Washington Notebook

Tensions at the World Bank - There are troubled waters at the World Bank, where the restructuring introduced by President Jim Yong Kim has met with strong resistance, along with weekly interruptions in work and employee assemblies. Kim intends to cut 500 jobs in the next three years and to reduce the budget by $400 million (nearly €320 million).

The Washington D.C. institution – which employs 16,000 people but has lost ground in terms of aid given to developing countries – is also shifting from a country-based and regional structure to a system organised around 14 global practice groups.

The noisiest protest occurred during the International Monetary Fund (IMF)-World Bank annual meetings at a packed assembly during which the World Bank president – an American doctor of South Korean origins – vainly tried to reassure the masses. The last straw was the discovery of a two-year bonus of $94,750 (€75,595) given to the bank’s Managing Director Bertrand Badré, in addition to his tax-free salary of $379,000 (€302,379). Cancellation of this bonus did nothing to placate the protests. This is partly because criticism directed at Kim hinges on heavyweight arguments: from his scarce knowledge of development issues to lack of transparency over the restructuring and the excessive reliance on external consultants (to the tune of nearly €10 million) with plans that risk miring an already highly complex structure in even more bureaucratic red tape. 

 Saudis out, Emirates in -The United Arab Emirates is becoming an increasingly important ally for the United States in the Middle Eastern theatre. The US presence at the UAE Al Dhafra air base, which the Pentagon has never publicly acknowledged, is a vital part of the US-led military campaign against Islamic State (the ISIS jihadists): more air raids have been launched from this base’s two runways than from any other Middle Eastern airfield. During these attacks, US planes (even the most sophisticated F-22 Raptor) have often flown alongside F-16 planes belonging to the Emirates air force, which has played a leading role in the raids. This is just the latest sign of a friendship that has developed rapidly in recent years while Washington’s relations with other major Arab countries, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have cooled.

The UAE even gave new details on just how close relations are between the two countries to TheWashington Post. This departure from traditional discretion seems aimed at spreading awareness of the UAE’s military contributions at a time when the country is attempting to convince the Obama administration to supply additional equipment and training for a UAE commercial deal to buy 30 additional F-16 aircraft and to adopt a harsher line with Iran.

Even though the UAE only has a population of approximately 10 million and covers an area smaller than Austria, it is 15th in the world in terms of military spending and the globe’s fourth-largest global weapons importer. Its alliance with the US extends beyond aviation: the port of Jebel Ali, near Dubai, is the busiest foreign harbour for the US Navy. And Abu Dhabi was the first Arab capital to send elite troops into Afghanistan in 2003 and has kept them there for 11 years. The UAE’s six F-16 aircraft involved in the current campaign have carried out NATO attack missions in close coordination with the US Air Force.

US military leaders believe that the huge spending on weapons by the United Arab Emirates – which does not ask Washington for subsidies – not only aims to discourage Iran but also to court the US. “Their thinking is that if they make that kind of commitment to their military, it will draw our commitment to them in a stronger way,” commented General Anthony Zinni, former commander of all US military forces in the Middle East. 

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