Tag Archives: socialization

A constructivist take on ten years of the Kyoto Protocol

A short while ago, the Kyoto Protocol marked its tenth anniversary of entry into force, to a deafening silence. If it hadn’t been for a useful RTCC piece on this anniversary, it would have entirely passed me by. (An entry into force anniversary is not insignificant for the KP, but a little out of place in broader terms as most treaty anniversaries probably take the conclusion of negotiations on the treaty text as the main symbolic marker).

These ten-year retrospectives have tended to focus on the core single question of whether the protocol has been effective in meeting its objective of emissions reduction, with the UNFCCC Secretariat offering an ebullient comment (a “timely reminder [that] climate agreements work”), and more measured comment elsewhere (a “failure” and that reductions attributable to the the KP’s provisions are “unlikely”). But there are certainly other ways to take stock of the Kyoto Protocol – and in this post, I want to offer a few that are probably of less interest to climate wonks, but perhaps more so to IR constructivists interested in how ideas and norms play out in international politics. What are the ideational takeaways from ten years of the Kyoto Protocol?

The socialization of carbon markets in developing countries
One legacy of the Kyoto Protocol that is widely acknowledged is its use of market mechanisms and emissions trading – not just among developed country parties with binding emission reduction commitments, but including developing countries via the Clean Development Mechanism. The UNFCCC Secretariat counts some 7,800 CDM projects registered since 2005, each intended to facilitate investment and tech transfer from developed countries to developing ones for emission-reduction projects that also contribute to sustainable development.

This marks a pretty dramatic normative change, however, in the normalisation of the idea of emissions trading among developing countries. Before and during the 1995-1997 negotiations for the Kyoto Protocol, the very idea of emissions trading between developed and developing countries was viewed with considerable suspicion and wariness by many developing countries – variously, that it would open the doorway to binding mitigation commitments by them; that such trading was an attempt to claim the ‘low-hanging fruit’ of ‘easy’ mitigation opportunities in poorer countries for credit by rich countries; that it was a way for richer countries to avoid domestic mitigation action; and that such trades would violate the sovereignty of developing countries. These were largely reflected in debates on ‘joint implementation’ (JI) – now a mechanism solely between countries with Kyoto mitigation commitments, but initially mooted as a developed-developing country process, and in those Kyoto-era debates, the G77 had opposed even having a clause in Kyoto on JI or emissions trading at all.

Fast forward to 2015, where only a handful of countries retain a principled opposition to the use of markets in addressing climate change (Venezuela and Bolivia the chief protagonists in this regard). This difference in developing country attitudes to markets is striking. While concerns about the environmental integrity and robustness of such market mechanisms (especially in relation to deforestation) remain, the greater concern that has been expressed over the life of the CDM is not that ‘this is the wrong way to address climate change’, but ‘why is my country not on the receiving end of CDM projects’. The normative rise of market mechanisms is perhaps the dramatic example of rapid social learning and ideational change among developing countries over the lifetime of the Kyoto Protocol.

Achievements of the Clean Development Mechanism. Credit: UNFCCC Secretariat


The standard of civilisation and Protocol membership
Another, but more subtle, constructivist perspective on the Kyoto Protocol over the lifetime of its first commitment period has been how it has served as a sort of ‘standard of civilisation’ in early 21st-century international society. This is obviously a reversal of the way in which this term is conventionally applied, as a normative standard imposed from Western states upon the rest – from the original racial hierarchy expressed in colonial practice, to more recent echoes in debates over state failure and humanitarian intervention – but the place of Kyoto Protocol membership and ratification in larger debates on appropriate behaviour in world politics is another remarkable achievement.

The global opprobrium faced by the United States for its withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol is the case in point, where the KP was taken as a key example (alongside similar behaviour towards the ABM treaty and the International Criminal Court) of the US turn to hegemonic unilateralism during the George W. Bush administration. In doing so, not ratifying the KP was seen as an abdication of any claim to responsible great power leadership, making it the pariah and rogue state of international environmental politics and remaining ‘outside’ international society. Conversely, Australia’s own belated ratification of Kyoto in 2007, one of the first acts of the Kevin Rudd administration upon assuming office, was also held up as a return of Australia’s return to good international citizenship. Obviously one also needs to add Canada’s own formal withdrawal from the Protocol in 2011 – the only country to have done so, but an act for which it has also faced considerable international censure of a different character to those others (Russia, Japan) who declared that they would not be taking on commitments in the KP’s 2012-2020 second commitment period.

Defying the Kyoto Protocol. Credit: Wolverton/CagleCartoons.com

Defying the Kyoto Protocol. Credit: Wolverton/CagleCartoons.com

Critics point out that the fact that countries can and do walk away from the Kyoto Protocol with no punitive consequences (as well as for noncompliance generally) means that it has been a weak and toothless agreement. But such punitive consequences are rare in international environmental law, however, and we might better understand the KP’s importance through its social significance as a marker of what responsible behaviour in international politics has consisted of over the last two decades.

Path dependence and the road to Paris
Finally, in looking ahead to the anticipated Paris agreement at the end of 2015, taking measure of the Kyoto Protocol also lies in where and how the ideas expressed in the Kyoto Protocol are likely to remain sticky in the design of the new agreement.

For instance, the universality of the UNFCCC regime remains paramount (despite some contention over ‘applicability to all’), which does not seem minor when measured against the flurry of mini-lateral efforts in the late 2000s – the Asia-Pacific Partnership, Major Economies Forum, and all the other institutions giving rise to the ‘fragmentation’ and ‘regime complex’ analyses of the diverse sites of climate action. At the same time, the Paris agreement is not the third commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. At least one thing that is markedly different from Kyoto is the way in which commitments will be reached – ie. not ‘negotiated’ at the international level, but simply submitted via the now-initiated INDC process following being determined domestically.

There are a glut of analyses about what the Paris agreement should ‘learn’ from Kyoto, and in any case, the reality will be upon us very soon. But the package of ‘things to be done’ that will make up the Paris agreement are really a package of ideas and their assumptions about how to go about addressing climate change – things that are fertile ground for constructivists and the study of where these ideas come from.

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Happy birthday to the Montreal Protocol!

The Montreal Protocol marks its 25th anniversary. Credit: UNEP

Happy 25th birthday to the “perhaps the single most successful environmental agreement to date”! On 16 September 1987, the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer was signed, and rapidly became the symbol of what global cooperation on environmental issues could achieve. But as symbols come to represent particular possibilities and narratives in world politics, they also legitimate and justify these, and the Montreal Protocol is no exception. Success on addressing ozone depletion has been seen to hold lessons – then and now – for art and craft of global environmental politics, with climate change being one of the best examples of this.

In a post to mark this anniversary, I reflect on some of these longer legacies and lessons of the Montreal model for the conduct and history of international climate politics, which has unfolded in the shadow of Montreal’s success – for better or worse. The two paragraphs are below, and you can find the full version at either the Politics in Spires or Responding to Climate Change sites:

“In June, the international environmental community gathered at the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development set for hard-fought negotiations on sustainable development. This occurred with the backdrop of decades of questionable progress on global environmental issues like deforestation, biodiversity and climate change.

“Old hands lamented the missed opportunities and false dawns in the years since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. Rio+20 needed to be a turning point — seen as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to find a new paradigm for sustainable development and kickstart a transition towards ‘green growth’. But while Rio+20 marked the marquee environmental summit of 2012, another much quieter – and perhaps more significant – anniversary takes place in a few days’ time, one that does much to tell us about the environmental malaise that we find ourselves in.”

Find the full post at either Politics in Spires or Responding to Climate Change.

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The real winner of the Olympics: nationalism

In the warm afterglow of the 2012 London Games, one of the recurring themes has seemed to be how humanity can come together despite our myriad differences to celebrate human athleticism and sporting prowess. True, but at the same time the very conduct of the Games has provided a reminder of one key difference: competing nationalities, where the geography of the Olympics takes our established political maps for granted.

The relative importance of the medal tables, and the flag-draping and waving by both competitors and spectators inescapably make the Olympic games a celebration of allegiances and loyalties on a national level. One’s passport and citizenship determines the in-group that we identify ourselves with in a straightforward manner – who should I support? Who do I want to win? And ultimately, who is the ‘we’? The tremendous success of nationality as a marker of identity is reflected most powerfully in the cheers and support whenever ‘our’ man or woman is competing – support for a particular athlete just because he or she comes from the same country that one is a citizen of, even if we know next to nothing about that athlete, let alone that sport. Stephen Walt puts this nicely when he writes that:

“Every Olympic year I ask my students who they rooted for, and whether they got a subtle thrill when one of their countrymen won. Are they disappointed when one of their fellow nationals loses out? Of course, the vast majority of students admit that they tend to do just that, and I’ll confess to similar instincts myself.

“But the next question I ask them is “Why? Why do you care? Is it because you know the actual people involved?” Of course not. I don’t root for Ryan Lochte of the United States over Yannick Agnel of France because I know them both personally, and I happen to like Lochte more, or because my personal knowledge of the two tells me that Lochte is more deserving in some larger sense (i.e., he works harder, has overcome more obstacles, etc.). I have no idea, yet for some silly reason I get a certain pleasure when some American I’ve never even met does well. This tendency is even more true about team events: I really have no way of knowing if the American team is nicer, smarter, more ethical, etc., than any of their foreign rivals. Yet I find myself cheering for a bunch of strangers who for all I know might be mostly jerks.”

Occasionally, spectator appreciation for sublime individual performances and special talents do transcend national differences, such as Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps for their sheer achievements. But the norm is to cheer for TeamGB if you’re British, TeamUSA if you’re American, and Team-insert-your-country-here – nationalism exemplified. The Olympics have been terrific for national cohesion, as the litany of ‘proud to be British’ commentary illustrates, with ethnic, religious or class differences fading away especially when one has a medal around the neck. But the corollary is also to increase the sense of difference with who ‘we’ are not – for if ‘we’ are British or Malaysian, then we are certainly not French or German (for the former), or Singaporean (for the latter). National affiliations, in sports as in other areas of life, draw a line that defines and categorises who is ‘inside’ the community, and who is ‘outside’, who are ‘citizens’ and who are ‘strangers’.

Two weeks ago, the opening ceremony provided a quick glimpse of just how ingrained nationalism is in the Olympic ethos – with the appearance during the parade of athletes of a small team walking behind the Olympic flag as Independent Olympic Athletes. It was notable not just for their dance routine  (see video from the parade here), but perhaps also because it raised just a little question about the parochialism of nationalism that runs throughout the Games: why don’t we see more athletes competing under this flag?  That these group of athletes are an exception, rather than rule, is a reminder that Olympic participation is organised through national Olympic committees. This structure caps on the number of athletes a country can send to participate in a given sport, and the absence of a NOC prevents participation, leaving a South Sudanese marathon runner, and athletes from the Dutch Antilles to compete under the Olympic flag. At the next games, if South Sudan has established a NOC, there’ll be no such provision.

The ‘Independent Olympic Athletes’ at the London 2012 athletes’ parade (credit: SportsGrid)

The organisation of Olympic participation based on our existing political boundaries means that the politics can never be separated fully from the sports. That the competition at the top of the medal table between the US and China is viewed through the lens of their larger political rivalry (among other things, the ‘China’s rise’ and victimhood narratives), and attempts are made to assemble ‘alternative’ medal tables weighted by population or GDP only underline the point that (especially as a mass spectator event) the larger triumph of the Olympics lies in reinforcing identities based on national allegiances and loyalty claims. The spectacle of the Olympics transcend human differences, yes – in every way but one.

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Postcards from a big planet: Echoes of Communism in Budapest

This is where statues come to die, gazing down not upon grand squares and mass parades, but simply each other: busts of Lenin confront ‘the heroic Soviet soldier’, and the granite muscularity of unselfish workers inspires only similarly weather-worn monuments of Soviet leaders. On the outskirts of Budapest, a collection of Communist-era statues and monuments forms Memento Park, a tourist attraction that, as the park guide put it with a grin, “shows you can make a good capitalist enterprise out of communist efforts”.

The rather lonely Liberation Monument - Memento Park, Budapest

Rescued from the wrecking ball and scrapheap, the park’s statues are organized into three figure-8 loops, this ‘infinity’ representation giving each sequence an ‘endless parade of…’ (liberation monuments, workers movements, etc.) label. I can’t quite decide if this is a nice little arty concept, or clever BS.

Heroic Soviet Workers - Memento Park, Budapest

Far from where they were originally installed and no longer serving a civic purpose, being brought to this park illustrates the politics of public art and the narratives of history represented therein. Understandably and unsurprisingly, in the years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, new popularly-elected governments sought to erase past markers and monuments of the Communist era, replacing Soviet heroes with those of resistance fighters and pre-Communist leaders. The same is true of many decolonized countries, where changing road names and introducing new events to commemorate are as much efforts at sweeping away the old system as they are of nation-building and forging a new narrative of a country’s past and future.

Lenin, circa 2011 - Memento Park, Budapest

Once upon a time, not so long ago, these statues and busts that would have looked down over Budapest’s hills and squares, representing a particular vision of society, the good life and models of emulation. What seems remarkable about the park, then, is its attempt to provide a reminder of the values and norms of that age, when the typical thing for the champions of any new system is to attempt to eradicate – sometimes brutally – all vestiges and symbols of the old.

For in our historical narratives lie claims to political legitimacy, and what these narratives contain shape the standards by which political life is judged. A resurgence in Communist nostalgia in Russia; contestation over the content of Japanese school textbooks about wartime atrocities; heady exhortations to the glory days of Britain bestriding the world – appeals to ‘history’, and the stirrings of collective identity and who ‘we’ are, mandate or limit particular courses of action, whether in foreign policy or otherwise.

In the process of removing these artifacts from public Budapest – one that is still ongoing – the contrast of their reorganization in the admission-fee statue park is a glimpse of one interpretation of history, written by those triumphant at one point in time, while a different interpretation is being forged today. Public space, whether in architecture or art, always contains the fingerprints of different generations and their values and claims to power, but which often requires a little bit of an archaeological trovel to unearth the different layers of history. The accumulation of this one collection of monuments relegated from the public eye presents this transition from one layer to another so much more vividly.

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When being a ‘developing country’ is useful

While the ‘developed’ and ‘developing’  categories are still common labels applied to dividing the world’s countries, dispute over where exactly these dividing lines are drawn frequently generates criticisms of their antiquated nature.  This is more than an academic exercise; as David Bosco at Foreign Policy writes, there are some real economic consequences at stake:

“But it turns out that wanting to develop and wanting to be classified as “developed” are two quite different things. Particularly when it comes to international trade, there are pocketbook reasons that a country might prefer to remain “developing” long after economic data and common sense remove it from that category. Some of the key international trade agreements underlying the World Trade Organization, in particular, offer special benefits to developing countries…

“For its part, the WTO has no classification system. Instead, countries declare their status and, consequently, their eligibility for the trade benefits accorded to developing countries. They often do so à la carte, claiming developing country status for certain agreements but not others. This murky honor system produces some odd results.  South Korea, Mexico, and Turkey are members of the elite G-20 and the OECD (traditionally thought of as the rich-country club) but when it comes to WTO matters, they sometimes claim to be developing. Israel is another OECD member that has taken advantage of developing-country benefits…

“Not that there’s much Washington, Tokyo or Brussels can do about it. The practice of self-declaring is by now built deep into the WTO structure, and attempts to reform the system have gotten nowhere. For the time being, a developing country at the WTO is whoever claims to be one.”

Self-declaring is also built into the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change structure, in the division between Annex I and non-Annex I parties, which generates different obligations and commitments over reducing emissions, contributing finance, and so on.

This apparent anomaly is a familiar theme on this blog, and my occasional posts on this subject constitute a mini ‘Not Quite the End of the Third World’ series. As before, my purpose is simply to suggest that our understandings of what developing countries are is not something that can be reached through purely objective (i.e. statistical) means.

In a parallel universe, the dividing line between the developing/developed labels would simply be in crossing some statistical line – some measure of per capita income, or emission levels, or so on. Deciding what the measure is may be contentious – but once the process is settled on, then it would seem to work pretty smoothly. In our current universe, one method may be via the Human Development Index, which produces neat, comparable scores and allows for a high/medium/low division in terms of human development.

But almost any sort of label matters more than just what it describes, because the label itself is related to some sense of identity – a statement about what that state is, and what it is not. Who are my friends, and who are my enemies? Different benefits and costs come into play, ones that aren’t reducible to statistical claims.

Yes, there may be some instrumental exploitation of these categories, taking advantage of the material benefits offered by falling into one category and not another. But I’d suggest that there is also some pull created by a particular identity claim upon a state, which is why from the perspective of a given state, it still seems entirely unsurprising that it might continue to describe itself as a developing country as opposed to a developed one (even if it does so inconsistently from issue to issue). Normative reasons can exist alongside instrumental reasons.

For all the suggestions that the developed/developing distinction is irrational based on the economic data, or beyond common sense, then – these categories are likely to be with us for some time yet.

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Libya falls off the rehab wagon

Amid state violence against its own citizens, out of the window goes the 12-step plan for Libya’s international rehabilitation. Hazy reports of mercenaries, fighter pilots directed to bomb civilian protestors, and a mounting death toll point to one thing: even if Gaddafi manages to hold on to power, his hopes for Libya’s slow but gradual return to international respectability will be in tatters.

In a post last year, I was struck by the path Libya was attempting to travel, from “rogue” state to being considered part of “civilized” international society:

“Libya is a fascinating case of how a country suddenly decides to try to rehabilitate itself into the international community – settling compensation for victims of the Lockerbie bombing, declaring an end to any intention to acquire weapons of mass destruction, trying to take a leading role in the African Union – in the hope that its oil reserves will draw in the sorely-needed expertise and investment of Western companies. In short, a wish to be treated as a ‘normal’ state and not as a pariah (and one that was surely not all that far down an axis of evil list).”

The medium/long-term plan, of that wish to be treated as a normal state, has been forgone as Gaddafi’s government, with its backs against the wall, turns to the short-term exigencies of regime survival. I was interested in that previous post on the visible elements of Libyan foreign policy over the past decade, but the standards of international respectability still demand certain elements in the conduct of one’s own domestic affairs.

The use of military violence against its own people is very rapidly pushing it beyond the pale of being a “civilized” member of the international community – being seen to be part of this “civilized” club is a mark of social status, but one with very real and significant consequences for trade, foreign investment and diplomatic allies. Good, civilized states don’t send planes to bomb its own civilians, among other things. Libya has been trying to conform to the various standards of appropriate conduct – and now, dramatically failing.

A post at Foreign Policy highlights another element of Libya’s attempts to change how the world sees it, through its apparent success, trumpeted to the world, in deradicalizing al-Qaeda militants – with the author also pointing to how the ongoing violence has put paid to these efforts, no matter how shallow they may have been to begin with:

“The ostensible purpose of the trip was a conference on the terrorist deradicalization and rehabilitation program the foundation runs for imprisoned members of an al Qaeda-linked Libyan Islamic Fighting Group…

“The centerpiece of the trip was a daylong meeting with militants and officials responsible for Libya’s religious militant rehabilitation program, which Qaddafi’s son has taken on as a personal project. While the presentations gave me the impression that the militants that went through the program hadn’t given up their radical views in any meaningful sense (they evaded questions about whether it was permissible to fight foreign troops in Afghanistan or Iraq), they had struck some sort of deal with the Libyan government not to engage in violence against the Qaddafi regime…

“The bloody scenes being played out on the streets of Libya’s major cities are proof of the fundamental inability of the regime to change its ways. All the efforts made over the last eight years to convince the world that Libya has changed have all been for naught thanks to the hundreds of dead Libyans and the defiant posture of the Qaddafi family.”

In the short-term, Gaddafi may be able to cling on to power by sheer coercive force. And whatever that might mean for the future governance of Libya itself (coercion being rather expensive in the longer run), a return to international reclusiveness may be all that remains for it on the international stage.

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Not Quite the End of the Third World: Chile goes North

Thirty years ago, on the cover of the landmark Brandt Report (North-South: A Programme for Survival, 1980, MIT Press), which examined the challenges and responsibilities of international development, a line was drawn across the map of the world, demarcating North and South. Geographically straightforward apart from the loop including Australia and New Zealand, it seemed an appropriate representation of rich and poor, developed and underdeveloped in the late-1970s. But as Chile is now finding out, you cross it at your peril.

At the beginning of the year, Chile announced that it was to become a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the first Latin American country to do so and only its 31st member. Some international organisations are open to any country who wishes to sign up, but OECD membership is not. In a manner not unlike the lengthy accession procedures and criteria of the EU, NATO and WTO, joining the OECD involves undertaking substantial economic reforms, meeting certain guidelines for the independence of the rule of law, and reforming governance structures, among other things. Been accepted into the OECD is a pretty powerful signal about how your economy is regarded – a mark of approval, particularly for investors, about the transparency and stability of one’s economy – but perhaps also important as much as a status symbol as for its economic implications.

“Being a member of the right club can be important in life, and there are few global clubs as prestigious as the OECD,” the BBC World Service reported at the time. All good, then?

For Chile’s economic prospects, certainly. But what about its place, and image of itself in the world? In this regard, Chile’s attempt to retain its membership of the Group of 77, which organizes the 120+ countries of the developing world in UN-type negotiations, is causing some disquiet among fellow G77 states, who see its OECD membership as incompatible with its G77 one.

The two major countries that have previously left the G77, Mexico and South Korea, did so in the mid-1990s upon their accession to the OECD. But according to an InterPress Service report (strangely, seemingly the only news piece about it on the internet), Chile is trying to hold on to both:

“The African countries that have expressed “concern” over Chile’s decision to retain its G77 membership include Nigeria and Tanzania.

Both countries have said there was a “need for detailed explanations” since Chile’s membership in the 30-member Paris-based OECD is not compatible with the interests of the G77.

“Sooner or later,” one African diplomat told IPS, “there is going to be a conflict of interest because we in the G77 have nothing in common with the OECD.”

Put simply, he said, “You cannot run with the hare and hunt with the hounds.”…

…Chile has maintained there are no rules of procedure for membership in the G77, and more importantly, the OECD has not demanded that Chile quit the G77 as a condition for membership in the OECD.

Chile, which was formally inducted last May into the OECD, has also argued there is no conflict of interest in holding seats in both bodies.”

What’s at stake here is a debate about where the boundaries about North and South in world politics lie today. Throughout its existence, beginning as a vehicle in the 1960s to organize developing countries in international fora, the self-image of the G77 has been one of the struggle of the poor against the rich. In its advocacy of global redistributive economic equality (compared to the inequalities of the market) or its defense of state sovereignty and one-nation one-vote global decisionmaking (compared to the hierarchy explicit in institutions like the IMF and World Bank), the G77 is defined in good part by what it is not – The Other being the the ‘rich man’s club’ of the OECD.

The empirical inconsistencies and contradictions in this description are, of course, rife: after all, if countries can draw international benefit from economic and political liberalization, they have and will, and if countries can benefit from privileged positions in the global political architecture, they have and will.

But the crucial point in this heat and fire raised about G77 membership is that this process of defining who is in and who is not is done, not necessarily (or always) by reference to whatever the empirical, objective reality might be, but instead by reference to subjective images of self and other.

For instance, for the middle-income developing countries storming ahead of the bottom billion, their continuing G77 membership is still a symbol of their own percieved insurgency and underdog-ness in challenging the established (Western) order – even if in practice they are economic competitors to their G77 peers, and desire cooperation with their supposed OECD foes. In the collective identity of the G77 lies a latent suspicion of the nefarious intentions of the North, demanding a circling of the wagons and pleas for Southern unity as the only means of survival in this titanic struggle. Those who step outside the circle can no longer play the game. Accused of betrayal, they relinquish their team membership (for football fans, think Sol Campbell going to play for Arsenal with a Spurs background, or Michael Owen at Manchester United with his Liverpool one).

In the continuing construction of the ‘Third World’, this element of identity still matters greatly. In ideas of ‘who we are’, and therefore ‘who we are not’, lies the impossibility, for many developing countries, for a country to be both a G-77 and OECD member at the same time (despite Chile’s protestations). The enduring nature of this sort of enmity between North and South may seem excessively tribal, or just plain stubborn. But it is certainly not trivial.

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