to face: he’s already announced his intention to visit key capitals before the beginning of his term on January 1, 2023.
Lula’s foreign policy strategy, right down to the messaging, have been honed for months by his team, most prominently by a very familiar figure in International Geneva, Celso Amorim. “The strengthening of the multilateral system and climate change will be at the heart of Brazil’s foreign policy,” Amorim told me. Brazil, he says, wants to “be part” of the debate on global issues and to foster dialogue.
Brazil's most seasoned diplomat was his country’s representative at the UN here. He chaired the negotiations that led to the agreement between the WHO and the tobacco industry and was highly instrumental in forging an alliance between emerging countries at the WTO, where he led discussions about IP rights.
The affable and softly-spoken Amorim is the multilateral game player par excellence. He left the table to become Lula’s Foreign minister and, later, Defense Minister in Dilma Rousseff’s government. Is he in for a repeat? Itamaraty, Brazil’s foreign ministry, seems to be his for the taking. However, at 80, could the demands of that particular job be too taxing? Lula might decide that his trusted ally and foreign policy adviser could continue to play a central role in shaping Brazil’s renewed foreign policy without having to hop around the world and instead create for him a position of special adviser—a role close to that played by a national security adviser in the US government.
LEADERSHIP ON CLIMATE CHANGE, HUMAN RIGHTS, AND GLOBAL GOVERNANCE
Lula and Amorim are not newcomers, both have a track record, and neither will have to prove themselves on the world stage. But the road to restoring Brazil’s image in the world may still be arduous as the new administration attempts to deal with a global recession, war in Europe, and the climate emergency. Winning the election was only the first step. Very serious damage has been done by Jair Bolsonaro to Brazil’s image and standing in the world. The ousted president’s denial of climate change and the environmental calamity he has created in allowing the deforestation of the Amazon have also had serious economic consequences for Brazil’s economy, as a number of sovereign wealth funds suspended their investments in the country. Lula and his team will have to convince the world that, despite the country being as divided and highly polarized as ever, they will be able to deliver.
The president-elect knows that Brazil can only improve its standing in the international community if it makes fighting the climate emergency and stopping the deforestation of the Amazon a priority of his administration, and he used his first speech to make it clear that the environmental issue is among his priorities. “Brazil is ready to resume its role in the fight against the climate crisis, protecting all biomass, especially the Amazon forest,” he said.
During his previous time in government, he pointed out, “we were able to reduce by 80% the deforestation of the Amazon, considerably reducing the emission of gases that cause global warming. Now, we will fight for zero deforestation of the Amazon. Brazil and the planet need a living Amazon,” he declared.
The entire world will be watching to see real results. Lula is moving swiftly, by suggesting the creation of an alliance among emerging countries to defend the forests. He hopes to get help from wealthy Europe and America and beyond. Strong and sustained leadership on fighting climate change could also boost Brazil’s influence in emerging countries in Africa and Asia. 20 years ago, access to medicine and agricultural trade catapulted Brazil into international prominence. Climate change, his new leaders say, will do the same again. There are already signs that this is the case: Lula is keen to convene a major international conference in Brazil addressing the issue of deforestation, and the leaders of Egypt have invited him to attend the COP27, an event that will bring together nations from around the world.
Brazil’s renewed diplomatic effort won’t stop at climate change. Another priority for Lula is a change to global governance: “We will fight again for […] the inclusion of more countries in the United Nations Security Council, and for the end of the veto right that undermines the balance between nations,” said the president-elect.
The country’s active and forceful return to the international scene should also see an end to the systematic assault on gender equality, and the relentless attempts by the Bolsonaro regime to overturn or weaken international agreements on fundamental rights signed thirty years ago. The “Geneva Consensus”, a broad and loose anti-abortion coalition put together by Jair Bolsonaro and Donald Trump, will now be officially abandoned. What with reforms at the WTO and the WHO, not to mention human rights issues, whoever ends up being the country’s top diplomat—Celso Amorim or any other—will certainly have to carry a weighty “Geneva Portfolio.”
A NEW TRADE STRATEGY
Strengthening and reforming the WTO is on Lula’s agenda. But his team has already indicated that this does not mean abandoning issues supposedly considered “of the past,” such as agricultural subsidies. Furthermore, the WTO’s court system, widely used by Lula and Amorim during the president’s first term 15 years ago, is considered to be of strategic importance. Therefore, the search for a dialogue with the US to unblock the situation by allowing the nomination of new judges to the Appellate Body (WTO’s supreme trade dispute body) will also be treated as a pressing concern.
There are questions, however, about the new administration’s strategy with regard to regional trade agreements. After 20 years of negotiations, Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazilian government finally concluded the trade agreement between Mercosur and the European Union in 2019. But the ratification of the treaty never occurred, as European governments began to place conditions on the agreement relating to environmental commitments by Brazil.
For the new Brazilian government, accepting the agreement as it stands may open a new page for the strategic relationship between Brazil and Europe, but it would be on a level that is insufficient for Brazilian exporters since the conditions accepted by Bolsonaro fall short of agribusiness’ goals. If, on the other hand, Brazil wishes to reopen the negotiation, it would also have to accede to Europe’s strict environmental demands.
In his first speech, Lula said he would consider taking a new path: “We want fairer international trade, to resume our partnerships with the United States and the European Union on new bases. We are not interested in trade agreements that condemn our country to an eternal role as an exporter of commodities and raw materials,” he said. In a column published in the French newspaper Le Monde on Saturday, Lula suggested that he would not rule out reviewing the agreement with Europe; however, he also made it clear that he considers that alliance as key in facing the US-China rivalry. There is a balance to be struck.
ACCESS TO MEDICINES AT THE WTO AND WHO
According to members of Lula's team, another focus of the new Brazilian diplomacy in Geneva will be to restore the country’s leadership in the debate over access to medicines and vaccines. Back in 2002, Amorim was key in reforming the TRIPS agreement at the WTO, so emerging economies were shocked at Bolsonaro’s initial decision to ally with developed countries, at the most critical moment of the pandemic, on the matter of a vaccine waiver. While India and South Africa insisted that the production of generic versions of vaccines be permitted, Brazil echoed the positions of the EU, Switzerland, and the US, claiming that breaking patents was not the correct way to assure vaccines reach poor countries. In fact, Brazil was the only developing country to take such a stance.
Bolsonaro ended up softening his stance in the face of domestic pressure but avoided taking the lead in the process of questioning patents. Now, however, the order is to return to a posture of championing access to medicine as a key health issue, both at the WHO and WTO. In part, this is also seen as a possible shortcut to re-establishing Brazil’s role as a spokesperson for the emerging world and to help Lula regain the sympathy of African and Asian governments.
A DEMOCRATIC MANDATE WITH A GLOBAL ENDORSEMENT
The ambitious and wide-ranging foreign policy goals of the Lula administration require that the world sees him as the legitimate leader. No surprise, then, that following his election victory, Lula’s team abroad focused on ensuring that Bolsonaro’s questioning of the result had no backing from other nations.
After weeks of detailed coordination, Western democracies rushed to congratulate Lula on his victory. They sent telegrams and messages on social networks as early as Sunday night. Their goal was to create a cordon sanitaire to prevent Bolsonaro from repeating Donald Trump’s strategy of claiming the election had been unfair—and to assuage fears that the chaotic scenario in Bolivia would be repeated.
By congratulating Lula, what Joe Biden, Emmanuel Macron, Olaf Scholz and many others did was to signal that they trusted the electoral process and the results of the electronic ballot boxes. Significantly, Bolsonaro’s traditional partners in Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, Hungary, Israel, Italy and Poland also accepted the election result, with almost 100 countries, including China, congratulating Lula on his victory by the end of Tuesday. However, there was another message behind those well-wishes: from now on, they recognized that the legitimate power in Brazil is with Lula.
TWO FIRSTS IN A WEEK
By Philippe Mottaz
On Wednesday (November 2), the newly-installed United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk held his first briefing before the press. And on Monday (October 31), Gilbert Houngbo, the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) new boss, gave his first speech to the organization’s governing body, during which Houngbo outlined his key programmatic and office restructuring priorities.
A CROWDED AND ATTENTIVE ROOM FOR THE NEW UN HUMAN RIGHTS CHIEF
Volker Turk, the new UN human rights chief, gave a sold-out maiden press performance yesterday (November 2) at the Palais Wilson, home of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
Expectations had been high after months of controversy and internal turmoil at OHCHR, and the change in tone was immediately perceivable. The still untested Austrian was firm on principles but also showed himself as a no-nonsense, engaging personality.
Turk spent almost an hour fielding reporters’ questions, addressing the most sensitive one head-on without being defensive. There was no mincing of words when denouncing the UK’s Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s rhetoric describing migrants on small boats making it to the UK as “an invasion on our southern coast.”
“Invasion: horrible word,” he stated bluntly. “It absolutely is the problem that we often see. I know that very well from my previous position—I lived through this in 2015 and 2016 when I was Assistant High Commissioner for Protection [at the UN refugees agency (UNHCR)]; the types of words and dehumanizing language that I have heard from European politicians during that period is harrowing.” He added, “We will really have to work very strongly [to ensure] that it doesn’t poison and add fuel to the fire on issues that are about human beings. And I’m glad that there is a strong reaction in Britain to that use of the word.”
Without naming any country, Turk also expressed deep concern about the persistent efforts to reverse the rights of women and girls in many countries, describing the trend as “a very worrying pushback, and [one] that affects women and girls in many parts of the world in a way that is unparalleled.”
More broadly, he denounced the shrinking of public space and quashing of dissent in many countries, saying that “the repression and the silencing of dissent is obviously, very particularly worrying. […] I’m worried about the deepening of a politicization that is not constructive. I’m worried about a polarization that could even lead to paralysis.”
Speaking about the current tense geopolitical situation, Turk deplored the fact that “unfortunately, human rights have been thrown into the vortex of these dynamics and have become a battlefield which we cannot afford, and human beings cannot afford.”
A RISK TAKER AT THE ILO?
With his headline initiative—a new Social Justice Coalition—Houngbo, the first African to lead the organization, is looking to place a distinct marker on his administration. Although short on specifics at this point, this Coalition has been conceived as a vehicle for outreach, influence, and policy coherence beyond the traditional ILO tripartite constituency of governments, workers and employers. It signals an apparent appetite for boldness and risk-taking in an organization that is not generally known for either.
On the office structure, not really a major shake-up: one yet-to-be-named Deputy-Director General instead of the previous three; four organizational clusters headed by Assistant Directors-General, and a firm commitment to gender parity in senior positions.
So far, the pace of senior management appointments seems rather leisurely. Informed sources tell us that this should pick up shorty. Houngbo’s proposal to discontinue the quadrennial regional meetings in their current form and redeploy those resources to field offices and programs will also get scrutiny from GB members.
Everybody loves a good soccer game. But clearly Houngbo could not sidestep the continued labor rights problems in Qatar on the eve of the 2022 World Cup. While the ILO’s development assistance program with the Government of Qatar, begun in 2018, has helped bring about significant changes to law and practice—in particular, the slavery-like practices of the “kafala” sponsorship system that limited the freedom of migrant workers to change jobs and leave the country—there is still a long way to go, as recent reports from human rights groups attest.
D-G Houngbo appears willing to double down on ILO technical support to Qatar with the potential opening of a regular ILO office in the country. We’ll put that under the heading of “constructive engagement.” ICYMI, the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, revealed a few days ago that Qatar organized a massive surveillance operation on FIFA’s executives.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY. TO US!
This week marks The Geneva Observer’s third anniversary.
We launched The G|O in October 2019 as an independent, trustworthy and reliable source of in-depth, high-quality journalism about Geneva’s multilateral ecosystem and its global impact. On October 31, 2019, we published a long read on Antonio Gutèrres and an analysis of how Jair Bolsonaro helped Venezuela secure a seat at the Human Rights Council. Both pieces, we think, stand the test of time and remain good examples of what we set out our editorial mission to be: practice slow, in-depth, informed, and reliable journalism.
Putting out the G|O has been an exhilarating ride ever since. We started with barely a handful of readers. Today, we are proud to say that every week, our Briefing reaches thousands, including numerous policymakers, diplomats, UN officials, elected officials, engaged global citizens, and journalists. “Locally international,” our motto, has never been truer.
We strongly believe that with a war in Europe, Geneva is an essential vantage point from which to assess the future of international cooperation and diplomacy, to identify the threats to the rules- and values-based order, and to test international organizations’ resilience and relevance. We also believe that what we do matters, that these times demand solid explanatory journalism. Our fervent hope is to be able to grow The G|O and realize its full potential.
We could not have come so far without the incredible dedication of everyone on our small team, overwhelming encouragement from our readers, and the unwavering support from the Konrad Adenauer and Nicolas Puech foundations. Thank you to all.
Today's Briefing: Philippe Mottaz - Jamil Chade
Guest essay: Teddy Winkler
Editing: Dan Wheeler