UK backtracking?

Despite a written answer to Parliament last week re-stating the UK’s long-standing commitment to ending the gentleman’s agreement for the selection of the heads of the World Bank and the IMF, Hilary Benn’s reaction to the Wolfowitz resignation is prompting worries that the UK has consented to a backroom deal that allows the US to continue to appoint the World Bank’s President.

The statement issued by the Department for International Development’s press office on behalf of Hilary Benn reads:

“I am relieved that this damaging time for the Bank is finally over. I acknowledge the achievements of the Bank over the past two years. It has helped to deliver debt relief to the poorest countries, agreed a new African Action plan and is investing more in education, health and clean water. The Bank’s task now is to renew its efforts to lift people out of poverty.

”The UK remains a steadfast supporter of the bank, and its staff, as a force for good in the world.”

Compare this with the statement to Parliament:

The UK has a long-standing commitment to support developing country calls for a stronger say at the World Bank. As last year’s UK White Paper on International Development makes clear, the practice of picking the heads of the World Bank and the IMF based on nationality should end and both presidents should be chosen on merit.

Has the UK gone back on its principles to secure the resignation of Wolfowitz? It is unclear whether UK Executive Director Tom Scholar, who is reported to have been a key mediator in the deal between Wolfowitz and the board, will oppose the selection of any candidate that is not chosen from an open, transparent and merit-based process.

1 thought on “UK backtracking?

  1. Comments to this post pasted here by me following the site’s technology change end May 2007. See names of the commenters below. Alex

    The Board’s statement says:-

    One conclusion we draw from this is the need to review the governance framework of the World Bank Group, including the role as well as procedural and other aspects of the Ethics Committee…..

    The Board will start the nomination process for a new President immediately.

    These two sentences suggest something fundamentally has changed. Historically the Board NEVER started a nomination process for the President.

    It is selected by the US, and then acclaimed by the Board.

    The sentence about reviewing the Governance Framework is a big red flag that says many things are on the table — including the current US picking president deal.

    So it may be premature to suggest that UK has back tracked.

    None ~ May 18, 2007, 01:42 PM

    Talking about the lack of balls of the World Bank Executive Directors, be reassured that the Brits are not the only one to have “no cojones.”

    The now ex-French ambassador to Washington, Levitte was very annoyed that the Wolfowitz affair might spoil his otherwise shining ambassadorial record by forcing him to take a stand on whether or not support Wolfie’s ousting, since he ignored whether Sarkozy would or would not side with the Bush administration.

    This heroic Frenchie managed to escape unharmed since Sarkozy plucked him to become his “sherpa”…

    Bingo! the day after his appointment, the French sided with the Europeans against Wolfie.

    Sean Cooper ~ May 18, 2007, 01:48 PM

    There was talk yesterday of the UK trying to bridge the gap between Wolfowitz and the Directors. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Brits sold the Board out. I say that as a Brit and an observer of the smarmy, no principles, honoury American Neocon Blair.


    I made three posts yesterday all pointing out, in different ways, that the Board had only recognised Wolfowitz’s belief. We agreed.

    Maybe it was the last post that made you think we differed.

    >>The intent of the board is clear:

    “One person close to the board said: “It was obvious what the deal was. He would go but we had to accept his assurance that he acted in good faith.”

    “Read what we said carefully,” the board insider added.” >>

    My take was that the spokesman was indicating the deal and then asking readers to see how they’d subverted it. Don’t suppose it matters. The Neocons have been given enough to crow and continue their deceits.

    Peter Jones ~ May 18, 2007, 01:57 PM

    We do not differ — Peter — the Board brilliantly, diplomatically, screwed PW over.

    The best screw they did to him was to issue his statement simultaneously with theirs.

    None ~ May 18, 2007, 02:02 PM

    To Peter Jones and None:

    I presume we are on the same side as regards Wolfowitz’s culpability. The question that divides us is whether in its Statement the Board accepted that he had behaved ethically and in good faith.

    This is a vital issue, since it divides those who think the Board caved in to Wolfowitz from those who believe that they did not (and cleverly outfoxed the Wolf).

    The problem is that the English being used here is so obscure that its meaning can indeed be construed in several ways. Research shows no example in OED or elsewhere of what is meant by “to accept an assurance”.

    My own strong reaction to this was based upon my understanding of this phrase as it is used, primarily in British (less in American) English.

    The sentence again is:

    “He assured us that he acted ethically and in good faith in what he believed were the best interests of the institution, and we accept that. ”

    I read this as saying:

    “…, and we accept that assurance.”

    So the question is: what does the phrase “to accept an assurance” mean?

    I can only refer to common usage, and in this case I believe that it means “to accept (agree) that what has been stated (“assured”) is true”.

    There are many examples of this usage, but here are a few from Google:

    1. “When these questions were put to the Treasury officials they answered, ‘We disagree; we don’t think it will be inequitable.’ The problem is that they were not able to substantiate that opinion. They were not able to provide any empirical data, any cameos or any illustrative comparisons that would enable us to accept their assurance.”

    Dated: 6 Dec 2006
    Location: Parliament House – Canberra

    2. “The administration could not persuade the Soviets to remove a brigade that had been in Cuba for 17 years and had to accept their assurance that its purpose was to train Cubans rather than to become involved in Western Hemisphere conflicts.”

    Foreign Policy on Deadline
    Lloyd N. Cutler
    Foreign Policy, No. 56. (Autumn, 1984), pp. 113-128.

    3. “It is, however, not considered advisable to advance this argument with the U.S. in declining to undertake to be governed by their commodity lists as we might find ourselves asked to accept their assurance that things would be improved in the future if we would agree to be so governed.”

    Secretary of State for External Affairs Canada
    to Ambassador in United States
    TELEGRAM EX-2841
    Ottawa, December 13th, 1948

    4. “I have listened very carefully to what ministers have said today and I accept their assurance that euthanasia is not induced in any way by this bill. However, I suspect that some of my colleagues may feel that that is not quite the case and regret the failure to accept Lyndsay McIntosh’s amendment.”

    Scottish Parliament
    Wednesday 29 March 2000

    5. “Mr Paterson—I think it is fair to say that we rely very much on advice from the Department of Defence on this. At this point we accept their assurance that, indeed, the involvement of Australian forces was very much directed against an Al-Qaeda and Taliban threat and not caught up in a dispute amongst warlords.”

    Reference: Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio – review of annual reports
    TUESDAY, 21 MAY 2002

    When I have time from my day job I am going to write to OED and ask them to clarify this usage of the word “assurance”.

    Grammaticus ~ May 18, 2007, 04:22 PM

    Gram, a very thoughtful piece.

    The beauty is here are some very highly educated people who are disagreeing on the meaning of what ‘we accept that’ mean.

    I take it as meaning the phrase “and we accept that” was tacked at the end of the sentence.

    If it was reworded, The board accepted his assurance…. etc.

    Then it unambiguously refers to what follows “that he acted ethically in good faith…”

    Under those circumstances, your argument as to what it means to accept an assurance wins — whatever that means.

    HOWEVER, the “and we accept that” was tacked at the end, and since there are two points prior, it raises a question what it really refers to.

    One interpretation is that it refers to the statement itself. ie… The board accepted his statement (like receiving a registered letter) but in no way implies agreement.

    When the follow sentence refer to others, there was no qualification. “We also accept others acted ethically and in good faith.”

    Placing the “and we accept that” at the end of the sentence to me, is the giveaway.

    Its usage by the Board is clear it does not accept that he acted ethically and in good faith.

    How can I make this claim: Read the ad hoc committee report.

    While it can be argued (only by PW and cronies) that he acted ethically and in good faith, it was unambiguously in the report that his behavior during the investigation was in breach of Bank rules.

    Read the section of the report on unauthorized release of information from the Board and also the section about the statements made by PW and Bennett.


    none ~ May 18, 2007, 05:06 PM

    Another way to look at this…. note that the Board Statement and PW’s statement was released as separate statements.

    In other words, it was in no way a joint statement / communique / agreement.

    That is another dead giveaway to a diplomat that there was no agreed statement.

    Normally, in diplomacy, at the conclusion of a successful event, a joint statement would be issued telling the world what was agreed upon, where the differences are, etc.

    The infamous US-China Joint Communique used the term, “The United States acknowledge [China’s position]”, but did not agree with it.

    In the case of PW vs. EDs, there was not even a joint statement, which shows there was a very low level of ‘agreement’ or a relationship that has broken down completely.

    What it takes to read the document is a cross between an outstanding diplomat and an international lawyer.

    I stand with my interpretation that PW and Bennett got nothing from the Board — except an express statement that he is guilty (actus rea) of his crimes as charged, and in an unspoken code, (mens rea) guilty of intentionally acting unethically and in bad faith.

    None ~ May 18, 2007, 05:27 PM

    UK is not alone.
    “There is absolutely no question for the (German) government over the United States of America continuing to fill the top job at the World Bank,” spokesman Thomas Steg told reporters in Berlin.

    Germany “has no doubt” that the U.S. administration will “make a convincing personnel proposal — one that does justice to the demands of the World Bank in this situation,” Mr. Steg said.

    Japan’s Finance Minister Koji Omi told reporters at a finance meeting of major economic powers in Potsdam, Germany, that it was wise to keep an American as president of the World Bank.”

    From the Globe & Mail publishing a piece from


    Associated Press

    May 18, 2007 at 11:39 AM EDT

    yul ~ May 18, 2007, 06:13 PM

    Grammaticus and None:

    “He assured us that he acted ethically and in good faith in what he believed were the best interests of the institution, and we accept that.”

    This can be taken to simply mean that it is a truism to say that he assured us. The placing of the phrase “and we accept that” after a pause and at the end of the sentence must be presumed to be a deliberate act. The Board accepts what precedes the phrase, namely that an assurance was given. It does not accept that either the assurance itself was of any value or that the substance of the assurance is accurate or even exists.

    Further, in ordinary English usage an assurance is a confidence building measure. We assure our children they’ll be fine at the new school. It is neither a guarantee and nor is it legally binding, except in a legal document. I might accept my neighbour’s assurance they’ll replace the borrowed milk but might also suspect that they don’t really mean it. An assurance does not guarantee delivery or, in this case, veracity. An acceptance of an assurance does not imply belief or trust.

    Looking at Grammaticus’s examples:

    1. “…They were not able to provide any empirical data … that would enable us to accept their assurance.”

    2. “The administration could not … and had to accept their assurance … “

    3. “… as we might find ourselves asked to accept their…”

    4. “I accept their assurance that euthanasia is not induced in any way by this bill. However, I suspect … ”

    5. ” … we rely very much on advice from the Department of Defence on this. At this point we accept their assurance that … ”

    Taken together these examples convey the meaning of assurance as offering, at best, confidence but also leaving room for doubt, uncertainty, lack of trust or disbelief.

    I am a retired mathematician and have no professional skills in any of linguistics, public service, diplomacy or the law. Not being a diplomat I accept and believe None’s assurance that Wolfowitz was screwed in diplomatic, in both the polite and technical senses of the word, terms. As a plain member of the public I’d also have to say Wolfowitz was given a way out in propaganda terms. On the other hand what a wonderful event. The US was put in its place by the rest of the world, with potentially enormous implications.

    Peter Jones ~ May 18, 2007, 09:00 PM

    I concur with Peter Jones. This interpretation (that it is a bland assurance given that the other side do not necessarily accept at best, or at worst, disbelieve) is a fine interpretation.

    I am not a trained diplomat either. I just read an occasional dispatch and learned to figure out the code words one at a time.

    Hence, my belief was if PW hadn’t agreed to the deal then and there, the next step would be a statement to the effect that, “The EDs cannot be indifferent to PW continuing as President, and… the EDs will not sit idly by while PW continue as president.”

    The above words are the codewords in diplomaticspeak for “we are about to go to war”.

    In any case, there was no denial by PW of the crime. Only the motive and intent.

    There was no acceptance of PW’s claim of good intentions by the EDs.

    He is out of there. He lost.

    The United States lost.

    Courtesy of a White House who did not see fit to defend American Interests.

    None ~ May 18, 2007, 09:25 PM

    Life can be tough like that, I guess.

    All of your hopes and dreams dashed in the cold world of geo-political reality. Yes, the US will retain its hold on the WB, as will Europe on the head of the IMF.

    DC Worker ~ May 18, 2007, 09:37 PM

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