Monday, July 09, 2018

Baby Formula and Bad Diplomacy

Back in 2003, the Bush administration bullied Chile and Mexico, both on the rotating seats in the UN Security Council, to vote for the use of force in Iraq. I've used that in class to spark discussion of how and when the United States tries to force Latin American governments to do something.

Fast forward to today, and the Trump administration is doing the same thing for...formula companies? The administration disliked a UN resolution praising the benefits of breast feeding.

American officials sought to water down the resolution by removing language that called on governments to “protect, promote and support breast-feeding” and another passage that called on policymakers to restrict the promotion of food products that many experts say can have deleterious effects on young children.
When that failed, they turned to threats, according to diplomats and government officials who took part in the discussions. Ecuador, which had planned to introduce the measure, was the first to find itself in the cross hairs. 
The Americans were blunt: If Ecuador refused to drop the resolution, Washington would unleash punishing trade measures and withdraw crucial military aid. The Ecuadorean government quickly acquiesced. 
The showdown over the issue was recounted by more than a dozen participants from several countries, many of whom requested anonymity because they feared retaliation from the United States. 
Health advocates scrambled to find another sponsor for the resolution, but at least a dozen countries, most of them poor nations in Africa and Latin America, backed off, citing fears of retaliation, according to officials from Uruguay, Mexico and the United States.
From a strictly policy perspective, this is squandering influence, generating ill will for an issue that has nothing to do with U.S. security. In fact, you can say that wanting more babies to use formula is detrimental to security, since breast milk is healthier. But here's the real clincher:

In the end, the Americans’ efforts were mostly unsuccessful. It was the Russians who ultimately stepped in to introduce the measure — and the Americans did not threaten them.
So what the U.S. did was make Vladimir Putin into the hero of the developing world! This whole affair was mindbogglingly stupid.

Further, in Ecuador you have made Lenín Moreno look bad, and he is a center-left president who has shown interest in working with the U.S. He will face fire at home because of you.

From a normative perspective, you have staked out a position that clearly privileges profit over established science. That is not just unethical but also clear as day to a world already suspicious of your motives.

I don't think there is any silver lining.


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