“What could have been a very hot issue this year at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) is the renewal of the aboriginal whaling quotas, in particular the quota for the United States.
The IWC is a highly polarised, single-issue regime with only whaling on the agenda. Either you are against it or in favour of it. Unlike most other multilateral regimes, it is therefore hard to find something with which to negotiate, something to compromise on. Only a handful of countries have real interests at stake. Simply put, the ordinary horse trading that allows many other international instruments to operate is absent at the IWC.
However, there is one potential major exception. The US is an anti-whaling whaling nation – it hunts whales and is against whaling elsewhere. This is at the outset an irreconcilable and contradictive policy, and has made the US worthy of accusations of double standards and hypocrisy. But this position is perfectly logical and coherent if you look at the interests at stake. This contradiction will continue as long as these very interests are not challenged.
On one hand, the US must promote the whaling interests of Alaska, mainly through securing an aboriginal quota at the IWC. On the other hand the US must satisfy the anti-whaling sentiments of various American animal rights groups. This is done by opposing so-called commercial whaling. Except for the occasional accusation of double standards the US does not have to bear any political or economic costs due to this policy.
In 2002, the US tasted the flavour of their policy, and didn’t enjoy it. A sufficient number of IWC-countries blocked the US bowhead quota at the ordinary annual meeting, pointing out that some Japanese whaling communities were equally worthy of being allocated whaling quotas. The US delegation was told by its politicians to never ever return from any IWC-meeting without a quota to Alaska, no matter what it took. After much wrangling, the US secured the quota at a special meeting held later in the year.
Now it is time for the quota renewal. The US has done its homework. First of all it is hosting this year’s meeting, fully aware that a host’s priorities are rarely neglected. The US has made the pro-whaling nations accept the fallacy and buy into the American propaganda: innocent Alaskans should not be penalised for the behaviour of its own Government.
Those very same pro-whaling nations will, however, accept at the same time that their own innocent, local communities, whether it is Hafnafjordur, Reine or Taiji, should in fact be penalised by the US.
After all the IWC is a meeting of sovereign governments. These should be negotiations at governmental levels, where each and every government is responsible for the consequences of its behaviour, however bad.
What the consequences would be if aboriginal quota was used as a bargaining chip is not evident. Certainly it would rock the boat with strongly worded accusations flying across the tables. But it would also challenge the US power balance, the US whaling policy. The US could very well be forced to make a choice, to find out what should be their first priority: securing their whaling quota or opposing whaling by other peoples. There is reason to believe that securing the whaling quota would win that competition.
If the US were to secure its quota, it would then have to convince other countries as well. More countries than the US would be needed to meet the requirements of those demanding something in return, e.g. a whaling quota also to them.
National interests take priority in international negotiations. It’s quid for pro, give and take. Either all legitimate quota requests are met or everyone goes home empty handed. When pro-whaling nations refuse to use the only bargaining chip available, it should be no surprise to anyone that the whaling conflict continues, that a solution is not found in the IWC.
However, it is worse. When the US gets what it wants, it shows no gratitude. On the contrary, the US then focuses on its second priority – making life hard for the whalers for the next four years, until it once again must behave a short time to secure the renewal of the whaling quota.
The problem is not the US. The problem is the pro-whaling nations refusing to promote and defend their own interests. After 25 years with putting forward good arguments and sound scientific evidence to no avail, it should be time for them to reconsider their strategy by asking themselves: Is there another way of doing things? Is there another way of promoting and defending our interests? The answers to both are yes.
High North Alliance