Academic journal article Social Alternatives

The International Whaling Commission: Is Maintaining the Status Quo Good Governance?

Academic journal article Social Alternatives

The International Whaling Commission: Is Maintaining the Status Quo Good Governance?

Article excerpt

The annual meetings of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) have become a very public battleground for the hearts and minds of the pro- and anti-whaling nations. Originally a mechanism devised to manage the world's cetacean resources, the IWC presents us with an interesting case study for assessing the crisis in international governance. As the key protagonists demonstrate, the IWC raises important questions about whether or not institutions need to respond to changing norms of international behaviour in order to remain relevant. This article suggests that as long as both sides of the whaling lobby remain inflexible as to the interpretation of the whaling convention, the IWC's role as arbitrator remains limited and alternate mechanisms will need to be considered.

'That great America on the other side of the sphere, Australia, was given to the enlightened world by the whaleman [. . .]

'If that double-bolted land, Japan, is ever to become hospitable, it is the whale-ship alone to whom the credit will be due. . . '

Herman Melville, Chapter 24 The Advocate', MobyDick or, The Whale, 1851.

It comes as something of a surprise to read Herman Melville's famous 1851 novel, Moby-Dick or, the Whale and find reference to Australia and Japan on the same page. In addition to Melville, historian Endo Masako elucidated a long-standing history of whaling between the two nations, dating back to nineteenth century Japan. (Endo 1985; Melville 1992 [1851], 120-1). So when it comes to considering the International Whaling Commission's capacity for governance and dispute resolution in the twenty-first century, it is perhaps ironic that it is Japan and Australia which have come to represent the stand-off between the proand anti-whaling camps, given that the antagonism threatens the very standing of the IWCs governance role. The annual meetings of the IWC are now characterised by emotion-charged debates over the right to consume or not consume whale meat, and the methods by which that meat might be procured. The IWC finds itself as the ultimate arbitrator over cultural and customary issues, a role for which its governing convention seems decidedly unsuited. A walk through its establishment, history and activities to date can illuminate some of the critical questions about global governance that this issue of Social Alternatives aims to address.

The brevity required for this article will inevitably demand some circumvention of detail. There is a growing body of literature and commentary on the 'whaling issue' which explores the intricacies of the legal, political and moral implications of whaling (see the reference list). In large part, the literature leans towards declaring the IWC mostly impotent, an international organisation which has failed to respond to changing international norms. Just how successfully or otherwise the IWC holds to expectations of global governance will depend on whether one takes a legal or political stand. Given the restraints, this article, in the first instance, seeks to elucidate the key components of the International Convention of the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW) and related protocols, which govern the IWC. It will then identify some of the contentious issues which have come before the IWC and the manner in which those issues were debated, including membership and voting as well as the cultural and 'emotional' overtones which have challenged the IWCs mission. Finally, the article will assess the relative effectiveness of the IWC in terms of its governance and the implications that this has more broadly for the state of global governance. When so much is at stake, should an institution such as the IWC be 'deterministic' (ie rule in favour of one side over the other) or facilitate meaningful compromise?

For Australians researching Japan, the whaling issue gives one a 'front-row seat' to events as they are played out in two domestic constituencies as well as the international arena. …

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