Tuesday, January 4, 2011

WikiLeaks and Whaling: Japan pressed U.S. and Australia for concessions

There has been much attention surrounding WikiLeaks and the emails, cables, and diplomatic dispatches it has somehow acquired, many of which having been released to the public amidst great consternation - and some embarrassment - from various governments.

The WikiLeaks scandal is now making its way into the conservation movement with the release of documents claiming to show some backroom diplomatic wrangling going on between Japan, Australia, and the United States regarding Japan's continued whaling under the guise of "scientific research" - a loophole that was written into the International Whaling Commission's ban on whaling. Through that loophole, Japan has been taking approximately 500 whales seasonally.

As reported in the Wall Street Journal and the Australian Broadcast Corporation (ABC) website, in 2009, Japanese government officials were suggesting a willingness to considered curtailing their scientific research whale hunts in exchange for a lifting of the whaling moratorium and allowing a limited catch in their territorial waters. Apparently officials in the U.S. and Australia, while expressing their public support for the whaling ban, were at least willing to discuss the Japanese proposal.

The ABC reported, "Australia's Opposition party environment spokesman Greg Hunt says the Government's position on whaling has been exposed as a sham. 'The labor Government was saying one thing to the Australian people and another thing behind the scenes,' he said."

Also, playing into all this international horse wrangling were the efforts of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a constant irritant to the Japanese government due to their eco-terrorist techniques to attempt to disrupt Japanese whaling. According to the leaked documents, Japan was pressing the U.S. to take action against the U.S.-based radical organization, perhaps by depriving the NGO of its non-profit tax status.

The ABC reported,
"The cables reveal the US envoy to the International Whaling Commission, Monica Medina, held talks with the head of Japan's fisheries agency, Katsuhiro Machida, in late 2009. The two sides discussed the possibility of revoking the tax-exempt status of the US-based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society."

There are many conservationists who do not prescribe eco-terrorism as a solution as it can endanger lives and alienate governments beyond any hope of negotiation or change. The actions of the Japanese are an example of this. In 2009, they apparently were willing to discuss eliminating the "scientific research" whaling (I believe they realized that world opinion was opposed to that sham) but, in exchange, they wished to continue hunting in some limited fashion. However, any agreement would have depended on putting a stop to Sea Shepherd.

The WikiLeaks revelations, I am sure, will simply embolden the Sea Shepherd Society. It's founder, Capt. Paul Watson, was quoted,
"These governments play games with each other all the time, they say things they don't mean, they make deals that they don't honor. There's no honor amongst thieves and politicians are the biggest thieves of the lot."

All of these diplomatic machinations took place before the June, 2010 annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC). At that meeting, nothing was resolved, though U.S. State Department officials were pressing the U.S. negotiators at the meeting to get some sort of concession from Japan regarding reducing the size of their catch. A proposal to Japan to allow limited hunting within its own territorial waters may surface at the next IWC meeting in 2011.

Here is the dilemma of international diplomacy and conservation: international organizations like IWC, CITES, and the United Nation's various environmental and ecological offshoots are necessary in adopting worldwide policies to protect natural resources and biodiversity - regional or local efforts alone are not enough. But the art of diplomacy is pain-stakingly slow and the level of compromise that is sometimes required can, in the end, prove to be of limited or no benefit to nature. As individuals, we must keep the pressure on our elected officials and appointed representatives to ensure that they do not trade the health of the planet for the sake of diplomatic progress.

Read the Wall Street Journal article.

Read the Australian Broadcast Corporation article.

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