IFI governance


Bush nominates Zoellick to replace Wolfowitz

30 May 2007

US president George Bush has nominated former trade representative Robert Zoellick to replace Paul Wolfowitz as World Bank president. However, the Bank’s board has made noises that it may not sit quietly by and allow the Americans to appoint their man.

In a 29 May statement, the board prepared a profile of “key qualities for nominees to guide the selection process”. This included “a proven track record of leadership; experience managing large, international organisations, familiarity with the public sector and a willingness to tackle governance reform; a firm commitment to development; a commitment to and appreciation for multilateral cooperation, and political objectivity and independence”. The board has said that they expect “an intensive process of formal and informal consultation” on potential nominees, noting that nominations may be made by any executive director of the Bank. They have set a June 15 deadline for nominations, with a decision expected before Wolfowitz’ departure June 30.

If this threat to consider other nominees than that put forward by the US is made real, it would mark a substantial departure from the gentleman’s agreement which sees an American at the head of the Bank, and a European at the head of the IMF. In the week prior to the announcement, South Africa, China and Brazil were joined by Australia in open calls for an end to the leadership stitch-up.

this is someone who has asserted US prerogatives at every turn

It is widely believed that the Bush administration chose Zoellick because he is seen as more experienced in international diplomacy than other possible Republican loyalists. After a spell at the treasury and a stint as economics undersecretary of state in the 1980s, Zoellick turned in 2001 to act as George Bush’s first trade representative. During his four years in the job, he helped launch the Doha round of world trade talks and negotiations to bring China and Taiwan into the WTO. He moved to the state department before leaving government for investment firm Goldman Sachs and a job as managing director. Previously he served on the board of Enron, the world’s largest oil company.

However question marks are already being raised about both his management style, and his political leanings. Zoellick, 53, has been variously described as “hard-driving” and “a bit abrasive”. Nancy Birdsall, president of Washington thinktank, the Center for Global Development said: “The question is whether other countries will be satisfied that he is indeed the best candidate, for example, whether he has the right management skills.”

Politically, Mr Zoellick is closely aligned with the neo-conservatives. In 1998 he was a signatory to the Project for the New American Century, calling for increased military budgets and the ousting of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. In Foreign Affairs magazine, he wrote: “A modern Republican foreign policy recognises that there is still evil in the world, people who hate America and the ideas for which it stands.”

During his time as chief US trade negotiator, Zoellick was notorious for bullying developing countries. In Behind the scenes at the WTO authors Fatoumata Jawara and Aileen Kwa, interviewed 34 trade ambassadors, negotiators and secretariat staff members. They provide an extensive catalogue of arm-twisting, pay-offs and abuse of process by the developed countries to force developing countries to sign up to an agenda they disagreed with, while ignoring the issues they had raised. The US, led by Zoellick, was the worst offender. This may explain the cool reception that Zoellick’s nomination has received from countries such as Brazil. According to Soren Ambrose of NGO SANA, “this is not someone who has made many friends in the developing world. This is someone who has asserted US prerogatives at every turn, has not shied away from insulting his counterparts, and who has had no visible qualms about tasks such as telling the West African countries no, the US will not give up its subsidies to multimillionaire cotton barons”.