President Bush confirmed in a press briefing at the White House 16 March that he had nominated Paul Wolfowitz for World Bank President. Bush said that Wolfowitz is a “compassionate decent man, commited to development, and a skilled diplomat”. Prior to his current post as deputy secretary of defense, Wolfowitz has held positions with various academic institutions and the US state department.
According to an informal agreement struck at the founding of the Bretton Woods Institutions, the post of World Bank president is in the hands of the US administration, while the IMF Managing Director is traditionally a European. The stitch-up has been widely criticised by governments, civil society, academics and the staff of the institutions themselves.
Bank watchers say that the Wolfowitz announcement came as a surprise to officials in other shareholding countries. European government officials are said to be in urgent meetings to discuss how they will react. When Wolfowitz’s name was first put forward several weeks ago, there was widespread conjecture that his candidacy might provoke European opposition. In 2000 the US opposed the German candidate for the head of the IMF, Caio Koch-Weiser; the opposition resulted in his candidacy being revoked, eventually to be replaced by Horst Koehler.
nothing but disdain for collaboration with other countries
A coalition of UK NGOs is calling on the British government to oppose Wolfowitz. In a letter sent to prime minister Tony Blair, the NGOs said that Wolfowitz was “anathema to the needs of an institution which must act as a voice for the aspirations of all developing countries.” The organisations said that it was “hypocritical” that an institution which supposedly supports good governance would continue with the leadership selection stitch-up. Moreover, the appointment “flies in the face of the recommendations of the Africa Commission and the British Government’s 2000 White Paper on globalization”.
There are widespread concerns that Wolfowitz’s unilateralist tendencies will mean that the World Bank becomes a tool of US foreign policy interests. David Waskow of Friends of the Earth International points out that “Wolfowitz has shown nothing but disdain for collaboration with other countries. How’s he going to run the World Bank, and to what end?”. Long-time Bank watchers are asking whether this move signals the Bush administration’s intentions to convert the Bank into a grant-making institution, running down its resources and prestige.
Official UK reaction has been limited to a luke-warm endorsement from foreign secretary Jack Straw. Straw said that Wolfowitz was “very distinguished and experienced internationally”, adding that he looked forward to working with him if the appointment is confirmed.
Reaction to the nomination
“We will be having discussions with the U.S. about the appointment. We are looking forward to hearing Mr. Wolfowitz’s views on a number of issues’ including debt cancellation for developing countries.
Spokeswoman Anne Shevas for UK PM Tony Blair
“I note the USA’s nomination of Mr Wolfowitz with interest. We wait to see if there are any other candidates, as there is of course a process that has to be gone through in which the views of developing countries are important. It is the Bank Board which makes the decision. It is important that this is a transparent process. What interests me is Mr Wolfowitz’s vision for the future of the World Bank in reducing international poverty at a time when the need to make much faster progress has never been clearer.”
Statement from the office of the Secretary of State for International Development
“This is really shocking. It’s as though they (the Americans) are trying to wreck our international systems. They have nominated a man with no record on development who drove the Iraq war and in the Pentagon was responsible for Iraq after the war – and that is a complete and absolute disaster, the worst post-conflict situation we have had in the world for a very long time.”
Clare Short, former UK Secretary of State for International Development
“Europeans – who remember how the US managed to veto the German candidate to head the IMF last year – should now state their objections to Mr Wolfowitz loud and clear.”
“Now is the time for the British government to put action behind its many fine words. Oppose the nomination of Paul Wolfowitz.”
Bretton Woods Project
“Truly terrifying appointment.”
World Development Movement
“As well as lacking any relevant experience, he is a deeply divisive figure who is unlikely to move the Bank towards a more pro-poor agenda.”
“It is a disaster to put the World Bank, which should be delivering sustainable development, into the hands of a man who clearly will put US and oil-industry interests first.”
“The enthusiasm in old Europe is not exactly overwhelming.”
Germany’s development minister, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul
“We will look at Mr. Wolfowitz among other candidates.”
Michel Barnier, French foreign minister
“Members of the Development Committee of the European Parliament note with great concern that the selection process of the chief executive officer of the most important international development institution lacks minimal requirements for legitimate governance. We ask the next General Affairs and External Relations Council of 24 April to deliver a statement on this issue.”
Luisa Morgantini, Chair of the Development Committee of the European Parliament
“The Treasury Department is trying to give the impression that a deal is done, but there is no deal done. No one has any question about [Wolfowitz’s] intellect, but the problem is, he’s the face of a certain American hegemony, in the opinion of many European directors, and that does not fit the role of the bank.”
Unnamed European Executive Director
“Bush’s overtures to Europe during his visit and talk about global partnership were nothing more than lip service. In his nominations for important international posts he is obviously continuing to pursue a stubborn unilateral course. His candidate Paul Wolfowitz represents everything that we as Europeans don’t want”.
Monica Frassoni, Co-President of the Greens/European Free Alliance group in the European Parliament
“The nomination is surprising as Paul Wolfowitz lacks experience in the field of development. The nomination is worrying, he is a controversial figure and the World Bank would have needed a person who can unite the institution in order to further the struggle against poverty and support developing countries.”
Ms. Carin Jaemtin, Swedish minister for Development Cooperation
“After Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz’s repeated and serious miscalculations about the costs and risks America would face in Iraq , I don’t believe he is the right person to lead the World Bank.”
Senator John Kerry
“The Wolfowitz nomination is a win for the Pentagon but a loss for the world.”
“This is a position on which hundreds of millions of people depend for their lives,” he said. “Let’s have a proper leadership of professionalism.”
“The French and the Germans would take it as deliberate provocation or insult.”
Professor William Easterly, New York University (former senior economist at the World Bank)
“What does the rest of the world think of this decision? What does Africa think?”
Professor Jeffrey Winters, Northwestern University
“Choosing the right general in the war against poverty will not assure victory, but choosing the wrong one surely increases the chances of failure.”
Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Prize winner and a former World Bank chief economist