Monday, June 20, 2005

Whale Wars: Why Does Japan Bother with the IWC?

I'm back! Not that anyone would have missed me, with all those great Roger Alford posts from India. Still, nothing lasts forever. So back to my wacky idiosyncratic interests...

Japan may have gathered (or bought) enough votes on the International Whaling Commission to lift a moratorium on whaling that has been in place for the last two decades. As I discussed before here, this is a fairly important political issue in Australia, where the opposition party is calling for Australia to sue Japan in the ICJ to stop the whaling (although the basis for such a suit continues to elude me).

The "new" Japan continues to act more aggressively overseas to protect its interests, although here it is working through an established international organization. It apparently convinced three new countries (Togo, Gambia and Nauru) to join the IWC and support its position, probably by reminding those countries of how much development aid Japan doles out every year. On the other hand, this is a game two sides can play. In recent years, the UK and Australia have been recruiting anti-whaling countries from Europe to the IWC (Austria, Luxembourg, Mali and Mongolia).

This trend in vote-buying is probably not healthy. The IWC has been a fairly successful international organization largely because it is a small, narrowly directed organization reflecting the mutual interests of its members. The whaling countries (Japan, Iceland, Norway) get to whale, but their numbers and methods are overseen by the IWC, and can be adjusted to reflect new data on whaling populations, etc. It is not an organization that is trying to ban whaling; rather it reflects the interests of its members, many of whom want to continue to whale, but want to accommodate the interests of other members that have stopped whaling and now oppose it. Even convincing the whaling countries to limit their whaling in the past two decades is a great triumph, all things considered.

The old IWC was literally composed of the various countries with whaling industries. The idea was to work out mutual agreements to divide up whaling populations and limit their whaling. The new IWC, with landlocked countries like Luxembourg on board that obviously have no whaling industry, is increasingly attempting to become a regulatory body. But in the long run, this won't succeed. why should Japan subject its whaling methods to oversight by Austria and Luxembourg? So far, Japan has accepted pretty stringent regulations. But why should that continue as the IWC increasingly become a body of countries all devoted to ending the practice of whaling? If things continue to go this way, I imagine Japan will eventually quit the IWC.